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ENGL768A: Everything Is Listening: Forms of Silence and Silence in Form in 20th century fiction (and its environs)

"I am the master of the genre of silence," Isaac Babel said, as a Stalin-approved writer at the 1934 Soviet Writers Congress, five years before his arrest and execution by Stalin.

He was referring to the impossibility of writing in a fascist society that silenced and censured independent thinking and also, perhaps, to the deliberate silence cultivated formally in his work long before he had to be so careful. What are the historical effects of silence and silencing (with regard to class, race, gender, sexuality, for example) on narrative and its shapes? When is silence deliberately cultivated and expressed in narrative, and how? How might it, as a literary device, be a form of resistance? Crucially, what are its formal mechanisms? These are a few of the questions we’ll consider during this semester-long meditation on silence in 20th century literature. By environs, I mean we may wander briefly into other centuries, as well as other art forms. Together, we will generate other questions, as we consider the work of writers and other artists who have found ways to formally enact silence, and the particular and various sounds silence makes on the page. Readings may include contextualizing critical selections from Cynthia Cruz, Toni Morrison, Tillie Olsen, and others; fiction and hybrid forms by Isaac Babel, Natalia Ginzburg, Tove Jansson, Han Kang, John Keene, Bhanu Khapil, Yi Yun Li, and others; and the work of other artists working in other mediums—for example, the sculptures of Rachel Whiteread, the music of John Cage. At the heart of this course is close reading, and capacious and imaginative thinking and listening (to the readings and to each other). Course requirements include weekly reading questions, class presentations, critical writing (essays) and creative practice (short imitative pieces), and a final project, which will offer the opportunity to choose between critical and creative modes.


Professor Maud Casey
Th 3:30pm - 6:00pm

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