Alex E. Blazer Course Site Assignments Description
Materials Assignments Policies Schedule


Reading, Writing, and Repression

English 261S (07975-5) Introduction to Fiction

Spring 2003, Saturday 8:30-12:18PM, Denney 250


Instructor: Alex E. Blazer

Departmental Phone: 292-6065

Mailbox: Denney Hall 421 Office Phone: 292-3754
Email: Office Hours: Sat. 12:30-1:30PM

Denney Hall 324 and WebCT,



Course Description

When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.

—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Why do we write fiction? Why do we read fiction? What does fiction do for us, and what does it do to us?  This introduction to fiction course will look at fiction through the lens of repression—what repressed emotions writing affords us to express and what repressed emotions reading affords us to know. We'll examine how fiction takes its writer, its characters, and its readers on a journey in search of often evaded and denied psychological truths. From Barton Fink's writer's block to Textermination's readers' block, from Ambroses becoming lost in the funhouse of his own making ("Lost in the Funhouse") to Emma's descent into poetry ("Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop's"), from the portrait of the writer (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) to the portrait of the reader (If on a Winter's Night, A Traveler), we'll analyze how reading and writing fiction engages our core conflicts, sometimes repressing them, but sometimes letting them return so we can traverse them. We'll investigate how the key elements of fiction—character, plot, setting, and point of view—operate to bare the underlying existential realities of the story and we, the story's readers.  We'll use the course listserv to prepare for class discussion; we'll take essay exams to make connections between the texts; we'll prepare an annotated bibliography that allows us to research a story and see how other scholars are reading it; and we'll write a term paper to deepen our analysis of a particular work of fiction.


Course Materials



Brooke-Rose, Christine, Textermination (available at SBX)

Calvino, Italo: If on a Winter's Night, a Traveler (available at SBX)

Joyce, James, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (available at SBX)

Sartre, Jean-Paul, Nausea (available at SBX)

course packet (available online)

handouts and resources linked from the course website (

recommended (available at SBX and Main Library Reserves)

Roberts, Edgar V., Writing about Literature, 10th ed.


Assignments and Grade Distribution


listservice response, 5%

To prepare yourself and the rest of the class for class discussion, at one point in the quarter you'll respond to a work of fiction via the course listservice <>. More instructions here: Listserv Response Sign-Up.

midterm exam, 25%

In a take-home exam, we'll answer two or three essay questions which compel us to analyze the works of fiction through the lens of particular elements of fiction as well as make connections among the texts we've read.

final exam, 30%

Same format as midterm, but taken in-class and cumulative.

annotated bibliography, 10%

To broaden our ways of reading fiction beyond just the methods taught in this class, we'll research and summarize scholarly criticism on a work of literature. This assignment may be used in conjunction with the final paper.

final paper, 30%

Using some scholarly research to support our analysis, the final paper should extend and develop a conversation regarding an assigned text, compare and contrast two works based upon issues broached in class discussion, or interpret a work of literature outside of our reading list (subject to my approval).


Course Policies


Office Hours and Email

I encourage you to stop by my office hours to discuss any aspect of the course, literature, or life. I'm happy to answer small questions such as due dates over email, but I prefer face-to-face conversations for more substantive topics like paper ideas.

Class Participation

We're going to be working with challenging stories.  We'll all benefit from sharing our questions and ideas. The listserv is the first step but only a first step; let's continue those discussions in class. If I feel that the majority of the class isn't participating because they're not keeping up with the reading, I will give a pop quiz which will be factored into the journal grade.


As we only have a precious ten class meetings, there will be a one-letter final grade deduction per class period for all unexcused absences beyond one.  Arriving to class late constitutes a tardy; two tardies count as an absence. Arriving to class more than 15 minutes late or leaving more than 15 minutes early constitutes an absence.  Athletic competition, jury duty, illness, and so forth will be excused provided that you bring an official note within one week of your return to class.

Late Assignments

There will be a one-letter grade deduction per day (not class period) for any assignment that is turned in late.


Don't do it.  Using someone else's words, ideas, or work without proper citation and representing it as your own is the most serious of academic offenses.  All cases of suspected plagiarism will be reported to the Committee on Academic Misconduct.

Office of Disability Services

If you have any specific needs or concerns, please feel free to discuss the issue with me during office hours.  Students with disabilities who need accommodations should be registered at the Office for Disability Services (292-3307).

Writing Center

The staff of the Writing Center serve as readers and responders to writing for English 110, English 367 and other university disciplines.  Besides giving feedback, these English graduate students can help with other writing issues such as topic development, organization, coherence, clarity, and self-editing.  To make an appointment, call 292-5607 or stop by 485 Mendenhall Labs.

Student Work

On the Monday after finals week, I will have your final papers ready for you to pick up.  Make arrangements with me to retrieve your work, or I will discard it after two quarters.


Course Schedule


This schedule is subject to change, so listen in class and check online for possible revisions.

Before reading a story or novel, read the author's critical biography in Contemporary Authors as well as the preliminary questions provided in the story's link.

For each focus on fiction, it is recommended that you read the corresponding chapter in the Roberts text.


Week 1 4-5

Introductions, Syllabus

Kafka, "The Judgment" (course packet)

Film, Barton Fink (Directed by Joel Coen)

Focus on Fiction: Conflict

Recommended Reading: Kafka, Letter to His Father (course packet)

Week 2 4-12

Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Focus on Fiction: Character and Setting

Week 3 4-19

Barth, "Lost in the Funhouse" (course packet)

Gass, "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country" (course packet)

Focus on Fiction: Imagery and Symbolism

Week 4 4-26

Sartre, Nausea

Focus on Fiction: Plot and Structure

Week 5

Bishop and Moore poems (course packet)

Gass, "Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop's" (course packet)

Poe, "The Purloined Letter" (course packet)

Focus on Fiction: Point of View and Tone

5-5 Take-Home Midterm Exam Due Monday
Week 6 5-10

Calvino, If on a Winter's Night, a Traveler (Reading Guide)

Focus on Fiction: Theme

Annotated Bibliography and Final Paper Prompt

Online Research Methods in the Literature Classroom

Week 7 5-17

Baudelaire, Graham, and Rilke poems (course packet)

Borges, "The Library of Babel" (course packet)

Süskind, "Amnesia in Litteris" (course packet)

Lab Time for Preliminary Bibliography

Preliminary Bibliography Due

Week 8 5-24

Film, The Neverending Story

Lab Time for Annotated Bibliography

Final Paper Conferencing

Week 9 5-31

Brooke-Rose, Textermination (Allusion Assignment)

Final Exam Review

Final Paper Conferencing

Annotated Bibliography Due

Week 10 6-7

Conclusions, Evaluations

In-Class Final Exam

Finals 6-11 Final Paper Due Wednesday