First-Year Studies in Literature: Texting and Intertexting


No literary text stands alone. New texts build themselves out of creative engagements and dialogues with other texts. A literary tradition builds itself out of interchanges between writers and other writers, between writers and readers. This course will study the intertextual give and take among ancient and more modern writers. We will study clusters of books where we can see the textual dynamics of interchange and extension at work, linking “modern” texts with “classics” of earlier times. We will consider the ways in which writers in the last two centuries, particularly writers of color, have established their own creative authority and cultural centrality—in part by creative reading and re-envisioning several of the most powerful texts of Western literature: Homer’s Iliad, Dante’s Inferno, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The cultural authority and imaginative power invested in such “canonical” stories make literary tradition an imagined place for experimentation with ideas of self and society and language, for the extension of the sense of self and community into new forms and possibilities. Among the modern writers whose works we will study as creative and transformative responses to the “classics” will be: Derek Walcott, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Gloria Naylor, Aldous Huxley, Mary Shelley, Charles Chesnutt, and Toni Morrison. These modern writers’ various strategies of appropriation, subversion, and transformation will vivify and focus our sense of the still challenging imaginative and social power of the “classical” texts. These instances of literary interchange should provide us with a way of thinking about literary tradition as liberating, dynamic, and pluralistic.