INSTRUCTOR: Daniel Traister
Phone: 215 898 7088 (voicemail: 7089)
Office: 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Office hours: call or email in advance
THE SUBJECT OF THIS CLASS
In the twentieth century, many American Jewish writers apparently decided no longer to allow themselves to be the (somewhat exoticized) subjects of others' portrayals but instead to portray themselves and their country directly. Simultaneously, they eschewed "explaining" themselves to those others, writing instead for themselves and for anyone else who might want to listen to them. Eventually, many others did.
This class briefly surveys a very small fraction of the fictions written by Jewish Americans, beginning early in the last century with a work by Anzia Yezierska, an immigrant, and coming into the present century with a book written by a Philadelphian. It also includes some ringers: a "Jewish" novel by the American Protestant John Updike; a rumination on "Jewishness" after Auschwitz by the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut. Time limits require the omission of numerous enjoyable and important other fictions, short stories as well as novels. We also read no poetry or drama written by Jewish Americans.
You should be ready and able to read through a good deal of fiction
quickly. You should be prepared to deal comfortably with the fact that many of
the Jewish writers we will read are "Jewish" in the sense that they are of
Jewish descent, but they are not necessarily therefore also religiously
observant. They include writers identified with the political left and the
political right -- and you need to be prepared for the fact that such
identifications often actually matter to them.
ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION
The success of this course depends entirely on your willingness to be engaged by the material and by each other. You need to keep up with the reading and to read carefully, but you also need to be adventurous about the interpretations that you offer. Take risks, draw connec-tions, ask questions. Above all, talk to one another during -- and, if you can bear it, after -- our class meetings. The instructor will facilitate discussion and suggest some broader historical and cultural contexts for the material that we read, but a good deal of the direction and momentum of our conversation will be for you to determine.
The instructor regards your classroom participation very seriously.
He will count it as 20% (one-fifth) of your final grade. That is, he will
assign you a letter grade for your contributions to our discussions. You must
arrive promptly for class. Unexcused absences are not permitted. Habitual
lateness and/or more than one unexcused absence during the semester will result
in the deduction of one-third of a letter grade from your final grade. Two or
more unexcused absences before the end of the drop period will cause you to be
dropped from the class. Five unexcused absences during the semester will result
in a failing grade for the course.
The formal work for this class consists of several written assignments: occasional very short (spur-of-the-moment) papers (250-500 words) and two longer papers (1250-2000 words). The instructor will require, at the end of the class, either either a long final paper (2000-2500 words) or a final examination.
All written assignments must be submitted at the beginning of class on the relevant due date. No extensions will be granted without an appropriate excuse from the College Office or Student Health Center. Unexcused late work will receive a failing grade.
You may have quizzes (both announced and unannounced) in this class.
In general, the instructor appreciates good writing. He will look with disfavor upon essays that are poorly written. Sloppy writing normally means sloppy thinking.
BE PREPARED TO USE THE WRITING CENTER IF THIS IS AN AREA IN
WHICH YOU KNOW -- OR LEARN -- THAT YOU NEED HELP.
Related to the papers and examination, it is your responsibility to
be familiar with the relevant sections of the University's Code of Academic
Integrity. Inevitably, all work is collabor-ative. You will, as a matter of
course, draw on and respond to the work of scholars, instructors, and other
students. But your work must also be original: its central ideas, questions, or
ways of considering problems must be your own. Acknowledge your intellectual
debts. Any student who commits academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade
for the course.
The single best resource for readers of English-language works is the Oxford English Dictionary. OED is freely available to Penn students through the Library's website. It is also found in its various printed forms in Reference Rooms throughout Penn and the region. This dictionary provides simple "definitions." But also, and much more importantly, it offers historical definitions, recording how a word has been used over time. These histories, and not just "the definition," are what you want to learn to use when you use OED. They allow you to see the range of different, competing, or overlapping usages and meanings any given word might have made available to the writer using it, in addition to its primary, "obvious," or present-day denotative values.
The writers we read are not English, however. Most are Americans writing
about people who often speak both English and Yiddish. You may therefore find
help from such additional tools as Webster's Third New International
Dictionary, Unabridged (1961), also freely available to Penn students
through the Library's website, and such guides to Yiddish as those by Leo
Rosten (popular) or Uriel Weinrich (scholarly).
Texts are available at the Pennsylvania Book Center (130 South 34th Street, at Sansom Street).
The instructor believes in supporting local independent bookstores but knows that you can often find textbooks (on the web, new, or used) for less money. (This will probably be especially true for the LofA edition of Bellow, listed below.) If you go to a different source for your texts, PLEASE be as careful as you can be about the precise edition of a work you buy. All of the texts we read are common; all can be found in other editions very easily. A specific edition may seem a matter of indifference. But it isn't, in part for the obvious reason that if students use different texts in class, it will make it difficult for us all to be on the same page (literally!) during our discussions.
NOTE 2: We are reading one new novel (Roth's) -- it will be new to the instructor as well as to you, since it is not out till October. Some of you may be interested to know, as a gauge of the contemporaneity of the writers we are reading, that Doctorow, Mirvis, Ozick, Wiener (and, of course, Updike) all have new works either just published during the summer or due out this fall.
Whichever the class chooses will be due no later than 5 P.M., 22 December. It will focus on John Updike, Bech: A Book, but with references to other works read this semester.
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