English 233 - Fall, 2015

Problems in American Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Stratton, Matthew
CRN: 52586
Time: M 12:10-3:00
Location: 120 Voorhies
Breadth: Later American
Focus: Genre, Interdiscipline, Theory


    It’s said that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” We will accept the implicit challenge of this cliché by reading different texts that combine visual and verbal representation under one cover; we will do so with an explicit aim of articulating competing accounts of their “value.” Our readings will include key theoretical interventions, exemplary primary texts ranging from photojournalistic narrative to graphic novels, and texts that confound the division between theory and practice. Key questions will guide our investigation: in what terms might photographs be “worth” more than comics (or vice versa)? How do generic conventions of photographs, “fine art,” cartoons, captions, journalism, history, fiction, and memoir all invite or demand differing accounts of world and representation? To what extent will our conclusions depend upon the particular account of “truth” we bring to the table? Readings will include a wide range of texts: from a considerable amount of philosophy, theory, and criticism and a landmark tour of 1890s New York slums to graphic novels of the past twenty-five years. Although course readings are all post-1890 and most texts are from the United States, seminar participants may write their final paper on image-text relations from any genre, period, or place.


    Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
    Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
    Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives
    Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
    Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee and Walker Evans
    Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology, W.J.T. Mitchell
    Art Spiegelman, Maus
    Joe Sacco, Footnotes in Gaza
    Course Reader (Theory and Criticism)
    12 Million Black Voices, Richard Wright