ENGL10: Intro to Literary Study
Literatures of Southern California
“The apparent ease of California life is an illusion, and those who believe the illusion real live here in only the most temporary way” – Joan Didion, “Holy Water”
English 10 acquaints students with the purposes and tools of literary interpretation. It introduces the techniques and vocabulary of analytic discussion and critical writing. Students will come away from the course with insights into the discipline, in addition to enhanced close reading and critical thinking skills.
This version of English 10 may be of interest to those interested in: literature and the environment, film and media studies, critical race and ethnic studies, and theories of gender and sexuality.
This course takes a regional approach to literary studies. All of the texts we will read this quarter are set in Southern California. Literary imaginaries of Southern California will be foregrounded in our discussion and exploration of poetry, short stories, novels, essays, films, and musical albums. This course is focused locally on Central and Southern California in order to explore the relationship between story and place. In the 16th century, Spanish Conquistadors named California after a fictional island in the then popular novel Las Sergas de Esplandián. In the novel, the fictional island of California was inhabited solely by beautiful and strong dark skinned women and ruled by a queen named Calafia. The Spanish mistakenly believed that the peninsula of Baja California was an island and that it was ruled by such women. Thus, they named it California. This account of the naming of California showcases the entangled ways that literary imaginaries shape colonial fantasies about race, gender, and geography. It also highlights many of this course’s intersecting themes, such as the relationship of fiction to power, identity, and the environment, in what is now known as Southern California.
As we read and discuss, we will seek to uncover how particular environments, infrastructures, climates, languages, and cultures have built, and contribute to, different representations of Southern California. In our discussions of the literature, we will toggle back and forth between literary representations and imaginaries, and real world places, people, and events. We will pay close attention to indigenous accounts of California and the violent colonial process of missionization, stories that focus on California as an international border, and imaginings of Southern California’s potential futures. Furthermore, this class will work to decenter Los Angeles (and Hollywood in particular) as the locus of cultural production in Southern California by spending time with stories about other Southern California locales such as Oxnard, San Diego, and Tijuana. A few of this course’s framing questions include: what is the relationship between representation and reality? Do stories shape one’s embodied experience of place? Has Hollywood’s portrayal of Southern California been representational of the region’s diverse experiences, identities, and environments? Does reading literature about one’s own locale change the experience of reading? How might we draw on our own embodied experiences of Southern California to help us read and understand the stories we encounter this quarter?
Authors and artists include: Thom Andersen, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Octavia Butler, Joan Didion, Juan Felipe Herrara, Chester Himes, Deborah Miranda, Maggie Nelson, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Anderson .Paak, Rebeca Roanhorse, and Anna Deavere Smith.