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Reading Faulkner:

It's hard to imagine how the works of William Faulkner would be received if they were just being published now. His style is lyrical, the thread of his narratives is elusive, and his uncompromising look at life in the South following the Civil War does not lend itself easily to succinct summary. His novels focus on violence, ignorance, and the brutal, perhaps even insoluble, consequences of slavery. He places his readers, without warning, into the minds of the mentally disadvantaged, the uneducated, the suicidal, the suffering and he compels his readers to dwell in these places much longer than seems reasonable.

Is it possible to read Faulkner today with pleasure? Can reading Faulkner today help us to understand the current state of politics and race relations in the United States? Would it have made a difference if high school English teachers across the country had assigned Intruder in the Dust for the past fifty years instead of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye? Can the novel, as Faulkner conceived it, make sense of an age, reveal a truth, or inspire social change?

In this seminar, we'll read a number of Faulkner's works: As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), Go Down Moses (1942), The Sound and the Fury (1929) and Intruder in the Dust (1948). Assessment in the course is persistent: there will be a reading quiz at the beginning of each session. There will be two required read-aloud performances by each student. (To learn to read Faulkner, one must learn to hear and reproduce the voices in his stories; one must also be able to hear the cadences in his prose.) And there will be an extended final multimedia project designed to move Faulkner into the 21st century. (If you can embed an image in a Google doc, you have the minimum technical skills necessary to complete the final project.)

If you enjoy the writing style of Toni Morrison or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or if you would like to learn how to, this will be a good seminar for you. If you prefer character development and clearly plotted stories, you should probably seek out another seminar. My assumption is that, in registering for this class, you're signaling your commitment to come to every class having done the reading. If that's not your way, you should definitely look elsewhere; the only way to learn how to read Faulkner is to, well, read him.

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