Seminar – Co-taught by Eric Chinski What do we mean when we say we find a book 'believable' or not? Does the zeitgeist ethics of writing 'believable' characters and plots lead us to conflate believability with realism? And what does a bedraggled term like realism mean today anyway?
In this course we will look at texts which solicit very different kinds of belief: stories from the Old and New Testament, science fiction tales, fantastical and historical fictions, parables, memoirs, novels that were considered 'realist' a century ago, and novels considered 'realist' today. We'll consider what we mean when we say we 'believe' a story, and what strategies different writers deploy to solicit-even if coyly-that belief. How does believability overlap with plausibility? How necessary is it to convince a reader that the sink in a never visited backroom of a fictional house will, if turned on, run water, and what goes into developing that kind of 'faith' in the reader? How does a piece of nonfiction navigate believability differently than a novel? How is authority claimed, or falsely or truly abdicated, in bids for belief? How do writers use madness, drugs, religion, unreliability, etc to traverse, or at least try to, into the extraordinary while keeping the reader rooted in a plausible, ordinary world.
Reading list to include: Amerika by Franz Kafka , A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick, A Better Angel by Chris Adrian, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber, Concrete by Thomas Bernhard, The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski , excerpts from the Bible and from Pliny's Natural History , "The Reality Effect" by Roland Barthes, The Black Sheep by Honore de Balzac , Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet , The Palm Wine Drunkard by Amos Tutuola.
See the Writing MFA Program page for all course information and requirements.