Lecture "I simply experiment, an endless seeker with no Past at my back," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, America's spiritual/literary guru; and many American writers have taken to heart that call to experiment-- to break with the past, to throw over the inherited forms of yesteryear as aggressively as possible, to make something new, to strike a balance, if balance there be, between fiction and nonfiction and poetry, or to blur the lines among them.
This attempt to seek new forms is precisely what this course will examine, whether on the grand scale of Melville or Faulkner; whether in the more indirect, even ephemeral ways of Hemingway, Hardwick, and Stein; or whether in the polemical, radical, inquisitive prose of Baldwin and Eggers.
Though the reading list includes novels and poetry, do not be deceived: we will discuss these books as nonfiction as well, which is to say we will consider how they borrow from nonfiction and extend our sense of it-- and, by implication, extend our idea of genre. As in the case of Lowell's Life Studiesor Melville's Moby-Dick, these books demand that we that we, as readers and writers, become seekers too.
2. Henry Thoreau, Walden
3. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick(two weeks)
4. Melville (continued)
5. William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom(two weeks)
6. Faulkner (continued)
7. Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
8. Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons
9. William Gass, On Being Blue
10. Robert Lowell, Life Studies
11. Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights
12. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
13. Dave Eggers, What is the What
14. Last Class: papers due
Brenda Wineapple's most recent book is White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinsonand Thomas Wentworth Higginson, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is also Distinguished Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and is currently writing a book on America, 1848-77, for HarperCollins.