Artful Deceptions - The Mechanics of Fiction

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Artful Deceptions - The Mechanics of Fiction

<p>Virginia Woolf once famously pondered, “Why should a real chair be better than an imaginary elephant?” This course confronts works of literature across time and contexts to consider the

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Virginia Woolf once famously pondered, “Why should a real chair be better than an imaginary elephant?” This course confronts works of literature across time and contexts to consider the truth-telling force of representation in all its peculiarity. We’ll sit Homer beside Hamsun and question the voice of God, ask Joyce if characters can ever really ‘exist,’ and understand how Flaubert’s cat can yawn for as long as a sunset. Good fiction is magical, but it’s more sleight-of-hand than wizardry. This course examines the practicalities of literature, and the compelling invitation for readers to participate in its function.


COURSE OUTLINE

  • Reality is overrated: This session considers the act of representation in its politics and peculiarity. We’ll wonder if fiction can be more truthful than the world it describes. Or, as Woolf put it, “Why should a real chair be better than an imaginary elephant?” Life will imitate art, and we’ll come to see how reality might be at its best when it’s wildly unrealistic.
  • Do characters exist?: We always recognise when we meet a truly well-crafted character. But do these characters emerge from fastidious details arranged by the author, or the gaps left to the imagination of their readers? Are these fictional figures free to think, or are they slaves to oppressive masters? In this session we’ll ask if a character can ever really 'exist.'
  • The voice of God: The path from Homer’s moralising lectures for toga-clad ancients to Knut Hamsun’s active and infuriating trickery of modern readers is a complex one. This session bows before the ‘voice of God’ in works of fiction to examine how that voice has been beaten and hewn by context, and what it means for the all too trusting reader.
  • Lost in detail: “He was a gentleman with red whiskers who always went first through a doorway.” How can de Maupassant create such scene in one sentence while others take pages? This session contemplates the details, finer and otherwise, to reveal how black words on a white page come to such life, and ask when a cat’s yawn can last as long as a sunset.
  • Becoming fiction: James Baldwin expressed it perfectly: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” Every twist of linguistic legerdemain we’ve considered so far has been penned to serve one purpose – empathy. This week we’ll consider how we as readers become part of the fiction we consume.


PLANNED LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Critically evaluate works of fiction to consider how writers use narrative form to convey meaning and truth.
  2. Read fine examples of craft to gain critical understanding of elements of fiction such as character, voice, style and detail, and how these coalesce in works of literature.
  3. Apply a knowledge of fictional skills to short writing activities in order to gain practical knowledge the mechanics of fiction.