C LIT 200 A: Introduction To Literature

“Shall I be mother?”: Maternity and Female Subjectivity

Summer Term: 
B-term
Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 9:10am - 11:10am
Location: 
MEB 248
SLN: 
10609
Instructor:
Brad photo
Brad Gerhardt

Syllabus Description:

Brad Gerhardt

B-522 Padelford

Office Hours: T/Th 11:30-12:30

bgard4@uw.edu

 

CMLIT 200: “Shall I be mother?”: Maternity and Female Subjectivity

MTWTh 9:10-11:10 Mechanical Engineering Building 248

 

Course Description:

            In the latest BBC version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, Sherlock and Watson are summoned to Buckingham Palace to discuss the problem a certain “licentious” female is causing the royal family. Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother, is about to pour the tea, and asks the idiomatic question, “shall I be mother?” meaning simply “should I pour?,” to which Sherlock responds, “and there is a whole childhood in a nutshell.” Although his ostensible target is Mycroft—to mock his lack of identifiable masculine traits—the secondary target is certainly the mother. Whatever these “boys” may be, goes the underlying assumption, the mother is to blame; for their genius or for their lack of social development. The mother function expressed by the phrase “shall I be mother?” is one which emphasizes the servility required of “mother” as well as the performativity  of it; the “mother” is a role, a part in a play, which can be performed by anyone, and which can be evaluated as a performance.

            In this short analysis it should be clear that the question of subjectivity which motherhood troubles is a vital one; from what position can a mother speak? In the creation of “subjects” which motherhood implies, how can a woman retain a subject position when her legal and social status makes her an extension of first her husband, then her child? If “mother” is a role, is there agency involved, and who exercises that agency, can it be used to resist the role itself? We will examine a different facet of maternal subjectivity each week, reading theoretical texts about maternity alongside plays, novels, short stories, and poetry, using textual analysis and discussion to interrogate the claims and problems of these texts in relation to maternal subjectivity. Our main texts will be Shakespeare’s Winter Tale, Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge, along with a course reader with theory readings from Sigmund Freud, Judith Butler, Alison Stone, and Nancy Chodorow, as well as short stories and poetry from several other authors.

            The course will be discussion-based and expect students to actively participate; to facilitate this, each student will have the opportunity to begin a session with a short presentation of discussion questions. Students will also be required to write two 4-6 page critical responses to text(s) discussed in class.

 

Required Texts:

            The Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare (Modern Library Classics, ISBN: 978-0812969191)

            Effi Briest, Theodor Fontane (Penguin Classics, ISBN: 978-0140441901)

            To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (Collins Classics, ISBN: 978-0007934416)

            Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams (Vintage, ISBN: 978-0679740247)

            Course Reader (CMLIT 200), available at Ave Copy Center (4141 University Way NE)

 

Grades:

            50% written assignments (two 4-6 page critical responses)

            15% presentation of discussion questions

            15% weekly quizzes (best 3 of 4 counted)

            20% participation

 

 

 

Assignments:

 

Critical Response papers:

            As this is a writing credit course, your writing will form the core of your response to the texts we are reading in class. This 4-6 page paper is your opportunity to engage with the problems and ideas we’ve been discussing and weigh in with your own analysis. Each paper should engage with at least one text (theoretical or fictional) we’ve encountered in class, and focus primarily on marshalling evidence to support a claim. As a critical response, the point of the paper is not evaluation (I like/dislike this; this was good/bad, etc.), but rather analysis: as the etymology of the term suggests, to break into component parts. A successful critical response may take a variety of forms—a close reading of one particular passage, a comparative approach to two or more related texts, an exegesis of a theoretical text—but whatever the particular method, a good argument relies on textual evidence and strong analytical skills.

            Also because this is a “W” credit course, you have the opportunity to revise and turn in either of your papers for reconsideration (within 3 days of it being returned to you). I will give you extensive feedback on both papers, and I would encourage you to come by my office hours and discuss concerns or questions before papers are due and not after; the option for revision is not to be taken lightly. If you turn in a paper that merely “corrects” errors and adds only minor or irrelevant analysis, your grade for the paper will likely be lowered rather than raised. The option to revise and hand in a second copy is for substantive changes to your argument; this means perhaps taking an entirely new approach, or substituting a new text, or something which demonstrates your application of feedback rather than simply rewriting according to what I’ve marked or said.

 

Presentation:

            In order to facilitate discussion, each student will have the opportunity to present discussion questions to begin our class. These are to be 3-5 critical rather than factual questions (the weekly quizzes will be more factual in nature). You have several options:

            -pick a pertinent passage and ask a broader question related to it

            -identify or question a claim from a theoretical reading in relation to the text

            -call attention to a particular phrase, idea, symbol, etc. and ask for examples

            -make an analytical claim and then open it up for debate

These are not intended to be elaborate presentations, but rather opportunities for you to participate in framing the discussions. Most of the work is simply in reading carefully and thinking through the problems and ideas in the text; as far as the “presentation” goes, it consists of simply reading your questions to the class and/or writing them on the board (you can also email them to me in advance and I’ll post them). A sign-up sheet will be passed around on the first day of class, and I will give an example of 3-5 critical questions on the second day of class as well.

 

 

 

Schedule:

 

Week One:

           

          24 July – course introduction

 

Week Two: Motherhood as Transgression: the “Sin” of Motherhood

 

            28 July – Sigmund Freud, “The Psychology of Women”; D. H. Lawrence, “Fanny and Annie”

           

            29 July – Winter’s Tale, Acts 1-2 (1-42)

           

            30 July – Winter’s Tale, Act 3 (43-57)

           

            31 July – Winter’s Tale, Acts 4-5 (57-116)

 

Week Three: Motherhood as “Education”; Reproduction of Motherhood

 

            4 August – Nancy Chodorow, “Why Women Mother”; Katherine Mansfield, “At Lehmann’s” and “Frau Brechenmacher Attends a Wedding”; Jean Rhys, “Learning to be a Mother”

 

            5 August – Effi Briest, Chapters 1-12 (5-73)

 

            6 August – Effi Briest, Chapters 13-22 (74-140)

 

            7 August – Effi Briest, to end (140-217). FIRST CRITICAL RESPONSE PAPER DUE.

 

Week Four: Motherhood and Language; Subversion or Absence?

 

            11 August – Judith Butler, “Subversive Bodily Acts”; Mina Loy, “Parturition,” “Babies in Hospital” and “Feminist Manifesto”; H.D., “Electra and Orestes”

 

            12 August – To the Lighthouse, “The Window” I-XV (1-81)

 

            13 August – To the Lighthouse, “The Window” XVI through “Time Passes” (81-146)

 

            14 August – To the Lighthouse, “The Lighthouse” (149-211)

 

Week Five: Motherhood as Resistance; Experiencing Maternity

 

            18 August – Alison Stone, “From Mothering to Maternal Experience”; Anna Akhmatova, “Requiem”; Sylvia Plath, “The Bee Meeting” through “The Childless Woman”

 

            19 August – Refuge, through “White Pelicans” (1-107)

 

            20 August – Refuge, “Yellow-Headed Blackbirds” through “Bald Eagles” (108-203)

 

            21 August – Refuge, “Red-Shafted Flicker” to end (204-297). FINAL CRITICAL RESPONSE  PAPERS DUE IN MY OFFICE (B-522) BY 3 PM.

Additional Details:

     In the latest BBC version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, Sherlock and Watson are summoned to Buckingham Palace to discuss the problem a certain “licentious” female is causing the royal family. Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother, is about to pour the tea, and asks the idiomatic question, “shall I be mother?” meaning simply “should I pour?,” to which Sherlock responds, “and there is a whole childhood in a
nutshell.” Although his ostensible target is Mycroft—to mock his lack of identifiable masculine traits—the secondary target is certainly the mother. Whatever these “boys” may be, goes the underlying assumption, the mother is to blame; for their genius or for their lack of social development. The mother function expressed by the phrase “shall I be mother?” is one which emphasizes the servility required of “mother” as well as the
performativity  of it; the “mother” is a role, a part in a play, which can be performed by anyone, and which can be evaluated as a performance.

         In this short analysis it should be clear that the question of subjectivity which motherhood troubles is a vital one; from what position can a mother speak? In the creation of “subjects” which motherhood implies, how can a woman retain a subject position when her legal and social status makes her an extension of first her husband, then her child? If “mother” is a role, is there agency involved, and who exercises that
agency, can it be used to resist the role itself? We will examine a different facet of maternal subjectivity each week, reading theoretical texts about maternity alongside plays, novels, short stories, and poetry, using textual analysis and discussion to interrogate the claims and problems of these texts in relation to maternal subjectivity. Our main texts will be Shakespeare’s Winter Tale, Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge, along with a course reader with theory readings from Freud, Butler, and Chodorov, as well as short stories and poetry from several other authors.

       The course will be discussion-based and expect students to actively participate; to facilitate this, each student will have the opportunity to begin a session with a short presentation of discussion questions. Students will also be required to write two 4-6 page critical responses to text(s) discussed in class. 

Catalog Description: 
Reading, understanding, and enjoying literature from various countries, in different forms of expression (e.g., dramatic, lyric, narrative, rhetorical) and of representative periods. Emphasis on the comparative study of themes and motifs common to many literatures of the world.
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Status: 
Active
Last updated: 
May 23, 2016 - 9:09am