“I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extra-vagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limit of my daily experience, so as to be adequate to the truth of which I have been convinced,” Thoreau writes in Walden. “Extra vagance! it depends on how you are yarded.” The aim of this course is to seek in a series of fictional extravaganzas by American authors a better understanding of how we are generally yarded, as readers of stories and novels, and what opens up for us when that yard expands. What does a wildness of invention, an insistent pressure on the confines of literary forms, make it possible for us to feel and know? What aspects of American cultural history are exposed to our view when writers freewheelingly generate, in Melville’s words, “more reality than real life itself can show”? Readings include Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Nabokov’s Pale Fire, the stories of Donald Barthelme and Lydia Davis, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Edward P. Jones’s The Known World, and Mat Johnson’s Pym.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.