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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Postgraduate Course: Modern and Contemporary Life-Writing (PG) (ENLI11262)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course explores some of the most aesthetically innovative and ethically challenging works of life-writing including literary autobiography, memoir, and autofiction, among other forms from the late nineteenth century to the present.
Course description This course explores some of the most aesthetically innovative and ethically challenging works of literary life-writing - a term encompassing autobiography, memoir, diary, and travel narratives, and autofiction, among other forms - from the late nineteenth century to the present.

Taking as a point of departure Henry James's explorations of the ethical stakes of biographical inquiry and the literary life, the course traverses the long twentieth century to explore the ways in which writers have transformed lives - their own and those of others - into narrative art, from modernist experiments (Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Vladimir Nabokov), through memoir as act of witness and testimony (James Baldwin, Primo Levi), through to wide-ranging contemporary reformulations, whether in the form of graphic memoir (Alison Bechdel) or controversial acts of exposure (Rachel Cusk, Karl Ove Knausgaard). Following a broadly chronological trajectory, each session spotlights a specific theme, issue or sub-genre in life-writing (family history, nature memoir), inviting inquiry into the life-writer's navigation of self and other in relation to historical and cultural contexts.

The course will involve weekly ALG meetings as the basis for short student presentations, and seminar-based group discussion. Postgraduates will be invited to take part in a workshop to discuss their essay proposals with the course organiser and one other. Detailed information and guidance on the course as a whole and on each week's texts and topics will be available on Learn. Students will be invited to participate in the activities and events organised by the Edinburgh Life-Writing Network alongside the course, and where places are available, postgraduates may be able to apply to read for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in Biography (PhD researchers are given priority). Where possible, the course will involve a contemporary life-writer speaking to the seminar and responding to student questions.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) For postgraduates taking the course, there is one component of assessment: a summative coursework essay of 4,000-word essay (100%).
Feedback Postgraduates are expected to submit a 500-word essay proposal including an indicative annotated bibliography of up to 1000 words at mid-semester. Formative feedback on the proposal will be provided in the form of a workshop facilitated by the Course Organiser within two weeks of submission, and can be supplemented by one-to-one supervision (a half-hour meeting) where requested. Students are expected to engage with this feedback as they work towards completion of their summative 4,000-word Course Essay.

All students will be given regular oral feedback in response to their contributions in seminars, and to their written Autonomous Learning Group reports and the informal oral presentations of these reports in seminars, throughout the course. All students are welcome to speak with the Course Organiser during office hours or by appointment for individual feedback on their ideas, plans for their assignments, or future plans, or for further discussion of feedback received on written work.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate an understanding of critical issues in relation to forms of life-writing in modern and contemporary literature.
  2. Construct informed, clear and persuasive arguments about these issues in relation to the primary texts, and the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they are embedded.
  3. Present orally the results of research undertaken individually and as part of a small group, and respond judiciously to such research undertaken by others, in seminar discussions.
  4. Critically engage with a range of relevant literary theories, such as genre theory, narratology, psychoanalysis, feminist literary criticism, queer theory, postcolonialism, postmodernism, and bring these theories to bear in analysing the primary texts on the course.
  5. Reflect constructively on good learning practice.
Reading List

Henry James, The Aspern Papers and Other Stories, ed. Adrian Poole. Oxford: OUP, 2013.

Virginia Woolf, Sketch of the Past (1939), in Woolf, Moments of Being: Autobiographical Writings, ed. Jeanne Schulkind. London: Pimlico, 2002.

Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight( 1939). London: Penguin, 2000.

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory (1951/1966). London: Penguin, 2000.

James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (1949). London: Beacon Press, 2012.

Primo Levi, If This Is A Man (1958), in Levi, If This Is A Man / The Truce, trans. Stuart Woolf. London: Abacus, 2001.

Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family (1982). London: Bloomsbury, 2009.

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. London: Jonathan Cape, 2006

Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines (2012). London: Sort of Books, 2012.

Rachel Cusk, A Life's Work (2001). London: Faber and Faber, 2019.

Alison Light, A Radical Romance. London: Fig Tree, 2019.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Graduate students will

develop skills in research and enquiry through engaging with a wide range of life-writings and their contexts, navigating a growing, interdisciplinary research field, making use of the facilities and resources available at the University

exercise their personal and intellectual autonomy through active engagement in Autonomous Learning Groups, seminar discussions, and through developing guided but self-determined research topics for their summative assessment

enhance their skills in communication, oral and written, through engaging with others in the course, informed by close engagement with texts in which the negotiation between self and other is centrally at issue
Course organiserDr Simon Cooke
Tel: (0131 6)51 3996
Course secretaryMrs Lina Gordyshevskaya
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