English 430: Literature & the Visual Arts

430 Syllabus

English 430: Literature & the Visual Arts

Fall 2009, Thursdays, 4:00-6:45pm (class #17905)
Jerome Richfield 348

Dr. Charles Hatfield

Office: Sierra Tower 735
Office phone/voicemail (818) 677-3416
Email: charles dot hatfield at csun dot edu

Office hours: Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:30 – 3:00pm,
plus other times by appointment (Tu/Th preferred)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to 430
2. Course Objectives
3. Course Requirements/Workload
4. Grading Rubric
5. Course Texts (see also the webpage titled “430 textbooks”)
6. Course Policies
7. Resources to Remember
8. Plagiarism (a reminder)


It’s a cliché to say we live in a visual culture. It’s also true. Our media and culture, now more than ever, shower us with images: pictures and pictograms; likenesses and symbols; icons and visual ciphers that stand for people, objects, and ideas. These images pervade, even shape, our lives, in ways both startling and perfectly ordinary (after all, what could be weirder than the ordinary?). So much of our social world, especially as mediated by mass culture, is to be seen, or looked at, or watched, to the extent that even verbal activities like storytelling, conversation, and debate are often described through metaphors of sight (see what I mean?).

If anything, the rise of interactive digital media has amplified this confusion by generating complex visual/verbal hypertexts (consider, e.g., blogs, newsites, and online games) as well as forms of messaging or “chat” in which graphic marks imitate the casualness and intimacy of everyday speech. 🙂 In short, our visual culture is becoming more so.

It’s been almost three decades since W. J. T. Mitchell, in his book The Language of Images (1980), observed that the intermixture of words and images is one of the defining features of our culture – something we in English Studies should have been alive to all along. Since then such observations have become common. Faced with the increasing dominance of images in philosophy, communication, and literature, cultural theorists are now prone to cite a more recent claim by Mitchell, that culture is taking a “pictorial turn” (Picture Theory, 1994). What this means is that today, thanks partly to technological change, pictures and visible language are mixing freely, through ever denser and more sophisticated means including hypertext, graphic design, and diverse artistic genres.

The relationship between Word and Image is one of those cultural issues that keep coming up, in myriad contexts. Yet we in English Studies have mostly pushed the issue into a corner and treated it as an esoteric subtopic for specialists. While there is a long tradition of studying literature and the visual arts comparatively, as “Sister Arts,” only recently have academics recognized that this is not a mere subspecialty: that in fact no medium is “pure” and that all media participate in the Word/Image question.

Of course, students of literature have long known that images and imaging are important, and that, for example, poems can talk to paintings. We are used to thinking about pictures as the “subjects” of writing, or as supplemental “illustrations” of things already stated in writing. The Word/Image question, though, goes much further, into areas that are typically neglected in literature classes. We’re going to explore some of those areas.

So, 430 will, first of all, study the word/image question abstractly, looking at what intellectuals have said over the centuries about the alleged differences between words and pictures; and, secondly, take a close, concrete look at artistic and/or literary works that blend or juxtapose the visual and the verbal (or even call the distinction between them into question). I call such works, after Mitchell, imagetexts.

untitled (for Natalee and Jeremy), by derek beaulieu

Imagetexts are not just the latest fad, of course. Scholars have long known of genres that mingle words and pictures. It’s just that, until now, we’ve tended to dismiss these genres as dead ends or freak exceptions. They’re not. The history of literature actually includes many under-studied forms of verbal/visual intermixture such as emblems, illuminated verse, iconic or patterned poetry, and Concretism. Seen together, these forms make up a tradition of visual poetry – not a dead end at all, but a long-lived, vital, ongoing field.

Alongside this tradition, but mostly neglected in English Studies, are movements in the visual arts. In fact artists have experimented with the Word-as-Image so intently that they’ve blurred the alleged boundaries between art and literature. For example, radical exchanges between Word and Image mark the early twentieth-century avant-garde (e.g., Dada, Surrealism, and Futurism). More recently, the Word has infiltrated visual art to an even greater degree: since the 1960s artists have incorporated words and written characters into a dizzying variety of forms, including the hybrid genre known as the “artist’s book.” These experiments are akin to visual poetry: they insist on blending Word and Image into each other. We have to read the images and gaze at the words.

To deal intelligently with artistic works like these, we have to question not only the theoretical split between Image and Word but also other habitual distinctions, especially the presumed gap between high and low culture. The interaction of text and image, after all, is not just the property of the avant-garde; it is a defining feature of popular art. Image/text mixing has long distinguished such popular but critically neglected forms as comics and children’s picture books. Word and image study, then, requires an open mind and takes place on many fronts. In 430 we’ll explore several such fronts together.

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My objectives for 430 are to help each of you work toward the following:

  1. Greater awareness of word/image relationships, interartistic collaboration, and the growing field of word/image studies;
  2. broad knowledge of theoretical debates regarding word/image differences and relationships;
  3. critical appreciation of certain imagetext genres (e.g., visual poetry, picture books, comics);
  4. familiarity with resources for research in word/image studies;
  5. and, as in any literature course, strong, consistent reading habits and the sharpening of needed analytical and rhetorical skills.

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1. Participation & preparation (15%): Of course active participation in class is essential to doing well in 430, and to our success as a group. Without your participation, class will be as dead as dust (blah blah blah) and we’ll all suffer. Attendance and punctuality are vital to participation and therefore will be noted; this applies to our Getty Research Institute field trip on Nov. 19 as well. Attendance includes silencing cell phones and other devices and staying awake: if you’re on the phone and/or texting, or your head is lying on your desk, you ain’t here. Come to class prepared, with a thorough knowledge of the reading and a readiness to take part in discussion. Participation will include not only discussion but also small group activities and occasional in-class writings or homework, as needed.

2. A handmade book (15%), due on Nov. 12. This book may be a traditional Western codex or may be in some other form (e.g., accordion fold, scroll). Whatever its form, it should represent a substantial effort: something more than merely decorating a sheet of paper or two. Rule of thumb: make sure it contains at least sixteen (16) pages or surfaces or something equivalent in scope (bearing in mind that some books may not have pages per se). Besides that, the book’s format is open. For example, its physical dimensions may be very small or very large, or anywhere in between. The book may be blank, or it may include written and/or pictorial content of your choosing, whether created by you or extracted from other sources. The point of this project is to gain a hands-on appreciation of book form: not just “content” (which most people expect to consist of text and/or pictures) but the shape and design of the book per se. Be ready to discuss your book, and why it is the way it is, in class.

3. . Weekly contributions to our class’s online reading journal, i.e., blog (25%), each entry circa 500 to 1000 words in length. Each week’s entry will be scored on a credit/no credit basis rather than letter-graded. Every week, no later than 24 hours before class (that is, by Wednesday at 4:00pm), you will need to post to our private class blog a thoughtful written response to the assigned reading(s) we’ll be discussing that week. These postings must be made in timely fashion so that we all can have a chance to read them prior to Thursday’s class. Think of this as an interactive reading journal that you share with a select group of colleagues; use the journal not just to show that you’ve read the readings (some summary is okay, but don’t summarize too much) but more importantly to engage with them, to ask and perhaps try to answer important questions raised by the readings and by our discussions. In short, use the journal to demonstrate that you’re actively working with our assigned texts and trying to connect them to other texts or issues brought up in 430. Journal entries may also be used to develop your own critical perspective, but remember that there has to be some direct engagement with each week’s readings, no matter how you choose to organize a particular entry. You will have two “freebies” (free skip weeks) throughout the term, which you can use at your discretion. Late journal entries will not receive credit. Our blog will be password-protected, so you’ll need to get signed up ASAP (blogging will commence right away, with the second week of class).

4. An online report (15%) that frames – i.e., introduces, contextualizes, and enables your classmates to approach in an informed way – the work of a contemporary artistic creator whose work relates to 430. This report is to take the form of a page linked to our blog, created by you and posted no later than Oct. 15. The creator you choose should be an artist and/or writer active over the past half-century whose work blends or juxtaposes image and text, or who explores relations between imaging and language, or who uses images sequentially and narratively in lieu of text. The page must include relevant visuals and links to relevant online resources as well as substantial text.

5. An independently researched critical essay (30%) of about 1500 words (think 5 to 6 pages) regarding an artist, work, or theoretical issue relevant to 430 and of interest to you. The topic should be proposed to me via an abstract, that is, a formal, one-page proposal in which you contextualize and explain the importance of the topic. The abstract should be submitted no later than Oct. 29. Both the abstract and the finished essay must be accompanied by a proper MLA bibliography. The finished essay will be due no later than Dec. 3. Grading criteria: your essay will be graded both on its success as an essay (coherence, organization, development, rhetorical effectiveness, proper documentation, readability) and on the depth and rigor of your research effort (i.e., how seriously you delved into your topic, how thoroughly you investigated). Graduate students:  expect to do a slightly longer essay (c. 8 pages) and to present your paper in class in its entirety, conference-style.

Besides the above, graduate students will be asked to submit a final self-evaluation/reflection (2pp.), which will be graded on a credit/no-credit basis, and then to confer with me individually (10-15 min.).

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GRADING RUBRIC (1000 points total)

  • Participation & preparation: 150 pts (15%)
  • Handmade book: 150 (15%)
  • Reading journal/blog: 250 (25%)
  • Online report: 150 (15%)
  • Critical essay: 300 (30%)

A 1000-925

A- 925-900

B+ 899-875

B 874-825

B- 824-800

C+ 799-775

C 774-725

C- 724-700

D+ 699-675

D 674-625

D- 624-600

F 599 or below

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All texts are required, except as noted. Prices given are for the Matador Bookstore, New/Used, as of 8/27. Not all will be available used. See our page on “430 textbooks” for further information and links.

  • Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy (Penguin, 16.00 / 12.00)
  • Paul Auster, Paul Karasik & David Mazzucchelli, City of Glass (Picador, 14.00 / 10.50)
  • Lynda Barry, What It Is (Drawn and Quarterly, 34.50 / 26.00)
  • William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience (Oxford UP, 19.95 / 15.00)
  • Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books (Granary Books, 29.95 / 22.50) – RECOMMENDED
  • Perry Nodelman, Words about Pictures (U of Georgia, 25.50 / 19.25) – RECOMMENDED
  • Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (HarperCollins, 8.95 / 6.75)
  • Lynd Ward, Vertigo: A Novel in Woodcuts (Dover, 16.95 / 12.75)

PLUS required readings available through Electronic Reserve (ER), courtesy of the Oviatt Library. I will demonstrate how to access ER on the first day of class. These ER texts will mostly consist of theory and criticism – both essays and book chapters – and by semester’s end will total roughly 250 pages or less. To get to these texts, you will need your CSUN logon ID and password and the unique four-digit password created for our course, which I will announce in class. Be sure to print out hard copy of the ER readings and bring them to class when needed!

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You are responsible for knowing CSUN’s calendar, policies, and procedures, including those pertaining to changes of program, withdrawals, and incompletes. Consult our Catalog and online Registration Guide. Remember that Add/Drop ends on Sept. 11.

Absences: The only absences I waive in my grading are medical or family emergencies and family bereavements. If you must miss more than two days due to emergency, please provide documentation (e.g., a doctor’s letter) so that I may fairly take this into account.

Phones, pagers, Blackberries, and other such devices should be silenced before entering class. Also, while I approve the use of laptops for note-taking, avoid gadget use not directly related to the content of class (e.g., Netsurfing, IM-ing), which is a distraction and a hindrance.

Submitting essays: Formal written assignments done outside the classroom, including abstracts, bibliographies, and essays, should be submitted both in class (hard copy) and online via Turnitin.com, the plagiarism prevention service. Both hard and electronic copies must be handed in by deadline; to avoid lateness, you must submit your electronic copy to Turnitin.com before class begins. We’ll discuss and demonstrate Turnitin during the first few weeks of term. Class ID and password to be given out in class.

Timeliness and planning are crucial: Our schedule is crammed; we’ll be busy from the first week to the last (the more so because we’re losing time this term to state-mandated furlough days). Thus late work will pose problems for you and for me. That is why work not ready to be handed in at the start of class on the due date will immediately be docked 20%, grade-wise, and work not handed by the start of the next meeting will be docked an additional 20%. I will not accept work that is more than a week late. Also, remember that group presentations, once scheduled, cannot be postponed; once your group is slated to present on a certain day, you become part of the lesson plan for that day and must be ready on time. So schedule your work carefully: groups, stay in constant touch and make sure everyone is ready to go when the time comes. Finally, note that electronic paper submissions are no substitute for hard copy.

Paper format: Your written work outside the classroom should follow standard academic format: typed, double-spaced, in a plain 11 or 12-point font, with 1” margins all round. Of course papers are welcome to incorporate graphics – this is 430, after all – but make sure that the graphics contribute something intellectually essential as opposed to merely decorative. (Bear in mind that Turnitin may not reproduce graphics accurately.) Avoid plastic report covers and other such inessentials.

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Do take advantage of my office hours! That’s the best way to talk to me about your interests, work in progress, grades, and other concerns that require more than a minute’s chat.

Students with Disabilities: Students with disabilities that affect their work may qualify for accommodations. Such students are urged to work with CSUN’s Disability Resources and Educational Services, which runs an excellent Student Services program (677-2684; codss@csun.edu). Please see me ASAP to discuss needed accommodations. I’m glad to help.

The Writing Center: For tutorial help with your writing, visit the Writing Center, located within the Learning Resource Center in Bayramian Hall 408. WC consultants can tutor you in academic, professional, and personal writing, as well as time management, note-taking, and other study skills. All for free! Call 677-2033 for an appointment.

Computer Labs: Our Library runs a 40-station lab in Sierra Hall 392 as well as a 170-seat lab in the Library called the Collaboratory (3rd floor). Call the Collaboratory service desk at 677-6304 or click here for more information.

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As a reminder, passing off the words, ideas, or work of another as your own, without properly crediting your source, is plagiarism and is considered a violation of academic honesty. It short-circuits learning, lessens your experience, dilutes professional standards, and amounts to treating your colleagues – your fellow students – unfairly. That’s why plagiarism is considered such a serious offense. So, when you draw on or quote the work of others in your writing, which you will certainly be doing in 430, you must acknowledge that you are doing so.

Weaving other voices into your own, acknowledging their different perspectives, and leaving a proper trail of citations and bibliographic evidence are considered essential aspects of every academic project. To avoid plagiarism, be sure to acknowledge in your writing all ideas and quotations from other sources. Keep full, accurate notes when working from other texts, including Internet sites, and recheck your citations and quotations at every step of your writing process. Also, always give full bibliographical information in the form of a properly formatted MLA bibliography. (Your blog entries, based on our common assigned readings and designed for our internal dialogue only, will be the only exception to this.) Please feel ask me anytime you have questions or concerns about how to document your sources!

Be advised that, at the least, papers plagiarized in whole or in part will receive a zero, and, per CSUN policy, the student responsible will be reported to the Division of Student Affairs for possible further action. For more on this topic, see CSUN’s 2008-2010 Catalog (pp. 588-89).

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