Course: In the Beginning…

HC 221H

Professor: Monique R. Balbuena

… there was sex, violence, betrayal and survival. Indeed, the world’s best-selling book has it all. And we will read some of it in this first course of the Clark Honors College Literature sequence, devoted to the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Pentateuch, or Torah (The Five Books of Moses).

Genesis is a book full of beautiful and compelling narratives that contain stories crucial to the whole of Western culture. From the creation of the world, to the creation of a nation, in Genesis the reader finds stories about conflicts between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and favored and slighted brothers, not to mention the tensions between God and God’s creatures.

Our project is to try to forget what we think we know about Genesis and read the text with open eyes, following it slowly, carefully and closely, admiring its terseness, concreteness and poetry. We will savor the text, embracing its gaps and seeming contradictions, and seeking its overall cohesiveness. Through our reading(s) and our analysis, we will “hear” the plurivocality of the biblical text.

We will read Genesis in Robert Alter’s translation, and our focus on the book itself will be punctuated by interpretations and recreations of the biblical text by modern writers. Among the poets we will read are Emily Dickinson, Wilfred Owen, Yehuda Amichai, Dan Pagis, Jorge Luis Borges, and Louise Glück.

Literary analysis is our goal and method, but this course has a heavy writing component, so there will be many writing assignments in different genres, including opportunities for creative writing and research. Writing is a process and a skill; it needs to be practiced: students will also revise their main paper extensively, in order to understand the recursive nature of writing.

This course is not suited for those who read the Bible literally, or for those who assume that all readers of the Bible are literalists.