Interdisciplinary Topics in Literature – “Paratexts”

Terry Harpold
Fall 2012

MWF, 10:40–11:30 AM (period 4)
TUR 1315

voice: (352) 294-2808
office hours: M, 4:30–5:30 PM; W, 1–3 PM & by appt. (TUR 4105)
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The Book-Fool

Course description

This course concerns paratextuality as a basic condition of reading. First comprehensively inventoried by literary theorist Gérard Genette, paratexts are verbal and material elements of a text which, while apparently ancillary to its primary aspects, orient and situate our reception of the text’s meaning. These include elements “inside” the text such as tables of content, prefaces, chapter titles, footnotes, and indexes, as well as others “outside” the text, such as jacket art, reader endorsements, advertising, and reviews. In more material terms, every expressive aspect of the text-as-object, including its typographic attributes, page size and design, paper weight and color, etc., or (especially) any unusual aspect of binding and pagination, may signify paratextually. Many of these attributes of print carry over to reading in digital environments such as WWW pages and e-readers, whose interfaces reproduce (with varying degrees of caricature) paratextual apparatus of print, as well as introduce their own, distinctive apparatus. (Another way to describe paratexts might be as aspects of the “interface” of reading in any environment. Like user interfaces of our computing devices, paratexts are a principal space of our transactions with the information they enframe.)

We will read several long and short literary-theoretical and historical treatments of the varieties and importance of paratexts (including Genette’s landmark 1987 study, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation), and survey changing conventions of paratextual expression, from early modern print texts through contemporary digital reading devices. Much of our discussions will be devoted to close readings and hands-on analysis of unusual and exemplary print and digital paratexts. We will also take two field trips to UF library special collections with particularly rich examples of historical paratexts (the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature and the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica), and a “virtual” field trip to explore anomalies of Google Books that reveal the mutability of the paratext in the late age of print.

All graded written work for the course will be completed in a course wiki. Basic knowledge of WWW– and image-editing applications may be to students’ advantage for some assignments, but is not required. Written course requirements include two exams and two collaborative research projects.

Course syllabus

The course syllabus, including the calendar of readings, assignments, and other course requirements, may be downloaded in .pdf format from this link:

PDF Icon  LIT 3400, Fall 2012 (approx. 390K)


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The Book-Fool.

“If on this ship I’m number one
For special reasons that was done,
Yes, I’m the first one here you see
Because I like my library.
Of splendid books I own no end,
But few that I can comprehend.”

– Sebastian Brant, Das Narrenschiff
(The Ship of Fools), Basel, 1494.
Illus. by the Haintz-Nar-Meister.*
(Click image to see larger version)

* The Ship of Fools. Translated into Rhyming Couplets with Introduction and Commentary. Ed. and trans. Edwin H. Zeydel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1944.

© Terry Harpold. All rights reserved.
Last revision: 8/23/12