421 – Syllabus


Honors Satire Colloquium: From Gulliver to Colbert, Fall 2009


“Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally
discover everybody’s face but their own.”
– Jonathan Swift

Office Hours

This semester I’ll have two offices on campus. If you would like to set up a conference, call me on my cell above and we can find a convenient time.

Course Description

Over its long history, satire has been the chosen form of the poet, philosopher, dramatist, and wit, the weapon of polemicists arguing for political, social, and often religious change. Dr. Kyle Dickson is a student of satire in general, the poets and dramatists of Britain’s golden age of satire in particular (Swift, Pope, Gay), and one evening at a restaurant in North Oxford was publicly accused of the gratuitous use of irony. Course “readings” will span the proverbial gamut from Aristophanes to The Onion, with an emphasis on the uses (and abuses) of religious satire since the Reformation. In light of Juvenal’s time-honored claim that “It is difficult not to write satire,” we will conclude by composing original satires of our own. 

Course Texts

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels.

Additional texts and media on our Class Blog.

Course Objectives

This course seeks to help students:

  • Develop an appreciation for key authors, works, and themes of British satire from the eighteenth century.
  • Identify and analyze imaginative and argumentative uses of irony, parody, and wit in eighteenth-century texts.
  • Evaluate recent efforts in satire in a wide range of media in respect to the comparative sophistication and success of their efforts.
  • Demonstrate mastery through an original satiric production.

Faith and Learning

The English Department at ACU shares a common commitment to preparing thoughtful, mature graduates for Christian service and leadership throughout the world. Spiritual maturity doesn’t develop overnight but is nurtured through serious and sustained study of texts sometimes sympathetic to the Christian worldview and sometimes opposed to it. We believe that genuine maturity is formed often by struggling with the issues raised by texts and reflecting on the significance they hold for ourselves and our world. Just as Jacob wrestled with God and was blessed, we believe the questions students encounter during their time at ACU may be as important as the answers in shaping their future faith and character. This course seeks to raise challenging questions that lead students to read carefully, think critically, and communicate clearly.



Students are strongly encouraged to read assigned texts actively, underlining and taking notes as you read. These notes might include summaries or outlines that help to keep assignments from running together. Reading and note-taking lay the foundation for all future writing and discussion, so take time to outline the basic argument of an essay, note strategic uses of irony or humor, or reflect on where the author seems most earnest or most playful. These kinds of notes will prove every bit as important when watching contemporary media clips, so keep a pen and paper handy.

Defining Satire Journal

Before attending the first class, students will begin developing their own working definition of satire. The term itself has long suffered from rather imprecise usage, so before we begin I’ll ask each of you to develop a taxonomy of types of satire and its subtle matrix of meanings. As you begin reading Swift, look for examples you might use to illustrate your definitions of satire, irony, parody, etc. (See “Defining Satire” assignment.)

Satire Sighting Blog

Your main preparation for our time together in September will be completing the readings from Swift and investigating the nature and use of satire today. I’ve assembled a cross-section of satiric lyrics, film and television clips, web videos and animations to get you started (see Media Archive). However, these examples are only scratching the surface. At least twice before our colloquium meets, I’m asking you to post either responses to these examples or satire sightings of your own in fiction, in media, or on the Internet. Your post can be short—a paragraph or two—but should directly argue why your chosen example (or mine) is or is not “satire,” perhaps by comparison with Swift. Like all good writing, try to build your case with concrete examples that illustrate your claims.

Satire Case Study Presentation

Over the course of our three-day apprenticeship in the craft of satire, you will be placed in small groups of 3-4 students and asked to demonstrate your increased competency through a short presentation. Each group presentation will take the form of a case study, identifying elements of satire (audience, target(s), tone, and techniques) in a problematic recent example (Saturday Night Live, Borat/Brüno, Family Guy, Avenue Q). Students will present web research offering a range of attitudes or responses to their choice with examples of key scenes or passages before developing their own carefully weighed response.

Colloquium Project

At the end of the colloquium weekend, each student will have 2 weeks to produce a work of satire demonstrating qualities of the many texts—old and new—we’ve studied. These original works—whether texts, images, or other media—should demonstrate mastery of the basic techniques and conventions of satire. Your final product should be accompanied by a 2-3 page reflection that describes the process and details specific influences or connections to works studied during your apprenticeship. (The complete assignment will be handed out in September.)


Grade Distribution

Defining Satire post            15%

Satire Sighting posts (2)      20%

Class preparation/participation      10%

Satire Case Study presentation      25%

Colloquium project            30%

Grade Weights

A      =      99-92

B      =      91-83

C      =      82-74

D      =      73-65

F      =      below 65


The unique nature of our colloquium will mean that absence of any kind cannot be accommodated. If you become sick the weekend of our class, arrangements may need to be made to transfer you into another colloquium. Attendance in an Honors seminar like this assumes not only your inert presence but your vital engagement with course material at every stage of the process. If you’re having difficulty with the reading or other assignments, please come talk to me immediately.