Next Year Seminars and Workshops
: Special Topics in English and American Literature
Proseminar: The Conflict of the Faculties 2.0
(Monday 12:30-3 pm)
Among the final publications of Immanuel Kant’s lifetime was a curious little assemblage of essays called The Conflict of the Faculties (1798). Ostensibly aimed at protecting what we would now call the ‘academic freedom’ of the philosophy faculty from incursions by the Prussian state, the treatise proceeds to veer into discussions of the history of human progress, mysticism in religion, sleep disorders, and how best to refrain from “morbid feelings.” In other words, it captures the outsized ambitions and unsettling affects of life in the academy today. This proseminar derives its energies from Kant’s peculiar treatise in order to consider the state of our discipline in 2014. As the gateway course into the Ph.D. program, it is designed to reflect on a range of questions that tacitly give contour to nearly everything we do in this profession: What is the status of criticism/critique within the contemporary university? How best to think freely within an increasingly corporatized institution? What are the genres of scholarly expression and professional comportment necessary for success? How does the study of what we still call “English” bear the traces of its institutional history? What does the future hold for some of the structuring keywords of our discipline—periodization, national literature, field, the humanities, the archive, the book? How do we read and write and teach despite it all? How do we avoid morbid thoughts?
The proseminar is limited to first-year graduate students only .
English 306: Seminar in Sixteenth-Century Literature
Epic Discontent: on the Critical Potential of Passionate Character in Tudor England
(Monday 3:30-6 pm)
Beginning with the two most important epics for Tudor translation and imitation -- Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphosis -- we will consider the intersections among classicism, educational institutions, gender, affect, and sexuality in 16th-century London. Epic discourse played a crucial role in Tudor debates about social, geographic, and national distinction; it was also fundamental to a literary phenomenon for which the period is often celebrated: the invention of dramatic character. Reading in light of institutional rhetorical practices – those imbibed in humanist grammar schools as well as at the Inns of Court – we will discuss a series of so-called minor epics alongside dramatic texts that bring “the matter of Troy” onstage. Most important for our purposes, a short-lived but intense vogue for “minor epics” began when Thomas Lodge, a law student at Lincoln’s Inn, published Scillaes Metamorphosis (1589). It sparked a rapid series of sexually explicit poems by lawyers and dramatists alike in which highly emotional speeches about love sometimes sound like dramatic soliloquies, sometimes like legal arguments, and sometimes both. At the same time, writers of epyllia launched a vigorous critique of epic teleology with important consequences for how we understand both subjectivity and sexuality in the period. All show a recognizably Tudor form of “discontent”: skeptical imitations of passionate ancient characters that undercut normative, end-driven representations of nationhood and useful masculinity from within the genre thought to consolidate these identities and from within the institutions that most benefited from upholding them. Adopting a comparative, trans-institutional perspective, the course examines what the so-called “minor epic” reveals about the classicizing terms that shaped debates about what counted as “male,” “female,” “English,” and “barbarian” discourse and feeling. Texts may include: the Aeneid, the Metamorphoses; Thomas Lodge, Scillaes Metamorphosis; John Marston, The Metamorphosis of Pigmalions Image; Thomas Heywood, Paris and Oenone; George Chapman, Ovid’s Banquet of Sense; Francis Beaumont, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus; James Shirley, Narcissus or, The Self-Lover; Marlowe, Hero and Leander and Dido, Queen of Carthage; Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece, Venus and Adonis, Othello, Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra.
English 355: Special Topics in English and American Literature
Speculative Fiction from the Anglophone Americas
Marginalized in academic literary scholarship as so-called genre fiction, Speculative Fiction (or SF) might be characterized as a literary testing ground for theories about living otherwise, that is, surviving and living together in respectful cultural difference. Distinct from techno-science fiction and utopias modeled on discourses of colonization and empire-building, contemporary SF seeks to reconfigure dominant discourses on race, gender, and sexuality through spatio-temporal dislocation and other forms of “cognitive estrangement” (Darko Suvin). The point, and the effect, is to open up for critique the conceptual assumptions and unexamined belief-systems that shore up imperialist practices in national and, increasingly, global contexts. At issue in SF is a revaluation of what one might call othernesses with a view toward the potential such a revaluation might have for breaking cycles of exploitation and violence. Putting conceptual pressure on what it might mean to “live otherwise,” we will focus on how SF writers from the USA, Canada, and the Caribbean have used the critical resources of the genre to reimagine and resituate whiteness, blackness, hybridity, femininity and masculinity, as well as homo- and other sexualities in Terran and other societies of the future. In this context, we will take SF’s devaluation as “mere” genre fiction as an occasion to interrogate literary scholarship’s attachment to literary and other taxonomies, along with examining claims that SF shares with critical theory a structural predisposition to dialectical formulations.
While most of our texts hail from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, I have also included several earlier novels for purposes of comparison. Our reading list will (likely) include the following: Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood (1989) and Fledgling (2003); Samuel R. Delany’s Trouble on Triton (1976) and Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand (1984); Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories (2005); Andrea Hairston’s Mindscapes (2006); Frank Herbert’s The Eyes of Heisenberg (1966); Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969); Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It (1991), and Melissa Scott’s Shadow Man (1995).
English 318: Seminar in Victorian Prose and Poetry
Visuality, Visual Culture, & the Victorian Imagination
(Tuesday 12:30-3 pm)
This course will approach Victorian literary and cultural history from the angle of visuality. Historians often refer to a “pictorial turn” to describe the flourishing of visual culture in the nineteenth century, a growth brought about by new media technologies and new middle-class interests. Our objects of study will include literary works remarkable for their visual play, such as Dickens’s Bleak House, Brontë’s Villette, and Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, as well as the “word-paintings” of art critics John Ruskin and Walter Pater. We will explore some key archives of Victorian visual culture, including illustrated books, advertising posters, and representations of the Great Exhibition of 1851, usually considered the first World’s Fair. Class meetings will also consider Victorian photography, illustration, ekphrasis, criminality, empire, and decadence. For theories and histories of vision, we will look to W.J.T. Mitchell, Walter Benjamin, Jonathan Crary, Michel Foucault, Sharon Marcus, and Martin Jay, among others. The course, aimed at both specialists and non-specialists, will consider some basic questions: How to analyze an image? What is visual culture, and how has the idea become significant to nineteenth-century studies? How do the shifting historical relations of high art to mass culture inflect our understanding of words and images in the nineteenth century?
Studies in Southern Literature
(Thursday 3:30-6 pm)
Working on the premise that there are several Faulkners, this seminar proposes to place him in an “ensemble” of contributing texts. The outcome, I hope, is a literary history of the 20th century with William Faulkner as the focus, a grasp of the range of his work, a sense of the kinds of critical approaches that have been deployed to get a handle on his work. Some examples of what will be discussed in each seminar meeting:
- Faulkner and Modernism: The Sound and the Fury and Evelyn Scott’s The Wave. Faulkner and the Main Stream: The Portable Faulkner and Malcolm Cowley.
- Faulkner and Film: Sanctuary and The Story of Temple Drake; The Sound and the Fury and Martin Ritt’s film adaptation.
- Faulkner and Race: Light in August and Washington’s Up from Slavery.
- Faulkner and the post-Brown South: The Reivers and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Other meetings TBD will stick to this format: a Faulkner text and a companion, in an ensemble with appropriate critical reading (articles, chapters, etc.)
If you are interested in this seminar, it would be wise to get a head start on the main Faulkner texts: The Sound and the Fury, Sanctuary; As I Lay Dying; Light in August; Absalom, Absalom!; The Hamlet; Requiem for a Nun; The Mansion; The Reivers.
Fall Courses of Interest in Other Departments
French 362: Émile Zola and Charles Dickens: Naturalism, Realism, and Social Engagement
This course will introduce students to a group of seminal novels from Charles Dickens and Émile Zola, supplemented by essays and letters that discuss their respective approaches to social justice and the role that their literary work plays, or can play, to advance particular causes. Different facets of their writings will be discussed, including their respective methods of researching their subject matter, the style of their writing, as well as their concerns relating to contemporary oppression, violence, prostitution, alcoholism and social inequality. Students will also be introduced to the relationship between realism and naturalism, and will have occasion to explore the idea of the “public intellectual”, with particular reference to Zola’s “J’Accuse,” an open letter to the president denouncing the wrongful conviction of a Jewish officer of the French army for treason.
English 350: Special Problems in English and American Literature
From the Plantation to the Penitentiary: Literature, Interpretation, and the Law
(Monday 3:30 - 6 pm)
“Whilst society in the United States gives the example of the most extended liberty, the prisons of the same country offer the spectacle of the most complete despotism.”
--Beaumont and Tocqueville, On the Penitentiary System in the United States (1833)
This seminar explores the redefinition of civil life in nineteenth-century America by concentrating on how punishment, prisons, and incapacitation not only became critical to the ideology of democracy and freedom, but also shaped a genealogy of property and possession essential to what Thomas L. Dumm in Democracy and Punishment has called “the American project.” We will be expanding our understanding of what constitutes this exclusive locale throughout the semester.
Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution had been announced in December 1865. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude “except as punishment of crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” The legal exception became the means for terminological slippage: those who were once slaves were no criminals. Such an amendment literallly amounted to nothing less than an escape clause, a corrective that left the vestige of enslavement intact. Some of the questions crucial to our investigation of the continuity between slavery and incarceration follow: What fictions of the past are told by law? How does the mobilization of history trump arguments about justice? What are the legitimate rights of the state over the liberty interests of the incarcerated? What is the relation between the status of criminal as “slave of the state” and slave as property or thing? What are the conditions sufficient for attaining the status of “citizen”? And finally, can we argue that case law prompts us to test or question the boundaries of humanity, as it confirms or enhances the making and management of human boundary objects?
Through an examination of legal, philosophical and historical texts, as well as fictional and film re-enactments of incarceration and criminality, the seminar will examine the varying controversies about personal identity, servitude, and finally, the legacy of such legal fictions as “civil death” or being “dead in law.” Using primary and secondary historical materials, the course will attempt to make sense of the diverse and contradictory images of law that intervene in everyday life through strategies of containment and exclusion: chain gangs, special management, treatment, or control units, and capital punishment.
English 355: Special Topics in English and American LiteratureReality Check: Modes of Reality and Representation in the Age of Cyberculture
(Tuesday 3:30-6 pm)
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” - Philip K. Dick
In an age when phantasmal projections on the computer and smart phone screens rule our daily lives and disembodied fragments of our audio-visual/textual representations fly around the globe, the long-standing philosophical question of “what is real and how one is to know what is real” weighs us down with an ever-pressing urgency. This course will explore different modes of reality and their literary representations that make inquiries into the concept and nature of the “real.” The class will see how works of fiction, as that which is inherently “fictive” and therefore “unreal,” provide us with an insight into the intricate mechanisms that underlie the construct of reality not only by representing (whether they claim to mirror material reality or project abstract ideas of a subjective mind), but also by creating, and reflecting on reality. Texts for the course will include novels and short stories by Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, Bruce Sterling, Richard K. Morgan, Ted Chiang, William Gibson, Neil Stephenson, Vernor Vinge, and Greg Egan; film and animation (Tron and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence); and theoretical/critical readings from authors including Jean Baudrillard, Scott Bukatman, Katherine Hayles, Donna Haraway, Ray Kurzweil, Jeffrey Sconce, Clifford Nass, Lydia H. Liu, and Jessica Pressman among others.
Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris
Philip K. Dick’s Ubik
Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon
Murakami Haruki’s 1Q84
Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash
Greg Egan’s Permutation City
(Short stories and excerpts from critical materials will be posted on OAK)
English 314: Seminar, 1660-1800
Performing on Stage and Page, 1660-1830
(Wednesday 12:30 - 3 pm)
For almost three centuries, the big story of eighteenth-century literary history has been the decline of the drama and the rise of the novel, with attention also directed at Restoration drama and Scribblerian satire. In the past few decades, scholars have explained the process as a shift from an early modern theater that played out social and political tensions with unprecedented virtuosity to a performative culture in which identity itself was understood as actorly but theatre itself was degraded. Often the development of print culture is invoked to suggest that new forms of literature such as novels generated new kinds of subjectivity, in a mutually-reinforcing circuit to which the more public modes of drama were irrelevant. In this course, however, we shall be reading against the grain of these received ideas in the light of recent scholarship to explore the mutuality, as much as the competition, between novels and plays or fiction and theater. Apart from the fact that many writers (both canonical and marginal, male and female) wrote in both modes, both dramaturgy and fiction can be understood as performative. Both modes participate in print culture, both can be understood as machines for pleasure, and both are imbricated in the development of dominant literary discourses such as romance, the heroic and the sentimental.
English 326: Introduction to Literary Modernism
(Thursday 12:30 - 3 pm)
English 320: Studies in American Literature
The Idea of Black Culture
(Thursday 3:30 - 6 pm)
The idea of black culture provides a reading of conceptualizations of the subject across a historical timeline that begins with W.E.B. DuBois's Souls of Black Folk (1903) and proceeds through successive periods of black cultural apprenticeship: The Pan-African idea, pursued as a practice after the end of World War I; the era of African decolonization and the mounting of the Civil and human rights campaigns in the United States, which both share the global context of the “Cold War” (from the Marshall Plan to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, 1989, and the dismantling of the Soviet Union, 1991), the “birth” of Black Studies and the development of the new epistemologies of the post-sixties and beyond, and the emergence of Diaspora and the post-race/post-colonial subject of the latter twentieth century—the implications of the Obama Presidency. Each of these eras of human and social engagement has engendered its own distinctive work on the meaning(s) of black culture. This seminar will examine such readings in a selective manner by analyzing texts by, among others, C.L.R. James, Frantz Fanon, Aime Cesaire, as well as contemporary scholars, including Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten, Nahum Chandler, Ken Warren, and Brent Edwards.