2020-2021 PhD Course Offerings
ENGL 8110 – Proseminar
The proseminar provides an introduction to English graduate studies through attention to both
practical and theoretical issues. We will preview the arc of progress through the PhD program,
from the art of the seminar paper to developing a dissertation project. Special attention will be
paid to developing the writing skills necessary for professional success; we will draft and
exchange conference abstracts, conference papers, and book reviews. We will also examine
the stages through which an essay, that begins as a conference or seminar paper, may move
toward publication. Together we will read a host of theoretical and critical essays that cover
established and emerging approaches across historical periods, geographic areas, and
ENGL 8370 - 18th Century British Literature: The Sea
Shortly after the Creation and the Fall the earth was covered by a deluge God sent to punish the iniquity of human beings, exempting only the family of Noah. The gods in Ovid under similar provocation did the same thing, saving only two. From that time onward the ocean was associated with waste and pollution; only the earth was clean. Those gaining a living at sea were engaged in a `filthy, base and illiberal employment’ or, even worse, were enemies of the whole human race. After a brief period during the late Enlightenment, when health resorts sprang up around the coasts of Europe and salt water was taken as a cure, the wheel has come full circle. Depletion of fish stocks, pollution, acidification, de-oxygenation and the loss of coral reefs are turning the sea into a desert, especially that hideous continent of floating rubbish called the North Pacific Gyre. This course is designed to trace the cultural, legal, medical, economic and aesthetic factors at work during the interstitial period between the first deluge and the next.
Cultural: Tobias Smollett, Roderick Random; George Crabbe, Peter Grimes; Jane Austen, Sanditon; Defoe, Captain Singleton; John Milton, Lycidas; Melville, Billy Budd.
Legal: Carl Schmitt, The Nomos of the Earth; William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England; Hugo Grotius, The Free Sea (Mare liberum).
Medical: Thomas Trotter, Observations on the Scurvy; Alain Corbin, The Lure of the Sea; Ebenezer Gilchrist, The Use of Sea Voyages in Medicine.
Economic: Nicholas Rodger, The Command of the Ocean.
Aesthetic: John Ruskin on Turner’s paintings of water; Hogarth The Analysis of Beauty; Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us.
ENGL 8138 - Critical Theory: Race and (Dis)Possession
Alex Dubilet & Ben Tran
How do we theorize the relation between race and the operations of possession and
dispossession in modernity? What is the role and significance of capitalism and modern regimes
of property to the processes of racialization? What theoretical tools are necessary for
understanding the nexus and legacy of possession and dispossession that emerge from the
discovery of the New World and subsequent settler colonialism? How do we think of possession
and dispossession in slavery and its afterlives? This graduate seminar will explore these and related
questions from multiple theoretical angles and through various historical and geographic sites. By
engaging with diverse scholarship across Marxism, critical theory, literary studies, black studies,
and settler colonial critique, this seminar will introduce students to some of the most significant
concepts of modern theoretical discourse, useful for research across different time periods,
genres, and subdisciplines.
Possible authors will include (in part, with the input of the participants): Karl Marx,
W.E.B. Dubois, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Stuart Hall, Sylvia Wynter, Cheryl Harris,
Moishe Postone, Patrick Wolfe, Silvia Federici, Saidiya Hartman, Glen Coulthard, Brenna
Bhandar, Frank B. Wilderson III, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. In exploring such topics as
primitive accumulation, the struggle for the commons, colonial modernity and decolonial
imaginaries, and the realities of and resistances to slavery and its afterlife, the seminar will explore
key theoretical perspectives in the critical humanities, unpack the concepts entailed by them, and
trace the requisite historical frameworks informing them. Throughout, we will ask after the
different ways race has been theorized in relation to and in ambit of liberal capitalist modernity.
ENGL 8351 –
Studies in 20th and 21st Century American Literatures
The Idea of Black Culture
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 Folks (1903) and proceeds through successive periods of black culture 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.
Related Courses in Other Departments
WGS 8305 - Sexual Politics: Theory & Practice
What is the relationship between theory and practice? This is not a new question; still, as I write a course description in the midst of a global pandemic, it strikes me with new force. We invest much time and energy in the paradigms that comprise a vocabulary of sexual politics: theories of gender and sexuality, of discipline and ideology, of taxonomy and intersectionality, of separatism, interdependence, coalition, and community, of vulnerability, relationality, oppression, and resistance. What exactly is the return on these investments? At what points do theory and practice meet, not only to enhance intellectual understanding, but also to create conditions for effective action? How might theoretical insights facilitate the pursuit of social justice? Throughout the semester, we will engage thinkers who interweave experience and abstraction: feminists of color; queer activists; radical separatists; advocates for interrelation and coalition; cultural theorists in the arenas of law, medicine, policy, and history; writers of manifestoes on a range of urgent issues. We will also bring our own insights and experiences into conversation with one another. And we will approach ‘theory’ not only on its terms but on ours, with a degree of enthusiasm, a measure of skepticism, and at least a flicker of hope.
FREN 7060 - Literary Theory
W 3:10-5:30In this course we will study an eclectic group of texts that were all seminal contributions to a phenomenon in literary studies called literary theory or, more commonly, “theory.” Many of the theoreticians who impacted literary studies in the United States were French (Derrida, Foucault, Blanchot, Lacan, Barthes, Bataille, Lyotard, Baudrillard, et. al.) but it is also important to take into account that these thinkers influenced and were themselves influenced by other theoretical and philosophical currents, such as the Frankfurt School and continental philosophy in general, not to mention even more recent trends such as postmodernity and post-colonial critiques. All of this theoretical and self-reflective intellectual production has deeply impacted how we think about culture at large as well as the ways we conceive of canon formation, the value of the humanities and a humanistic curriculum in the modern university. The humanities are perpetually “in crisis” but to what extent has theory itself also contributed to the particularly acute current crisis?
Rather than attempting an exhaustive overview or history of theory in general (an impossible undertaking) we will address a select few questions and approaches while leaving the possibility for the student to branch out in other areas not covered or only briefly touched upon (psychoanalysis or postmodernism for example) for the final research paper. Students are encouraged to use the texts in the syllabus as a springboard for exploring other theoretical currents.
Another objective of the course is to familiarize students with current theoretical trends in major journals. Part of the course requirements will be to familiarize yourself with these journals and to present and dialogue with an essay from one of them.
ENGL 8120 Pedagogy Course
ENGL 8138: Comparative Literature
ENGL 8351: Studies in 20th & 21st Century American Literatures
ENGL 8410– Studies in Romantic & Victorian Literature