For undergraduate courses, the distribution requirements that a course fulfills will appear in parenthesis at the end of the description. For courses offered prior to 2018-19, distribution requirements are flagged using the following system: (A) gateway, (B) fiction, (C) poetry, (D) drama, (E) pre-1650, (F) 1650–1830, (G) 1830–1940, and (H) literary or critical theory.

Provisional syllabi for some English courses can be found here. Please note that all syllabi are subject to change.

Students should consult the following list of courses that have been approved to fulfill the new literature in translation option for the undergraduate Foreign Language Requirement. Courses taken prior to 2019-20 or otherwise not on this list must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies (Benjamin Morgan).

Our Biopolitics, Ourselves: Feminist Science Fiction

Spring 2016-2017

21310 / 41310

Hilary Strang

1970s feminist theory made a significant conceptual move in provisionally bracketing off biological sex from the historical/cultural work of gender. Feminist science fiction (in contrast), in its brief flourishing in the 70s and early 80s, finds its utopian moments in the biological, in genetic manipulation, reproductive technology, ecological forms of being and new bodies of a variety of kinds. This class will read science fiction, feminist theory and current critical work that concerns itself with bios, biology and biopolitics in order to ask questions about the divide between nature and culture, what’s entailed in imagining the future, what gender and genre have to do with each other, and just what science fiction is and does anyway. Authors may include: Le Guin, Russ, Butler, Piercy, McIntyre, Haraway, Malabou, Fortunati, James, Rubin, Firestone. (H)

The Debt Drive: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, Neoliberalism

Autumn 2016-2017


Eric Santner; Aaron Schuster

Debt has become a paramount topic of discussion and controversy in recent times, fuelled by the financial crisis of 2008 and the different episodes of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, above all involving Greece. This has produced a great deal of commentaries, economic analyses, and journalistic polemics from all sides of the political spectrum. Yet despite this profusion of discourse, it still proves difficult to seize the exact contours of the problem. Debt affects both the most isolated individuals and the most powerful states, it is equally a matter of “cold” economic rationality and the “hottest” emotions and moral judgments, it appears at once as the most empirical thing with the hardest material consequences and as a mysterious, ethereal, abstract, and purely speculative entity (the unreal product of financial “speculation”). The concept of indebtedness not only characterizes an increasingly universal economic predicament, but also defines a form of subjectivity central to our present condition. This seminar will examine the problem of debt by first looking at how different approaches to it—economic, anthropological, and psychodynamic—were formed by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, and then reading more contemporary authors on the theme, including Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, Graeber, and Lazzarato.

Ballad and Song

Winter 2016-2017


Elizabeth Helsinger

This course surveys the traffic between popular balladry and “literary” poetry from the Restoration to the twentieth century. We will consider the influence of the 18th century ballad and song revival on Romantic style, from major eighteenth-century ballad collections and forgeries to poems by Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Clare, Tennyson, Rossetti, Morris, and Swinburne; we'll also look at a few examples of later poets' continuing interest in popular ballad and song (from Thomas Hardy, John Davidson, and W. B. Yeats to Tom Pickard). We will spend time in Special Collections examining broadside ballads and popular songbooks, and we will consider how political radicals took up ballad and song in the period. (18th/19th)

The New Criticism

Spring 2016-2017


Rosanna Warren

An examination of primary works of The New Criticism, British and American. We will consider the theoretical variety and different critical practices of these loosely allied critics, who were often not allies at all. Authors to be studied: I.A. Richards, T.S. Eliot, F.R. Leavis, Kenneth Burke, John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, W.. Wimsatt, Yvor Winters, R.P. Blackmur, and William Empson.

Assemblage: Inorganic Form

Autumn 2016-2017


Bill Brown

This course is an experiment that seeks to develop some significant relation between assemblage understood as an artistic practice that came to thrive in the 20th century, and assemblage deployed as an analytic—a master trope within various fields (archaeology, anthropology, human geography, urban and social theory). Tracking the different uses of the term entails a particular complication: the fact that Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of agencement has been translated (by Brian Massumi and others) as assemblage in what has come to called, in the 21st century, “assemblage theory.” Thus assemblage as an artistic practice bears no genealogical relation to assemblage theory. But what if it did? You could say that the experiment of the course proceeds as if to effect a faux genealogy. It does so in order to ask how the literary, visual, and plastic arts art might be re-thought in light of a conceptual enterprise outside aesthetics; to ask how this art might move us to recalibrate the conceptual enterprise; and to ask how a specific work of art, mediated by those questions, might become a theoretical enterprise of its own (prompting questions about the epistemological or ontological status of individuals, objects, spaces, &c.). Our collective task will be to compile a lexicon with which to address the formed/formless character of assemblage as a literary practice, and to think through an analytical practice that helps to animate this literature. The course will be conceptually rangy. An historical center of gravity will be provided by “The Art of Assemblage,” an exhibition that MoMA held in 1961, and by William Carlos William’s “compiled” epic, Paterson (the last fragments of which he typed in 1961), by William Burroughs’ cut-up trilogy, and by the early poetry of John Ashberry. We will also engage the visual and plastic arts of the post-war era (work by Joseph Cornell, Lee Bonetcou, and Louise Nevelson for instance, and above all by Robert Rauschenberg—his “combines”). How do you apprehend the distinction between organic and inorganic form? The course will also move backwards, forwards, and sideways: backwards to T.S. Eliot, by Ezra Pound, and earlier work by Williams, and to the collage, montage, and assemblage techniques of the modernists; forwards to some urban design concepts, and to recent installation work; and sideways to conceptual ambitions that relate to those within assemblage theory (e.g., Cyborg Theory, Actor-Network Theory). (20th/21st)

Race and the Human in Anticolonial Thought

Autumn 2016-2017


Sonali Thakkar

This course will consider the vexed status of the human—and of the corresponding terms, humanism and humanity—in midcentury anticolonial thought and postwar antiracist discourse. Our way into this question will be some of the various attempts, after World War Two, to reconstitute “humanity” as a political and moral constituency, both in literature and philosophy but also in the work of institutions such as the UN and UNESCO. We will examine these textual and historical scenes alongside a close consideration of midcentury anticolonial prose concerned with the enduring violence of fascism, slavery, and empire, and the attenuated hopes and false promises of liberal humanism, but invested too in the trope of “humanity” and in the refiguration of radical new humanisms. (20th/21st)

Narratives of Suspense

Spring 2016-2017

26901 / 46901

Esther Peters

This course examines the nature and creation of suspense in literature and film as an introduction to narrative theory. We will question how and why stories are created, as well as what motivates us to continue to reading, watching, and listening to stories. We will explore how particular genres (such as detective stories and thrillers) and the mediums of literature and film influence our understanding of suspense and narrative more broadly.  Close readings of primary sources will be supplemented with critical and theoretical readings. Literary readings will include work by John Buchan, Mary Shelly, Arthur Conan Doyle, Feodor Dostoevsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Graham Greene, Italo Calvino, and J.M. Coetzee. We will also explore Alfred Hitchcock’s take on 39 Steps and Robert Bresson’s Gentle Creature.  With theoretical readings by: Roland Barthes, Viktor Shklovsky, Erich Auerbach, Paul Ricoeur, and others. (B, H)

Dissident Lit

Spring 2016-2017

27102 / 47102

Brian Goodman

This seminar will explore the literature and history of “the dissident,” a central figure of the human rights imagination from the Cold War up to the present. From the global spread of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” to the reception of Solzhenitsyn in the United States, a major goal of the course will be to explore how the multidirectional circulation of literature and culture between America and the world has shaped ideas and practices of dissent in a variety of locations. Through close attention to several genres of writing and art, we will explore how the extraordinary ethical pressures faced by dissidents shape literary and artistic form. Along the way we will read novels, poems, essays, and criticism drawn from a range of traditions (from the US and Latin America to Russia and East-Central Europe) as we consider both the possibilities and dilemmas of literary dissidence. For their final project, students will identify a “dissident” writer or artist at work today, whether on the other side of the world or just around the corner in Chicago. (B, H)

What is Literary History?

Winter 2016-2017


Kenneth Warren

This course involves first and foremost a sustained look at literary history—an aspect of our field that we often take for granted, deem to be narrow and outmoded as a way of thinking about literature, or displace in favor of theorizing about or historicizing texts. But what is literary history a history of? Master works? The development of national literatures? The coming to voice of subordinated groups? The evolution, emergence, and obsolescence of genres? Or perhaps an account of the effect of broader socioeconomic forces on literary production? Does literary history have a theory? And what is the relation of literary history to practical criticism?

Henry James and the Question of Evil

Autumn 2016-2017


John Banville

I shall compare and contrast the two works, which in my opinion have themes and aspects closely in common. HJ regarded the tendency of human beings to exploit and tyrannise others – the noble ones, the weak, the innocent – as among the great wickednesses. Both the novel and the novella deal with appropriation and ‘possession’. In The Portrait, Gilbert Osmond and Madame Merle conspire to rob the noble-minded but overly self-willed Isabel Archer of her freedom and her dignity. In The Turn, ostensibly the spirits of the deceased Peter Quint and Miss Jessel seek to possess the hearts and souls of the children Myles and Flora – but do the ‘ghosts’ exist, or are they the fevered invention of the unnamed governess who narrates the story, who is afire with unrequitable longing for the children’s handsome uncle? I shall consider this in light of HJ’s own remarkable family – his brilliant but erratic father, his loved and envied brother William, one of America’s greatest philosophers, and their highly intelligent but neglected and neurasthenic sister Alice who, when she was facing an early death, wrote to William to plead: ‘When I am gone, pray don’t think of me simply as a creature who might have been something else…’ All the Jameses had a morbidly acute sense of the darkness underlying life; Henry Senior and William both suffered what in Swedenborgian terms is known as a ‘vastation’, an involuntary, brief but horrifying glimpse into the depths of an evil abyss, while Alice, who all her adult life suffered from nervous attacks and prostrations, would sometimes signer her letters, ‘Yours very truly, Invalid.” These themes and sub-themes I shall place within a wider consideration of the nature of evil, posing the question, is there such a thing as evil, or are there only evil deeds?