The course catalog for 2020-2021 as well as Provisional syllabi for some English courses can be found in Department of English Language & Literature - Syllabi & Reading Lists. Please note that all syllabi are subject to change.
In this course we will examine the explosive proliferation of print—books, newspapers, journals, magazines, pamphlets, illustrations—during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One of the most striking effects of this “Print Revolution” was the extension of reading material to new groups of readers. We will pay particular attention to the changing ways in which women, workers, and children accessed and interacted with printed texts. With the help of literary, historical, and sociological scholarship, we will aim to understand the Print Revolution in relation to the political revolutions, intellectual paradigms, and social upheavals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This course will meet regularly in the Special Collections Research Center in Regenstein Library where we will have the opportunity to work with primary source materials first hand.
“How lovely it is, this thing we have done - together."
Beginning with Morrison’s 1993 Nobel Prize Lecture, this class will read (for many reread) two of Toni Morrison’s novels that pose the house and household as a “site of memory” in which to dramatize gendered histories of race in North America. Our class will annotate together Beloved and A Mercy with the essays, films, poetry of various scholars, in addition to some of Morrison’s literary critical and historical writings. Our in-depth reading of these two works will provide a foundation for engaging in ongoing debates about race and writing in literary studies, black feminists critiques of the classroom, and histories of race-based slavery in North America. If, as Morrison contends, “language” teaches us “how to see without pictures” and that “language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names,” we will aim to hold language close as we consider “what moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.” (20th/21st)
The course will track hymns from the early modern period through the late eighteenth century. We’ll examine the evolution of the hymn as a literary form, focusing on obsolescence and adaptation in literary transmission. We’ll start with the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible, and analyze psalters (such as the one produced by Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, and her brother, Sir Philip Sidney) and the metrical psalms of Sternhold and Hopkins that were used in Anglican services. We’ll then take up the development of congregational hymns, hymns sung by everyone in a congregation, to track the way that literary adaptation among Dissenters became both common and controversial. We’ll look at Isaac Watts’s multiple hymns for each of the Psalms, his later Hymns and Spiritual Songs, and his Divine Songs for children to get at the importance he and other Dissenters (such as Anna Letitia Barbauld) attached to supplying words to all who could sing or say them. We’ll end with a discussion of “Amazing Grace” and its use in the British abolition movement, and with a discussion of the movement of the literary hymn away from religion altogether in literary hymns, Shelley’s and Keats’s odes.
This course probes the nature and limits of theater by exploring a range of theatrical texts from various centuries whose relation to performance is either partially or fully virtual, including philosophical dialogues, closet dramas, novel chapters in dramatic form, drama on social media, digital theater, algorithmic theater, mixed reality performance, and transmedia games.
This course will explore the cultural anxieties surrounding—chiefly—class, race, gender, and colonization expressed in early modern European works of speculative fiction. The syllabus will include fiction by Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Francis Godwin, Cyrano de Bergerac, Henry Neville, and Margaret Cavendish, using speculative fiction to look at early modernity through the lens of critical theory.
This course will read across “subaltern” autobiographical and literary narratives of exile in order to interrogate the condition of exile in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. How is the exile discursively distinguished from the refugee, the migrant, the immigrant? How do the various origins and forms of exile – emergent from colonialism, war, racism, xenophobia, political dissidence, and dispossession – inform our understanding of these broader global machinations? Readings will include works by Edward Said, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Stuart Hall, and Mahmoud Darwish, among others.
This course examines the innovative, creative forms autobiography has taken in the last one hundred years in literature. We will study closely works written between 1933 and 2013 that are exceptional for the way they challenge, subvert and invigorate the autobiographical genre. From unpublished sketches to magazine essays and full-length books, we will see autobiography take many forms and engage with multiple genres and media. These include biography, memoir, fiction, literary criticism, travel literature, the graphic novel and photography. Producing various mutations of the autobiographical genre, these works address some of the same concerns: the self, truth, memory, authenticity, agency and testimony. We will complement discussions of these universal issues with material and historical considerations, examining how the works first appeared and were received. Autobiography will prove a privileged site for probing constructions of family narratives, identity politics and public personas. The main authors studied are Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, Vladimir Nabokov, Roland Barthes, Paul Auster, Doris Lessing, Marjane Satrapi and W.G. Sebald.
In this course, we will study poetry ‘in the abstract’. We will study various efforts on the part of philosophers, literary critics, and poets themselves to formulate theories of poetic discourse. We will examine a range of historical attempts to conceptualize poetry as a particular kind of language practice, from German Romanticism to ecopoetics and beyond.
This course considers fictional persons, tropes of anthropomorphism and vivification, and personificational allegory as these operate in the theory and practice of medieval imaginative writing. In addition, it places practices of prosopopoeia within ongoing scholarly conversations about lyric voice, literary character, affect, the ontology of fiction, and the relation of speech to writing.
This course explores the way Modernist writers theorized interracial encounter and intimacies. Considering both the direct and indirect conversations taking place between writers across the color line during the early 20th century, we will examine the shared and divergent concerns, styles, and forms emerging from writers grappling with the desires, failures and fantasies of interracial encounter. Potential authors include Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Nella Larsen, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, and Claude McKay.
The rise of the modern city makes possible new modes of experience, new kinds of people and personality, and new kinds of stories. Texts include Gaskell, North and South; Dickens, Hard Times; Stevenson, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; Wilde, The Portrait of Dorian Gray; Woolf, Mrs Dalloway.
This course will study women’s relation to the intellectual and political culture of Enlightenment, as both subjects and objects of enquiry. We will examine how writers of this period imagined sexual difference and the category of “woman”; envisioned women’s education and the life of the mind; came to understand women as consumers and creators of culture, as well as agents of sociability, civilization and historical change. Throughout, we will consider the relationship between gender and key Enlightenment ideals of rationality, autonomy, civility, progress, and political liberty.
This course focuses on the works of Jamaica Kincaid, V.S. Naipaul (whom cultural critic Shalini Puri once called a “postcolonial skeptic”), and their interlocutors. We will read fiction and non-fiction alike to investigate history, debt, and violence and the act of writing about the postcolony from the Global North.
Current political and recent academic debate have centered on income or wealth inequality. Data suggests a rapidly growing divergence between those earners at the bottom and those at the top. This course seeks to place that current concern in conversation with a range of moments in nineteenth and twentieth century history when literature and economics converged on questions of economic inequality. In keeping with recent political economic scholarship by Thomas Piketty, we will be adopting a long historic view and a somewhat wide geographic scale as we explore how economic inequality is represented, measured, assessed and addressed.
This Gray Center-sponsored research practicum is tied to a film project with documentary maker and Mellon Collaborative Fellow Ric Burns about outsider artist Ralph Blakelock. America’s Van Gogh, Blakelock created art far ahead of his time, went mad, and spent nearly 20 years in an asylum before emerging into the glare of flashbulbs as the most sought-after painter of the 1910s, only to end his life as victim of a con game. In between, he sojourned with the Sioux, hobnobbed with Gilded Age millionaires, channeled Longfellow and Mendelssohn in his art, struggled in the emergent New York “art world”, played vaudeville piano, and became one of the first major figures in modern celebrity-driven mass media. How best to capture this kaleidoscopic life and Blakelock’s dizzying art in a documentary is the creative challenge of the seminar. Our focus will be on Blakelock’s "Ghost Dance/The Vision of Life." Art Institute conservators, assisted by Chemistry Department Professor Steven Sibener, will use scientific imaging to see inside the painting, whose provenance and context of production and reception need to be researched.
*Participants will be assigned to specific topics based on area of expertise. The course should be of particular interest to students in DOVA, Art History, History, English, Psychology, Chemistry, Cinema Studies, and Anthropology.
Instructor consent required. Open to students at all levels, undergraduate and graduate. Email a letter of interest to Professor Rothfield: email@example.com.
“Moððe word fræt.” These are the first words of a riddle that students will learn how to read in this course. As the first part of the Medieval Research Series, this course introduces students to the Old English language, the literary history of early medieval England, and current research tools and scholarship in the field of Old English. In studying the language, we will explore its diverse and exciting body of literature, including poems of heroic violence and lament, laws, medical recipes, and humorously obscene riddles. Successful completion of the course will give students a rich sense not only of the earliest period of English literary culture, but also of the
structure of the English language as it is written and spoken today.
*This course is the first in a two quarter Medieval Research sequence. No prior experience with Old or Middle English is required. The second course in the Medieval Research sequence (Beowulf) will be offered in the Spring Quarter.
In this course, we will read and translate all of the Exeter Book Riddles from Old English, attending closely to issues of language, paleography, textual cruxes, and—of course—interpretation. In an effort to understand these riddles within a broader early medieval tradition of enigmatic poetry, we will also read several Old English charms as well as Anglo-Latin riddles in translation. Emphasis will also be placed on the history of scholarship on early medieval riddles, and over the course of the term, each student will produce a piece original scholarly research that engages with a riddle or set of riddles and the critical tradition.
This course explores the role played by the Shakespearean canon in the shaping of Western ideas about blackness, in processes of racial formation, and racial struggle from the early modern period to the present. Students will read Shakespearean plays portraying black characters (Othello, Titus Andronicus, The Tempest, Antony and Cleopatra) in conversation with African-American and post-colonial rewritings of those plays (by Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Keith Hamilton Cobb, and Aimé Césaire, among others).
The goal of this course is to analyze the emergence of psychoanalysis within its historical context, and to explore the ways in which psychoanalytic theory functions at once as an artifact of 19th century culture and as an interpretive system that can afford us a particular set of insights into that culture. Readings will include 19th century novels and poetry by Emily Brontë, H. Rider Haggard and Thomas Hardy, among others, as well as anthropological, sexological, sociological and psychiatric texts that represent the backdrop to the development of psychoanalytic theory.
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 biopolitics in order to ask questions about the divide between nature and culture, what's entailed in imagining the future, what gender and genre might have to do with each other, and just what science fiction is and does anyway. Authors include: Le Guin, Russ, Butler, Piercy, Haraway, Rubin, Firestone.
Recent work in feminist theory and feminist studies of science and technology has reopened and reconfigured questions around reproduction, embodiment, and social relations. Sophie Lewis’s account of “uterine geographies” and Michelle Murphy’s work on chemical latency and “distributed reproduction” stand as examples of this kind of work, which asks us to think about embodied life beyond the individual (and the human) and to see ‘biological reproduction’ as far more than simply biological. Social reproduction theory might be an example in a different key. This kind of investigation has a long (though sometimes quickly passed over) history in feminist thought (Shulamith Firestone’s call for ectogenic reproduction is a famous example), and in the radical reimaginings of personhood, human/nature relations, and sexing and gendering of feminist science fiction. This class will ask students to think between feminist science and technology studies, theoretical approaches to questions around social and biological reproduction, and the opening up of reproductive possibility found in feminist science fiction.
This course examines Hemispheric Studies approaches to the literatures and cultures of the Americas, which combines a commitment to comparatism with attention to the specificities of local contexts ranging from the Southern Cone to the Caribbean to North America. Theories drawn from American Studies, Canadian Studies, Caribbean Studies, Latin American Studies, Poetry and Poetics, Postcolonial Studies, and U.S. Latinx Studies will be explored in relation to literature written primarily but not exclusively in the 20th and 21st centuries by writers residing throughout the Americas. We’ll examine recent, innovative studies being published by contemporary scholars working with Hemispheric methods across several fields. We’ll also consider the politics of academic field formation, debating the theories and uses of a method that takes the American hemisphere as its primary frame yet does not take the U.S. as the default point of departure; and the conceptual and political limitations of such an approach. No knowledge of Spanish, French, or Portuguese is required.
Translation is one of the central mechanisms of literary creativity across the world. This course will offer opportunities to think through both the theory and practice of this art form and means of cultural transmission, focusing on the problems of translation of and by poets in a variety of languages: it will emphasize precisely the genre most easily “lost in translation,” as the truism goes. Topics to be discussed will include semantic and grammatical interference, loss and gain, the production of difference, pidgin, translationese, bilingualism, self-translation, code-switching, translation as metaphor, foreignization vs. nativization, and distinct histories of translation. The workshop will offer students a chance to try their hands at a range of tactics of translation.
This course investigates the intimate dimensions of contemporary transnational experience. We will focus on representations of familial bonds and on transformations of love relations under conditions of diaspora and migration, and we will consider whether migration and other forms of transnational experience might entail rethinking the contours of terms like family and intimacy. Authors may include Gordimer, Gunesekera, Hartman, Ishiguro, Kincaid, Lahiri, Mootoo, Shamsie, with films by Cronenberg, Liem, and key theoretical texts.
This course examines Africa in film as well as films produced in Africa. It places cinema in Sub Saharan Africa in its social, cultural, and aesthetic contexts ranging from neocolonial to postcolonial, Western to Southern Africa, documentary to fiction, art cinema to TV, and includes films that reflect on the impact of global trends in Africa and local responses, as well as changing racial and gender identifications. We will begin with La Noire de... (1966), by the “father” of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene, contrasted w/ a South African film, African Jim (1960) that more closely resembles African American musical film, and anti-colonial and anti-apartheid films from Lionel Rogosin’s Come Back Africa (1959) to Sarah Maldoror’s Sambizanga, Sembene’s Camp de Thiaroye (1984), and Jean Marie Teno’s Afrique, Je te Plumerai (1995). The rest of the course will examine 20th and 21st century films such as I am a not a Witch and The wound (both 2017), which show tensions between urban and rural, traditional and modern life, and the implications of these tensions for women and men, Western and Southern Africa, in fiction, documentary and fiction film.
*This course also includes a weekly screening
One or more of the following: Intro to Film/ International Cinema AND/OR Intro to African Studies or equivalent.
One effect of early English capitalism is its raising of the question, what constitutes a lot? and its practical correlate, how is abundance to be measured? This course reads early modern drama and popular print alongside inventories, bills of mortality, and other evidence of social and object quantification to study the separation of things from stuff and commoners from the commonty.
This seminar will re-examine the notion of “inspiration” in its aesthetic and historical senses, revisiting textual and arts practices based on tropes of channeling, revelation, and possession as well as those based on embodied, performative and eco-conscious notions of circulation, interconnection, transformation, and receptivity. We will delve into the workings of air as an animating element that bridges and binds individuals to both internal and external forces. We will explore the long history of engagement with this element as it has been used to signify and enhance the circulation and interception of signs, dreams, and voices in literature, performance, audiovisual and electronic media, sculptural and architectural sites. We will examine the modern and contemporary politicization of air as a commons, and apply ourselves to the analysis and critique of industrial and post-industrial landscapes. A wide range of readings and viewings will include work by Hesiod, Coleridge, John Ruskin, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Frank O’Hara, Charles Olson, Ant Farm, Meredith Monk, Adriana Cavarero, Mladen Dolar, Nathaniel Mackey, Jorge Otero-Pailos, Latasha N. Nevada-Diggs, and many others.
A course on medieval aesthetics, in the sense both of the formal work of literary art and of the forms of sensation and affect produced by that work. We’ll be examining especially the two great medieval discourses of longing, sexual and religious, as they figure relations of desire to impossible objects. Texts will be drawn from theology, courtly love poetry, allegory, romance, and mystical literature.
Three novelists—one Irish, one English, one Scottish—who were formative for several crucial developments in subsequent fiction: various strands of realism, the relationship between fiction and ethnography, the emergence of the national tale and the historical novel, techniques of narrative such as FID, and fictional treatment of education, science, political economy, and empire. Edgeworth, the least familiar name, is a remarkable writer and intellect, an innovator long neglected in Britain because she’s Irish and in Ireland because she’s Protestant. She produced a body work that was crucial for both Austen and Scott, different as they were between themselves, not to mention for later writers as different as Emily Bronte and Kasuo Ishiguro. Her rehabilitation, like Scott’s, is under way but has a long way to go. There is work to be done there. Students will also have the opportunity to work on later novelists whose work was importantly shaped by any writer in this influential trio: domestic fiction after Austen, historical fiction after Scott, and so on. Belinda McKeon’s Solace, for example, centers on an Irish graduate student whose dissertation is about Edgeworth. (18th/19th)
Capital is frequently described as a generically difficult-to-categorize text: part satire, part history, part theory. Yet for all this hybridity or ambiguity, there is a sense in which the subtitle makes its generic affiliation quite clear: it is a “critique of political economy.” What exactly is “critique” and how, in light of recent debates in literary studies, might reading Capital sharpen our sense of what it can and cannot do? The bulk of our work in this seminar will be on Marx’s text in its entirely, supplemented by essays by Fredric Jameson, Anna Kornbluh, George Caffentzis, David Harvey, Beverly Best, Barbara Johnson, Gayatri Spivak, and Moishe Postone.