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.
Gothic novels are obsessed with what gets left out of rational accounts of experience: fantastic or inexplicable events, feelings of terror, horror, and haunting, scenarios of vulnerability, violence, or pathological desire. In this course, we will ask: when or in what ways does the gothic provide an escape from everyday life? And, when and in what ways does it mirror aspects of psychological, political, or social reality? We will explore these questions by focusing on classic gothic fiction from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. Our interests will be literary as well as political and psychological: we will think together about how gothic fiction shapes or challenges what we typically expect from novels, particularly at this nascent moment in the history of both the novel form and the gothic tradition. While we will supplement our readings with a small selection of contextual/critical material throughout the quarter, this course is conceived mainly as an opportunity to engage closely with the novels themselves. (18th/19th)
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, remote online theater on platforms like Zoom, algorithmic theater, mixed reality performance, and transmedia games. One unit of the course attends to experiments in remote theater since the COVID-19 pandemic.
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 explores the critical potential and limitations of a few key sociological approaches to literature, working with the literary scene of the 1890s as our case. We will focus on Bourdieu's theorization of the field of cultural production; Foucault's analytics of power/knowledge and discursive formations; and recent efforts by Moretti and others to import geographic, social network, and evolutionary models into literary studies.
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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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 question of “race” and racial others in US fiction has troubled the form since its emergence, but in the 21st century fiction has tackled particularly thorny issues. The debates in contemporary critical race theory have both criticized and maintained the categories of race and ethnicity in novels and short fiction, and longstanding debates in canonization have demanded rethinking what “ethnic” fiction is capable of achieving. This class will read US ethnic novels and short stories of the last twenty years to conceptualize the shifting categories of race and ethnicity, paired with critical and theoretical works in critical race studies. Further, we will address the continuing importance of the historical novel and genre fiction to the study of race and ethnicity. The syllabus may include works by Paul Beatty, Lise Erdrich, Myriam Gurba, Mat Johnson, Stephen Graham Jones, lê thi diem thúy, Carmen Maria Machado, Salvador Plascencia, Colson Whitehead, and Karen Tei Yamashita.
In this class, we’ll examine the notions of kinship and care, analyzing them both as conceptual frameworks and as concrete forms of being-together in human and more-than-human relations. Kinship and care are uncertain territories, fluctuating and dynamic; sites of possibility and futurity. Kin-making and care-giving practices reveal existing structures of oppression as well as the utopian possibilities within relation. We’ll spend much of our time engaging with a set of “experiments” or case studies—historical, science fictional, and critical accounts of community—to see how connection appears as a mode of resistance or survival. Throughout, our collective goal will be to think together about living together. Readings may include SF from Octavia Butler, Claire Coleman, Ursula Le Guin, Wu Ming-Yi; theoretical and critical work from Sara Ahmed, Leela Gandhi, Donna Haraway, Laura Harjo, Saidiya Hartman, Kara Keeling, Audre Lorde, José Esteban Muñoz, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Dean Spade, Kim Tallbear, Anna Tsing.
This course examines imaginative works by women that take on the task of representing divine or supernatural being from the medieval era to the present. Drawing on the work of theorists such as Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Judith Butler, we will explore what strategies these writers employ to depict an entity understood to be unrepresentable. What kind of authority is required to present a representation of gods or God to readers, and how do women writers, in particular, establish such authority or manage its absence? What theories of embodiment or spirituality do we find presented in these writings? Is it possible or desirable to articulate a distinctively feminine relation to the body or transcendence across such varied texts? Readings may include Julian of Norwich’s fourteenth-century Revelations of Divine Love, the philosophical writings of Anne Conway, the poems of ‘A’ishah al-Ba’uniyyah, and novels by Marilynne Robinson and Leslie Marmon Silko.
The stories we tell about America’s rapid modernization at the turn to the twentieth century often emphasize men and male experience: Industrialization, the rise of corporate capital, and urbanization all produced new sites of male heroic agency and likewise new anxieties around masculinity. In this seminar, we orient modernity around women, and in particular the turn-of-the-century feminist ideal of the “New Woman.” The literary and theoretical texts on our syllabus not only ask questions about what a woman is and ought to be, but also regard “the woman question” as crucial to resolving the many social, political, and economic tensions that characterized American modernization. Our readings on the New Woman will likewise guide our analysis of the period’s more intimate histories. Finally, our inquiry into the gender of American modernity will lead us into considerations of race and class. The “New Woman” ideal was for the most part available only to white middle class women. Our seminar will pay considerable attention to texts written by and about women of color, immigrants, and working class women in order to guage their relation to this ideal and to locate feminist modernities outside of it. Authors may include: Henry Adams, Djuna Barnes, Kate Chopin, Theodore Dreiser, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Emma Goldman, Sui Sin Far, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry James, Nella Larsen, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Margaret Sanger, Olive Schreiner, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, and Anzia Yezierska.
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.
Today, Jane Austen is one of the most famous (perhaps the most famous), most widely read, and most beloved of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British novelists. In the two hundred years since her authorial career, her novels have spawned countless imitations, homages, parodies, films, and miniseries - not to mention a thriving "Janeite" fan culture. For just as long, her novels have been the objects of sustained attention by literary critics, theorists, and historians. This course will offer an in-depth examination of Austen, her literary corpus, and her cultural reception as well as a graduate-level introduction to several important schools of critical and theoretical methodology. We will read all six of Austen's completed novels in addition to criticism spanning feminism, historicism, Marxism, queer studies, postcolonialism, and psychoanalysis. Readings may include Sara Ahmed, Frances Ferguson, William Galperin, Deidre Lynch, D.A. Miller, Edward Said, Eve Sedgwick, and Raymond Williams.
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.
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. Alongside seminar sessions for discussion of readings, workshop sessions patterned on Creative Writing pedagogy 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.
In this Big Problems course on the literature of migration, students will analyze and create narratives about human beings moving across time and place, crossing borders both literal and metaphorical. We will consider the lives, perspectives, and voices of characters who are forged and re-forged by their cultural, linguistic, and familial contexts. Migration itself represents a physical relocation; writing about migration both expresses and requires an intellectual relocation. We will examine carefully questions of audience: for whom does the literature of migration exist, other members of migrant communities? Hosts? Both? What are the motivations for the work; does the literature of migration accelerate a sense of belonging, issue challenges, create a new form of hybrid identity? Does it keep a record that’s retrospective about the past, and/or contain in its very language the present tense? What does it ask or suggest about our future?
This is a multi-genre course, in which we will read fiction, poetry, and non-fiction about migration. Students will write both critical and creative projects, and research will be a key component of the course, making use of nearby archives and guest visits. Weekly readings include texts from Euripides’ Medea to Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and will guide our consideration not only of how to read the literature of migration, but also of how to tie research into critical and creative projects on migration.
Third- or fourth-year standing.
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.
The participants in this seminar will be asked to re-examine the notion of “inspiration” in its aesthetic and historical senses, revisiting age-old textual and arts practices based on tropes of channeling, as well as contemporary practices based on embodied, performative and geopoetic notions of interconnection, circulation, receptivity and transmutation—including practices that reflect and refute the denial of the innate interconnectivity of beings. We will explore the reciprocity of breathing in and out as a key to cognitive and aesthetic practices built on conscious somatic traditions, on poetics of critical voicing and unvoicing. We will delve into the workings of air as an animating element that bridges and binds individuals to both internal and external forces—controllable and uncontrollable, state-sponsored and ambient, or what we would call “natural” under anthropocene conditions. 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 ambient forces, signs, and voices in literature, performance, audiovisual and electronic media, and perhaps sculptural and architectural sites. We will examine the modern and contemporary politicization of air as a commons, and will apply our research to the analysis and critique of industrial and post-industrial landscapes. The imagination of air itself becomes central to thinking about utopian or dystopian collectivities in a time of respiratory crisis.
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.