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.
This course explores the unique challenges of experiencing performance through the page. Students will read plays and performances closely, taking into account not only form, character, plot, and genre, but also theatrical considerations like staging, acting, spectatorship, and historical conventions. We will also consider how various agents—playwrights, readers, directors, actors, and audiences—generate plays and give them meaning. While the course is not intended as a survey of dramatic literature or theater history, students will be introduced to a variety of plays from across the dramatic tradition.
This class explores the connections between imaginative writing and embodiment, especially as bodies have been understood, cared for, and experienced in the framework of medicine. We’ll read texts that address sickness, healing, diagnosis, disability, and expertise. The class also introduces a number of related theoretical approaches, including the medical humanities, disability studies, narrative medicine, the history of the body, and the history of science.
This course explores the various strategies and techniques that authors have used to tell stories that claim in one way or another to be realistic. As we take up how storytellers "make it real" we will address key elements of narrative, including point of view, characterization, voice, tone, diction, syntax, setting, symbolism, pacing, modes of mediation, intertextuality, motifs, and figuration. We will focus primarily on novels and short stories, with a nod to the graphic novel at the conclusion of the course.
This course examines the evolution of the novel from the 18th to the 21st century, and includes an introduction to theories of narrative.
From the activist literature of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement to contemporary fiction and poetry, this course explores the forms, aesthetics, and political engagements of U.S. Latinx literature in the 20th and 21st centuries. Theoretical readings are drawn from Chicanx Studies, Latinx Studies, American Studies, Latin American Studies, Hemispheric Studies, Indigenous Studies, and Postcolonial Studies, as we explore Latinx literature in the context of current debates about globalization, neoliberalism, and U.S. foreign policy; Latinx literature’s response to technological and socio-political changes and its engagement with race, gender, sexuality, class, and labor; and its dialogues with indigenous, Latin American, North American, and European literatures. (Poetry, 1830-1940, Theory)
An introduction to the practice of literary and cultural criticism over the centuries, with a particular emphasis on theoretical debates about meaning and interpretation in the late 20th century and present. Critics and theorists will include Sigmund Freud, Roland Barthes, Barbara Johnson, Raymond Williams, Saidya Hartman, Eve Sedgwick, René Girard, Jacques Derrida, Fredric Jameson, Lauren Berlant, Catherine Gallagher and others. (Genre Fundamentals, Theory)
This course provides an introduction to the written materials of women artists who belonged to various twentieth-century avant-garde movements and circles. The institutions of “woman art” and “the avant-garde” will come under scrutiny as we consider the literary and archival miscellany of pan- & non-sexual, cross-generational, inter-aesthetic, multilingual, and transnational works by such makers as Gertrude Stein, Gwendolyn Brooks, Clarice Lispector, Frida Kahlo, and Yoko Ono. How do these artists conceive of their work and process as interventions into social, political, and historical realities? How does their subjective view of those realities provide an account of the identificatory powers of their gender and sexuality? We will examine the ways in which abstraction in writing becomes useful for commenting on issues raised by feminist and queer theory, periodization, canonization, and institution.
Taking to the Regenstein’s Special Collections Research Center, we will also open up the criticism, diaries, and letters of these artists to gain a new perspective on their creative processes. In addition to learning how to constellate these materials with the course readings, students will acquire hands-on experience in archival research, annotation, and curation as they make an archival project of their own. Students’ final projects will serve as the basis for a prospective library exhibition in concert with Special Collections.
What is consciousness? What is it like to be conscious? This course answers these questions by examining the emergence and development of consciousness as a concept. As a phenomenon, consciousness probably came into being deep in evolutionary time. Yet as a concept consciousness is relatively new: the European notion of consciousness emerges in the late seventeenth century. This course draws on literature, history, philosophy, and psychology to examine how the concept of consciousness came to possess its explanatory dominance. We will start by acquiring a sense of what consciousness now means in philosophy, biology, neuroscience, and fiction, paying particular attention to how the concept differs from similar ideas in ancient Indian philosophy. We will then turn to two important historical moments. First, we will examine the interplay between philosophy and literature in the late seventeenth century, reading texts by René Descartes, John Milton, Thomas Traherne, and John Locke. Second, we will focus on how, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the psychology of William James relates to the “stream of consciousness” techniques in the work of Virginia Woolf. This course stresses historical contingency—consciousness has a birthdate—in order to explore a consequence that follows from this fact: the extent to which current uses of this concept are still shaped by the historical circumstances that conditioned its emergence.
This course focuses on the future as imagined by American science fiction of the 20th century. On the one hand, we will pay attention to the scientific, political, and cultural contexts from which particular visions of the future emerged; on the other, we will work to develop an overarching sense of science fiction as a genre. We will deploy different analytical paradigms (Formalist, Marxist, Feminist, &c.) to apprehend the stakes and the strategies for imagining future worlds. After some initial attention to the magazine and pulp culture that helped to establish the genre, we will spotlight major SF movements (Afro Futurism, Cyberpunk, Biopunk, etc.) and major authors (including Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delaney, William Gibson, and Octavia Butler). Finally, we will use this 20th-century history to think about 21st-century SF work in different media (e.g., film, radio, graphic narrative).
From prophetic texts of the ancient world to today's fascination with zombie plagues, environmental disaster, and nuclear winter, the genre of apocalypse has given extraordinarily fertile expression to religious, moral, political, and economic beliefs and anxieties. In this course we will explore what is both fearful and alluring about catastrophe on an unimaginable scale, as we read and view apocalyptic works across a wide historical range. (Fiction)
Unrequited love stories are some of the most beloved romances in literature, film and television. Why do readers and audiences find unique pleasure in the agonizing tragedy of feelings not returned? And what does “unrequited” really mean anyway? This class focuses on fictional depictions of unrequited love from the perspective of British women fiction writers from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century, and contemporary British “rom-com” television shows written by women. From Mary Wollstonecraft to Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Eliza Haywood to Michaela Coel, we will consider how women tell stories of attractions plagued by lack of reciprocity, misunderstandings, persistent longing, problematic issues of consent, and social obstacles. Alongside these works of fiction, we will read psychoanalytic feminist theories of desire from scholars such as Lauren Berlant, Melanie Klein and Luce Irigaray in order work towards new definitions of unrequitedness. Our class will examine the meaning of “unrequited” across varying registers, as a source of dark humor, as an occasion for denial or repression, and as a catalyst for forms of violence. Throughout the course, we will ask ourselves as readers and viewers to interrogate our own investment (or lack thereof) in the resolution of unrequitedness. Do we really want fictional characters to realize they belong together? Why do we enjoy texts that linger on tension and longing?
This course will examine late medieval representations of death and dying, considering it in terms of both a conceptual problematic and a practice, especially as it appears in the literature and art of fourteenth and fifteenth century England. In addition to reading poetic, theological, and philosophical texts from the medieval period, students will examine visual art, architecture, and other media to the end of asking questions about how people and cultures understand and prepare themselves for death.
The abuse, misery, squalor and disturbances of the working class gripped the Victorian imagination in an urgent and unprecedented way, permeating all aspects of British social and political life—and no less, its literature. At the same time, “the lower orders” increasingly became not only the subject, but the consumers and even producers of this literature. This course will explore the major historical and political events that shaped the lives of the working class in nineteenth-century Britain through the literature that represented and responded to those lives and events. Following E.P. Thompson’s notion of class as a process, a historical relationship, a lived experience, we will pay attention to the ways in which the working class was present at its own writing. Major topics might include industrialization, Chartism and other working-class movements, Parliamentary Reform, the New Poor Law, emigration, colonialism, slavery, and women’s work. Our survey of literature will cover a range of genres— pamphlets, journalism, political economy and government reports—but we will focus on narrative fiction, contrasting its radical, popular, and bourgeois forms, in order to reflect on how class conflict manifested in the literary marketplace. Major authors will include Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Harriet Martineau. (Fiction, 1830-1940)
This course will explore the structural dynamics of protests through a close examination of giant puppets. We will engage with both practices and theories of protest puppetry. You will learn how to craft insurgent objects out papier maché and other found materials. We will think through this practice alongside theories of the public sphere and ethnographies of protests, uprisings and social movements (on the left and the right) from the 1960s to the present day. Rather than maintain the division between theory and practice, we will investigate the ways in which social movements mobilize theory as liberatory practice and how the practice of “puppetganda” generates theories of publicity from the mechanical and technical demands it makes on its puppeteers, participants and spectators. We will study specific protest events, from pioneers of the artform like Bread and Puppet in the 1960s to the height of protest puppetry during the environmental and global justice movements in the 1980s-2000s. We will ask why protest puppets were especially popular during the rise of neoliberalism and ultimately examine their usefulness in today’s political climate in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and Black uprising as well as the alt-right “rally.”
An exploration of some of Shakespeare's major plays from the first half of his professional career when the genres in which he primarily worked were comedies and (English) histories. Plays to be studied include The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, Richard III, Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. A shorter and a longer paper will be required. (Pre-1650, Drama)
The course studies Milton’s major poetry with an emphasis upon his sense of history—poetic, national, and cosmic.
This course will study some of the greatest religious poems in our language, focusing on major poets in the 17th century (Donne & Herbert), in the 19th century (Dickinson & Hopkins), and in the 20th century, where we will study T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets in its entirety. Mid-term exercise and final paper required.
Must have completed HumCore
This course offers an extended investigation of the origins, meanings, and legacies of one of the most consequential documents in world history: the Declaration of Independence. Primary and secondary readings provide a series of philosophical, political, economic, social, religious, literary, and legal perspectives on the text’s sources and meanings; its drafting, circulation, and early reception in the age of the American Revolution; and its changing place in American culture and world politics over nearly 250 years.
Irish literature in English from Swift to Anna Burns (Milkman), including Thomas Moore, Maria Edgeworth, Bram Stoker, Yeats, Synge, Joyce, O’Casey, Brian Friel and Seamus Heaney); Irish Cinema including films by John Ford, Neil Jordan, John Huston, Ken Loach, Lenny Abramson, Jim Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan, John Crowley.
This course traces the history of the double-edged notion that the world might resemble a stage from its ancient roots to its current relevance in politics, social media, and gender expression, among other areas. We will explore these questions by reading performance texts and performance theory from classical to contemporary, by attending plays and watching films, and by visiting non-theatrical events in order to consider them as occasions for performance.
This course will survey feminist literatures of the 1790s, 1890s, and 1990s. We will cover works by authors like Mary Wollstonecraft, Sarah Grand, and Greta Gaard as well as feminist movements from New Woman ideal in the 1890s to ecofeminism and material feminisms in the 1990s.
This course examines the major works—novels, political treatises, letters, travel essays—of two of Romanticism’s most influential women writers. We will attend to historical, intellectual, and cultural contexts as well as matters of literary concern, such as their pioneering development of modes like gothic and science/speculative fiction, Wollstonecraft’s stylistic theories, and Shelley’s scenes of imaginative sympathy.
In recent years, the digitization of texts in libraries has enabled new ways of studying the cultural past with computational methods. This course gives students a beginner-level introduction to these methods, which are sometimes referred to as the “digital humanities.” Computational methods help us ask questions about many hundreds or thousands of texts at the same time, questions that might elude the reach of a single reader. The course itself presumes no technical expertise whatsoever. Rather, we will explore tools designed for beginners and non-specialists. Class projects may include exploring the evolution of taboo language in novels and examining how the themes of science fiction have changed over time. In addition to practicing with text analysis methods, we will discuss some of the ethical and philosophical conundrums of using computers to study texts.
Orientalism: in the 19th century, this word referred both to the disciplined study of Asian cultures in Western academia, and to a school of European painting characterized by its fanciful and exotic depictions of Asia (and the Middle East in particular). Since Edward Said’s landmark 1978 book of the same title, Orientalism has come to name a complex and historically varied Western tendency to relate to Asia on the terms of stereotyping fantasy. Surveying the development of orientalist themes from about 1890 to the present—including the craze for japonisme in late-19th century European art, and the mix-and-match approach to Eastern (and other) spiritualities that constitutes the “New Age”—this course unravels the tropes and conventions that have historically shaped how Asia is imagined, perceived, and represented in the modern West. Along the way, we will ask how and why orientalist tropes have historically framed the exploration of issues like gender, sexuality, cultural decline, and futurity. Starting with Said as a springboard, we’ll read a series of literary and cinematic texts—Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera The Mikado, Wong Kar-Wai’s film In the Mood For Love—alongside more recent theoretical accounts of orientalism by scholars such as Anne Anlin Cheng, Grace Lavery, and R John Williams. We will also look at the ways in which Asian writers and artists have adopted orientalist modes of representation for their own critical purposes.
"Three writers do not a generation make." Often relegated to status of wife or muse in the writings and history of the Beat Generation, women's literary contributions to this experimental zeitgeist remain largely unknown and unread. This course explores the dynamic body of work produced by female Beatniks from the 1950s-1970s. We first trace the Beat Generation's aesthetic roots within the experimental poetics of Romanticism and American Transcendentalism and then shift our focus to post-war Greenwich Village, Mexico, and the American West. We will delve into works from authors like Elise Cowen, Diane diPrima, Denise Levertov and Lucia Berlin, to investigate how women's authorship across place and form--chapbooks, poetry, memoirs, travel journals and films--gave voice to a vibrant, complex feminism awash with psychedelic drugs, sexual liberation and the metaphysical exploration deeply inherent to Beat counterculture.
This course is designed as a survey of the various minority traditions excluded from canonical understandings of the history of US poetry. Centered around the twentieth century yet bookended by earlier and later poetry, the course is divided into four sections: African American, Native American, Latinx, and Asian American. Among many others, we’ll read poems by Myung Mi Kim, Amiri Baraka, Simon J. Ortiz, and Claudia Rankine.
This course explores the complex geopolitical issues of migration and national borders through visual and literary representations of the refugee in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. How have artists, writers, and filmmakers rendered their experiences of exile and displacement as a result of forced migration? In what ways do art and literature help us to understand migration as an embodied experience? What does the border mean in both aesthetic and political terms? To answer these and many other related questions, we will read across a dynamic and wide range of national and cultural contexts, from the mass displacement of World War II in Europe and the Great Migration in the United States to experiences across the African Diaspora and the contemporary global refugee crisis. Artists and writers may include Richard Wright, Jacob Lawrence, Sam Selvon, Etel Adnan, Mounira Al Solh, and Ocean Vuong, as well as theory and criticism by Hannah Arendt, Gloria Anzaldúa, Paul Gilroy, and Christina Sharpe.
Our survey of British Romantic literary culture will combine canonical texts (especially the major poetry) with consideration of the practices and institutions underwriting Romantic engagement with the natural world. We will also address foundational and recent critical-theoretical approaches to the many “natures” of Romanticism. Our contextual materials will engage the art of landscape, an influx of exotic and dangerously erotic flora, practices of collection and display, the emergent localism of the naturalist Gilbert White, the emergence of geological “deep time,” and the (literal) fruits of empire and vegetarianism.
In this course, students will learn to articulate the formal features of scripted television dramas by considering examples from the late 1980s alongside more recent programs from the 2010s. They will practice describing how the formal features of a program articulate the world its viewers and activate those viewers’ fantasies. They will learn to harmonize new ways of writing about television with new ways of watching it. And they will contextualize the formal innovations of one contemporary program using earlier experiments in televisual form. Series will likely include Magnum P.I., Dynasty, Hill Street Blues, thirtysomething, Star Trek: TNG, Twin Peaks, American Horror Story, Westworld, and Mindhunter.
In this course, we will consider the broad generic category of “coming of age” stories that characterized the literary writing of the nineteenth century. Across several different kinds of writing, a focus on the growth and development of the child into adulthood became an obsessive focus. We will read autobiographies by Mill and Martineau, Bildungsroman by Bronte and Eliot, memoirs by Dickens but also lesser known figures: working class autodidacts, women in childbirth, colonial subjects. We will, along the way, learn more about Victorian childhood, the emergence of developmental psychology, psychoanalysis, and the socio-psychological “invention” of adolescence. (1830-1940)
This course examines the phenomenon known as film noir, a style or genre—created retrospectively by critics—that continues to exert widespread influence and appeal. Spanning noir’s progenitors in the early 20th century to the canonical films of the 1940s and 50s to more recent neo-noir, the course introduces students to the principles of film analysis while also looking at the crucial role that noir has played in discussions of film style and aesthetics, gender and sexuality, and the relations between modernism and popular culture.
This course familiarizes students with Black literary speculative fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy. The objective of this course is to read Black speculative fiction alongside the historical contexts the assigned works speak to, as well as orient students to the radical re/imaginings of Black pasts, presents, and futures in the novels and short films at the center of the course. This class will pay particular attention to Black diasporic/international contributions to the genre. (Fiction, Theory)
This course examines 16th and 17th century women’s writing alongside the scholarship of trauma studies, with attention to themes of childbed suffering, loss, and geographical displacement. How did early modern authors employ a vocabulary for individual and collective encounters with death, illness, violence, and emotional disturbance prior to the modern conceptualization of trauma in the 20th century? What displaced histories are we able to access by bringing sustained focus to women’s writing? We will explore how early modern women articulate questions around suffering, personhood, and macro categories of identity (such as race, gender, class, and disability) as well as how their writing might reframe and/or disrupt the category of trauma in contemporary theory. Early modern authors of focus will include, among others, Aphra Behn, Elizabeth Carey, Margaret Cavendish, and Katherine Philips; we will also read widely across genres and time periods, with a syllabus that incorporates materials ranging from early modern midwifery treatises to contemporary drama.
This course investigates how the rise of the nineteenth-century British novel is intimately linked to the expansion of the British Empire. Many understand that this empire was based on unfair trade relations, indigenous genocide, and the exploitative labor of millions, but it can be difficult at times to see how this atrocious history fits into the domestic and metropolitan realism of the novel. How does the practice of imperialism impact the conventions of domestic fiction? How are the novel’s constructions of gender, race, and class related to the political status of colonized peoples? Our focus will be to connect narrative form with the realities of imperialism and colonial rule, but we will also draw on other genres of nineteenth-century cultural production such as print journalism, visual art, and political essays in order to help us trace the sociopolitical conditions that made empire possible. Fictional readings may include work by Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Olive Schreiner, and others. We will utilize our access to colonial archives in London with possible field trips to the British Library and the Victoria & Albert Museum, among other outings throughout the city. Assignments include weekly Canvas posts, a close-reading exercise, a 4-5-page reflection paper on an archival object, and a 6-7-page final paper.
Through a survey of texts by and about Sally Hemings, Phillis Wheatley and Tituba, “the Indian,” we will consider the lives of three black women in colonial America. In this period of expansion and contraction of the concepts of race and bondage, what kind of “tellings” were possible for these women? By reading texts written as early as 1692 and as late as 2008, we will also consider how representations of these women have changed over time. Simplified by history as a witch, a poet and a mistress, the details of the lives of Tituba, Phillis and Sally resists these epithets. This course will ask why and how they remain present in the written record today, and what this teaches us about the formation of literary and historical canons.
This course asks after the social and aesthetic possibilities of queer literatures, with a particular interest in such life-writing forms as the personal letter and epistolary (or electronic) correspondence. What, we will ask, can attending to specifically LGBTQ+ correspondences and life-writings teach us about minoritarian lifeworlds and literary canons? And, vice versa, how does an attention to the sub- or counter-cultural spaces of queer literary production change the way we read even canonical literary texts? We will visit a variety of LGBTQ+ literary lifeworlds across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries – between London, Paris, New York, San Francisco – and engage a wide range of texts and media that represent and encode queer social circuits: collected correspondences, coterie literatures, auto/biographies, memoirs, poetry, and film. In so doing, we will develop a backdrop of queer theoretical scholarship devoted to questions of community-making, subcultural space and belonging, and queer time, including the work of José Esteban Muñoz, Juana María Rodríguez, Elizabeth Freeman, and Jack Halberstam. In addition to a self-designed archival, analytical, or creative final project, we will also hone archival research strategies through two excursions to local archives and experiment with creative and collaborative strategies for reading and writing as we challenge ourselves to think from the position of correspondents.
Brecht is indisputably the most influential playwright in the 20th century, but his influence on film theory and practice and on cultural theory generally is also considerable. In this course we will explore the range and variety of Brecht's own theatre, from the Threepenny hit to the agitprop film Kühle Wampe) to classic parable plays, as well as Brecht heirs in German theatre and film (RW Fassbinder & Peter Weiss) theatre and film in Britain (Peter Brook & John McGrath), and African theatre and film, South Africa to Senegal, influenced by Brecht, and the recent NYC adaptation of Brecht’s Days of the Commune. (Drama, 1830-1940)
NOTE: This is *not* a basic intro course.
*This course also includes a weekly screening session.
Complete Hum core and one or more of the following: International Cinema or equivalent, AND/OR TAPS AND/OR active German. Please ask about other courses you have taken that may count as prerequisites.
In depth study of the period literature across poetry and fiction. Poetry: not just the canonical “big six” but also selections from the expanded horizon that includes once neglected women poets, as well as Robert Burns, Thomas Moore, John Clare. Fiction might include works by Godwin, Austen, Mary Shelley, and Walter Scott. Some attention will be paid as well to Romanticism as a fertile source for criticism and theory over the decades. (1650-1830, Theory)
This course, through attention to critical theory and expressive cultures, surveys gender and sexuality across time and place. Students will learn about theories of sex, gender, and sexuality; colonialisms and nationalisms; social movements; and war, migration, and technology.
This course reads works of postcolonial literature and theory in order to consider the entanglements of the figures of "women" and "natives" in colonial as well as postcolonial discourse. We will discuss topics such as the persistent feminization of the profane, degraded, and contagious bodies of colonized natives; representations of women as both the keepers and the victims of "authentic" native culture; the status (symbolic and otherwise) of women in anti-colonial resistance and insurgency; and the psychic pathologies (particularly nervous conditions of anxiety, hysteria, and madness) that appear repeatedly in these works as states to which women and/as natives are especially susceptible. Authors may include Ama Ata Aidoo, Hélène Cixous J.M Coetzee, Maryse Condé, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Mahasweta Devi, Assia Djebar, Frantz Fanon, Sigmund Freud, Silvia Federici, Nuruddin Farah, Bessie Head, V.S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys, Tayeb Salih, Ousmane Sembène, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
In this course, we will consider counterfactuality in fiction from the 19th century to the 21st. Following critic Catherine Gallagher, we will ask, what if things had happened otherwise? and wonder—along with a range of authors—abut the literary, generic, historical, and ethical stakes of the answers. Readings will focus on the counterfactual from the scale of the sentence to the scale of the (alternate) world. Readings will be drawn from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, L. Sprague de Camp, Philip Roth, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Kingsley Amis, and Abdourahman A. Waberi, among others.
This course investigates a battle of genres—primarily of poem versus prose—that twists and turns through much eighteenth- and early nineteenth century writing. Around 1700, the traditional poetic forms such as verse satire and the ode reigned; there were no novels per se, only genre-defying prose fictions by the likes of Eliza Haywood and Aphra Behn. Yet by 1800, not only was the novel a household name but poetry was undergoing an identity crisis of its own, also known as Romanticism: the expressive "I" of the lyric developed in tension with the narrative of epic, not to mention the narrative form of prose. Together, we will ask: How did the rise of the novel in the eighteenth century contend with the classical authority of poetry? How did poems and their reception change in relation to the novel's development and standardization? How did various literary genres differently revive old forms, like the gothic? We'll read works by authors including Dryden, Pope, Haywood, and Behn, as well as Richardson, Macpherson, Radcliffe, Cowper, Smith, Blake, Coleridge, and William and Dorothy Wordsworth. We'll draw critical readings from Aristotle's Poetics, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Mikhail Bakhtin, Gérard Genette, Jacques Derrida, and Gabrielle Starr, 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.
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 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 long-term processes of racial formation, and in global racial struggles from the early modern period to the present. Students will read Shakespearean plays portraying Black characters (Othello, Titus Andronicus, The Tempest, and Antony and Cleopatra) in conversation with African-American, Caribbean, and Post-colonial rewritings of those plays by playwrights Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Bernard Jackson, Djanet Sears, Keith Hamilton Cobb, Aimé Césaire, Derek Walcott, Lolita Chakrabarti, and film-makers Max Julien and Jordan Peele. Students will also get to speak and think with theatre-makers Keith Hamilton Cobb, Kim Weild, and Debra Ann Byrd when they visit this class as part of the UChicago “Black Baroque” focus series during Weeks 5 and 6.
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.
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.
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.
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.