English classroom

Graduate Literature Courses

Current Course Offerings – Spring 2019

English 610: War, Violence, and Human Rights

Nalin Jayasena | Wednesday 4:25-7:05PM

This course offers a comparative study of war and violence from the two world wars and violence in Western metropolitan centers to a case study of armed conflict in postcolonial South Asia. In the twenty-first century, we have come to associate collective violence (distinct from metropolitan violence in the West) as a “third world” phenomenon, due, in small part, to the surge of military conflicts in dozens of “postcolonial” sites. However, in the first half of the twentieth century, catastrophic conflicts that unfolded in Europe, like the Great War, demonstrate that large-scale violence can very well emerge from sites of economic and political stability. Using Hannah Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil, we will read European wars and “postcolonial conflicts” as sharing a common genealogy of violence. Located alongside such Eurocentric narratives of violence is the discourse of human rights, which has become inextricable from political violence in the global South. Our readings both interrogate the ethics of this discourse while evaluating the atrocities of the two World Wars and their implications for contemporary global conflicts. Finally, we will employ a relational approach in our analysis of the selected texts with the aim of disrupting the “self-other” binary that dominates disciplines like conflict studies and area studies that abide by the old adage “East is East, and West is West.”

Course readings will consist of some of the following: John Galsworthy, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Graves, D. H. Lawrence, Pat Barker, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Sven Lindqvist, Hannah Arendt, Michael Ondaatje, V. V. Ganeshananthan, Anuk Arudpragasam, Ernest McIntyre, Shyam Selvadurai, R. Radhakrishnan, Pheng Cheah, Ania Loomba, Qadri Ismail, Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, Slavoj Zizek, Ian Balfour and Eduardo Cadava, Wendy Brown, Jacques Rancière, Bruce Robbins and Elsa Stamatopoulou, and Etienne Balibar.

ENG 670: Literature, Science, Race: 1700 to 1865 

Michele Navakas | Tuesday 1:15-4:05PM

The American nineteenth century is the era of biological essentialism, the ideology that skin color and other physical features are evidence of differences in identity, character, and capacities. There is no scientific basis for this ideology, yet it sanctioned deep and irreparable damage by justifying slavery, colonial expansion, and other violent projects that depended upon—and further encouraged—dividing persons from one another and into "full humans, not-quite-humans, and nonhumans" (to cite Alexander Weheliye, a contemporary theorist of race). The U.S. still struggles with the terrible legacy of biological essentialism. This course proposes that building a better future requires examining where this notion came from, why it held such power in the early U.S., and what alternatives we might pursue.
 
Accordingly, we will examine key eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American literary reflections on race in a broad range of genres, including the colonial land survey of William Byrd, the poetry of Phillis Wheatley, Thomas Jefferson’s natural history of Virginia, Olaudah Equiano’s narrative of slavery, and the nineteenth century novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Wells Brown, who is frequently hailed as the first African American novelist. Alongside these works we will read selections from a variety of historical writings on race and nature that allow us to chart changes in scientific theories of human difference across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
 
Guiding our study will be carefully chosen, short selections from current scholarship that provides a critical vocabulary for analyzing race and gender. Primarily, this course grounds students in the complex intellectual, historical, and literary genealogies of nineteenth-century U.S. writing about human difference. Simultaneously, it examines the roots of, and potential alternatives to, deeply harmful forms of racial imagining that persist today.

ENG 750: Histories and Methodologies in Literary and Cultural Studies

Stefanie Dunning | Monday 1:15-4:05PM 

This course will explore Afro-pessimism, Afro-futurism, and Afro-surrealism as particular theoretical lenses within the broader context of Critical Race Theory. We will consider the ways that Afro-pessimism disrupts Neoliberal subjectivity, and the relationship that intervention bears to the related, but different, areas of Afro-futurism and Afro-surrealism.  We will read the work of Saidiya Hartman, Frank Wilderson, Jared Sexton, Hortense Spillers, Achille Mbembe and others. We will also consider Afro-futurism as a similarly controversial area of theoretical analysis.  This course traces the history and contemporary analyses of a diverse set of global texts. We will also consider the debates that shape black speculative fiction, science fiction, and futurism from across Africa and the African diaspora, reading works by Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, and Nnedi Okorafor. We consider not only race but gender, sexuality, class, and ability. The broader frame for both Afro-Pessimism and Afro-Futurism is Afro-surrealism, which was coined as a concept by Amiri Baraka in 1974. In the "Afro-surrealist Manifesto," D. Scot Miller defines it as "Afro-Surrealism sees that all 'others' who create from their actual, lived experience are surrealist..." We will discuss the work of Kara Walker, Roman Bearden and Kook Keith, among others, in our examination of Afro-surrealism.

English 690: Democracy and the (Post-Truth?) Public Sphere

Timothy Melley | Thursday 1:15-4:05PM

“Fake news,” state secrets, “alternative facts,” social media bubbles, conspiracy theories, weaponized information, corporate deception, mass surveillance, covert operations, segmented news feeds, election tampering, cyberwar. These are among the forms of dysfunction said to be haunting the contemporary public sphere. For many observers, we have entered a “post-truth era” marked by widespread misinformation, distrust in expertise, and disagreement about basic social facts. Yet concerns about the health of the public sphere and its essential role in democracy are hardly new. The early twentieth century saw an explosion of concern about the power of mass media to shape public opinion, stimulate desire, and become an instrument of mass control. The dystopian futurism so pervasive today has its roots in that earlier moment.

This course examines the representation of democracy and its alternatives from the 1930s to the present. The emphasis will be on political fictions about the nature of the state and its relation to media and communication systems. We will discuss a wide range of writing, film, and theory, including classic accounts of the public sphere, propaganda, advertising, psychological warfare, and public relations. Major readings will include novels by some of the following: Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Sinclair Lewis, Joseph Heller, Joan Didion, Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, Don DeLillo, George Saunders, Gary Shteyngart, Octavia Butler, Dave Eggers, Viet Than Nguyen, and Louise Erdrich. Critical and theoretical readings will be drawn from the work of writers such as Walter Lippman, John Dewey, Edward Bernays, Hannah Arendt, Jurgen Habermas, Richard Hofstadter, Edward Shils, Henry Frankfurt, Wendy Brown, Arjun Appadurai, and Jodi Dean.  The course is designed to engage with some events in the 2018-19 Altman Program on “Truth & Lies.”

Students will give two presentations and write a 20 page seminar paper. 

Recent Courses

ENG 750: Histories & Methodologies in Literary and Cultural Studies 
Interdisciplinary Seminar on Crip Theory and Culture (Detloff)

This course is open to students in literature, creative writing, composition and rhetoric, and WGS, who have an interest in the intersections of queer and disability theory. We will examine contemporary work in the emerging field of crip theory (A. Kafer, R. McRuer, A. Wilkerson, K. Hall) as well as some foundational work in disability studies (R. Garland Thompson, T. Siebers, L. Davis, M. Davidson, J. Lyon, K. Jamison). Cultural texts (film, fiction, graphic novel) we will analyze with the theoretical readings are negotiable, depending on the students who enroll and their scholarly interests, but likely texts include Lady Chatterley’s Lover, So Far From God, Saturday, Cancer Journals, Fun Home, Mad Max Fury Road, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hyperbole and a Half, and Murderball.

ENG 710: Interdisciplinary topics (Klestinec)

This interdisciplinary course on Medical Humanities covers narrative medicine, aspects of bioethics, and the history of medicine. This seminar traces the concept of the agon (battle) as a way to understand some of the battles in the history of medicine and the development of contemporary medicine: battles between paternalistic practitioners and patients, between drugs and the body, between depictions of medical expertise and the nature of the body. Readings include Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, and Atul Gawande's Being Mortal.

English 690 Asian American Cultural Critique, Dr. Mannur W 1:15-4:05 p.m.

Since it's inception in the late 1960s Asian American literary studies has engage the complex political construction of Asian America as a heterogeneous coalitional identity. Since then, literary critics and writers have negotiated the complex and tense differences that constitute "Asian America", aesthetically, politically and conceptually. More recently literary critic Kandice Chuh argues for reframing Asian American studies as a field defined not by its subjects and objects, but by its critique. With a view to understanding the methodological underpinnings of Asian American literary studies, this course will read several novels and critical studies so as to rigorously examine the trajectories and possibilities of Asian American cultural and literary critique.

ENG 680: Literature and the Politics of Truth in the Age of American Realism (Hebard)

This course will examine the emergence of American Literary Realism at the end of the nineteenth century.  The course will be particularly interested in how realism as a movement made claims to representational "truth" and then linked those claims to ethical and political stances.  What are "truthful" literary representations, and can such "truths" be said to provide the basis for a politics? What produces a demand for truth in literature and what constitutes a literary hoax?  We will examine such questions in relation to a number of historical contexts including changes in the natural sciences, the circulation of photography and film, and the rise of statistical thinking.  We will read works by William Dean Howells, Charles Chesnutt, Upton Sinclair, Edith Wharton, Jack London, W.E.B Du Bois, and others.  Most of the readings will be from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but we will also likely look at some later works like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and recent literary hoaxes like the James Frey scandal.  The course will be coordinated with some of the Humanities Center programming around the Altman Program themed on "Truth and Lies."  

English 660: Modernist Poetry and Its Legacies (Tuma)

We will read and discuss modernist poetry and the history of its reception and influence, especially as reflected in the practice of contemporary poets. The modernist poets concerned include Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, Melvin Tolson, Nancy Cunard, Lynette Roberts, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Joseph Gordon Macleod, Hugh MacDiarmid, Hart Crane, and Sterling Brown.  

ENG 640: Studies in 19th-Century English Literature
Victorian Women Writers and Fictions of Feminism (Corbett) 

This seminar will locate some of the many women writers at work in the second half of the nineteenth century in relation to the political movements of the time. Feminists or, more accurately, protofeminists agitated for reform in a wide range of areas: marriage and child custody law; domestic violence and sexual assault; employment and property rights; higher education; prostitution laws and, more broadly, the sexual double standard; rational dress; vivisection; temperance; anti-slavery and anti-imperialist work; and, of course, suffrage. Each constituted a crucial arena for activism, with many intersections among them, and commanded considerable public attention. Yet many women writers approached the representation of these issues somewhat tentatively, at least until the last two decades of the century, for aesthetic and political reasons we will explore. Reading works of fiction by Caroline Norton, Anne and Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird, Sarah Grand, and/or George Egerton, and a range of historical and critical material, we will consider the impact of cultural and political debates about the status of women on the form, content, and rhetoric of fiction.

ENG 630 New Models of Fiction in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Dr. Jennings M 4:25-7:15 p.m.

This seminar explores how, despite the standard narratives of scientific and technological progress, fiction and conjecture became major sites of innovation in the period between the late seventeenth century and the end of the eighteenth century, also known as the Enlightenment. How did historians come to associate ideas like factuality and reason with modernity in the first place? We will trace the relationship between the early English novel and other prominent forms of modern make believe—such as scientific hypothesis, economic prognostication, and historical conjecture, which emerged in eighteenth-century Britain. What’s more, we will posit our own hypotheses and conduct our own experiments by using digital methods to compare the language of early fictional works with scientific and historical genres. Readings will include works by Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Bhen, Eliza Haywood, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Adam Smith, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen as well as a range of critical material.

ENG 620: Historicism and Its Discontents in Early Modern Sexuality Studies (Bromley)

In this course, early modern drama will serve as the occasion to examine the stakes of debates around historical and theoretical approaches to early modern sexuality.  We will trace the history of early modern sexuality studies, especially during the past three decades, and consider potential new avenues for inquiry into sexuality in early modern drama.  What are the limits and affordances of each approach? How might they be conjoined or synthesized and what irreconcilable differences are there between them?  How might early modern drama challenge and refine recent theoretical approaches to sexuality along historical or conceptual lines? Readings will include plays by Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton, and Ben Jonson and methodological and critical works by scholars of early modern sexuality. 

English 610: Transnational Studies: Biopolitics and Necropolitics in America's Asia Pacific (Cho)

Using literary and interdisciplinary scholarship on biopolitics, necropolitics, and comparative racialization in the context of U.S.-Asia encounters as a point of departure, this course introduces students to new theoretical and methodological paradigms that address transnational cultural formation in intersecting contexts of (neo)colonialism and globalization.  This course centers the complexities of the Asia Pacific as concrete material and discursive sites of intersecting colonialisms and global capitalism, particularly the connections among post-WWII U.S. dominance, Japanese militarism, and the rise of other powers across Asia and the Pacific.  This course will explore such connections as productive nexuses that open up critiques of militarized racial modernity as a way to rethink current paradigms of biopolitics and necropolitics.

English 603: Theories and Their Histories (Hebard)

This course covers a number of critical approaches to literary studies while contextualizing them with an account of the intellectual history of the discipline.  The goal of the course is to get students to think deliberately about and to articulate their own methodological commitments and to then situate those commitments within the field of literary studies.  Beginning with broad overviews of literary theory by Jonathan Culler and Terry Eagleton, the course will cover a number of approaches including formalism, historicism, reader response criticism, structuralism, post structuralism, Marxism, feminism, gender studies, critical race theory, and others.  As much as this course is about understanding a variety of theories and methodologies, it is also about learning how to read and engage with theory.  We will thus be reading a number of books in addition to shorter works by theorists.    

ENG/WGS 535 Queer Theory, Dr. Mannur MW 10:15-11:25 a.m.

In this course, we will read extensively in the interdisciplinary field of queer theory, from its emergence two decades ago to its present day articulations. We will explore what is meant by “queer”, its relationship to terms like “gay and lesbian” and the challenges posted to a politics of identity. We will also interrogate the category of “theory” itself-what it is, what it achieves and the kinds of interventions it makes. We will concentrate on recent work theorizing race, queer of color critique, futurity, utopia, and place in queer terms.