Graduate Courses, Fall 2018
|Course no.||Time(s)||Course title||Instructor|
|AML 6017||W 6-8||“Scientia” in the American Renaissance||Smith|
|AML 6027||R 3-5||Genre, Race, Modernity: Melodrama and Mysticism in the Americas||Hedrick|
|CRW 6130||T 9-11||Fiction Writing||Bordas|
|CRW 6166||M 9-11||Fiction Forms: The Writer as Critic||Leavitt|
|CRW 6166||M 9-11||Studies in Literary Form (Poetry)||Mlinko|
|CRW 6331||T 9-11||Graduate Poetry Workshop||Logan|
|ENG 6137||W 6-8
|Psychoanalytic Theories of Film & Literature||Turim|
|ENL 6236||W 9-11||Secularism and Its Discontents||Maioli|
|ENL 6256||T 9-11||Victorian Genders and the Novel: Masculinities||Gilbert|
|LIT 6357||T 3-5||19th-Century African American Literature||Steverson|
|LIT 6358||M 6-8||The World of James Baldwin & Critical Race Theory||Reid|
|LIT 6856||F 3-5||Rationality, Irrationality, Modernity||Hegeman|
|LIT 6856||R 9-11||Transnational Feminist Theory||Mennel|
|LIT 6934||R 6-8||The Carceral Imaginary||Schorb|
|LIT 6934||M 3-5||Digital Writing and Emerging Technologies||Dobrin|
“Scientia” in the American Renaissance
Despite the definition (above) that science is knowledge, the definition and communal acceptance of what knowledge constitutes remains a moving target in political and cultural debates, or in some cases, shouting matches. What does it mean to know something for a fact, when facts are subject to violent political revisions or socio-historical change? Galileo’s reaffirmation of the Copernican heavens gained him censure from the Catholic church; AIDS was initially and widely believed by Americans to be a disease that would only infect gay men, despite the well-known biology of the virus, a dangerous and bigoted belief that epidemiologists at the time warned was farcical. Few today would argue that the earth is the center of the universe or that only gay men died of AIDS (I hope).
Facts can and do change, but those changes should always “be based on demonstrable and reproducible data,” as has been standard scientific practice since at least the 17th century. Of course how such scientific data is acquired, revised, revisited or rejected has also changed drastically over time, so that what was once considered a fact in 1848 can seem quaint in 2018 (to a majority). In this class, we shall read 19th c. American literatures from the period still considered by many scholars as the “American Renaissance” that either depend upon, question, or seek to revise or revisit what the majority in that time considered factual, common-sense, “scientific” knowledge, in order to shed some historical and cultural light on similar, current debates. Readings will include works by Hawthorne, Child, Melville, Poe, Bierce, Fuller and more.
Genre, Race, Modernity: Melodrama and Mysticism in the Americas
From the around the turn of the twentieth century, writers and artists in the United States as well as in Latin America used the genre of melodrama to figure forth the joys and anxieties of the ways modernity affected the cultures to which they belonged. Indeed, artists, musicians, and writers found that melodrama was peculiarly suited to the often twinned modernist concerns of race (whether it be Afro-American or Indo-American) and the mystical (what Susan Gillman calls “blood talk”). Our primary texts will cover literature, music, and cinema from the US, Mexico, Cuba, Peru, and other places. Along with these texts, we will be reading criticism and theories of modernism from across the Americas. All texts in English.
This course is open to MFA candidates in fiction only.
Our workshop will be conducted in traditional workshop fashion: each week, we will discuss two short stories (or novel excerpts), by two different students. Every student will turn in two pieces of fiction over the course of the semester.
The writer whose work is being critiqued is expected to turn in a piece he or she believes to be as close to being finished as possible. The students critiquing the piece will treat it as published work, meaning they will discuss it as if the writer has deep intentions behind every line (which hopefully they do) and they, as readers, want to understand those intentions. Students are expected, each week, to write letters to those who are being critiqued: letters that describe what the piece that is being critiqued has achieved, what it hasn’t achieved, what it might achieve, etc.
Dedication to understanding what each writer is trying to do, regardless of their aesthetic preferences, is mandatory. Also mandatory: that the writers be prepared to hear what the others have to say about their work. It is hard being critiqued, but we’re all here to help each other become better writers.
Readings will be assigned on an individual basis.
Fiction Forms: The Writer as Critic
A significant difference between literature and the other arts—painting, acting, dance, music—is that its practitioners must often do double-duty as critics; increasingly so, as the number of dedicated book critics diminishes. In print publications such as The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, and Bookforum, as well as online forums such as The Millions and Slate, fiction writers and poets routinely review the work of their fellow fiction writers and writers. Not only that, over the course of the last couple of centuries, many writers of fiction and poetry have become as famous, if not more so, for their critical writing as for their novels, stories, and poems.
In this course we will investigate the writer as critic in several different ways. First, we will read examples of critical writing by fiction writers such as E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, John Updike, Cynthia Ozick, Francine Prose, Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Zadie Smith, and recent MFA@FLA graduate Aaron Thier. Second, we will consider a couple of recent works that have proven to be flashpoints for disagreement among critics. In the case of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, we will compare reviews by Francine Prose, James Wood, Stephen King, and Michiko Kakutani; in the case of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, reviews by Dwight Garner, Zadie Smith, James Wood, and William Deriesewicz. Finally, you will write reviews of your own, beginning with a Publisher’s Weekly length (150 word) review of a classic novel and coincluding with a 1200-word review of a novel or story collection due to be published in early 2019. For these final reviews, I will obtain ARCs (advance reading copies) of forthcoming books, effectively putting you in the position of the writer who has received a review assignment from a newspaper or magazine.
Questions to be considered include the following:
- What is the difference between a piece of literary criticism and a book review?
- In writing a review or a piece of criticism, is your ultimate responsibility to the author, to the reader of the future, or to the reader of today—the consumer?
- In light of the surfeit of “reader reviews” now available on the internet, has the professional reviewer’s voice been diluted? Is it more important? Less important?
- Is the book review, as we have traditionally defined it, dead? (On this, we shall read Lee Siegel’s important essay “Is the News Replacing Literature?”)
Studies in Literary Form (Poetry)
Rhetoric is key to the art of persuasion; poetry has often rejected persuasion as its object—as John Keats would have it, “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us.” And yet, poets have deployed rhetorical strategies to create powerful, memorable language that, over time, has insinuated itself into our history and our consciousness. Why, and how, do poets use tropes, to the extent that tropes have even displaced rhyme and meter, stanza and form, as chief organizing devices in the twentieth century?
This course will examine a different rhetorical trope each week, comparing their uses between a diverse range of poets in the English language, from Chaucer to Anne Carson. We will see how enlightenment and amusement converge in common devices like irony, metonymy, and metaphor, and explore some of the more obscure ones like anthimeria, apophasis, litotes, non sequitur, paronomasia, and sesquipedalianism.
Graduate Poetry Workshop
Whenever [the Mauretania] was asked by a French island, “What ship are you?” she would reply, “What island are you?”
—Terry Coleman, The Liners
Apsley Cherry-Garrard described polar exploration as the “cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time that has ever been devised.”
—TLS, July 14, 2006
When asked if he had ever tried out the [swimming] stroke in the water, Sir Nicholas replies, “No Sir, but I swim most exquisitely on land. I content myself with the speculative part of swimming. I care not for the Practick.”
—Sprawson, Haunts of the Black Masseur
Within the high seriousness of verse, we’ll find a place for absurdity and laziness, hoping that between out serious studies cheerfulness will keep breaking in. The workshop will include readings in the poetry of the past century as well as the poetry of the age—that is, modern American, British, and Irish poetry, all in service of meticulous discussion of your own delightful work. Also, philosophical dentistry and fan-dancing.
You will need to show some sand, as Americans in the day of General Grant would have said.
- an anthology of modern poetry
- four volumes of postwar poetry
Psychoanalytic Theories of Film & Literature
Our goal is to explore Lacanian and post-Lacanian psychoanalysis as theories that have played fundamental roles in the theorization and analysis of literature and film. Given that some have turned away from such approaches, this seminar will ask, what is worth remembering and rethinking. This process is all the more crucial as gender theory asks us to scrutinize all assumptions about sexual difference and objects of desire, and therefore not take at face value the way psychoanalysis positioned gender and subjectivity historically. Yet understanding the psyche in its relationship to history may be as crucial as ever, not to be simply replaced by theories of the body or mind that evacuate the unconscious. The course is organized around key concepts in Freud’s and Lacan’s writings, but it will examine critiques of their positions, and some of the contemporaneous contributions of others to the reinterpretation of Freud as well. We will concentrate on psychoanalytic texts rather than on the commentaries on and applications of these texts (though I will assign some of these) as an effort to reexamine the complexity and contradiction of these works. Participants will be expected to read all assignments thoroughly and come to seminar prepared to participate in an ongoing exploration and discussion of these texts. The literary texts are chosen for their appearance in the psychoanalytical writings and the film screening include films that have attracted psychoanalytic scrutiny. Others are ones I will chose as an attempt to link films with the key concepts in new ways.
Secularism and Its Discontents
Secularization, secularity, secularism: these terms encompass a complex and contested set of historical processes, all having to do with the retreat of religion from our public and private lives. Secularism, in particular, denotes a worldview that seeks to organize and explain the world without appealing to religious principles. We recognize it when we speak of the separation between Church and State, of religious neutrality in national education, or of the modern scientific method. And within these contexts many of us have come to see secularism as a good thing, as a check on tyranny, dogmatism, and superstition. But secularism also has its discontents, even among those who do not affirm a religious alternative. There are many reasons for this — beginning with the issue of whether Western societies are indeed as secular as we like to think — but two issues that have never ceased to inspire debate have to do with ethics and the meaning of life. Is there a place for objective moral values or for the meaningful life within a secular framework?
This question is at the forefront of much recent scholarship on secularism, as best illustrated by the work of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor. But it is, again, an old question, and in this course we will consider how an earlier historical period — the Age of Enlightenment — engaged with it. Already in the seventeenth century, critics of what we now call secularism found that to dispel religion would be to jeopardize ethics. In the absence of divinely sanctioned moral principles (the reasoning goes), we are left with individual judgments that each of us is free to tailor to our own convenience. Right and wrong become just words bandied about by self-interested individuals. Similarly, the life unsupervised by God was denounced as meaningless by early critics of secularism, who felt demoted from their central role in a narrative about sin and redemption to find themselves drifting in an indifferent cosmos with animals, rocks, and trees.
We will be discussing how the philosophy and the literature of the Enlightenment addressed these concerns. We will read philosophers whose work was seen to undermine the foundations of morality, as well as poets and novelists who either confirmed or rejected their views; in the process, we will consider attempts to found politics or ethics on naturalistic principles, as well as the critiques that followed from them. These readings will include the shocking literature produced by the Earl of Rochester and the Marquis de Sade; novels by Sarah Fielding, Mary Shelley, and Denis Diderot; and philosophical texts by Thomas Hobbes, Francis Hutcheson, and Ottobah Cugoano. At the center of our discussion will be Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, a founding work in Western sociology, which captures like no other the perceived association between secularism and cultural relativism.
Victorian Genders: Masculinities
This course will focus on Victorian genders with a special emphasis on masculinities, especially as manifested at mid century (mostly the 1840s–1870s) in the novel. Additionally, we will spend time reading and thinking about secondary works which interrogate and historicize our principal terms. Many of you have indicated interest in gender issues generally and specifically in masculinities, a topic which has received increasing attention in recent years. By the end of the course, you will have read a substantial amount of important secondary work regarding mid-century masculinities, as well as a good selection of both canonical and less-known Victorian novels.
Possible Primary Texts:
- Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship
- Gaskell, North and South
- Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays
- Meredith, Ordeal of Richard Feverel
- Ouida, Under Two Flags
- Collins, Man and Wife
- Kingsley, Westward Ho
- Pater, “Diapheneite” (1864) and “Winckelmann” (1867) [two short essays-handout]
- Darwin, From Selection in Relation to Sex (VII, Part II, Chapters XIX–XXI: “Secondary Sexual Characters of Man” (two chapters) and “General Summary and Conclusion” 1871
- Haggard, She 1886
The course will focus on novels (probably seven or eight) and secondary readings about gender and especially masculinity. Most of these readings will be critical and historical, rather than theoretical in the strict sense, and so you should either be familiar with basic concepts in gender theory or be prepared to do a little extra reading on your own. However, the class discussion will be tailored to (and by) the class members, so you if need to know more about something, please ask. I would also like to emphasize that, although the course will focus on the construction of masculinity in the period, that topic cannot be discussed without reference to female identity, class, and sexuality, among other issues. The use of the plural in the course title is not simply a convention; it reflects the imbrication of gender with other identity categories, despite the increasing sense of a widely shared masculine “essence” which marks the period and which it left as a legacy. In short, I expect seminar conversation to be rather wide-ranging.
Requirements include regular attendance and participation, eight short (1–2 page) responses to the reading, posted to the class email list, substantial contributions to discussion of response papers over email, one full length paper (21–25 pages), and possibly one formal oral presentation (based on outside reading).
Response papers are due each week. You may choose which eight weeks you will turn something in, but please do not turn them in late. Response papers should be circulated and shared; you must post them electronically at least 48 hours before class. (I will create an email list for the class, to which you may post papers, responses, questions, etc.) Response papers should be short (one to two pages), focused essays which engage the reading (primary, secondary or both) directly.
You are also expected to contribute substantively to discussion on the list, as well as, of course, in class. The class will be conducted as a seminar; each member will be expected to speak during each class meeting and to discuss collegially with other class members. I will contribute as a discussion facilitator and resource person, but not, generally, as a lecturer. You should plan to use the class to explore and expand your own research interests wherever possible. If you would like to tailor your final project for a particular purpose (dissertation chapter, for example), please let me know.
19th-Century African American Literature
In 1966 Margaret Walker published Jubilee, a quasi-fictional novel that recounts a black woman’s experience through slavery, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction. This text would serve as the beginning of a genre of African American writing that Ishmael Reed would later pen neo-slave or freedom narratives. As Ashraf Rushdy posits in The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel, neo-slave narratives were not created in a vacuum, but rather are a continuation of African American oral and literary traditions, specifically the slave narrative. In order to understand the tradition by which the neo-slave narrative arose, it will be important to first identify the traditions of the slave narrative. Other than for the abolishment of slavery, what were the purposes of slave narratives? How did African American authors consider issues of violence, agency, authenticity, and sponsorship when crafting their slave narrative? What are the larger themes in slave narratives and how do neo-slave narratives rework those themes? Possible authors and texts may include the narratives of Olaudah Equiano, Elizabeth Keckley, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Israel Campbell, William Grimes, Margaret Walker Jubilee, J. California Cooper Family, Toni Morrison A Mercy, Octavia Butler Kindred, Ishmael Reed Flight to Canada, Dolen Perkins-Valdez Wench, and Sherley Anne Williams Dessa Rose, among others.
The World of James Baldwin & Critical Race Theory
This course employs an interdisciplinary approach that requires students to familiarize themselves with James Baldwin’s literary and sociopolitical writings. The course expects that students apply critical race theory in their analysis. Such theorizing will borrow from writing by scholars as Frank B. Wilderson III, Jared Sexton, Saidiya Hartman, Calvin Warren and essayists like Ta-Nehisi Coates. Class discussion and written work will discern whether there exists evidence of Afro-Pessimism and or postNegritude moments in Baldwin’s oeuvre that easily dismisses postracial fantasies and the machination of neoliberal gestures.
The seminar critically surveys James Baldwin’s writings, lectures, and selected biographies that explore Baldwin’s life in the United States, France, and Turkey. Baldwin was engaged in the socio-political world that surrounded and sometimes consumed his artistic and moral energies. He was active in the U.S. Civil Rights movement and international concerns about the construction of nation, race, and sexuality. One critic wrote of Baldwin in these words: “Following publication of Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin’s literary star approached its peak during the turbulent 1960s. His burgeoning role as celebrity, prophet, and leader heaped an unsustainable amount of pressure and responsibility onto his slight frame in an American landscape that doubly punished Baldwin for being both black and gay, and he often turned to Turkey for sanctuary.”
This course will reveal the artistry, compassion, and moral commitment of one of America’s greatest writers. Students will critically study how James Baldwin fared as an American writer and social critic and how critical race theory might reveal or deny the persistence of anti-black violence in words and deeds. Class discussion will consider how Baldwin imaginatively exposed and fervently articulated the coming consciousness that generates “Black Lives Matter” awareness and endgame.
Rationality, Irrationality, Modernity
A nearly axiomatic definition of modernity, usually associated with Max Weber, emphasizes the increasing rationality — and rationalization — of social, economic, political, intellectual and other spheres of human life, and a concomitant “disenchantment” of the world: the inevitable and progressive banishment of the “irrationalities” of religion, “superstition,” emotion, propaganda, aesthetics, and so forth. Yet other great theorists of modernity, notably Freud, exposed a pervasive irrational core to modern life. In this course, we’re going to explore the problem of rationality versus irrationality in the context of Western modernity, particularly with regard to the meaning and persistence of “irrational” belief (what is “belief,” anyway?). We will also consider the modern project of attempting to “rationally” explain the “irrational,” and thus also delve into questions of the relationship of science to other fields of human experience and inquiry, including religion, the arts, and humanities.
We will be reading canonical texts of theory, cultural studies, and the interpretive social sciences, including works by Weber, Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, William James, Horkheimer and Adorno, as well as more recent works. The course should therefore be widely relevant for those graduate students wishing to better ground themselves in the intellectual history of the late-19th to 21st centuries. Students will produce 25–30 pages of written work for the course, which can be tailored to their academic needs and levels of preparation.
Transnational Feminist Theory
The graduate proseminar has three objectives. One, it serves as an introduction to academic research processes, scholarly writing, and professionalization. Two, it offers a survey of diverse career paths in the humanities and feminist approaches to academia. Three, it covers transnational feminist theory with a focus on the oeuvre of scholar Inderpal Grewal. In our discussions of her publications from the early 1990s to the contemporary moment, we will pay particular attention to the development of arguments within individual and across multiple texts. We will situate her work in the context of feminist theory, postmodernity, postcolonialism, transnational and security studies, and read the foundational texts, with which her work engages. Finally, we will pay close attention to methodology and the formation of key terms. We will host Professor Grewal at the end of the semester for a public lecture and a seminar discussion of her scholarship, as well as her feminist approach to academia.
In its practical dimension, the seminar addresses research and writing for graduate school, conference presentation, and publication. Guest speakers will address grant applications, library research, dissertation preparation, conference participation, and the academic job-market. Members of the seminar will have ample time and opportunity to apply materials to their research areas. Course assignments include research activities, minor academic genres (e.g. abstract), drafts of and responses to research projects, and active involvement in hosting the guest speaker. For the final assignment, students may write an original seminar paper or revise a previous paper with an eye toward publication.
Readings include complete works, selections, and excerpts from Inderpal Grewal’s Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (2004, co-edited with Caren Kaplan), Home and Harem: Nation, Gender, Empire, and the Cultures of Travel (1996), Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms (2005), Theorizing NGOs: States, Feminism, and Neoliberalism (2014, co-edited with Victoria Bernal), Saving the Security State: Exceptional Citizens in Twenty-First Century America (2017), Sidonie Smith’s Manifesto for the Humanities: Transforming Doctoral Education in Good Enough Times (2016), Gregory Colón Semenza’s Graduate Study for the 21st Century (2010), Eric Hayot’s The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities (2014), Karen Kelsky’s The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD into a Job (2015), and Greg Colón Semenza and Garrett A. Sullivan Jr.’s How to Build a Life in the Humanities: Meditations on the Academic Work-Life Balance (2015).
The Carceral Imaginary
In his influential work of cultural studies Imagining the Penitentiary, John Bender argued that early modern fiction enabled the construction of the prison in the late eighteenth century, essentially claiming that the development of the English novel and the modern prison were intertwined. This seminar posits Bender’s hypothesis as a launching place to investigate the carceral imagination in British and American literature as well as the literary effects of the modern (i.e. post-18th century) prison. The seminar begins by tracing the “transformation of punishment”—the shift from what Foucault described as the “spectacle of the scaffold” to the discipline and punishment of the modern penitentiary. Foucault offers just one account on the development of the prison and its wider social and cultural effects. We will then read a sampling of 18th-20th century fiction (novels, short stories, memoirs) and select secondary scholarship designed to help us more fully consider the origins and development of the modern prison and its literary representations/responses. A secondary goal is to familiarize students with the emergent field of critical prison studies and how key scholarship accounts for rise of the prison, the crisis of mass incarceration, and the prison’s polymorphous effects; a full introduction to this interdisciplinary field is beyond the scope of the seminar, but may include: the intersections of prison studies with critical race theory, law, disability studies, queer studies, and indigenous studies. Likely assignments include periodic short analytical responses to readings, and a final seminar paper or conference paper.
Digital Writing and Emerging Technologies
This seminar considers the relationship between emerging writing technologies and the ways in which we produce and circulate writing. This course will consider histories of the technology-writing relationship, but will focus primarily on theories and practices of digital writing. Included in these discussions, this course will examine civic writing, public writing, and place-based writing. The course will address the role of mobile technologies in how we understand writing. Likewise, the course will take up the role of multimodal and assemblage writing. The course will also look specifically at Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) as emerging writing spaces. Similarly, the course will address digital literacy and digital creativity, as well as the idea of electracy.