(Descriptions last updated: March 6, 2001)
Race and America. Here we explore race as a central fact of American life and its literary expression. Readings range from the 19th-century Huckleberry Finn to the contemporary Meena Alexander. We will look at the controversies surrounding Twain’s classic, race and the color line as seen by DuBois at the beginning of the last century, and briefly how those problems have played out down to the present. You will be encouraged to bring your own experience of life to bear on the topic as we trace the often tenuous-seeming links between “literature” and “life.” Two papers and one class presentation. Texts: Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn; W.E.B. DuBois, Writings: The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade, The Souls of Black Folk, Dusk of Dawn, Essays, Articles from the Crisis; Nella Larsen, Quicksand and Passing; Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart; Meena Alexander, The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience; Manhattan Music.
The White Captive and the Literature of the Early Nation. One of the first distinct, new literary genres to emerge out of colonial America was the Indian captivity narrative. First popularized in the seventeenth century by Puritan propaganda campaigns after King Philip’s War, captivity narratives were best-sellers throughout the eighteenth century, and provided the raw material for a first generation of post-Revolutionary poets, novelists and dramatists who were self-consciously attempting to define and create a “unique” American literature. We will begin with a brief sampling of colonial accounts of captivity, and discuss the particular functions captivity performed within colonial American culture. Then we will examine how the figure of the white captive is appropriated and used by a range of early national writers, and deployed in a range of different genres and literary forms, especially in sentimental, gothic and historical novels, but also in tales, poetry and plays. Finally, we will compare these "domestic" incidents of captivity to popular nineteenth-century narratives of white Americans taken captive by Barbary pirates off the coast of Africa. Course requirements will include extensive reading, independent historical research, a short (5-6 page) paper, and a seminar (12-15 page) paper. Texts: Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Huntly; Catherine Maria Sedgwick, Hope Leslie; Lydia Maria Childs, Hobomok; Richard Vanderbeets, Held Captive by Indians: Selected Narratives, 1642-1836; Paul Baepler, White Slaves African Masters; photocopied course packet.
The Constructive Imagination. Through a careful reading of the twentieth-century American poets Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, and John Ashbery, this course will grapple with such vexed questions as the ethical value of beauty, the utility of pleasure, and the reality of virtual worlds. It will also address collateral issues such as the place of poetry in wartime, the relation between authorship and sexual identity, and the dangers of utopian dreaming. The course will conclude by survey ing a few contemporary writers, most likely Susan Howe, Ann Lauterbach, and John Yau, who are actively revisiting and revising the earlier poets’ ideas in the light of a changed and changing America. Texts:John Ashbery, Selected Poems; Hart Crane, The Complete Poems; Wallace Stevens, The Palm at the End of the Mind.
Literature of the Americas: Do the Americas Have a Common Literature? Using strategies from comparative literature, this course brings together major writers and texts from U.S. and Latin American literature. Intended to break down barriers between American and Latin American literary and cultural studies, this course is organized around the question, Do the Americas have a common literature? In our cheek-by-cheek readings of literature from the Southern and Northern parts of the hemisphere, we will look at five major themes or categories which constitute possible sites of common ground in the literature and culture of the Americas: (1) Formative Definitions of American Identities: "Our (Mestizo) America" vs. the U.S. (Emerson, Jose Marti, Roberto Fernandez Retamar); (2) Representations of "the Indian" from the 19th century to the present in the U.S. and Peru (myths of the frontier and the "Vanishing American"; Reformism, Women Writers and the Sentimental Novel; indigenismo (Pero); contemporary Native American literature) (Fenimore Cooper, Dancing with Wolves, Helen Hunt Jackson, Clorinda Matto de Turner, Jose Maria Arguedas, N. Scott Momaday) (3) Harlem and Havana: the Black Atlantic, modernism and African-American/Afro-Cuban connections (blues poetry [Langston Hughes] and poesia negra [Nicolas Guillen]); (4) Modernism in the Americas: Modernity and the Search for a Usable Past/the Quest for Origins: hybrid genealogies, transculturation, hemispheric multiculturalism (Octavio Paz, Richard Rodriguez, Carmen Tafolla, William Carlos Williams, Alejo Carpentier) (5) Postmodern Connections and American Labyrinths of Fiction (Jorge Luis Borges and Thomas Pynchon). Part of the fun of this class is to "test-drive" a "discipline-in-progress": Comparative Hemispheric American Literary and Cultural Studies is just in its infancy as a discipline, and we can all participate in its creation and development. Assignments: 2 short papers and 1 research paper. Required texts: Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps; Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49; Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona; William Carlos Williams, In the American Grain; Clorinda Matto de Turner, Torn from the Nest; N. Scott Momaday, House of Dawn; photocopied course packet.
Tales of Two Cities: Paris and London in the 19th Century. Two European cities earned the term “metropolis” in the 19th century: Paris and London. The population of each grew enormously in that period and each saw vast reconstruction of streets, parks and architecture. It may be that Louis Napoleon who used his dictatorial powers to redesign Paris between 1850 and 1870 was inspired by a previous period of exile in London. In any case, the two cities spoke to each other, and we will respond to both by studying several novels along with paintings, architecture, and street plans. In addition to novels by Charles Dickens and Emile Zola, there will be a packet of readings from writers adept in both cities along with material from contemporary newspapers and journals. Seminar discussion, short essays and a research project. Texts:Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist; A Tale of Two Cities; Emile Zola, The Belly of Paris; The Masterpiece.
Nineteenth-Century Domestic Ideology. In this class we will consider the literal and metaphorical representations of the domestic and “home” through readings of 19th-century literature and culture. There will be weekly journal-style response papers, an oral presentation, and one long term paper. This is a small seminar, and students are expected to actively participate in each class session. Texts: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Edith Wharton, House of Mirth; Elizabeth Keckley, Behind the Scenes; Nathaniel Hawthorne, House of Seven Gables; Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House.
Jeanette Winterson: The Writer as Bad Girl. Contemporary fiction writer Jeanette Winterson is both beloved by her fans, and notorious for her outrageous comments about herself and the recent writing scene. What do we make of someone who calls herself “the greatest living prose stylist in English,” or who is convinced “there is no such thing as autobiography, only Art and Lies”? Some of her fictions play with gender, others with fantasy and sexuality. As she writes, gives interviews, and responds to critics, she makes herself a fiction, even as she takes so much pleasure in making imaginary worlds. We’ll read a number of her books, including Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit, The Passion, Sexing the Cherry, and Written on the Body, along with interviews, and critical commentaries about her. The seminar will be of particular interest to students interested in gender, queer studies, risky writing, and the fine art of making yourself a myth while you’re young.
TTh 7-8:50 pm
Passing. Judith Butler, describing a scene in Nella Larsen’s Passing, says that “queering is what upsets and exposes passing; it is the act by which the racially and sexually repressive surface of conversation is exploded by rage, by sexuality, by insistence on color.” Many scholars, such as Juda C. Bennett, suggest that the passing figure is distinctly American and is crucial to our understandings of race. In this course, though, we will seek ways to extend the concept of “passing” in order to explore the motivation behind a person’s decision, either to adopt a specific racial/gendered/ethnic guise or to conceal one. In addition to Passing and a photocopied course packet, texts for the course MAY include Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, Charles W. Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars, Gad Beck’s An Underground Life, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Natalie Davis’s The Return of Martin Guerre, Janet Lewis’s The Wife of Martin Guerre, Aphrodite Jones’s All She Wants, and Elaine K. Ginsberg’s Passing and the Fictions of Identity. Please check the syllabus for this course (found at http://students washington.edu/bkeeling/) prior to purchasing texts for the course. Evening Degree students only, Registration Period 1.
White Women’s Writing about the American Frontier. As the mistresses of European immigrants’ frontier households, white women were often charged with the cultural responsibility of bringing order to the so-called “untamed” woods. Yet the frontier itself was also approached as a passive, feminine space, waiting to be taken. In this course we will try to understand how this central dilemma has been treated in works by white women where they attempt to articulate their identities as race and gendered national subjects against the concept of the American frontier and the society that emerged there. Seminar participants will be asked to lead some discussions and write a final 15-page critical essay. Class grade will weigh heavily on the essay, although class participation will also be a major component of the grade. Texts:Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives; Sedgewick, Hope Leslie; Kirkland, A New Home, Who’ll Follow?; Child, Hobomok; Jewett, The Country of Pointed Firs; Cather, My Antonia; Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces.
Contracts of the Heart: Sacrifice, Gift Economy and Literary Exchange in Coleridge and Wordsworth. In this seminar we will study the literary relationship of Coleridge and Wordsworth who, as one critic remarked, “not only pervasively influenced one another, but did so in a way that challenges ordinary methods of assessments.” We will explore the possibility of deriving from theories of gift exchange and sacrifice a new model of literary influence that would shed light on this remarkably intimate and deeply conflicted relationship.
We will spend the first four weeks of the
quarter studying theories of gift exchange and sacrifice as proposed, among
others, by Marcel Mauss, Marshall Sahlins, Georg Simmel, Lewis Hyde and Pierre
Bourdieu (on the gift); and by Sigmund Freud, Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss,
René Girard and Georges Bataille (on sacrifice). The next six
weeks will be devoted to the study of major poems by Coleridge and Wordsworth
in chronological order, showing how the two poets, while desiring to imitate
each other, find themselves competing for the same themes and appropriating
each other’s subjects. Thus, while early Coleridge wrote successful
nature poetry and Wordsworth portrayed moving stories of human suffering
in a supernatural setting, after their collaboration on the Lyrical Ballads,
Wordsworth turned to the philosophy of the mind’s relationship with nature,
while Coleridge started to explore the effects of supernaturalism on the
Such moments of merging and separation can be profitably viewed through the lens of gift exchange and sacrifice. The gift, for example, generates a number of paradoxes that are relevant to the relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth, being at once an altruistic model of social interaction, placing value on human bonds above economic or private interests, while at the same time remaining embedded in a self-interested power structure. Gift exchange often secures the privileged position of the donor at the expense of receivers and yet, as Mauss showed, receivers seem to retain “a sort of proprietary right” over everything that belongs to the donor. The gift thus generates the obfuscation of ownership rights and an erasure of the differences between donors and beneficiaries. We will see how Wordsworth and Coleridge, while collaborating early on a single unauthored volume (Lyrical Ballads) and wanting to write the same poem (“The Wanderings of Cain,” “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”), found themselves increasingly asserting “proprietary rights” over the stock of inventions which they initially passed on to each other according to the law of the gift. Wordsworth continued to use Coleridge’s ideas but tried hard to displace Coleridge as a gift-giving source, turning to nature or his private fund of “possessions,” to “Something within, which yet is shared by none” (“Home at Grasmere”). Assignments: A long paper (10-16 pp.), written in two stages and subject to revision; bi-weekly comments on assigned readings; a final exam. Texts: Texts: Marcel Mauss, The Gift; Rene Girard,Violence and the Sacred; S. T. Coleridge, Selected Poetry (ed. Beer); Biographia Literaria (ed. Leask); Wordsworth, Selected Poetry (ed. Roe).
Women’s Literary Traditions in Medieval England. This course explores women’s relation to medieval literary culture: we will address works by medieval women, including Marie de France, Julian of Norwich, and Margery Kempe, as well as works accessible to or written for women,, including saints’ legends, civic drama, devotional literature, and moral instruction. We will also read anonymous texts in a feminine voice (the Findern lyrics) and non-literary texts written by women (including letters written by the Paston women). Throughout, we will attend to the variety of social contexts – court, cloister, and city – in which women’s literary activity took place. Central questions we’ll address include: how cultural expectations about women’s relation to literature influence the texts women wrote; how the gendering of genres affects both the shape of the tradition and women’s access to it as audience, patrons, and writers; and what accounts for the continuities and the disjunctions between literature for women and literature by women. Texts:Marie de France, Lais; Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love; Hugh White, ed., Ancrene Wisse; Derek Pearsall, ed., The Floure and the Leafe, The Assembly of Ladies….; Christine de Pisan, The Book of the City of Ladies; Sheila Delany, A Legend of Holy Women; Barry Windeatt, Book of Margery Kempe.
Freud and the Modern. This seminar will begin with a study of some major ideas of Freud, such as: the unconscious, the oedipal, narcissism, masochism, repression. Then we will read selected works of European modern literature to see the influence, development or rejection of these Freudian ideas. Texts: Freud, General Psychological Theory; Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground; Ibsen, A Doll’s House; Mann, Death in Venice; Kafka, The Sons; Sartre, Nausea
Ravishing Reads: Textual Pleasures and Reading Practices in our Time.
“The Way we read now, when we are alone with ourselves, retains considerable continuity with the past, however it is performed in the academies…. To read human sentiments in human language, you must be able to read humanly, with all of you.” --Harold Bloom, How to Read and Why.
In this class, you will investigate what Harold Bloom means by “all of you,”
academically as well as non-academically, professionally as well as personally.
Throughout your research, you will decide whether you agree with him and
whether you believe that the “you” of our time is in fact different from
the “you” of past times—before the digital revolution. Ours is a class
that will explore ways of reading and pleasures of the reading experience—intellectual,
imaginative and sensual—in the past as well as in the present. Why?
Because some assume that the act of reading refers to eyes scanning hard
copy print, with little regard to the larger realm of the senses and aspects
of the self. Others believe that the notion of isolated reading is
erroneous, too narrow a reading regiment that eliminates community, restricts
the imagination, and ignores altogether readers’ multi-sensory perceptions
and potential pleasures of textual engagement.
In our course, we will analyze these academic and
popular notions of reading, as well as Bloom’s theories. We will also
test many of them against our readings, in and outside of the academic classroom. Course
texts include conventionally bound books, audio and videotapes, and hyperlinked
literature. Course methods include summarizing and investigating
our observations, as Bloom does in How to Read and Why.Unlike him,
however, we will conduct many of our discussions and much of our research
not just alone and in print, but face to face and online. Course requirements
include an interest in reading and theorizing about reading habits, exploring
your own and others’ reading habits and preferences; writing about reading;
questioning theories of reading (your own as well as others’, past
and present); reflecting upon your reading habits and prejudices; and diving
the Internet, with the goal of mining it for factual gain rather than surfing
it for commercial loss.
Please note: Although a good deal of our class time will be spent online, this is not a distance-learning course: you need to be able to attend class regularly in the English Department’s computer-integrated classrooms in Mary Gates Hall, where much of the human as well as computer interaction of our studies will take place. 497: Senior English honors students only; add codes in English Advising office, A-2-B PDL; 498: Senior majors only. Texts: Harold Bloom, How to Read and Why; Ron Shelton, Bull Durham; Peter Greenaway, Prospero’s Books; photocopied course packet.
Radical Writers in Cold War America. American radical writers as obscure as Meridel Le Sueur, Josephine Herbst, and Albert Maltz and as famous as Arthur Miller, Richard Wright, and Allen Ginsberg created powerful political art during the early Cold War (1945-1960). In the face of and sometimes stimulated by official suppression, they produced a body of work that is especially valuable today, partly because it brings into sharp focus the American Inquisition, a period that for most contemporary readers is still hazy and not at all well-understood. The radical political art of the Cold War also shows that, contrary to the standard view of the buttoned-down fifties, strong currents and undercurrents of radical exposure were stirring during the decade. This politically committed art challenges contemporary readers whose postmodern sensibilities favor irony and an absence of closure. For today’s readers the powerful, engaged art of the Cold War period places current practice in historical perspective, so that readers can better understand their preferences and also extend them, since many people find the earlier literature compelling and not, as advertised, flat and monolithic. For my purposes Alan Ginsberg is important because he is disruptive in several ways: of Cold War complacencies, for example, and also of any attempt on my part to put the radical art of the period into neat compartments, since Ginsberg encourages us to regard as problematic such categories as “avant-garde,” “modernism,” and “postmodernism,” concerns I hope we can engage during the course. Since the Hollywood left was especially hard-hit by the American Inquisition, we will also read neglected polemical essays by Albert Maltz and Dalton Trumbo and we’ll view the underground film classic Salt of the Earth in counterpoint with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, not the fossilized high school version but a vital response to Cold War repression. Other reading will include Meridel Le Sueur, Josephine Herbt’s beautiful memoirs, and Richard Wright’s pan-African Black Power.
Possible Worlds. This seminar will focus on the exploration of the concept of possible worlds in a variety of literary works and in doing so will draw upon philosophy, sciences, art and the branch of literary criticism that has come to be known as “possible world semantics.” In The Philosophy of Leibniz, Benson Mates writes that Leibniz’s doctrine of possible worlds “has had, in its way, the kind of influence on recent philosophizing that the more official story of Genesis has had on theology.” If there are other worlds, how are we to understand their ontological status? Is our world a special case since, out of all the possible ways it could be, it is just the way it is? Or is this just one possible world among many actually existing worlds (a position the philosopher David Lewis refers to as modal realism). If literary fiction is, as Lubomir Dolezel writes in Heterocosmica, “the most active experimental laboratory of the world-constructing enterprise,” how do philosophical and literary grapplings with the problem of possible worlds complement one another? Readings will include selections from Leibniz, Lewis and Dolezel, as well as works by Voltaire, Borges, Witkiewicz and others. We will also consider a number of films. The question of how particular ways of conceiving of other possible worlds influence the manner in which we understand imagination and difference will receive special attention. Texts: Leibniz, Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil (tr. Farrer); Dolezel, Heterocosmica; Lewis, On the Plurality of Worlds; Witkiewicz, The Madman and the Nun and the Crazy Locomotive: Three Plays; Borges, Collected Fictions; Voltaire, Candide, Gombrowicz, Cosmos and Pornographia.
Pragmatism. This class will investigate pragmatism, America’s homegrown philosophy. In particular we will be concerned to trace the intersection of certain notions of beauty and justice in a wide variety of texts by such authors as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, William James, Henry James, John Dewey, W.E.B. DuBois, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Henry Adams, and James Weldon Johnson. Course requirements will include class participation (a must) and a seminar paper. Texts: Three Negro Classics: Up from Slavery, The Souls of Black Folk, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man; Louis Menand, ed., Pragmatism: A Reader; Henry James, The Ambassadors; .
Learning the Ropes: The Process of Acculturation and the Powers of Fiction. We’ll be using this senior seminar as an occasion to ask some basic questions about the nature and purposes of narrative in the European tradition. How does fiction contribute to the process of teaching individuals what their appropriate social roles and expectations ought to be? How does this process vary across historical moments and across different cultures? We will be reading a series of texts from different historical periods, ranging from Shelley’s Frankenstein and Brontë’s Jane Eyre, to Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Faulkner’s Go Down Moses, and Walker’s The Color Purple. What will make this class different from most other seminars, though, is that it is part of an NEH-sponsored collaborative project between UW and a pair of local high schools. We will be trying to devise effective modes of interacting with those other classes, electronically and/or in person. What I hope we can help provide for those classes is a sense of the broader historical reception for each of these works. Thus a significant part of the formal work for the course will involve research group projects, with small groups working on each of the last four novels in the course, investigating their public and critical reception. What issues stirred public debate when these works came out, and why? How has that changed over time? Besides the group research project, students will be expected to write a series of short papers dealing with each of the texts in the course. I am looking for participants interested in this as an experimental project and interested in taking a more active role in the process of education, that is, in serving as facilitators and teachers for other students rather than simply as learners. We’ll be figuring out how to do this as we go along in what I hope will be a collaborative process of invention. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have specific questions about the class format.
American Masculinity. This class will survey representations of men and manhood in American literature from the early nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. Readings of primary texts by authors such as Frederick Douglass, Thomas Dixon, Frank Norris, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Robert Bly will be supplemented with critical readings on gender theory and masculinity from critics such as Eve Sedgwick, Kaja Silverman, Robyn Wiegman, Dana Nelson, and others. Students will be expected to participate extensively in weekly discussions about representations of masculinity in fiction and theories of manhood from a variety of perspectives. Requirements: short weekly response papers, class presentations, active participation, and one longer research paper. Texts: Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave; Thomas Dixon, The Clansman; Frank Norris, McTeague; Robert Bly, Iron John; Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes; Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland; Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea; Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep.
MW 4:30-6:20 p.m.
William Blake: The Poetry and Designs. In this course we will study Blake’s “composite art”—the poetry-and-designs (i.e., Blake’s own illustrations of his poems), read together. These will include some of the early works like Songs of Innocence and of Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that you may have encountered in other courses, as well as a number of other short poems and some of the later prophecies that you have probably not encountered, including the long poem, Milton. In any case, no previous knowledge of Blake is assumed or expected. You do, however, need to be up for challenges in reading, both verbal and visual, and in ideas, and you’ll need to be willing to engage in hard but rewarding work. We’ll be thinking about Blake as poet, artist, thinker, and prophet, whose ideas about art, religion, politics, and society constitute radical and incisive critiques of his own time and of ours. In-class reports, short essays, and a longer one. Evening Degree senior English majors only, Registration Period 1. Texts: Blake, Blake’s Poetry and Designs (ed. Johnson and Grant); The Book of Urizen; Songs of Innocence; Songs of Experience; Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
The Sublime Experience: Subject and Perceiver. The sublime is an important touchstone concept for understanding changes in emotional and artistic sensibility which were taking place at the end of the eighteenth century in England, and for providing context for the reactions in the century that followed. In this course, we will begin with a philosophical examination of the sublime in the works of Kant and Burke, but we will quickly move on to artistic representation of the sublime in visual art, poetry and prose. As we move through the nineteenth century, our central questions will be: what place does the sublime have in conventional, respectable Victorian society? and what happens when the sublime, usually manifested by scenes of nature, is instead manifested in a human being? Through this examiantion of the sublime, we will address such issues as gender differences, religion, and social relations in a developing industrial/capitalist society. Texts: Thomas Carlye, Sartor Resartus; Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights; Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. </p>
Colonial and Post Colonial Writers and Writing from the Archipelago and the Continent. This course will look at Philippine writing under colonialism (Spain, United States) and after with side trips to the cosmopolitan center with Philippine-American writers. Texts: Jose Rizal, Noli me tangere; N. V. M. Gonzalez, A Season of Grace; Work on the Mountain; Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart; F. Sionil Jose, Dusk; Jessica Haggedorn, Dogeaters; Peter Bacho, Cebu.
Reproduction, Race, Science, Fiction. New reproductive technologies, biotechnological processes, biogenetic products, research on the human genome, and gestational surrogacy arrangements have irreversibly altered the nature and meaning of human reproduction. This course will examine how the representation of human reproduction in a variety of works of science fiction and theory have reflected and refracted these transformations. We will explore how reproduction has been variously cast as a natural, technological, scientifically rational, and pathological process, and will pay especially close attention to the construction of the relationship that exist among ideas about the reproduction of human populations, racial formations, and national formations. Throughout the quarter we will ask: How have cultural, political, and economic pressures shaped the representation of reproduction in literature and film? How have writers, filmmakers and scholars attempted to contest and/or redefine the meaning(s) of reproduction? How does SF express a particularly forceful reproductive imagination? What can we learn about our historical moment by reading SF? Texts: Octavia Butler, Bloodchild; Lilith’s Brood; Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body; Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland; Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale; Mark Twain, Puddn’head Wilson; Vandana Shiva, Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge.
Nineteenth-Century American Literature: Alternative Images of the Nation. We’ll begin by studying efforts to create mainstream, middle-class models of nineteenth-century American life: safely stereotypic visions of national culture and experience promoted through popular "fireside poetry," Currier and Ives engravings, and other art forms. Then we’ll explore, in dramatic contrast, a series of literary texts in which the meaning of America is hazarded into an agitated interplay of perspectives, in which voices excluded from the official cultural mainstream are attended to, and in which otherwise neglected aspects of the historical moment are granted visibility. We’ll be studying the battle between stereotype and underlying social complexity, between the official cultural mainstream and what it would exile to its margins, as this battle is fought in novels and biographies, poems and tales. Readings in Douglass, Fuller, Whittier, Whitman, Thoreau, Melville, Hawthorne, Rebecca Harding Davis, Chopin, and Crane. Texts: Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes, In 1843; Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave; Henry Thoreau, The Portable Thoreau; Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills and Other Stories; Kate CHopin, The Awakening and Selected Stories; Stephen Crane, The Portable Stephen Crane: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Portable Hawthorne.
Theories of Americanization. This course will address the question of “What does it mean to be an American?” by taking up this question in relation to literary, historical, and sociological materials from the pre-Revolutionary period to the recent past. While readings have not been finalized, possibilities include: “The Declaration of Independence,” Notes on the State of Virginia; Letters from an American Farmer; ”What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” Yekl; The Bread Givers; and George Washington Gomez. Supplemental readings will come from this historical record of immigration patterns and citizenship law and discussions of American nationhood from the popular press. While the process of Americanization and the legal act of citizenship will be central to our discussions, expect much discussion of nationhood and nationalism as well.
Fiction and Freud. Freud is essentially background material: we spend most of our time on a close reading (and re-reading) of two richly complex novels, with particular emphasis on how these anticipate, complicate, and above all dramatize aspects of Freud's thesis. Texts: Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents; E. Bronte, Wuthering Heights; Dickens, Great Expectations.
Where the Boys Are: Middle-Class Women and the Marriage Plot, 1816 to Present. This course takes a literary and historical approach to constructions of class, gender, and sexuality and the plotting of “domestic” narratives over nearly 200 years in literature and film. We begin with Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, move to poetry, prose and journalism of the early and mid-Victorian era, read a mid-Victorian “sensation” novel, and a “New Woman” novel from the fin de siecle. Our consideration of twentieth-century courtship and marriage plots concentrates on films from the 1960s (Where the Boys Are), 1970s (An Unmarried Woman), 1980s (Pretty Woman), and 1990s (Sense and Sensibility). This course is especially designed for those who enjoy analyzing literature and film within a cross-disciplinary, theoretical and historiographic frame. Reading requirements are demanding. Texts: Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility; John Stuart Mill, On Liberty; The Subjection of Women; George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss; Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary.
“Let’s Play Master and Servant”: Sadomasochism in Literature, Film, Culture, and Theory. This seminar offers an in-depth critical examination of theories, practices, and representations of sadomasochism. Some questions we will take up include: What generates the desire to dominate, control, and degrade, and conversely, the willingness to embrace or eroticize submission and suffering? Does it make sense to speak of an entity “sadomasochism,” or are sadism and masochism fundamentally different phenomena? To what degree is it possible or desirable to generalize paradigms developed to explain sexual sadomasochism onto other aspects of human experience that involve power differentials? If we do generalize these paradigms, what knowledge is gained about power, oppression, gender, race, sexuality, class? To what extent do sado-masochistic fantasy and play participate in and reinforce systems of power, and to what extent do they challenge, mimic, or expose power’s mechanisms? The seminar is suitable for students interested in cross-disciplinarsy and theoretically inflected examination of literature and culture. Some experience with critical theory is desirable. Be advised that some of the course material is graphic and potentially disturbing. If this is a problem for you, please register for a different course. Texts: Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love; Gilles Deleuze, Masochism; Jerzy Kosinski, Steps; Charles Dickens, Great Expectations; Lynn Chancer, Sado-masochism in Everyday Life; Mark Thompson, ed., Leatherfolk; Robert Browning, “My Last Duchess” and Other Poems; Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish; Cuck Palahniuk, Fight Club; Pauline Reage, Story of O.
America Everyday. This seminar will be devoted to a mundane question: What is it like to live everyday? The focus of the course will be on the literature, films, and theories of everyday life. A survey of Books in Print discovered over 1000 titles containing the word “everyday,” yet it’s clear they don’t agree what the term means. This course isn’t about a definition, but rather about the assumptions we make about the common, the ubiquitous, the mundane. The everyday seems obvious and everywhere, yet it’s also invisible to us. In order to understand the ways in which we use and yet overlook the everyday, the course will be divided into three sections. The first, “Theorizing the Everyday,” will be devoted to the ways theorists (Foucault, Marxists like Henri Lebebvre, and poststructuralists) have come to study the everyday. In addition, we will look at how writers such as Frank O’Hara have used the “everyday” as signposts in their works. The second section, ‘Objects,” will look at how artists and literary theorists—like Roland Barthes, Susan Willis, Lea Cohen, and others—focus our attention on everyday things, including how and what we consume. This section will include discussion of The Bluest Eye, which is about how abstract concepts like race and gender themselves become commodities. The final section, “Everyday Realities,” will look at fictional and visual representations of everyday existence. Included will be Nicholson Baker, the films, Groundhog Day and Smoke, The Truman Show, and so-called “reality”-based TV shows like Survivor. Requirements will include short essays, and one long project on an everyday subject of your choosing. Texts: Susan Willis, A Primer for Daily Life; Nicholson Baker, Room Temperature; Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye; Roland Barthes, Mythologies; Leah Cohen, Glass, Paper, Beans.
Extremities of Drama: Revolution, Terror, Apocalypse. “In the destructive element, immerse....” There were times during the twentieth century when Joseph Conrad’s mandate of modernity, its apocalyptic imperative for the artist, seemed more than realized by the sinkhole of history, its atrocities, devastations, and ubiquitous terror. As for the utopian dream of revolution, its recurring scenario—dramaturgically worked out in the eighteenth century: proclamations of human rights disenchanted by the Reign of Terror—is still competing with catastrophe, or the prospect of it, past the millennium. If somehow the dream continues, it is as a counterpoint to apocalyptic thinking, while the revolution awaits its lasting incarnation. It is precisely this counterpoint we shall be studying in the seminar, from perhaps the most brilliant drama ever written on the illusion of revolution, Georg Büchner’s Danton’s Death, through Jean Genet's The Screens--both revolutionary and apocalyptic at once, as it moves from the world of the living to the world of the dead--to Heiner Muller's The Task, in which the Angel of Despair declares: "I am the knife with which the dead man cracks open his coffin." As with the Holocaust drama of Liliane Atlan, which derives a certain sublimity from the Valley of Bones, we shall be reading, then, at the extremities of drama, including plays from the once-incendiary, now-classical repertoire of Expressionism, as well as more contemporary material by Edward Bond, Howard Brenton, Griselda Gambaro, and Jose Rivera. Texts: Georg Buchner, Complete Plays & Prose; Mel Gordon, ed., Expressionist Texts; Peter Weiss, Marat/Sade; Jean Genet, The Screens; Heiner Muller, Hamletmachine & Other Texts; Liliane Atlan, Theater Pieces: An Anthology; Edward Bond, The Worlds; Lear; Howard Brenton, Magnificence; Romans in Britain; Griselda Gambaro, Information for Foreigners; Jose Rivera, Marisol & Other Plays.
White Women’s Writing about the American Frontier. As the mistresses of European immigrants’ frontier households, white women were often charged with the cultural responsibility of bringing order to the so-called “untamed” woods. Yet the frontier itself was also approached as a passive, feminine space, waiting to be taken. In this course we will try to understand how this central dilemma has been treated in works by white women where they attempt to articulate their identities as race and gendered national subjects against the concept of the American frontier and the society that emerged there. Seminar participants will be asked to lead some discussions and write a final 15-page critical essay. Class grade will weigh heavily on the essay, although class participation will also be a major component of the grade. Texts:Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives; Sedgewick, Hope Leslie; Kirkland, A New Home, Who’ll Follow?; Child, Hobomok; Jewett, The Country of Pointed Firs; Cather, My Antonia; Proulx, Close Range.
TTh 7-8:50 pm
Modernist Perversion. Narratives of sex and gender deviance proliferated during the modernist period, as writers attempted variously to defend, celebrate, problematize, or explain newly visible forms of erotic difference. This seminar attends primarily to seven fictions perverse not only in topic, but also in form; that is to say, stories that are themselves more than a bit peculiar, queerly askew of the narrative norm, stylistically conforming to their nonconformist subject material. At issue is the extent to which perversity influences formal innovation, what unconventional sexualities and genders have to do with new literary practices. These texts, spanning the period from the 1980s to the 1930s, raise important questions about what it means to be a woman or a man, what counts as obscene, what should or shouldn’t be hidden, what happens when moral judgments become oppressive, and what human freedom means. We will also consider the intersection of our fictions with historically concurrent narratives of feminism, colonialism, and racial otherness. This seminar should be particularly interesting to students of queer studies, gender, and modernism, as well as those with a love for audacity. Although we will analyze Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality as imaginative literature, we will also read what are putatively novels as theoretical works. Texts: Djuna Barnes, Nightwood; Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality; André Gide, The Immoralist; Wallace Thurman, Infants of the Spring; Oscar Wild, The Picture of Dorian Gray; Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own; Orlando; photocopied course packet.