ENGL 505-01 Contemporary Literary Theory and Methods
Professor: Glenn Steinberg
Meetings: Thursday 5:00-7:30pm
You’ve probably heard a lot about literary theory in the past, and most of what you’ve heard is probably bad. Literary theorists use obscure jargon and are difficult to understand. Theory is abstract navel-gazing that has little application in the real world. The discipline of literary studies is failing in the U.S. because literary theory has politicized and radicalized the study of art and literature, destroying what made literature enjoyable in the past. Right?
But literary theory is actually none of those things and has done none of those things. Literary theory is actually about thinking carefully and precisely about language, culture, symbol, and narrative. It’s about not taking things for granted. We assume that everything about our language and our culture is natural, inevitable, easy, and transparent. But actually that’s far from the truth. When we look closely at language and culture, we discover all kinds of unexpected, fascinating, mind-blowing, and sometimes even frightening things.
In this course, we explore the terminology used by different theorists and come to understand their terms precisely, accurately, and thoroughly — in order better to understand (and not take for granted) the literary and cultural phenomena that they describe with those terms. We identify the salient features of various schools of theoretical thought and the intellectual relationships between specific schools/theorists. We get better at reading literary theorists until we can read an unfamiliar, unidentified theoretical text and identify salient terms and the theorist’s relation to known schools of thought. And we use literary theory in order to develop a sophisticated reading of a literary text by applying a specific theoretical approach and its precise terminology to that text.
We do all this in a blended format — with some in-person classes, some remote classes via Zoom, and some online activities via Canvas. Using these different modalities, we explore literary theory together — learning from each other, looking closely at what we think we already know about language and culture, improving our understanding of literary and cultural phenomena, and never taking them for granted again.
ENGL 521-01 Women in Literature
Professor: Piper Williams
Meetings: Monday 5:00-7:30pm
This course will primarily, though not exclusively, examine black women’s writing, to explore the ways gender and race interact in their art. We will read narratives, essays, novels and poems from the 19th to the 21st century. The course is structured thematically, with special attention to thematic threads in the literature of black women writers in the African American Canon. These thematic units will couple texts in the interest of analyzing cross-textual meanings and interpretations offered when considering texts from “different” traditions. For instance we will read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1939) alongside Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899). These novels occupy different periods in literary history and different traditions, so that you would find the former in the Norton Anthology of African American Literature and the latter in an anthology of American Women Writers. However, they could both be considered proto-feminist novels, focusing on women’s search for selfhood, a revolt against conformity and a critique of the social norms governing “women’s” sphere. Cross-racial considerations of gender allow feminists ideologies to transcend difference and mine meaning. To that end, the course will pair texts from different races, genres, and different cultures to explore, complicate and re-define “Women in Literature.” While we will use the primary texts to work out the way meaning is shared between “different” texts, the course’s critical lens will focus on what’s called “black feminist theory or criticism.” This theoretical lens focuses, in part, on the ways “feminism” historically ignores the voices and writing of black women writers and calls for a more complex way of approaching black women’s writing, specifically as well as women’s writing in general.
ENGL 550-01 Seminar in Poetry: British Romantics
Professor: David Venturo
Meetings: Tuesday 5:00-7:30pm
Between 1790 and 1830, a small group of ground-breaking writers revolutionized English poetry by creating a new, lyrical, and expressive poetry that celebrated and explored the visionary creativity of the artistic mind. We will read works, chiefly poetry, by the British Romantics, focusing on the poetry of William Blake; William Wordsworth; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; George Gordon, Lord Byron; Percy Bysshe Shelley; and John Keats, with occasional excursions into their letters and literary criticism.
ENGL 670-01 Seminar in LIT: On-Line Lives: Autobiography & Digital Media
Professor: Lisa Ortiz
Meetings: Wednesday 5:00-7:30pm
No longer a novelty, digital automedia have become the standard of representing our personhood in a publicly private way. This seminar explores a range of autobiographical forms as they present themselves through on-line platforms in the digital age. Our objective is to explore the developing modes and methods of self-representation in on-line media with a focus on the history and theory of life writing. Students will become familiar with discourses and debates about digital life writing forms as an old genre learns new tricks. We will focus on a variety of on-line platforms, such as blogs, social media, and gaming for life writing practices with an eye toward problematizing the digital media as tools of self-identification, self-effacement, and identity fraud. Discussions highlight questions of creative license and freedom of expression as well as ethics and measures of security: Are online role-playing games and other seemingly ephemeral spaces for constructing online profiles as “real” as off-line spaces of lived identity? How do platforms that facilitate sharing life narratives online open doors to the construction of fake lives used for “catfishing” and other on-line deceptions? Do the networking websites on which we scroll and swipe for professional connections as disabling as they are enabling of access to opportunity? Are blogs and vlogs the new memoir?
ENGL 670-02 Seminar in LIT: Native American Literature & the Environment
Professor: Jane Robbins Mize
Meetings: Thursday 5:00-7:30pm
This course explores how the environment is imagined, represented, problematized, and engaged in Native American literature across the twentieth century. Students will also be introduced to the fields of Indigenous Studies and ecocriticism while discussing both their entanglements and divergences. We will ask questions such as: How does Indigenous storytelling frame subjects including human-nonhuman relations, natural and urban spaces, environmental law, and self-determination? What might Native American literature reveal about the tensions between Indigenous epistemologies of the environment and settler environmentalism? What is the connection between environmental justice and decolonization—and how does Indigenous literature, film, and art contribute to such movements?
We will analyze texts within their unique environmental, historical, and cultural contexts—and we will also consider larger frameworks including settler colonialism, capitalist industrialization, and Indigenous sovereignty. Readings will include literature such as Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (1977), Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms (1998), and Tommy Pico’s Nature Poem (2017) as well as scholarship by Gerald Vizenor, Nick Estes, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.