Graduate Seminar Descriptions: Fall 2014
ENG 507 Matrix of Wisdom: Medieval Women Writers
Instructor: S. Higley
"The Matrix of Wisdom" examines writing and recorded speaking of medieval western European women. Starting with the 9thC carolingian noblewoman Dhuoda and her letters to her son, we end with Joan of Arc’s trial in the 15thC and the transcripts of other women brought before the Inquisition. This course mingles secular writings with religious; romance and protest with vision. Abbess, nun, mother, widow, court poet, heretic and convert come together in these selections from Hildegard of Bingen, Elisabeth of Schönau, Na Prous Boneta, Marguerite Porete, Heloise, Margery Kemp, Marie de France, Julian of Norwich, Christine of Pizan and others. The focus of the course is wise transgression: under what conditions could women challenge the rules that kept them from writing, roaring, preaching, objecting, cross-dressing, doing battle, chastising popes and monarchs, challenging church doctrine, starting epistolary "flame wars" with learned men over The Romance of the Rose (as in Christine's case) or from speaking out at all? Another is the relationships women nurtured with fellow women and the men who were loyal.
ENG 540 Lyric Modernity in 19th Century US
Instructor: J. Michael
This seminar will focus on poems and prose by Poe, Whitman, and Dickinson. We will also read and discuss poetry by their precursors and contemporaries who define the Western lyric tradition, the tradition that critics have long identified as dominant for modern poetry. The work and influence of Sappho, Petrarch, Lydia Sigourney, Sarah Whitman, Byron, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and others will help direct our investigations into the emergence of literary modernity in the nineteenth-century. We will closely consider recent critical and textual debates about the character of poetic genres and changing nature of literature in nineteenth-century US and European culture. Our topics will include the pressures of an changing literary market place, the significance of the “poetess” figure in American and British print culture, and, most important, the peculiar formal and rhetorical strategies that Poe, Whitman, and Dickinson develop to engage and resist a rapidly modernizing and increasingly secular national and global environment that they in turn help to define. Students should gain a richer sense of how literary modernity both differs from and continues the traditions that precede it and the part that these particular US poets play in defining what modern poetry will mean, and what it won’t mean as well.
ENG 549 WWI and the Culture of Memory
Instructor: B. London
The Great War, Paul Fussell has famously argued, initiated a new form of distinctly modern memory – unsparing, unsentimental, and essentially ironic. At the same time, it ushered in an unprecedented era of remembrance that transformed Great Britain into a culture obsessed with the commemoration of its war dead – in a manner anything but ironic – and with preserving the memory of the war as a piece of cultural heritage. In fact, long before the war was over, the people of Britain – both soldiers and civilians – were imagining how to remember it, and devising the administrative and aesthetic structures that would shape so much of its postwar memory. So powerful was this impulse – and so pervasive was the postwar obsession with memorialization – that Geoff Dyer has argued, “The war, it begins to seem, had been fought in order that it might be remembered, that it might live up to its memory.” Recently, scholars of the war have begun to question not only how the war was remembered but whose war has been remembered and whose memories valued, opening the established history of the war to other narratives: war as experienced, for example, by women, working class men, colonial soldiers and laborers. And they have illuminated the way memory is fabricated to produce myths of the war that, over time, serve changing interests. This seminar will explore the work of memory in some of the many memoirs and works of imaginative literature that appeared in the decades immediately following the war (e.g., Robert Graves, Vera Brittain, Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf). We will consider the prodigious production of war poetry and the posthumous canonization of the “war poets” (e.g., Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg). And we will consider the appropriation and transformation of the war and its memory in late twentieth century literature, film, and television. We will also consider, as a critical framework, the rich body of theoretical and historical scholarship on memory work, collective memory, and memorialization, not all of it specific to the WWI context.
ENG 550 Problems in Agency
Instructor: S. Rajan
This seminar will focus on how scholars have theorized the concept of agency within a variety of disciplines, from philosophy and critical theory to anthropology and sociology. The question of “agency”—what it means for a person to act as well as the mental states (e.g. emotions or intentions) and sociological structures that condition the individual’s freedom and capacity to act—have been vital questions for some time. While this interest in the problem of agency has been particularly pressing since the post-structuralist “decentering of the subject” and Marxist ideology critique, the problem of agency has a long philosophical history. In this course we will trace the concept of agency from earlier philosophical accounts to more recent theorizations of agency in Marxism, post-structuralism, political theory, and aesthetics. Along the way, we will pay particular attention to how problems in agency intersect with the recent critical interest in the “affects” and the efforts by scholars to link aesthetics, ethics, and politics. Readings will range from Aristotle and Immanuel Kant to Anthony Giddens, Stuart Hall, and Hannah Arendt.
ENG 570 Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature: International Fiction
Instructor: J. Scott
As we read examples of twentieth-century fiction from around the world, we’ll be focusing our inquiry on the representation of imagination. Who imagines what in the influential novels and stories of the past one hundred years? How does the representation of imagination figure into an author’s impact on global culture? In our study of writers who have had a traceable international influence (Borges, Kafka, Beckett, Stein, Woolf, Nabokov, Garcia Marquez, Calvino, Sebald, and Coetzee, among others) we’ll be looking at cross-cultural transmission, studying effects of translation, and examining the evolution of fictional form through the last century. Our exploration of modern and contemporary imagination theorists will include Sartre, Warnock, Scarry, and Kearney.