Graduate Seminar Descriptions: Spring 2016
ENG 524 Restoration & Eighteenth-Century Drama
Instructor: K. Mannheimer
With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Puritan ban on dramatic representation was lifted, and British theatre returned with a vengeance: women appeared on stage for the first time; dramatic dialogue reached new heights of shocking innuendo; comedy crowned the libertine rake as its new hero. But this sexual liberation was paired with an equally bold movement toward generic and social experimentation: dramatists pushed the limits of traditional forms; they examined the relationship between verbal wit and social power; they took up issues surrounding gender, marriage, and the new “middle class.” Authors incl: Wycherley, Etherege, Behn, Congreve, Steele, Fielding, Gay, Goldsmith, & Sheridan. Critical texts will explore (in addition to the above-cited topics) questions of performance and spectacle, the rise of celebrity culture, and the alleged “shift” at mid-century from drama to novel.
ENG 529 British Romanticism: William Blake
Instructor: M. Eaves
In an era of astounding change and stress, the literary and artistic experiments of poet, painter, printer, prophet William Blake (1757-1827) attempted to capture the most intense and significant range of human thought, emotion, and experience at their very origins. Most of Blake’s contemporaries rejected his work as perverse, foolish, awkward, and perhaps insane. But a talented later generation resurrected Blake as their prototype of artistic genius and the life of imagination. We shall trace his difficult legacy across a range of multimedia artistic practices and theories. And we shall use his work as an opportunity to investigate the means and methods of understanding artistic “difficulty” and “obscurity.”
ENG 539 Marxism and Forms
Instructor: J. Burges
What is form? Some of the most exciting answers to this question emerge in the Marxist tradition of thought that has unfolded since the 19th century. This is because one of the most energizing features of that tradition is the interrelationship that it powerfully develops between a theory about a form and the form that theory takes. The forms in question are not only aesthetic (e.g., montage, allegory, the novel, lyric poetry, the essay, genre, spectacle, art, beauty), but also political and economic (e.g., proletariat and bourgeoisie, class, commodity, working day, labor, value, money, strike, riot, revolution, commune, communism). While we will not survey Marxism exhaustively, we will grapple with what form is by confronting its economic, political, and aesthetic forms in the Marxist tradition. Our method will be to close read: always to describe and explain, and sometimes to interpret and challenge, the texts in front of us. In doing so, graduate students should also gain a useful set of models for thinking about the form of their own arguments.
ENG 543 The Africanist Presence in American Literature
Instructor: J. Tucker
Toni Morrison’s essay “Unspeakable Things Unspoken” and her volume Playing in the Dark revolutionized the study of American literature. In revealing the “Africanist” presence in the work of white writers, Morrison deconstructed oppositional stances in debates about canonicity and generated new interest in—and approaches to—American fiction. Using Morrison’s claims as starting points and her methodology as an example, this course will analyze the fiction of American writers—including Cather, Faulkner, Hemingway, Poe, Stein, Styron, and more--with a sensitivity for the representations and figurations of blackness in their work in order to understand those works as occasions and/or analyses of racial discourse. The course will ask and seek to answer the following questions: How is the tradition of American literature a tradition of racial representation? How is blackness figuratively represented? What roles do such “Africanisms” play in the discursive construction of whiteness, masculinity, citizenship, and an “American” identity?
ENG 550 Secular Humanities: A View of Critique
Instructor: J. Michael
In this seminar we will consider how the humanities as a modern critical practice originates in the tension between secularism and belief in the Italian Renaissance, how the humanities (especially literature) becomes identified with critical philosophies of reflection and with aesthetic speculation in the Romantic period, and how these complicated legacies continue to shape the fields of the humanities today. We will hope to gain a clearer understanding of the indispensability of humanistic thinking (often at odds with humanism) today when both secularism and the humanities often seem under attack. We will consider the role of complexity and the tragic imagination in humanities and also the place of pleasure and transport. Without the forms of critical reflection associated with the humanities, much of human life would remain incomprehensible and perhaps invisible to us. We will begin our discussion with the emergence of humanism in the Renassance (Petrarch) and consider the crucial identification of aesthetic criticism with critical reflection during the Romantic period (F. Schlegel, Novalis, Coleridge). These origins will frame our discussion of humanistic critical practice in the twentieth century. Among the important figures whose work we will consider in light of these investigations will be Walter Benjamin, Theordor Adorno, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Georgio Agambin, Gayatri Spivak, Talal Assad, Judith Butler and others.