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Graduate Program

Graduate Seminar Descriptions: Fall 2018



Instructor: T. Hahn
CRN: 27297
M 1400-1640

At the start of the semester, we will engage with recent work in critical race studies, and investigate the ways in which recent and contemporary models of race are (or are not) in dialogue with the practices, ideas, images, institutions, and documents that rely on race in the Western Middle Ages.  The works we will read include the Helenistic Alexander Romance and related writings on Indians, the History of Alexander, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, Gerald of Wales on the Welsh and Irish, the Letter of Prester John, Mandeville’s Travels, romances of Alexander the Great, and early writings on New World “Indians” by Columbus, da Gama, Vespucci, and others.  Visual evidence (including maps, exotic alphabets, “monsters,” body types, and skin pigment) will be a crucial source of investigation.  Throughout we will address the ways in which our materials reflect the “global turn” that has recently emerged in visual, historical, and literary studies.


Instructor: R. Kegl
CRN: 27308
T 1400-1640

This course is organized around the interpretive power of the utopian. First we consider how the utopian figures in a selection of prose fiction, verse, and plays from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

We focus on the literary and social impulses that animate writing typically categorized as utopian like More’s Utopia and Bacon’s New Atlantis. And we also focus on the utopian tendencies within English Renaissance writing, more generally. Our authors include Bacon, Brome, Cavendish, Godwin, Jonson, Lanyer, Marvel, Milton, More, and Shakespeare. Second, we consider the interpretive power of the utopian in English Renaissance studies and in the theories of literary and social analysis to which English Renaissance scholars are indebted. We sort through the applied criticism and theoretical arguments of writers like Bartolovich, Bloch, Empson, Frye, Grady, Halpern, Jameson, Kendrick, Lukacs, Marin, Marx, Moretti, and Williams.

Our focus on the utopian allows us to discuss a number of interpretive issues not restricted to English Renaissance studies, including how we assess the persuasiveness of literary analysis; how we move between theoretical arguments and applied criticism; how scholars have argued for the relationships among literature, other forms of culture, politics, and economics; and how literary critics have incorporated historical scholarship into their analyses.


Instructor: J. Tucker
W 1400-1640

Toni Morrison’s essay “Unspeakable Things Unspoken” and her volume Playing in the Dark revolutionized the study of American literature.  By identifying the “Africanist” presence in the works of canonical white writers, Morrison generated new interest in—and approaches to—American fiction.  Using Morrison’s claims as starting points and her methodology as an example, this course analyzes the fiction of white American writers and the representations of blackness in their works in order to understand those works as occasions and/or analyses of racial discourse.  The course seeks to understand the role of literature in the discursive construction of whiteness, gender, and citizenship.  Featured authors include Edgar Rice Burroughs, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, and more.  Course requirements include an in-class presentation and a research paper.


Instructor: D. Bleich
CRN: 27313
TR 1400-1640

Toril Moi, in her book, Revolution of the Ordinary (2017) has recently emphasized ordinary language in the study of literature and the humanities. This sense of language focuses on use, actual function for every speaker, common sense, and everything people ordinarily say and write. In addition, she and Rita Felski have suggested how this view of language overrides the traditional “hermeneutics of suspicion” a way of reading that views “meaning” as separate from observable language, that meaning is occult, or that it needs to be recovered from texts and speech. Both critics urge for the study of literature and the humanities a renewed respect for the experience and contexts of reading, for how different constituencies read and talk about literature through tropes of common sense, local interest, and collective purpose.

In this seminar, we consider, in the light of 20th century criticism and theory, how this perspective on literary study has come about. We practitioners of criticism have moved from a respect for its aesthetic and formal features in the mid 20th century to a study of its political valences, uses, and effects in the present century. We review principles of New Criticism, its sacralization of texts, its emphasis on “greatness” of both works and writers, toward its gradual replacement by reading practices emphasizing language and politics of literary texts, and the desacralization of texts. The use of the religious term “canon” has diminished as a much broader, popular, and ordinary sense of language and literature has come to the fore in teaching and scholarship. We consider how Toni Morrison’s criticism (including the recent The Origin of Others [2017]) teaches how to view the political reference (not ideology) of any work of literature; we consider Judith Fetterley’s concept of “immasculation” (becoming immersed in male supremacist thinking about language and literature); and the gradual increase in the diversity of those teaching literature who have brought new genres to public attention. The broad generic variation of texts now commonly considered in the study of literature and the humanities corresponds with the sense of “ordinary language” discussed by Moi and with the recession of the hermeneutics of suspicion.

Having considered the work of Moi and Felski, having reviewed some of the features of 20th century critical practice, we will read works by, for example, Harold Pinter and Toni Morrison to try to get a feel for the changes proposed by the foregoing critics. Some of these changes have resulted in the blurring of received genres such as autobiography and memoir, challenging the clear definitions of terms like “fiction.” Inclusion of visuals and other graphics also have created new genres to be recognized. Students are invited to propose authors to be read as ordinary.