Skip to main content

Graduate Program

Graduate Seminar Descriptions: Spring 2018



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.

ENG 514 Pre-Modern Idea of the Book

Instructor: G. Heyworth
CRN: 82770
R 1400-1640

Description TBA.

ENG 549 WWI and the Culture of Memory

Instructor: B. London
CRN: 82719
T 1400-1640

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 – some of which can be seen in current centenary celebrations. 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, trauma, collective memory, and memorialization, not all of it specific to the WWI context. As debates about Civil War and other memorials are raging in our country, this course may prove timely in even more ways than originally anticipated.

ENG 557 Reading the Lyric

Instructor: K. Gross
CRN: 82706
W 1400-1640

“The lyric” has always been an elusive quarry, as is the question of what kinds of critical tools we need to listen to, analyze, and animate lyric poems. The seminar will combine the intense study of the work of particular lyric poets with the close reading of texts by important critics and theorists of the lyric. Among the other questions we’ll consider are the nature (and fiction) of voice in lyric, the fate of the lyric “I,” the importance of formal elements (meter and rhyme, the organization of sound and syntax), the nature of linguistic play and “difficulty” in lyric poetry, the work of metaphor, the shape of poetic memory. The poems taken up will include Shakespeare’s sonnets, the lyrics of John Donne, and poems by John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, and Wallace Stevens. We’ll also be devoting time to crucial critical texts by William Empson, John Hollander, R. P. Blackmur, Christopher Ricks, Sharon Cameron, Anne Carson, and Jonathan Culler among others.