Graduate Seminars


Fall 2018


Graduate Proseminar: Approaches to Literary Research

English 200 / Prof. Kareem
Tuesdays, 9:00am – 11:50am

The Graduate Proseminar is an introduction to the profession of literary studies. The course will cover a wide array of topics related to issues in the profession and professionalization, including (but not limited to): the structures and histories of the discipline; writing and publishing for scholarly and general audiences; scholarly organizations and conference presentations; building a CV; understanding the academic job market; humanities careers; and critical and methodological approaches to literary studies.

Medieval Drama: Playing Gods in the Middle Ages

Old and Medieval English Literature
English 244 / Prof. Chism
Thursdays, 9:00am – 11:50am

During the medieval period, drama had not yet become a profession, yet all over Europe and England for 500 years before Shakespeare, plays and spectacles were a crucial part of social life. Liturgical dramas and mystery cycles, cautionary allegories, and festive interludes were seasonally performed, often at great expense and with elaborate props, costumes and stage effects. For two hundred years the Corpus Christi cycles were staged yearly by guilds of merchants and artisans, counterposing artisanal, mercantile, clerical, and popular interests. At the same time, there were no institutionalized theaters with invisible walls to separate the actors from the audience, but rather mobile stagings that could take the itinerary of Christ’s life or the shape of human history and lay it like a web over an entire city.

This class explores the beginnings of English drama with attention to recent developments in gender studies, performance theory, and cultural studies. What are the most profitable theoretical approaches to a drama that predates realism and falls between the abstractions of allegory on the one hand and the absorptions of individual psychology on the other, between the spectacular and the domestic? How do the plays negotiate the relationships between the material objects and bodies upon the stage, the historical and biblical narratives they embody, the verities they signify, and the conflicting social urgencies of their audiences. What civic spaces are realigned by these itinerant dramaturgies? What institutional orthodoxies are perplexed by the scandalous spectacularization of Christ’s wounded body or Mary’s virginal, pregnant body?  How does the distinction between theater and performance break down when audiences went not only to watch but to participate? How did sixteenth-century humanism, the English reformation and the gradual professionalization of the theater affect the many forms of medieval drama and what continuities can we trace into subsequent periods?


  • Weekly short 1 p. response papers
  • Either 2 conference-length papers or 1 long (25 pp.) seminar paper (the first paper can be either a draft or a first section of it).
  • 1 short class presentation on a class-related text or topic of your choice

Novels and Systems

Studies in Novel
English 258 / Prof. Seltzer
Wednesdays, 12:00pm – 2:50pm

This course considers the place of the novel in the epoch of social systems, our epoch. If the novel is “the prose of the world,” the rise of the novel, coextensive with the systems epoch, has made systems at once compelling and prosaic. The novel form, in short, is “the Bildungsroman of a society that has discovered the secret of its own construction”–and discovered too the irony of attempts to deconstruct what it systemically brings about. Systems theory gives us a way to frame this irony, and to reframe narrative form as social theory. It gives us a way to understand contemporary ecologies of self-endangerment. It gives us a way too to reconsider current debates about genre, interdisciplinarity, form, and “ego-technic” media (social media)–topics bound to the zoned realities of the systems epoch. Core readings: novels from the later 19th century to the present, from “realists” such as Henry James or Sarah Orne Jewett to experimenters such as Tom McCarthy, China Miéville, Kazuo Ishiguro, or Natsuo Kirino; supplemented weekly by readings in critical, media, and social theory, and on disciplines, “the world interior of capital,” and, of course, systems. Course requirements: two short papers (a book review or a reading); or a term paper.

Transnational Asian American Literature

Topics in Asian American Literature
English M260A / Prof. Cheung
Mondays, 9:00am – 11:50am

This course examines texts that cross national, ethnic, or linguistic borders. Questions explored include: How does migration shape Asian American identities? How does trauma in the country of origin affect adjustment in the New World? How do biraciality, geographical displacement, or linguistic crossover complicate cultural or national allegiances? How do norms regarding gender, race, sexuality, and class fluctuate between countries, cities, or neighborhoods? Why are some books censored or “ghettoized” in one country and acclaimed in another? How do migrants and migrant writers diversify their adopted countries with regard to food, patois, and religion? In short, how are our assumptions about ourselves and “others”—including sense of (aesthetic) worth and worthlessness, superiority and inferiority, ability and disability, confidence and diffidence, empowerment and disempowerment, masculinity and “emasculation,” independence and interdependence—inflected by our contingent location(s) in the globe? How does literature both reflect and effect changes in these assumptions?


Evaluation: conference papers (15%) OR one 14-15-page paper (70%); attendance and oral presentations (15%).


Required Texts:

9780385479646 Pang-Mei Natasha Chang, Bound Feet and Western Dress

9780307278609 Ha Jin, A Map of Betrayal

978-0295987149. Ruthanne Lum McCuun, Wooden Fish Songs

9781594486104 Chang-rae Lee, Native Speaker

978-1455563920 Min Jin Lee, Pachinko

9781566892544 R. Zamora Linmark, Leche

978-1543618020 Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer

978-0143124870 Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

The Archival Turn in Literature and Theory

Postcolonial Literatures
English 265 / Prof. Sharpe
Tuesdays, 12:00pm – 2:50pm

The “archival turn” can be traced to Michel Foucault’s observation that archives not only exist in documents but also practices, institutions, and disciplinary norms. Beginning with Foucault’s theory, this course examines the archive in literature and theory addressing unrepresented or misrepresented groups of people: slaves, women, the colonized, and disenfranchised. We will begin by considering official archives, their relationship to a history of colonization, and usefulness for writing histories “from below.” We will also examine how these archives have been expanded to include less authoritative sources such as oral histories, myths, folk tales, novels, poems, paintings, dance, songs, music, religious rituals, and other embodied forms. Rather than treating literature as yet another archival source, the course considers its metanarrative statements and creative forms as interventions into the nature and limits of the archive. In addition to Foucault, we will be reading the theories of Achille Mbembe, Carolyn Steedman, Ann Stoler, Diane Taylor, Saidiya Hartman, Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and Marianne Hirsch, and literary works of Amitav Ghosh, Assia Djebar, Mahasweta Devi, Michael Ondaatje, Erna Brodber, NourbeSe Philip, Edwidge Danticat, and Junot Díaz. All of the literature problematizes archival knowledge and seeks new languages and forms of representation that even includes dreams, fantasies, and the supernatural for conveying “the ineffable”—the massacres, traumas, displacements, and dislocations belonging to the long history of slavery, colonization, and its aftermath. Class requirements include an oral presentation and two 8-10 page papers or one seminar paper. Students are encouraged to write their seminar papers on works related to their own research interests so long as they address questions raised by the course.

Critical Indigenous Studies and Settler Colonialism in the Humanities

Cultural World Views of Native America
English M266 / Prof. Goeman
Wednesdays, 2:00pm – 4:50pm

Since it is impossible to address all the various nations, genres, histories, etc. of tribal world views, this class will instead address the field of Critical Native Studies and how it is unfolding today (including sovereignty, politics of recognition, colonialism, gender, race, and sexuality) through key creative texts in the field of Native Art, Film and Literatures. As we think about core concepts in the field, we will pay attention to the ways they intervene in structures that non-Native critical traditions often hold out as objective, universal, or natural. How has Native storytelling in its various forms contributed to various fields in Native studies and beyond? For instance, we’ll ask how centering Indigenous theories of political communities, tribal epistemologies of land and water, geographies, temporality and aesthetics provide new ways of engaging in the humanities. To do so, we will read several creative texts across eras and genres. By the end of the course, students will become familiar with key theorizations of colonial power and major discourses of critical Indigenous interventions and how they are being employed on the ground. Texts we will address along with critical selections include: Billy Ray Belcourt, selected poems, National Monuments, Heid E. Erdrich; Tracks, Louise Erdrich; Solar Storms, Joy Harjo, selected poems, Linda Hogan; Bad Indians, Deborah Miranda; from Sand Creek, Simon Ortiz; Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko; Where As, Layli Long Soldier; Elsie’s Business, Franci Washburn; Joshua Whitehead, selected poems.

BioCities: Urban Ecology and Cultural Imagination

Studies in Literature and Its Relationship to Arts and Sciences
English 260 / Prof. Heise & Prof. Christensen
Wednesdays, 9:00am – 11:50am

This seminar introduces students to the study of nature in the modern city with the help of materials from environmental history, environmental literature, ecocriticism, cultural geography, urban studies (including urban planning), design, and architecture. From the early 20th to the early 21st dentury, the experience of the metropolis has been one of the most powerful catalysts for distinctively modernist idioms in literature, film, painting, and architecture, and it has also provided one of the matrices for distinctively postmodern literature and design idioms in the period after 1960. In 2008, humanity crossed a historical boundary: more than 50% of the global population now lives in cities, and future population growth will occur or end up in urban areas, with important ecological as well as social, cultural, and aesthetic consequences. Even though urban ecology is only beginning to emerge as a major new research area in the natural sciences and urban planning, the city has had a biological identity since long before modernity, and is beginning to develop an ecological profile again in the contemporary globalized metropolis. The BioCities seminar will explore the realities and cultural imaginations of the city as novel ecosystem over time and around the globe through stories, maps, and images. It will provide students with a global horizon in terms of how the city is imagined and represented in literature, film, and other media over the course of last hundred years, and it will also develop a particular focus on Los Angeles. Readings will include literary works; nonfictional text; planning, architectural, and geographical document; and works across media such as photography, films, maps, websites, and databases.


Winter 2019


Standardizing on the Novel

Developments and Issues in Modern Critical Thought
English 201C / Prof. Grossman

This class is a portmanteau class. On the one hand, we will study the novel as an art form in its nineteenth-century heyday, reading three canonical authors in tandem with some classic theoretical texts about the novel’s form. On the other hand and at the same time, the novels we will read from these canonical authors have all been selected because they seem interested in the rise of a standardized world, and we will also discuss them as such and read further theoretical texts that seem relevant to this interest in standardization.The three authors we will read are Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Mark Twain. Accompanying classic theoretical readings on the novel as a form will likely include, for instance, Georg Lukacs’s The Historical Novel and Catherine Gallagher’s essay “The Rise of Fictionality.” The novels we will be reading are: Barnaby Rudge, Cranford, and A Connecticut Yankee in King’s Arthur’s Court. Theoretical readings on standardization accompanying these novels will likely include Hannah Arendt on the persistence of manufactured objects from The Human Condition, Lauren Berlant on infrastructuralism, and Sianne Ngai on the gimmick and aesthetic autonomy. Our discussion of standardization may especially focus on militarization; materiality and thing theory; gender and money; and corporations, slavery, and interchangeable citizens. This seminar is partly student-driven, and I am open to suggestions for secondary readings on either the novel or infrastructural studies. Students will write a research essay. It can be on any novel from any period or on standardization in any relation.

Title TBA

English 247 / Prof. Little

Description TBA.

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Studies in Novel
English 258 / Prof. Rothberg

Description TBA.

Environmental Narrative, 1980-2018

Studies in Literature and Its Relationship to Arts and Sciences
English 260 / Prof. Carruth

Focused on U.S. culture, this seminar takes contemporary narrative as a framework for environmental studies in the period since global warming cohered as, at once, a scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change and a contested story about modernity. The guiding questions are: Can we define environmental narrative as a distinct rhetorical form? What is at stake in this category for both literary studies and planetary realities? How does narrative take shape in prominent forms of science communication (such as maps, statistical regressions, databases, and dioramas)? And, by comparison, how do the narratives of writers, artists, and media makers variously conceptualize and contribute to environmental knowledge and environmental politics? Drawing on a cross-disciplinary secondary literature, we’ll pursue these questions by way of four case studies: (1) biodiversity vs. biotech; (2) postindustrial ecology and multispecies community (3) climate change, climate chaos, climate justice; and (4) terraforming fantasy and the “multi-planetary” future. Primary materials will be selected from the following: novels by T.C. Boyle, Octavia Butler, Ursula LeGuin, Toni Morrison, Ruth Ozeki, Jeff VanderMeer, and Karen Tei Yamashita; mixed-media and performance works by Climate Change Theater Action, The Harrison Studio, Richard Misrach and Guillermo Galindo, Andrea Polli, and Marina Zurkow; and popular/citizen science media along the lines of “green” games, the iNaturalist platform, and NASA’s Visions of the Future series. Our secondary literature will be drawn from ecocriticism and the Environmental Humanities, narrative theory, comparative media studies, STS (Science and Technology Studies), and environmental science.

Title TBA

Studies in Afro-American Literature
English M262 / Prof. Goyal

Description TBA.


Spring 2019


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Language and Literature
English 242 / Prof. Thomas

Description TBA.

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American Literature to 1900
English 254 / Prof. Yarborough

Description TBA.

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Studies in Novel
English 258 / Prof. Stefans

Description TBA.

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Studies in Criticism
English 259 / Prof. Deutsch

Description TBA.

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Studies in Chicana/Chicano Literature
English M261 / Prof. Lopez

Description TBA.