CoursesSenior Seminars

Fall 2019

Senior/Capstone Seminars for American Literature and Culture Majors

Colonial Literature and Medicine

Topics in Colonial American Literature
English 183A / Prof. Silva

This seminar asks us to consider what a literary history of the colonial Americas looks like if we pay as close attention to the bodies and pathogens that bound Indigenous, African, and European communities as we do to their writings. In doing so, we will inquire into the specific relations between indigeneity and migration, immunology and theology, science and exploration, liberty and violence—all with an eye to understanding the narrative forms and conventions that gave voice to American and Creole identities in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The class will necessarily be transatlantic and interdisciplinary in scope, so we will build a critical framework to guide our readings while attending to the rigors and rewards of such work. We will read a range of North American and Caribbean texts, including exploration narratives, journals, diaries, pamphlets, poems, and novels.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Topics in 19th-Century American Literature
English 183B / Prof. Colacurcio

Finally coming into his own as a philosopher, Emerson’s literary style still puzzles many readers.  At the outset of his career, his sermons and lectures read about like those of an enabled Harvard graduate.  But Nature has proved a little hard to follow.  And the essays!—well, all those well-turned sentences, coming at you a mile a minute, some of them not seeming to know about one another.  Who writes like that?  Not John Locke or Immanuel Kant.  Not even Nietzsche or Wittgenstein.  So here is our double problem: What are we to make of Emerson’s infamous “Idealism” in philosophical context?  And can we learn to “read” its gradual evolution and modulation in a series of essay-collections?  True, Nothing Truly Difficult Is Ever Easy. But it could work out.

 

Two in-class presentations and a 12-15 page term paper.  (And, oh yes, plan to attend all the classes.)

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Narrating the 1960s: Creative Nonfiction in an Age of Electronic Media

Capstone Seminar
English 184.1 / Prof. Decker

This course examines the 1960’s literary movement called New Journalism and the culture that gave rise to it. We read the most celebrated New Journalists of the period––Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Hunter Thompson––to consider how they use their talents as non-fiction novelists to respond to unsettling changes in mass media and society at large. We address the following kinds of questions. How can an older (print) form like the novel compete for the attention of consumers within a new mediascape brought about by the proliferation of film and TV? Is the New Journalist’s non-fiction narrative mode up to the task of representing a reality––political assassinations, civil rights protests, sexual revolution, psychedelic drugs, Vietnam War, Watergate––that threatens to outstrip the writer’s imagination?

Reading includes: In Cold BloodElectric Kool-Aid Acid TestWhite AlbumDispatchesFear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Documentary films: Rush to JudgmentMedium CoolHearts and Minds. TV news coverage from the Watts riots to the moon walk.

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Contemporary Asian American Short Fiction

Topics in Asian American Literature
English M191C / Prof. Ling

This course examines selected Asian American short fictions (including novellas) produced from the pre-WWII period to the present. We will close-read these Asian American texts and consider their subject matters, writing techniques, and social implications. The reading assignments are designed with an eye to their readability, artistic sophistication, and coverage of Asian American experiences. Although a common theme is used to organize each week’s reading, such grouping together of diverse literary articulations is tentative. The larger goal is to invite students to unpack and re-articulate the meaning and significance of the material examined beyond given boundaries, categories, or paradigms. Not open to students who took English M191C or Asian American Studies M191F in Winter 17 or Fall 18.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Queer Indigenous Literatures

Topics in Gender and Sexuality
English M191E / Prof. Mo’e’hahne

This seminar considers the intersections of queerness and Indigeneity as they are imagined in the Indigenous literatures and arts of North America. By reading fiction, poetry, and critical theory as well as examining cinema and contemporary art, we will analyze how queer Indigenous authors/artists conceive of Indigeneity through anti-colonial conceptions of gender, sexuality, and sociality. Listening to and thinking with these authors/artists, we will consider the centrality of dismantling settler-imperial heteropatriarchy to practices and processes of decolonization. For instance, reading Tommy Pico’s poetry, we will examine how artists/authors imagine queerness as a site of decolonial embodied knowledge, memory, and relationality that resists anti-Indigenous gender and sexual violence. We will also ask, what roles have queer Indigenous literatures played in histories of Indigenous art and critical thought in North America, and how do they represent crucial spaces for practicing anti-colonial politics?

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Senior/Capstone Seminars for English Majors

Theory of the Novel

Topics in Genre Studies
English 181A / Prof. Dimuro

The theory of the novel falls into two categories: the development of its generic and material form over time, and its affinities with narratology. In the first case, the novel is studied in its relations with social reality, the rise of the middle class, capitalism, print reproduction, consumer markets and distribution practices, rates of literacy, and discursive origins to name a few. In the second case, scholars tend to collapse the novel’s distinctive rhetorical, narrative, and structural features into the broader technical elements it shares with other forms of narrative. These include plot, character, point of view, and other common features of prose fiction. We will study the differences between the novel as a genre and the novel as a sub-category of narrative. Most of the readings are theoretical, but we also read three novels from the nineteenth century that lend themselves to theoretical analysis: Jane Austen’s Emma, Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, and Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady.

Representing Perpetrators: The Holocaust and Beyond

Topics in Interdisciplinary Studies
English 181B / Prof. Rothberg

In recent years, literary and cultural critics have started to pay more attention to the way that perpetrators of mass political violence are represented in cultural texts (including novels, memoirs, and films). We can see this new approach in discussions of the Holocaust, but also other histories, including the Rwandan genocide, South African apartheid, civil wars in Africa, and massacres in Indonesia. Indeed, “perpetrator studies” has become a new field with its own journal and conferences. In this senior seminar, we will ask what is at stake in this turn to the perpetrator. We will focus on historical and psychological debates about the nature of perpetrators and the dynamics of violence as well as cultural discourses on the fascination with the perpetrator. We will also consider the legacies of perpetration across generations and reflect on questions of memory, gender, responsibility, complicity, and justice during and after traumatic violence. We will start with a focus on the Nazi genocide, which has attracted a great deal of cultural and scholarly attention, but we will also extend our focus beyond the Holocaust and beyond Europe. Potential readings may include theoretical and historical studies such as Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men; literary works such as Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones (selections), Rachel Seifert’s The Dark Room, Martin Amis’s Times Arrow, and Boubacar Boris Diop’s Murambi, or the Book of Bones; memoirs such as Jennifer Teege’s My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me and Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s A Human Being Died That Night; and films such as Inheritance and The Act of Killing. The readings and discussions for this class will be difficult ones because of the nature of the material; students should be prepared to confront disturbing histories of trauma. Active participation, an in-class presentation, and papers of different lengths will be required.

Feeling Better in the Early Middle Ages

Topics in Critical Theory
English 181C / Prof. Weaver

What did it mean to “feel down” or to help someone “feel better” in the Middle Ages? And how did medieval people conceive of and work through their emotions—or related concepts like individual mental health or interpersonal intimacy? In exploring these questions, this seminar will provide an introduction to affect theory and the history of the emotions by way of one of the most popular genres of the period: the “consolation” or “book of comfort.” Centuries before the rise of self-help guides, these texts helped readers process their trauma, depression, anxiety, and grief. As we work to feel better in and with the literature of the past, we will read consolations alongside letters between exes, medical remedies for troubled minds, mourning guides, confessional manuals, and notes on the dangers of touch as well as work by contemporary literary theorists.

Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy

Topics in Renaissance and Early Modern Literature
English 182B / Prof. Dickey

This course will undertake a detailed study of the four works that make up Shakespeare’s second tetralogy of English history plays: Richard II, 1 and 2 Henry IV, and Henry V.  Along the way, we will acquire some familiarity with Shakespeare’s chronicle sources and dramatic precedents; competing early modern historiographical models and methods; genre theory; performance theory; the political situation and social concerns of England in the late 1590s when the plays are written (i.e., not just the early 1400s, when the plays are set); and the needs of a harried property manager.

Colonial Literature and Medicine

Topics in Colonial American Literature
English 183A / Prof. Silva

This seminar asks us to consider what a literary history of the colonial Americas looks like if we pay as close attention to the bodies and pathogens that bound Indigenous, African, and European communities as we do to their writings. In doing so, we will inquire into the specific relations between indigeneity and migration, immunology and theology, science and exploration, liberty and violence—all with an eye to understanding the narrative forms and conventions that gave voice to American and Creole identities in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The class will necessarily be transatlantic and interdisciplinary in scope, so we will build a critical framework to guide our readings while attending to the rigors and rewards of such work. We will read a range of North American and Caribbean texts, including exploration narratives, journals, diaries, pamphlets, poems, and novels.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Topics in 19th-Century American Literature
English 183B / Prof. Colacurcio

Finally coming into his own as a philosopher, Emerson’s literary style still puzzles many readers.  At the outset of his career, his sermons and lectures read about like those of an enabled Harvard graduate.  But Nature has proved a little hard to follow.  And the essays!—well, all those well-turned sentences, coming at you a mile a minute, some of them not seeming to know about one another.  Who writes like that?  Not John Locke or Immanuel Kant.  Not even Nietzsche or Wittgenstein.  So here is our double problem: What are we to make of Emerson’s infamous “Idealism” in philosophical context?  And can we learn to “read” its gradual evolution and modulation in a series of essay-collections?  True, Nothing Truly Difficult Is Ever Easy. But it could work out.

 

Two in-class presentations and a 12-15 page term paper.  (And, oh yes, plan to attend all the classes.)

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Narrating the 1960s: Creative Nonfiction in an Age of Electronic Media

Capstone Seminar
English 184.1 / Prof. Decker

This course examines the 1960’s literary movement called New Journalism and the culture that gave rise to it. We read the most celebrated New Journalists of the period––Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Hunter Thompson––to consider how they use their talents as non-fiction novelists to respond to unsettling changes in mass media and society at large. We address the following kinds of questions. How can an older (print) form like the novel compete for the attention of consumers within a new mediascape brought about by the proliferation of film and TV? Is the New Journalist’s non-fiction narrative mode up to the task of representing a reality––political assassinations, civil rights protests, sexual revolution, psychedelic drugs, Vietnam War, Watergate––that threatens to outstrip the writer’s imagination?

Reading includes: In Cold BloodElectric Kool-Aid Acid TestWhite AlbumDispatchesFear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Documentary films: Rush to JudgmentMedium CoolHearts and Minds. TV news coverage from the Watts riots to the moon walk.

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Shakespeare, the Novel

Capstone Seminar
English 184.2 / Prof. McEachern

Prose fiction has long been inspired by Shakespeare’s plays (e.g., Balzac, Pere Goriot), but recent times have seen a surge of this genre: for instance, Smiley’s  A Thousand Acres; Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius; McEwan’s Nutshell, and a recent series commissioned by Hogarth press in which contemporary novelists (Atwood, Winterson, Jacobsen. . . ) take on the play of their choice.  This seminar will study a collection of these novels in conjunction with their sources, examining the work of adaptation, inspiration and re-vision that takes place; what difference genre makes; and what does it mean to engage intellectually and stylistically with the iconic writer in English.  Familiarity with the works of Shakespeare would give students of the seminar a leg up, but it is not required.

Romantic Globalism

Capstone Seminar
English 184.3 / Prof. Sanchez

During the nineteenth century, Britain emerged as the world’s most expansive planetary empire with a sphere of influence affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people and discrete communities. Although political historians are now seeking to understand the role of this vast empire in the development of a new global order beginning to take root in the nineteenth century, one of the main challenges for literary critics remains to determine the complex, and often vexed relations of global politics to the production of art, society, and culture at large. In this course we will seek to develop a greater understanding of nineteenth-century literature as a global phenomenon by framing our readings within the theoretical concerns of imperial, transnational, and post-colonial studies. This means not only attending to the relationship of literary works to Britain’s colonial enterprise—paying attention, for example, to the particular ways in which poetry, novels, drama, and other imaginative works helped shape, reinforce, and critique British imperial ideology—but also literature’s role in more broadly shaping nineteenth-century transnational formations, including international law and thought, ideas about political boundaries and state sovereignty, economic liberalism, and the place of war and violence in maintaining peace throughout the globe. As a result, some of the topics to be discussed will include the relationship between nineteenth-century literature and the following: transatlantic and worldwide commercial systems, the slave trade, travel and exploration, foreign wars and political revolutions, and the collision of regional environments, especially with respect to religious and cultural conflicts.

 

Not open to students who took English 184 with Professor Sanchez in Winter 2017.

Contemporary Asian American Short Fiction

Topics in Asian American Literature
English M191C / Prof. Ling

This course examines selected Asian American short fictions (including novellas) produced from the pre-WWII period to the present. We will close-read these Asian American texts and consider their subject matters, writing techniques, and social implications. The reading assignments are designed with an eye to their readability, artistic sophistication, and coverage of Asian American experiences. Although a common theme is used to organize each week’s reading, such grouping together of diverse literary articulations is tentative. The larger goal is to invite students to unpack and re-articulate the meaning and significance of the material examined beyond given boundaries, categories, or paradigms. Not open to students who took English M191C or Asian American Studies M191F in Winter 17 or Fall 18.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Queer Indigenous Literatures

Topics in Gender and Sexuality
English M191E / Prof. Mo’e’hahne

This seminar considers the intersections of queerness and Indigeneity as they are imagined in the Indigenous literatures and arts of North America. By reading fiction, poetry, and critical theory as well as examining cinema and contemporary art, we will analyze how queer Indigenous authors/artists conceive of Indigeneity through anti-colonial conceptions of gender, sexuality, and sociality. Listening to and thinking with these authors/artists, we will consider the centrality of dismantling settler-imperial heteropatriarchy to practices and processes of decolonization. For instance, reading Tommy Pico’s poetry, we will examine how artists/authors imagine queerness as a site of decolonial embodied knowledge, memory, and relationality that resists anti-Indigenous gender and sexual violence. We will also ask, what roles have queer Indigenous literatures played in histories of Indigenous art and critical thought in North America, and how do they represent crucial spaces for practicing anti-colonial politics?

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.