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Fall 2021 Courses

English 6480: Intro to Critical Theory

Professor Craig Dworkin
Mondays 4:30pm – 7:30pm
GC 5310

Course Description

This course will consider the linguistic theories that follow from an attention to what Jacques Derrida has called "the violence of the letter." Typically, we think of the basic unit of language as the lexeme, or word. But what happens when theorists venture below the level of the word? We will explore this radical alphabetic foundation of theoretical language by focusing on seminal texts from writers such as Ferdinand de Saussure, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, and Friedrich Kittler. At the same time, we will attempt to reverse-engineer the 
implicit theoretical claims in a number of literary works that have emerged from an "alphabetic imagination." Finally, if grand theories of signification have been abstracted from a naturalized sense of Language grounded in the roman alphabet, what happens when they run up against sign systems, such as Chinese, which are not alphabetic? Expectations will include short weekly papers, a conference-style presentation, and lively discussion.

English 6670: 19th Century American Literature

Professor Stacey Margolis
Tuesday/Thursday 2:00pm - 3:20pm
GC 1790

Course Description

Description coming

English 7000: Experimental Forms

Professor Lance Olsen
Tuesdays 4:35pm - 7:30pm
GC 2880

Experimental Forms

Each week’s meeting will be divided into three roughly equal parts: 1) intensely critical, during which two of us will lead a conversation about a so-called experimental text; 2) playfully generative, during which we will share our creative engagements with that text; and 3) curiosity-abundant workshop-esque, during which we will interview two of us about new pieces of experimental work. Behind this framework will stand an invitation to explore a deceptively straightforward question: How, if at all, can we write the contemporary rather than naively rewriting or equally naively abandoning the past? Throughout the semester, we shall keep in mind Heidegger’s observation that not-being-at-home is a more fundamental human condition than being-at-home as we investigate how the possibility space called innovative writing may become richer by living alongside, in, and/or among several art forms and genres at once. Along the way, I shall encourage us to resist, rethink, and/or expand such notions as “the workshop” and “the workshop critique”; “narrativity”; “poetry”; writing’s “past,” “present,” and “future”; and the pragmatics of current literary distribution practices—all in order to bring into greater relief why and how we do what we do. 

Readings: Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable (1953); Jen Bervin, Silk Poems (2017); Anne Carson, Nox (2010); Young-Hae Chang & Heavy Industries, Traveling to Utopia and Bust Down the Door (ca. 2000); David Clark, 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (2008); Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee (1982); Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House (2019); David Markson, The Last Novel (2007); Patrik Ourednik, Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century (2005); NourbeSe Philip, Zong! (2008); Graham Rawle, Woman’s World (2005); Olga Tokarczuk, Flights (2007); Steve Tomasula, VAS (2004).

English 7460: Theory & Practice of Poetry

Professor Katharine Coles

Course Description

In English 7460/Poetic Theory and Practice, we will be using both poetic texts and prose by poets writing about their thinking and practices to consider questions of intertextuality and originality, specifically of how our own creative works and practices are intimately tied to what we take as our influences, whether from poetry, the other arts, nature and landscapes, and various additional aspects of culture.  We will also be thinking about risk, estrangement, freedom, and comfort and discomfort as they are at play in the making of poems.

The course will be built around your seminar presentations, each of which will directly engage one or more of the readings up to that point in the semester and will include both a creative and a meditative/critical component.  The point and method of engagement will be up to you and may be formal or thematic, theoretical or material.  You may think of your presentations, if you wish, as a series of questions moving toward something like an aesthetic statement, a manifesto, or an ars poetica.  They should provide places where you begin to chart or make visible the relationship between your creative and your critical work. 

The texts will be clustered in ways that are meant to help us examine relationships among them.  One such cluster will group Wanda Coleman’s Wicked Enchantment (edited by Terrance Hayes), Hayes’ American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (inspired by Coleman’s American Sonnets), and his To Float in the Space Between: A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight.  Another will look at Anne Carson’s translation from Sappho, If Not, Winter; her prose book Eros, the Bittersweet; and her collection of poems, Norma Jean Baker of Troy.   The final list is still under construction (by which I mean being narrowed down), but other poets will include Camille Dungy, Cole Swensen, and perhaps Emily Dickinson.

English 7700: American Studies 

Professor Crystal Rudds
Monday/Wednesday 3:00pm - 4:20pm

Afropessimism and Its Discontent

Afropessimism is an intellectual and cultural philosophy comprised of a range of arguments about the fungibility of Black life.  Theoretically, “black social death” has emerged as a construct that describes the presumed non-subjectivity of the enslaved subject but also a relation to Western thought spilling over from the horrors of chattel slavery and the colonialist logics of the Enlightenment.  To paraphrase one of the problematics staged by Fred Moten, if the slave (and their descendent) is not accorded social life, then social life must be predicated on the exclusion of, or anti-, blackness—constituting a denial and acknowledgement; this double movement, then, positions as its “deformational force” what appears equally integral to its form.[1] Thus, Afropessimism emphasizes Black lives as both dispensable and foundational to all facets of modern society.  

In this course, we will examine tensions within Afropessimist theory, largely one of its warrants that there is no “outside” of the negative conceptions of blackness, and, therefore, the association of Black people with trauma, suffering, and violence will remain in perpetuity.  We will also debate Afropessimism’s dissenters (Afrofuturism, Black Queer Studies, Black Anarchy, etc.), investigating the premises of these more optimistic trajectories, for instance, the rejection of time or dependence on aesthetics.  Ultimately, we are inquiring into what kind of humanism allows for the true freedom of the Black subject.

Students who take this course can expect to lead a discussion or two, write short theoretical essays, and generate a problem or question that feeds into an extended final project.  Readings include Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake, Fred Moten’s Black and Blur, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s Becoming Human, Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead, and Kevin Quashie’s Black Aliveness, among other theoretical and creative works. I will also post a few foundational texts before the semester for students who may want more grounding before we dive in.         

[1] Moten, Fred. "The Case of Blackness." Criticism, vol. 50 no. 2, 2008, p. 177-218. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/crt.0.0062.

ENGL 7720: Prose Fiction

Professor Scott Black
Monday/Wednesday 8:05am - 9:25am

Global 18th Century Prose Fiction: Beyond the Novel

In this seminar, we’ll explore global fiction during the period of the “rise of the novel” but we’ll ignore the novel. Instead, we’ll look at what standard literary histories obscure and ignore, other laboratories of prose fiction outside of European modernity and beyond its technologies of realism and assumptions about reality. How did other, alternative modernities address the characteristic problems of modern literature, developing new forms for an increasingly complex world and adapting old stories to new circumstances? What other practices of reading—and ways of being—do such stories enable beyond the habits of realism? And could these fictions help us grasp and live with our own crises of modernity better than the novel?

Readings (subject to tweaking):

China Monkey (Journey to the West) (trans. Waley)

Japan Saikaku, Five Women Who Loved (trans. De Bary) Basho, Narrow Road to North (trans. Carter)

Ummah (Islamic World) Arabian Nights (trans. Haddawy)

Europe Lafayette, Zayde (trans. Paige) Behn, Oroonoko (ed. Lipking) Voltaire, Candide (trans. Adams)

Americas Winkfield, Female American (ed. Burnham) Equiano, Narrative of the Life (ed. Carretta) Lizardi, Mangy Parrot (trans. Frye) Essays and criticism by Ghosh, Moretti, Felski, Landy, Chodat, Li, Campany, Aitken, McMurran, Gundry, Reilly, and others


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Last Updated: 6/7/21