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Spring 2024 Courses

ENGL 6260: Literary Traditions

Prof. Vincent Pecora
Mo/We 1:25 – 2:45pm
LNCO 3870

Course Description 

This course starts from the assumption that all literary traditions can be said to have their roots in earlier religious traditions. Whether we look at the traditions of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, India, and Ethiopia (to name just a few ancient ones) or the traditions of a more recent Europe, it is difficult to ignore the immense role that religious confessions have played in the rise of a culture’s literature. In common usage, the way we typically distinguish between a civilization’s religious texts and its literary texts is that we say the literary texts are secular (or, at least, more secular) compared to the religious texts. But this way of distinguishing between the religious and literary of course leaves lots of gray area. The readings for this course are designed to sift through that gray area, by addressing some important questions. How does a (supposedly) secular literature arise? For example, how should we describe the difference between Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe? When a secular literary tradition does emerge in English, with early roots in Chaucer, and especially from the Early Modern Period forward (roughly, from Marlowe and Shakespeare)—how should we account for the earlier and underlying religious tradition? Is it simply a matter of semantic residues, like colorful metaphors and symbols, or does an allusion to a religious text continue to play a meaningful role in the secular work? What would it mean for a literary text to be “rigorously secular,” that is, with no reference to what I will call the “background noise” of the religious traditions that preceded it? And finally, when we try to read cross-culturally—for example, when we try to understand the literary rudiments of China or India, as in so many “world literature” courses today—how deeply must we understand the religious traditions of China or India in studying the literary works produced within these civilizations? Or is “world literature” itself an illusion, since there can be no “world literature” without a comparable understanding of “world religions” to give it meaning?

Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero

Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question”

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, “Conclusion”

Jane Harrison, Alpha and Omega, “The Influence of Darwinism on the Study of Religions”

William James, Varieties of Religious Experience

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty

Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought

T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes Towards a Definition of Culture

Karl Löwith, Meaning in History, “Introduction”

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Part I, Ch. 6 (“The Secularization Thesis as

an Anachronism in the Modern Age”)

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, Ch. 1 (“Odysseus’ Scar”); Ch. 8 (“Farinata and Cavalcante”); and


Northop Frye, The Great Code, Ch. 1 (“Language”)

M. H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, Ch. 1 (“This Is Our High Argument”)

Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion

Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel, Ch. 3 (“Robinson Crusoe, Individualism, and the Novel”)

J. Paul Hunter, The Reluctant Pilgrim: Defoe’s Emblematic Method and the Quest for Form in

“Robinson Crusoe”

J. M. Coetzee, Age of Iron

J. M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello, “At the Gate”

Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, “Letter of Lord Chandos”

ENGL 7000: Experimental Forms

Prof. Michael Mejia
Tuesdays 4:35 – 7:25PM
LNCO 3875

Course Description


Just what is a novella? In the United States, these works, generally accepted as distinct from short stories and novels (though one often hears of the "long story" or the "short novel"), tend to be defined not by what they do differently from other prose genres, but by their length, their page or word count. Stephen King, in the afterword of his collection of novellas Different Seasons (1982), calls the form "an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic," measuring somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 words. 

And then there's this from Joyce Carol Oates: "[O]ne of the things that intrigued me about it is its uselessness…it's written for the drawer…absolutely no market for a 100-page 'story' like this…too short for publication as a book, monstrously overlong for magazine publication, which leaves…well, nothing at all. Yet I toiled over it." 

Such definitions, despite coming from writers, are more relevant, it seems to me, for the editor or the agent. "Do we have space for that in our magazine?" "Will people spend money on a 50-90 page thing that we can't really sell as a novel?" Identifying the novella solely by its length is to measure a distinctly uncommercial form with a commercial measuring stick. I prefer the creative potentials in the comments above: the anarchic, the useless, the monstrous, the nothing. 

A look at the aesthetic history of the novella takes us back to Boccaccio's Decameron (1353), 

whose "novellas" are quite a bit shorter than the fictions that have born that name since at least Cervantes' time, and also those of Goethe's Germany, where critics were more interested in what the novella does than in its physical characteristics. 

In the name of anarchy, uselessness, and monstrousness, I’m interested in thinking about the 

novella as a hybrid form, a patchwork, an unclassifiable thing that exceeds a single genre or 

medium. In the name of nothing (and King’s dated comment about the banana republic), I’d like to imagine the novella as a space, unclaimed, perhaps unwanted, hazardous, a crossroads, beyond 

the pale. 

Finally, a few comments about the novella from the Germans, great theorists of the form (known to them as "novelle") in the 19th century: 

Goethe: "What is a novelle but an unprecedented happening that has actually occurred?" 

Ludwig Tieck: "The novelle…should…distinguish itself by the way it focuses intensely on 

one great or modest occurrence, which, however easily it can happen, is yet wonderful, 

perhaps unique." 

Friedrich Shlegl: "A novelle is an anecdote, a hitherto unknown story, told as one would tell 

it in company, a story which must be capable of arousing interest in and of itself alone, 

without regard to any connection with the nations, the times, the progress of humanity, or 

even the relation to culture itself." 

A.W. Schlegl: "The novelle recounts remarkable events that have, as it were, occurred 

behind the back of bourgeois conventions and regulations." 

Franz Grillparzer: "[T]he novel psychological, the novelle psychopathic." 

Assigned texts may include work by Heinrich von Kleist, Joseph Conrad, Chris Marker, Clarice 

Lispector, Italo Calvino, Georges Perec, Nicholson Baker, Sophie Calle, Diane Williams, Roberto 

Bolaño, Fleur Jaggy, Yoko Tawada, and Yuri Herrera. 

ENGL 7060: British Writers

Prof. Vincent Cheng
Tu/Th 12:25 – 1:45PM
LNCO 3870

Course Description

James Joyce and Minority Discourse(s). 

This will be a course on the works of James Joyce.  Since I am assuming that some class members will not have read either Ulysses and/or Finnegans Wake before, this will be primarily a course developing a thorough and deep understanding of the body of Joyce's works, including the earlier ones.  However, I would like to do so by pursuing a particular focus and angle of investigation: the competing minority discourses in Ireland which Joyce gives voice to (sometimes consciously, sometimes symptomatically, often problematically) in his works--discourses involving race, imperialism, gender, class, religion and nationalism in a poor, colonial, Irish-Catholic patriarchy ruled by the British empire and by the Anglo-Irish Protestant ascendancy.  Thus, some of our critical readings will also have to do with issues/theories of cultural "hegemony" (in the Gramscian sense), colonial and postcolonial dynamics, racial typologies/constructions, gender dynamics, ethnic nationalisms, and the complex intersections of these issues--using Joyce's "Ireland" as our case study. 


Course readings will of course include primarily Joyce's major works (with some attention to the less well-known ones, if we wish) and important critical essays/studies on each work.  But I will also assign and suggest, week to week, relevant readings on related cultural and literary theory.  Class meetings and assignments will focus on both careful textual analysis and key critical/theoretical issues concerning the readings in question.  Assignments will include possibly a short paper, a long paper, an oral report, and a weekly page (minimum) of ideas based on the assigned reading (a final exam is an option, but improbable). 


Below is the list of books (N.B. designated editions) I am submitting to the bookstore; a number of essays will be assigned separately each week, along with suggested readings. 


James Joyce, Dubliners (Penguin Classics) 

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Penguin Classics)  

James Joyce, Ulysses (Vintage, The Corrected Text, ed. Gabler) 

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (Viking/Penguin) 

Harry Blamires, The New Bloomsday Book (Routledge) 

Don Gifford, Ulysses Annotated (California) 

Roland McHugh, Annotations to Finnegans Wake (Johns Hopkins) 


Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Grove Press) 

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (Verso) 

Edward Said, Orientalism (Vintage) 

Robert Young, White Mythologies (Routledge) 

Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (Oxford, 1982 revised edition) 

Stuart Gilbert, James Joyce's Ulysses (Vintage) 

Campbell & Robinson, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (Viking) 

Vincent J. Cheng, Joyce, Race, and Empire (Cambridge) 

ENGL 7460: Theory and Practice of Poetry

Prof. Rick Barot
Wednesdays 4:35 – 7:30pm
LNCO 3865

Course Description

Philip Larkin claimed that a poem is emotional in nature and theatrical in operation. Given this formulation, the problem at the heart of writing a poem is, then, the problem of dramatization. That is, how do we dramatize in language—a limited means—the dynamics of thought, sensation, mystery, knowledge, and unsayability that comprise human experience? In this course, we’ll look at how poets have grappled with dramatization not only as a problem but also as an affirmative, necessary torque for complex style. Using Reginald Shepherd’s brilliant and useful essay “On Difficulty in Poetry” as a starting point, we’ll explore issues which attend poetry today: clarity and obscurity, modes of reader-friendly composition and experimental modes, craft and sentiment, identity and history, the political and the overall place of poetry in our world. We’ll devote time to looking at some powerfully vivid books of poems, including Brandon Som’s The Tribute Horse, Craig Santos Perez’s from unincorporated territory [hacha], Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s Rules of the House, Brian Teare’s Poem Bitten by a Man, Susan Stewart’s The Forest, C.D. Wright’s Deepstep Come Shining, Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song, Ina Cariño’s Feast, Michael Dumanis’s Creature, and Yanyi’s The Year of Blue Water. We’ll also spend much time workshopping poems generated by the poets in the class.

ENGL 7780: American Literature

Prof. Stacey Margolis
Mo/We 3:00 – 4:20pm
LNCO 3870

Course Description

English 7780: Inventing the Short Story in the Antebellum United States 

In this class we will be reading some of the most influential American short fiction of the early nineteenth century. Focusing on four writers—Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville—we will explore the very different ways in which each of them helped to shape the emergent form of the short story and how they used it to examine the political and social conflicts of the era, including slavery and racism, urbanization and poverty, the rise of mass democracy, and the conflict over “official” national history. 

Irving, The Sketch-Book (ISBN: 9780199555819) 

Poe, Complete Tales and Poems (ISBN: 9780394716787) 

Hawthorne, Tales and Sketches (ISBN: 9780940450035)  

Melville, “Billy Budd” and Other Stories (ISBN: 9780143107606) 


Last Updated: 12/5/23