Graduate Fiction Workshop
The major work of the semester will be the analysis, appreciation, and critique of our own fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. Because we work in two major genres (as well as hybrid and in-between forms), we’ll certainly examine the aesthetic and even ethical implications of labeling work ‘fiction’ or ‘nonfiction,’ and we’ll be particularly interested in the innovations that cross-pollination might encourage. Our outside reading list will likely include Reality Hunger: a Manifesto, by David Shields and the short story collection The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith, as well as works by Roberto Bolaño, Jenny Boully, Gina Ochsner, Orhan Pamuk, Hilary Mantel, Etgar Keret, and Herta Müller. All semester long, we’ll commiserate over the state of contemporary mainstream publishing, but we’ll also celebrate and encourage against-the-odds and alternative success.
Graduate Poetry Workshop
This course will be conducted as a conventional workshop of poetry, with consistent, focused discussion of participants’ poems. Emphasis will be placed not on the “correction” of peer drafts but on the continued development of an aesthetics, a vocabulary, an area of obsession or a line of inquiry. However, our workshop will feature an extensive reading list that interrogates poetry as that zone in which language becomes possessed by genre, media, form, politics, materials, bodies, technology, and more. That is, we will read and encounter poetry in its hybrid state as prose, noise, drama, translation, performance, visual art, document, and theory.
Theory and Craft of Literary Translation
This course will serve as a graduate-level introduction to the theory and to the practice of literary translation. We will read an eclectic selection of essays by leading practitioners throughout time (Dryden, Goethe, Benjamin, Nabokov, Jakobson, Paz, Venuti, and so on) as well as some prominent examples of the craft, especially via anthologies of world poetry in translation Students' translation projects can be in either poetry or prose or both. Other types of hybrid projects are possible, too. Critical papers and class presentations are required. Translators of any foreign language are welcome. Fluency is not expected.
Practicum: Teaching Creative Writing
For students in the MFA program. The focus in this practicum is on the teaching of creative writing. Discussion will include theoretical approaches and practical teaching situations from introductory to the graduate level. The class will also take up the process of the job search, both inside and outside the academy, from applying to interviewing, to accepting an offer. Students will have their submission letters, vitas, and job application letters reviewed, and given the chance to share the work, writing, and teaching experiences of visiting authors. Class times will be arranged after enrollment, in order to avoid scheduling conflicts.
The Nature of Literature
NB. This is a one-credit course.
Can we say what literature is, or is the term so diverse and open-ended as to defeat all definition? If it cannot be defined, how much does it matter? As much as a physician being unable to give a reasonably definitive account of the pancreas, or nothing like as much? Should it be a source of embarrassment to literary types that they often have only a foggy notion of what they are working on, or is such embarrassment as misplaced and unnecessary as being unable to define the word ‘game’? Almost all attempts at an exhaustive definition of literature have proved defective in one way or another. Theories which identify literary works with fiction, special or unusually inventive uses of language, non-pragmatic utterances, moral and imaginative insight and so on have all either come to grief or betrayed serious deficiencies. Boldly undeterred by this wreckage-strewn history, this course will begin with some general reflections on the question of whether things have determinate natures, glancing at the medieval debates on the issue between realists and nominalists. It will go on to consider the relevance to the idea of literature of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s celebrated ‘family resemblances’ notion, and conclude by dramatically unveiling a theory of literature which seeks to avoid the flaws and exclusions of the models currently on offer.
Paul Hernadi (ed.), What Is Literature? (Bloomington and London, 1968)
John M. Ellis, Theory of Literary Criticism (Berkeley, 1974)
Terry Eagleton, ‘What is Literature?’, in Literary Theory: An Introduction
Stanley Fish, ‘What is Stylistics and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It?’ , in Seymour Chatman (ed), Approaches to Poetics (New York, 1973)
Mary Burgess Smyth
This course will survey and critique the main developments, debates and trendswithin anticolonial discourse, and post-colonial theory. We will read earlier works by Cesaire, Fanon and Memmi, among others, and will trace later intellectual and theoretical threads in the field in the works of Said, Spivak and Babha. We will begin with Leela Gandhi's Post-Colonial Theory: A Critical Introduction, and will then focus our attention on the major works of the above-mentioned theorists, as well as others. A strong element to this seminar will be the use, or practice, of post-colonial theory in literary criticism. As such, we will be reading a number of 20th-century post-colonial novels alongside our theoretical materials. A research paper and regular presentations on our readings, will constitute the written requirements of the course.
In this course we will begin by focusing on the emergence of postmodernism in the sixties and then trace its evolution through the present. We'll begin by exploring the conflicting definitions of the term, i.e. just what did postmodern mean in terms of a stylistic practice and in terms of a cultural condition. Once we have established some operating definitions, and become familiar with some of the narratives that were first called postmodern (Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49, Scott's Blade Runner, etc.) we'll discuss the novels and films which became synonymous with postmodern textuality in the eighties (Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot, Winterson's Sexing the Cherry, Lynch's Blue Velvet, Miller's Road Warrior). In the second half of the course we will turn to more recent narratives which expand our understanding of the term, particularly in regard to the increasing convergence between literary, film, and television cultures (Ondaatje's The English Patient, Diaz The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Franzen's Freedom: A Novel). Here we'll look closely at the interplay between adaptations, television book clubs, Amazon reading communities, bookstore chains, ereaders, and literary bestsellers in order to develop a fine-grain understanding of the proliferation of "literary experiences" across digital cultures.
The Poetry of Edmund Spenser
This graduate seminar will be an intensive study of Spenser’s work. We will attend to the ground-breaking The Shepheardes Calendar (1579), Amoretti and Eplithalamion (1595), and several of the shorter poems. Our main emphasis, however, will be The Faerie Queene (1590-96). The epic is a hungry form, and Spenser's version is no exception: The Faerie Queene consumes and remakes myths, saints' legends, chronicle histories, and iconographic traditions; in so doing it schools its readers in the practices not only of Renaissance allegory and imitatio but also of interpretation itself. Because of its intense, self-reflexive focus on interpretive praxis, the Faerie Queene has occupied a central place in literary criticism from C.S. Lewis to Northrop Frye to Stephen Greenblatt; the poem still serves as a laboratory for methodological innovations in literary scholarship. As Spenser's poem is encyclopedic in its range, students will gain experience not only with Spenser's work but also with the Renaissance culture it emerged from and shaped. Our readings of Spenser will therefore be contextualized with selections from authors as varied as Vergil, Petrarch, Castiglione, Plutarch, St. Paul, Jean Calvin, Ovid, John Bale, Aristotle, Thomas Malory, Walter Ralegh, Ariosto, Tasso, and Thomas Cranmer. Students will be introduced as well to major movements and emphases in Spenser scholarship in order to prepare them to contribute to ongoing conversations. Course projects will likely include short, regular response papers; a class presentation on an assigned canto from the Faerie Queene, supported by a bibliography of relevant analogues, sources, and major articles or chapters on the material in question; and an article-length essay on a topic of the student’s choosing.
The Vercelli Book
The Vercelli Book is a tenth-century collection of Old English poetry and homilies which stands alongside the Beowulf manuscript, the Exeter Book, and the Junius manuscript as one of the great treasures of Old English literature. This is the manuscript that contains The Dream of the Rood, Andreas, and Cynewulf’s Elene and Fates of the Apostles, as well as twenty-three prose homilies on topics as divergent as the miracles that occurred at Christ’s birth, the life of St Guthlac, the lassitude of women, the signs presaging Doomsday, and the colorful transformation of the soul at the moment of death. We’ll read most of the poetry and about half of the homilies, and we’ll explore in some detail the connections between the homilies and the Latin sermon literature of the period. Requirements include weekly response papers, an oral report, an annotated bibliography, and a seminar paper. Textbooks: The Vercelli Book, ed. G. P. Krapp, Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records 2 (1932); The Vercelli Homilies and Related Texts, ed. D. G. Scragg, EETS o.s. 300 (1992).
The Atlantic World: 1650-1800
This cross-disciplinary graduate seminar surveys some of the major primary texts, ideas, and events in the transatlantic culture of England and British America. These years witness a set of sweeping transformations sometimes bundled together under the sign of “modernity”—in this course,we consider the ways in which emergent concepts of racial identity, political belonging, constitutional law and political economy are mediated in the domains of literary, theatrical, and political culture. Writers will include Hobbes, Locke, Sidney, Dryden, Marvell, Selden, Behn, Tompson, Addison, Defoe, Hume, Equiano, Jefferson, Wheatley, Paine, Burke; secondary readings will be drawn from the work of scholars and theorists such as J.G.A. Pocock, Steve Pincus, Reinhard Koselleck, Hans Blumenburg, Jonathan Sheehan, David Armitage, Joseph Roach, NIcholas Hudson, Paul Gilroy, Kathleen Wilson, Michael McKeon, Laura Brown, and others. The seminar welcomes early modern specialists and nonspecialists alike.
Gender and Victorian Literature
This course is designed to give students the long view of critical developments in Victorian literary scholarship that focuses on gender. During the first four weeks of the semester we will review Victorianist scholarship on gender since the recovery work of Elaine Showalter and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in the early eighties. During these first weeks we will focus intensively on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poetry. The remainder of the course will be devoted to contextualizing Victorian literature within current Victorianist scholarship on the gentlemanly ideal of character (addressed by scholars such as Lauren Goodlad, Pam Morris, and Stefan Collini), issues of marriage and contract (addressed by scholars such as Sharon Marcus, Rachel Ablow, and Mary Jean Corbett), and gender and political economy (addressed by Mary Poovey and Catherine Gallagher). Victorian texts covered in the course will include Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son, Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, John Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies, Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help, John Stuart Mill’s On the Subjection of Women, and George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss. Depending on student interest (please e-mail me), this course can also offer coverage of Irish literature from the Victorian era, including Dion Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn, Charles Lever’s Harry Lorequer, and Emily Lawless’s Grania.
The Novel: Characters and New Lights
This course will be a study of the Novel as a genre. Centering on literature of the 18th and 19th century, it will also take us further afield, beginning with two ancient novels, and taking in en route the first volume of the Chinese Qing dynasty novel (c. 1750) by Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber). The complexities involved in conceiving of human beings as definable by “objective” or “subjective” attributes and actions will be closely examined, as well as various developments of narrative techniques to create or express “inwardness” (including the personality of a narrator)-- or the repudiation of any such “inwardness”. In pursuit of the concept of “character” we shall look at passages of history, including Suetonius’ “Life of Nero” in The Twelve Caesars, and excerpts from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. The creation of type-character will be explored, beginning with Theophrastus’ Characters. The magpie Novel notoriously adopts and adapts themes and techniques adopted from other genres, so we shall also look at a couple of plays (one by Euripides, one by Shakespeare), and at some satiric and lyric poems (Sappho, Horace, Petrarch). Novels, though often dismissed as mere reflecting mirrors of manners, have also shaped the way we look at the world, offering new ideas of what we call “consciousness” and proposing new views of what we call “human rights”. Some of the antagonism raised by the Novel through various eras may arise from suspicion that any individual novel contains some seeds of enlightenment (religious and/or secular), and delivers concealed messages about change. In the 18th century awareness of this possibility apparently arouses both enthusiasm for novels and condemnation of them-- and of new genres like “Gothic fiction.”Major novels: Petronius, Satyricon; Heliodorus, Aithiopika (Ethiopian History);Cervantes, Persiles and Sigismunda; Anon.[ comte de Guilleragues attrib.], Les Lettres Portugaises ( Portuguese Letters); Cao, The Story of the Stone (Vol. I); Fielding, Tom Jones; Richardson, Clarissa; Lennox, The Female Quixote; Austen,Mansfield Park; Balzac, Le Père Goriot; Dickens,David Copperfield; James,The Wings of the Dove. Theorists: Aristotle, Locke, Freud, Bloom. Critics of Shakespeare reflecting notions of “character” from era to era: Thomas Rymer, Samuel Johnson, A.C. Bradley, E.E. Stoll. Contemporary critics of prose fiction: Deidre Lynch, Peter Brooks, Michael McKeon, Lisa Zunshine, Maria DiBattista.
Theory and Theater
In this course we will explore the theoretical questions raised by the history and practice of theater from Aristotle's time to the present. We will focus especially on problems of identity and of embodiment which are fundamental not only to performance theory but to feminist and queer theory in general. In addition to theoretical texts produced by playwrights, directors, and performers, we will also read theory that engages with questions of performance and performativity from outside the boundaries of performance studies. We will use the history of Western theater to organize our explorations of these texts, and we will periodically ground our theoretical discussions in our readings of selected dramatic texts. Authors will include Aristotle, Diderot, Zola, Constantin Stanislavsky, Bertolt Brecht, Antonin Artaud, Edward Gordon Craig, Nietszche, Freud, Peggy Phelan, Judith Butler, and others. Students will write one 20-30 page paper and will give at least one 15-20 minute oral presentation.
Literature as Contemporary Art
Beyond the best-seller lists, there’s a wild west of writing where anything goes. In fact, judging by the variety of contemporary writing practices and materials, the use of language as an art medium parallels visual art where the mainstream is conceptual and can just as easily be video as it can be made of tennis shoes or DNA. In this class we will be reading works that play with language, as indie music plays with sound, rather than closing it down to commercial conventions: fiction, poems, electronic and other hybrids whose authors have adopted much of the idioms or rhetorical strategies of earlier conceptual, modern and postmodern work as they engage with contemporary thought and contexts that have emerged alongside the maturation of global networks, the biotech revolution, and other social formations that make our world what it is today. Variously called experimental, conceptual, avant-garde, hybrid, postmodern, innovative, extreme, alternative, e-, anti-, or new literature, our readings will include works from the collaborative flash poems of Heavy Industries, to the visual-text hybrids of Johanna Drucker, to the reworking of pulp “Nurse Betty” novels by Stacey Levine. Tentative reading list: The People of Paper (by Salvador Plascencia); Electronic Literature Collection <http://collection.eliterature.org/1/> (Katherine Hayles, et al eds.); Love in a Dead Language (Lee Siegel); Frances Johnson (Stacey Levine); Wittgenstein’s Mistress (David Markson); City of Glass (Paul Auster); Notable American Women (Ben Marcus); Camera (Jean-Philippe Toussaint); Vacation (Deb Olin Unferth); Europeana: A Brief History Of The Twentieth Century (Patrik Ourednik); The Blue Guide to Indiana (Michael Martone); 2666 (Roberto Bolaño). Course pack of short fiction and poetry. Course requirements: 2 short papers, 1 long. Short quizzes. Midterm, final.
This course examines American prose poetry of the past century, looking at the ways in which it has intervened in questions about what poetry is and how it relates to other literary forms. We will start off with David Shields’ Reality Hunger, and then take a brief look at the classic French prose poetry of Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, and Stéphane Mallarmé, in order to see how a parabolic prose participates in the dissolution of genres that begins in the nineteenth century, followed by a quick look at the American poets who use prose poetry to interrogate language philosophically: Gertrude Stein, W.C. Williams, Robert Creeley, and John Ashbery. The bulk of the course will center on discussions of a variety of recent writers for whom prose poetry is the site for an encounter between narrative and poetry: Paul Auster, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Kathy Acker, Christian Bök, Thalia Field, Dodie Bellamy, Laura Mullen, Claudia Rankine, and D.J. Waldie.