Civilization and its Discontents in British Literature
This course takes “civilization and its discontents” as a guiding theme for reading British literature from the 18th-20th centuries. Many key texts from this time period explore, in various ways, one of Sigmund Freud’s central arguments in Civilization and its Discontents (1930): that as human beings attain higher and higher degrees of civilization, which Freud defines as mastery over nature, space, and time, they do not gain happiness, as one might expect, but actually become more miserable. This claim and others in Freud’s text will serve as touchstones in this course, but we will also perform our own investigation of how the literature of this time defines the terms “civilization” and “discontents,” as well as important related terms like “happiness.” Our reading list will feature a variety of genres (poetry, novels, essays, short stories) and will include many of the following authors: Samuel Johnson, William Wordsworth, William Blake, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, and Simon Armitage.
Computation and Culture
This survey course introduces students to a wide variety of studies at the intersection of computation and culture, with a focus on literary cultures. No programming experience is required.
Together, we shall explore how we can start to study the computational and the cultural together, broadly conceived. On the one hand, we shall find out how computational tools are useful for the humanists. Here, we will see how quantitative digital humanists use text mining, data science, and AI to make arguments about literary cultures, and learn some tools that help us ask and answer such questions. On the other hand, we shall study how humanities is now being applied to the computational, broadly conceived. Here we shall learn humanistic methods that help us to think about technoscientific cultures at large, through close analyses of novels (including literary and science fiction), computer code, memes, and videogames. Throughout the course, you will learn how knowledge from the sciences can be brought to bear on studies of sociocultural systems, and vice versa.
Feminist Fictions: Popular Feminism, Literature, and Culture
The red cloak of The Handmaid’s Tale vaulted from the pages of Margaret Atwood’s novel to film and television, marches and protests, memes and collectibles. Feminist fictions enable radical commentary on culture, provide points of identification and connection to movements, and deliver the vocabulary, imagery, and textures of new ways of being and living. This course looks at popular feminist fictions of the 20th and 21st centuries in the context of other elements of feminist print culture (memoir, non-fiction prose, manifestoes, blogs, magazines and ‘zines) and social life. Students will explore a wide range of classic feminist texts including movement novels coming out of the suffrage movement, the second-wave, and third-wave contexts, feminist dystopian fictions, graphic novels, and more. Texts may include: Gertrude Colmore’s Suffragette Sally, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Audrey Lorde’s Zami, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and selections from criticism, theory, non-fiction prose or memoir by feminist thinkers such as Christabel Pankhurst, Angela Davis, Sara Ahmed, Betty Fridan, Alice Walker, Rebecca Solnit, Roxanne Gay, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Maggie Nelson and others.
Reading the 1619 Project
In this course we will examine The 1619 Project, The New York Times' celebrated, Pulitzer Prize winning, extremely controversial retelling of the history of slavery in the United States and its continuing influence on U.S. institutions and culture. A series of essays, photographs, stories and poems, the project places slavery at the center of the American experience and argues that it is the foundation of the systemic racism that continues to plague contemporary U.S. life. President Trump has denounced the project as a shameful misrepresentation of U.S. history, and several prominent historians have criticized its scholarship. Still other historians and social commentators have defended the project as necessary and courageous.
We will read arguments critical of the project and those defending it. We will devote most of our time, however, to reading, discussing, and writing about the essays and other materials contained in the 1619 Project. We will consider what these materials may teach us about the history of slavery and about the state of race and racism in the United States today.
What is Modernity?
Because “modernity” is what we inhabit and find therefore familiar, we’re not often very mindful about it, just as we don’t normally think about breathing air. And also, even when the idea of modernity is raised to consciousness, there are quite varied interpretations of its significance. Is it about secularism versus religion? Enlightenment? The advent of Capitalism? Technology? Is it corrosive to the rule of tradition and custom? Does it revise what people once meant by the term human nature? Did it start in the 1600s, or the 1750s, 1850-ish, or about 1910?. This course will explore how a legitimate answer to all these questions can be “Yes!” We take stock of that variation by exploring four facets of modernity in particular: political modernity, economic modernity, social modernity, and aesthetic modernity. Although we will take a multidisciplinary approach, the course will be anchored in literature and a selection of narrative and poetic works from the late 1600s to the 20th Century and to today. Likely longer fiction texts include Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; and Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway. We will also explore a film or two (we will decide together which films[s]), visual arts, music, and other arts. Graded work involves active participation, periodic reading journals, and several short papers.
• Aesthetic: Centered on the arts, especially as a scene of innovation and as a vehicle of social criticism;
• Political: Centered on the displacement of absolutist governmental forms by representative, increasingly democratic governments;
• Economic: Centered on capitalism, industrialism, and critiques thereof;
• Social: Centered on ideas about public deliberation, the navigation of cultural and religious differences, philanthropic activism, and much more.
Post-Apocalyptic Fictions for Apocalyptic Times
The end of the world is a universal human obsession, and has been throughout history. But at particular moments in time, the apocalypse seems to capture our imaginations in particularly powerful ways. In the early twenty-first century, we are confronted with the potentially world-ending reality of climate change and mass extinction, as well as the still looming threat of nuclear war, untreatable pandemics, and other threats, both man-made and “natural.” In these perilous times, narrating possible apocalypses and imagining post-apocalyptic futures are a dominant strand of contemporary literature, film, and art.
In this University Literature Seminar, we will read a variety of post-apocalyptic fictions in an attempt to understand the work this type of narrative does in cultures that are beset by crisis. Do they help us to prepare for the worst, or are they ways of displacing our anxieties about the trajectory of our society into the realm of fantasy? Are they calls to action or do they point to nihilistic acceptance of our fate as being the only rational response to the feeling that everything is falling apart. We will trace the history of the post-apocalyptic imaginary from ancient myths of Armageddon and Ragnarok, through early modern incarnations of the trope like Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and into contemporary novels such as Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne, Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, and N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. We will contextualize these fictions with theoretical work by authors like Timothy Morton, Andrew McMurray, and Notre Dame’s own Roy Scranton. Throughout, the political implications of imagining the world ending, ended, or about to end will be at the center of our analysis.
On the Move: Migration in American Literature
In this class, we will examine the importance of migration in twentieth century U.S. Literature. We will consider how migration has been integral in telling or representing the American experience, particularly by investigating how movement has been used by authors to shape texts, ideas, and characters. In asking ourselves how the ideas of flux and movement impact both the content and the structure of a novel, we will reflect on how migration alters political ideas, ideals, and trends. Finally, we will explore the many ways that migration shapes or constructs our conceptions of homeland and region.
In this course we will examine a range of novels which might loosely be understood as “spy fiction,” yet each of them has a different understanding of what it means to spy. We will ask what these novels can tell us about the relationship between literature and history, and what they reveal about ways of looking and narrative point of view. This course will be discussion based and will require regular written assignments designed to hone critical reading skills.
From the invention of writing to the arrival of that momentous literary gadget, the printed book, and through all the book’s subsequent iterations and updates, new technologies for reading and writing have always shaped the material possibilities for literary production. For the last fifty years, the next frontiers of literary technology have been digital in nature. This course examines how digital machines and digital cultures have conditioned both the everyday infrastructures of literature (word processing, e-reading, Amazon, social media) and the material horizons of literary experiment (hypertext, net art, virtual reality, AI). Attending closely to literary works in print and on screens, we’ll study the technical and social transformations wrought upon literature by new media, asking too how imaginative writing can help us understand the effects of digital machines on the ways we live, learn, and love now. Students will also be invited to scrutinize their own variously digital habits of reading and writing, since we will take as our subjects of inquiry not only the artworks and techniques of literary writers, but our own Kindles and iPads, our social media accounts, and our personal hopes and anxieties about the future of literature—and perhaps the future of democratic governance and collective life more generally—in the digital age. Assignments will include argumentative analyses, an extended research project, and some digitally creative writing of our own.
Leadership and Literature
This course explores the character and actions of leaders confronted with difficult decisions. Our case studies will come from British literature between 1796 and 1909. We will examine how men and women in positions of responsibility face tests, plan, grow, strategize, communicate, develop a moral code, manage people, and come to know themselves. The course focuses on the change-makers in Victorian literature as they exploit success, power, progress, and engage in a fast-changing economy. Leaders in Victorian novels solve problems, create plans, manage groups, balance principles and pragmatism, develop their own style and philosophies, and take advantage of the systems around them. They display driving ambition and have moments of doubt. They emerge in legitimate and illegitimate contexts. They coerce, terrorize, inspire. They are self-made and yet enabled by the contexts that produce them. They face the challenges of gender, race, religion, class, disability, and poverty. In this class, we will ask: What are the key activities of leadership? What is strong or weak leadership? What are the relationships between leaders and followers? We will discuss the ‘great man’ theory (and great women), leadership traits, leadership skills, and emerging paradigms of leadership such as charismatic leadership, transformational leadership, and servant leadership. We will learn how to situate literature within multiple contexts, analyze, how it is constructed, and what it can teach us about leadership in the modern world. We will explore different ways to read, using a range of theoretical lenses. As we develop our approaches to critical analysis, we will learn to appreciate the important place of leadership in literary texts, and of literature as a wealth of experiences from which we can learn.
Master Writers from Latin America
This university seminar in English is designed to give first-year students an introduction to: (1) university writing, and (2) the reading, analysis, appreciation, and discussion of literary texts. The topic for this course is Master Writers from Latin America: Gabriel García Márquez, Rosario Ferré, Carlos Fuentes, Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda, and Alfonsina Storni. These four fiction writers and two poets are some of the most celebrated and distinguished of the region; in fact, among these world-class authors are the Nobel laureates Gabriel García Márquez and Pablo Neruda, as well as one winner, Carlos Fuentes, of Spain’s Cervantes Prize, the equivalent of the Nobel in the Hispanic world. Apart from stressing cultural and literary appreciation, this course will also teach students the concepts and terminology required for any productive discussion of literature. So as to stimulate the students’ engagement with the texts, class discussions will cover a range of universal and humanistic themes. Course Requirements include response papers, four medium-length essays, group presentations, and reports on campus literary/cultural events.
Introduction to African American Literature
A study of Black American literature from the Harlem Renaissance to the present, this course will focus on emerging and diverging traditions of writing by African Americans. We shall also investigate the changing forms and contexts of ‘racial representation’ in the United States. In addition to primary texts, the course will also engage critical responses to these works. Potential texts for the course include: Richard Wright, Native Son; Amiri Baraka Dutchman and the Slave; Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters; Octavia Butler, Kindred; Charles Johnson, Oxherding Tale; Edward P. Jones, The Known World.
In spring 2021, Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro published Klara and the Sun, a novel featuring an intelligent machine, or “artificial friend” humanoid robot as its protagonist. Ishiguro’s novel asks serious questions about the nature of intelligence in an era of machine learning and automation. In this seminar, students will take up these questions, and look specifically at how we tell stories about technology to answer them. Working with fiction by Ted Chiang and Nnedi Okorafor, representations of AI in television and film from Westworld to Ex Machina, and analyses of the implications of AI and machine learning in cultural and scientific texts, we will debate one of the central issues of contemporary technological life.