Introduction to Poetry
This course will provide an introduction to poetry as a literary art form and develop students’ skills of critical analysis and interpretation. The course will address the major poetic genres, a variety of poetic forms, and a range of literary concepts and devices. We will also spend some time thinking about the oral performance of poetry through different activities, including listening to recordings of poems and potentially attending a poetry reading. We will read a variety of material both past and contemporary, with a special emphasis on poetry from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and particularly the Romantic period. We will try to understand why the poetry on our syllabus has spoken to readers over time, and to see how it might speak to us and about us.
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.
The Bible in English Literature
This course explores how the Bible has influenced English literature from the medieval to the modern eras. We'll read major narratives from the Bible -- the story of the creation and the fall; stories of exile and return; narratives of the Incarnation and Passion of Christ; and important parables such as the Parable of the Prodigal Son -- and consider how major authors such as William Shakespeare, John Milton, George Herbert, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, T. S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, and Marilynne Robinson adapt and respond to the Bible in their creative work. You will have a chance to think about the Bible and its literary adaptations in short exercises, essays, and an optional creative project. By the end of this course, you'll have a good understanding of the many ways English literary traditions draw on and transform their biblical inheritance; you'll know the differences between quotation, allusion, and echo; you'll learn how to read poetry well; and you will develop your skills as a writer, preparing yourself for the rest of your academic career at Notre Dame.
The Death and Return of God in Radical Poetry
This course will introduce students to several of the key upheavals in twentieth-century thought that rocked spiritually-inclined poets, leaving them without easy paths back to devotional art. We will be particularly focused on those British, Irish and American poets whose cutting edge, radical ideas about themselves and culture would shake apart the very syntax of their medium – language - and cause them to write in forms that seemed very strange and even disturbing to unaccustomed eyes. At the crux of our discussions will be the fate of the idea of God in the works of “postmodern” poets whose secular political projects and views of language - “the word” - would conflict at the deepest levels with their desire for belief in divinity. We will focus mostly on the work of small-press writers like Brian Coffey (Ireland), Anglo-Welsh David Jones, Wendy Mulford (England), Fanny Howe and Hank Lazer (U.S.), all of whom have recently emerged, with the help of 21st-Century hindsight, as part of an important group of poet-thinkers engaged in this crucial project of “reconstructing God.” The course will begin with gentle introductions to the problems of reading late-twentieth-century philosophy as well as to the problems of reading poetry as a literary genre. During the semester students will be required to lead class discussion several times, with partners, keep a reading journal, and write two papers (one with options for revision).
Theories of Literature
When studying literature - and the humanities, in general - we use the term theory to indicate a specific way of looking at things. For example, a gender theorist insists upon the importance of gender or sexual identities, a Marxist theorist emphasizes how economic conditions affect social and political realities, and a narrative theorist examines the operations of such matters as perspective and plotting in storytelling. Rather than promoting one theoretical perspective, this course surveys several important styles of literary theory. We explore key issues in topics such as: aesthetic theory; Marxism; psychoanalysis; various feminisms, gender theory and masculinity; structuralism and post-structuralism; race and ethnicity studies; and the development of literary canons.
There is a great deal of sheer fun and surprise in learning about these various approaches. But such knowledge is also empowering, raising our consciousness concerning our own commitments and interests as readers, citizens, friends and family. Our study materials will include works of literature but also film, art history, music, and more, taking the viewpoint that pretty much everything - even something so simple as the way we dress—is meaningful and therefore some kind of “text.”
Graded coursework centers on several short papers, including a paper documenting a point of theory controversy that interests you individually. Regular journal writings and active participation are also graded factors.
Introduction to American Fiction
This course is designed to introduce you to literary analysis and critical thinking through American short fiction. Readings will draw from nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-first century American fiction, a literary tradition that exhumes the deep fears, anxieties, and transgressive desires that are buried under national narratives of progress, liberalization, democratization, rationality, and freedom. We will discuss craft, theme, trope, genre, voice, and other tools whose understanding will help us deepen our appreciation of literature and literary analysis. We will also explore the often unexpected relationships between narration and truth, between national and personal repression, and between epistemology (how we know things in the world) and ethics (how we should orient our actions toward that world). Writers we will study include Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, Margaret Atwood, James Baldwin, Edwidge Danticat, and Yiyun Li.
Shakespeare’s Major Tragedies
This seminar will examine the four tragedies upon which Shakespeare’s reputation most securely rests: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Our objectives will be to acquire an in-depth knowledge of Shakespeare’s four major tragedies; to become familiar with early modern English and develop an appreciation of the importance of linguistic history; to examine tragedy as a dramatic genre, as an experience, and as a cultural preoccupation; and to learn about Shakespeare’s age and his linguistic and cultural legacy. Along with our modern editions of Shakespeare, we will read Christopher Haigh’s Elizabeth I and a number of recent scholarly essays.
On the Road: The History of Quest Literature
The title of Jack Kerouac’s experimental Beat Era novel On the Road represents a modern variation on one of the most powerful trajectories in the great traditions of literary history. Narratives of pilgrimage and quest permeate these traditions, expressing fundamental, abiding human aspirations toward transcendental ideals. Yet this compelling quest motif also addresses the particular cultural and political priorities of specific societies and historical contexts. This seminar will explore the many different cultural inflections of quest narratives and the ways in which they reveal profound tensions between the persisting human search for the ideal and the ever changing historical forces at work in specific social communities. Our own journey of exploration will begin with Biblical and Classical sources, Homer in particular, followed by medieval quest romance. We will then proceed to forms of ironic and radically modernized quest narratives in selected works from the eighteenth century to the present by Swift, Voltaire, Byron, MW Shelley, Tennyson, Kerouac, and the Monty Python troupe.
Victorian Fiction and it’s Steampunk Heirs
This class asks why modern-day writers use settings and plots from Victorian novels to work through their own ideas about technology, transportation, information, and the complex social structures of modern society. We will explore Victorian fiction that deals with rapid social and technological change, and then try to see how modern authors adapt those attitudes for use in a twenty-first century society. From the Victorian era we will read Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son, Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, and H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. From the modern era we will read Sydney Padua’s graphic novel The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine and China Mieville’s incredibly weird fantasy novel, Perdido Street Station. Students can expect to spend a lot of time talking, writing and reading about trains, computers, factories, flying machines, economics, and riots; about how we construct and enforce differences among genders, humans, animals, and robots; and about how the industrial world uses fiction.
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.
The Slave Narrative and Neo-Slave Narrative in African American Literature and Culture
The experience of slavery has made a deep and enduring impression on African American literature and culture. In an effort to destroy the institution of slavery, African Americans invented the genre of the slave narrative and published hundreds of them before the Civil War. In response to persistent racism, Black authors of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries borrowed elements of the antebellum form to represent black life in a modern context. This course will first examine the early eighteenth-century antecedents to the slave narrative, the slave narrative proper of the first half of the nineteenth century, and responses so the form in the twentieth and twenty-first century, the neo-slave narrative. Authors will include Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Sherley Anne Williams.