Fall 2015

ENGL 13186-01
University Literature Seminar
Tim Machan
TR 9:30-10:45

Antique Origins of English Literature

So why did Medea boil Aeson, incinerate Glauce, or kill her own children? Is it really necessary to beware Greeks bearing gifts? And how can all roads lead to Rome? To answer questions like these, we need to do what centuries of the greatest writers in English have done – read the classics. And in this course that’s just what we’ll do, as we try to understand the remarkable influence ancient Greek and Roman poetry and prose have had on English literature from its beginnings to the present day. Whether as source material or inspiration, the narratives, individuals, and social concerns of the Antique in fact have sustained everything from Chaucer’s account of star-crossed medieval lovers in Troilus and Criseyde, to Milton’s epic framework in
Paradise Lost, to T. S. Eliot’s imagery of desolation in the Waste Land. In this course, we focus on these Antique origins, reading a wide range of poems, prose, and plays to gain a sense of their literary achievement and complexity, as well as the opportunities they provided for later English writers.

ENGL 13186-02
University Literature Seminar
Z’etoile Imma
TR 9:30-10:45

Africa on the Move:  African Migration in Literature and Film

As many scholars, journalists, and artists have demonstrated, in the last several decades, Africans have increasingly responded to economic, socio-cultural, and political pressures by migrating from rural areas to cities, from African countries to the Western countries, fromdeveloping nations to highly-industrialized centers.  In this course, we will explore African experiences of migration through a wide variety of contemporary African literature, film,and other audiovisual texts. We will critically examine theories of diaspora, home, nation, exile, “brain-drain,” alienation, displacement, statelessness, memory, belonging, border-crossing, and borderlands.

Some questions that will guide our analysis are: How do literary, cinematic, and musical texts represent the different circumstances which lead African individuals or families to migrate? How do African writers, filmmakers, and artists contend with intersecting constructions of race, gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, and/or religious affiliation in their discussions of African experiences of migration? What do narratives of migration from an African perspective tell us about Western and/or hegemonic constructions of race, space, and culture? What do cultural productions which focus on African migration reveal about the legacies and continuities of colonialism and imperialism? How do representations of African migration make and unmake the local and global?

As we examine a diverse set of texts and voices, we will also consider to how questions regarding form, genre, and aesthetics speak to the complexities and contradictions inherent to the African migrant experience. To deepen and broaden our study, we will complement the reading of creative texts with an engagement of current scholarly research on the trends in contemporary African migration. Along with active reading of all course material and active participation in class discussion, assignments will include several response papers, two argument driven essays, as well as, a creative writing assignment.

ENGL 13186-03
University Literature Seminar
Jesus Costantino
TR 11:00-12:15

The World Is Flat

We live in a world filled with flat surfaces with images and words on them, and according to media theorist Marshall McLuhan, we have the printing press to thank for that. The invention of the printing press, he argues, led ultimately to the “visual homogenizing of experience.” I would add that it has also led to the visual flattening of experience. In this course, we will consider the close technological and imaginative relationship shared among our most familiar flat things: pages, screens, prints, and surfaces. We will begin with the 1887 novel Flatland and move from there into a close study of a variety of literary and visual media that are invested in their own “flatness.” While our initial points of reference will be traditional literature, film, and photography, we will expand our reach to include hybrid visual-literary forms like photo-texts, graphic novels, hypertext, comics, experimental typography, games, and visual novels.

ENGL 13186-04
University Literature Seminar
Chris Abram
TR 12:30-1:45


A myth is a story with special powers. But what powers—and where do they come from? “It’s just a myth,” we say when we hear a tall story, something we don’t believe. Yet myths are also repositories for deep and meaningful truths. Thinking about myth provides a fascinating route into literary analysis, but it also takes us into the realms of anthropology, psychology, and the history of religions—because a myth is always more than “just” a story. In this seminar, we will read myths ranging in time and space from Ancient Babylon to the contemporary internet.

We’ll discuss what myths mean, how they originate, and how they survive. To help us, we will consult many different theories that have attempted to unlock mythology over the years—but students will be expected, through lively discussion and thoughtful writing, to come up with their own opinions about what myth is and why myth matters.

ENGL 13186-05
University Literature Seminar
John Sitter
TR 12:30-1:45

Imagining Nature

The question, “What is nature?” has never been more important than now, during what one writer describes as “the most crucial decades in the history of the human species on earth.” This seminar will put our environmental moment in a larger context by exploring versions and visions of the natural world as embodied in works of literature from the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.  Natural imagery and landscapes inform many of the greatest works of literary art. Through study and discussion of poems, novels, environmental essays, and nature films, we will consider the role of nature (or Nature) in art and its rich range of imaginative meanings, from Edenic escape to ecological responsibility.  Because this seminar will proceed through collaborative conversation, participation will be important. Students will be responsible for introducing class discussion twice during the term, writing short papers, and completing take-home midterm and final examinations.

ENGL 13186-06
University Literature Seminar
Romana Huk
TR 2:00-3:15

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 “modernist” and “postmodernist” poets whose secular political projects or views of language – “the word”– would conflict at the deepest levels with their desire for belief in divinity.  We will focus closely on the work of renowned figures like Gerard Manley Hopkins and T. S. Eliot, as well as later writers like Brian Coffey (Ireland), David Jones and Wendy Mulford (U.K.), 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 “rewriting the word ‘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 twice, with partners, and write either three short papers or substitute the final one with a creative response (to be accompanied by a written “argument” and approved before start of work).

ENGL 13186-07
University Literature Seminar
Yasmin Solomonescu
TR 2:00-3:15

“Literary Visions and Revisions”

“[T]here will be time,” writes T. S. Eliot in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, “time yet for a Hundred  indecisions,
/ And for a hundred visions and revisions,
/ Before the taking of a toast and tea.” While this seminar doesn’t promise toast and tea (although that’s negotiable), it does promise a feast of literary works well worth digesting, specifically ones about the many “visions and revisions” involved in literature itself. Through the study of poetry, plays, and a novel fromacross centuries, we will become acquainted with literature as a mode of expression that often (arguably, always) involves artful negotiation with one’s cultural and historical heritage, notably through adaptation, echoing, imitation, and allusion. We will also explore the ways in which literature is often (arguably, always) about its own visionary and revisionary processes. The seminar will feature regular classes in which we analyze, discuss, and practice the critical “visions and revisions” involved in thinking and writing about literature at the university level.  Writers figuring prominently in the syllabus are likely to include Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Eliot, Woolf, and Stoppard.

ENGL 13186-08
University Literature Seminar
Greg Kucich
TR 3:30-4:45

On the Road: Literature of the Quest

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, and Kerouac.

ENGL 13186-09
University Literature Seminar
Edward Malloy
U 7:00p-9:30p

Biography/Autobiography: One’s Life Story

In the course of the semester, we will seek to understand the uniqueness of particular historical persons through an analysis of their stories as created either by themselves or others.  We will also be interested in what can be learned about that person in cultural and historical context.

Attendance is expected at each class.

The students in the course are expected to contribute to the seminar discussions and to write papers on each assignment.  All regular papers are to be two to three pages.  The final paper is to be five to seven pages.  It will provide an opportunity to tell one’s own story in light of the work of the semester.

ENGL 13186-10
University Literature Seminar
Kate Marshall
TR 3:30-4:45

The Novel and the Posthuman

The figure of the “posthuman” in literary and philosophical discourse has undergone several transformations in recent decades. Students in this seminar will undertake a survey of theoretical texts that discuss the posthuman as a term that identifies contemporary consciousness and subjectivity, the cyborg body, and the world of objects and technologies with which we interact or are acted upon. Set against these theoretical texts will be a range of contemporary novels that ask similar questions through experiments with narrative and point of view. How can we understand the construction of the human through the strange narrators, sentient landscapes, or alien minds? Answers will be sought in novels ranging from contemporary literary fiction and realism (by Cormac McCarthy, Marilynne Robinson, and Teju Cole, for example), to science fiction and fantasy. Because this is a course devoted to the study of the novel, expect a heavy reading load and regular writing assignments.