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- Fall 2019
University Seminar: Fables, Early Sci Fi, and Fairy Tales
This course will explore the significance and uses of fable, sci-fi, and fairy tale, taking a global perspective. The shortest of short stories, fables tend to tell us bad news with comic conciseness. We will begin with myths as retold in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which human, animals and plants move into each other. Tales attributed to Aesop bring advice and warning. Fables relate human and animal, tying us to bodily reality, and the world where we eat and get eaten. Fairy tales seem more concerned with emotion and aspiration for positive change, although “a fairy tale ending” is not always happy. Tales sometimes take us to another environment, an unknown country with strange inhabitants. The ancient Egyptian “Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor” brings a close encounter with a monster. Just before the great age of fairy tale in the 17th century, early science fiction, beginning with Kepler’s Dream, moves us to other planets and other perspectives, as in Godwin’s The Man in the Moone. Sci-fi is itself fabulous. Fairies come to us from ancient Persia; fresh enchantments arrive in Europe with the Arabian Nights. Perrault’s versions of “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” established certain archetypal fairy tales in Western Europe; the versions of the brothers Grimm offer less elegant interpretations. Mother Goose and Scheherazade are fictional female sources of stories, but female authors emerge in print as named writers in the 1690s, taking the fairy tale’s examination of sex, gender and power in new directions. We move then to some of Pu Singling’s 18th-century Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio introducing a new roster of alternative actors like “fox-women.”
Fables and Fairy tales both offer a fresh look at morality, the family, sex and death. These narratives are strong, quick in transition, apt to surprise. They seem the essence of fiction itself. Modern examples include—but are not restricted to-- children’s stories like Beatrix Potter’s tales. Paracelsus’ Renaissance imaginings of an invisible world behind our own (populated by other beings like sylphs and gnomes) issue in new tales, such as Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. Fable and Fairy tale may be skillfully blended within longer fictions and meditations on science (including the work of Charles Darwin), as we see in Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies.
Irrepressible, fable and fairy tale seem like the essence of fiction itself. Films are important carriers of these forms; students will choose the films to be shown and discussed in the second half of the semester..
University Seminar: 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 Lord Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, and Simon Armitage.
University Seminar: Victorian Literature And Its 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.
University Seminar: The Art of the Short Story in the U.S.
Our course will celebrate the history and impact of the American short story throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. We’ll pay particular attention to major literary movements from modernism to post-postmodernism, and to the connections between a story’s form and its content. We'll be keeping an eye on writers’ innovations and experiments as we explore the subjects they take on: power, poverty, immigration, labor, race, identity, and alienation.
We'll also think about the ways short stories resemble (and differ from) other literary forms, and even other art forms. We'll look at visual art to think about how critics have defined periods such as modernism and postmodernism, and how much those terms overlap in the fields of visual and literary arts. If schedules permits, we'll meet visual artists in residence at the Segura Arts Center and visit the Snite Museum. You'll also attend several readings by fiction writers and poets to think about the performance of literature as yet another art form.
We’ll read, discuss, and write about forty-five stories over the course of the semester. Perhaps most important, we’ll take pleasure - enormous pleasure, I hope - in a surprising, challenging, and satisfying literary art.
University Seminar: Crime and Detection In British & American Fiction
In this course we will look at the development of crime fiction as a genre from its nineteenth-century origins in Victorian sensationalist fiction to the latest developments of it in twenty-first- century American fiction. We will focus on the development of the two figures around which crime fiction revolves: the criminal and the detective. Discussions and written assignments will investigate questions about what these figures do for the cultures that create them. Why did Victorians love Sherlock Holmes - and why do we still love him now? Why, after the bloodbath of the First World War, did England become obsessed with the clue-puzzle murder mystery? Where did the police procedural come from, and why are we still fascinated by it? What explains the explosion of interest in serial killers in American popular culture at the end of the twentieth century? What do the fantasies and nightmares about the 'criminal' that we see in crime fiction tell us about the societies that produce and consume it? How are ideas about crime and criminality linked to beliefs about death, the supernatural, justice, and morality - as well as issues involving gender, race, sexuality, and class? How do all of those concerns affect the way crime fiction evolves as a literary form? Where do we find elements of this form in contemporary literary fiction? Authors will include but are not necessarily limited to Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Raymond Chandler, P.D. James, and Patricia Cornwell. Students will write three papers and will be responsible for one major presentation.
University Seminar: The Extraordinary Americas: “Magic” and Reality in 20th and 21st-Century Latina/o and Latin-American Literature
What is the difference between reality and magic or reality and legend? What if magic were conceived of as an accepted part of reality? This course allows students to question the origins of essential myths through some of the most legendary accounts of the supernatural in 20th- and 21st-century literature of the Americas. Specifically, we will be focusing on work from such renowned voices as Junot Díaz, Sandra Cisneros, Rudolfo Anaya, Achy Obejas, Gabriel García Márquez and Alejo Carpentier. Students will engage in discussion and critical thinking on what constitutes the fantastic, the magical, the uncanny, the marvelous real, or the spiritual from colonial times to neoliberalism to a distant science-fictional future. Course requirements may include response papers, presentations, a short essay, and a longer final essay.
University Seminar: 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.
University Seminar: Literary Visions and Revisions
In his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T. S. Eliot writes that there is time "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 from across five centuries, we will become acquainted with literature as a mode of expression that involves artful negotiation with one’s cultural and historical heritage, notably through adaptation, echoing, imitation, and allusion. We will also discuss and practice the kinds of critical vision and revision involved in thinking and writing about literature at the university level. Writers figuring prominently in the syllabus are likely to include William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, and Tom Stoppard.
University Seminar: Contemporary Poetry
In this class we’ll study contemporary poetry from the inside out. How do poets write poetry—and why? What do they write about, and how do poets ‘talk to’ each other across languages and time periods through the form of the poem itself? By thinking about poetry from the perspective of poets, we’ll acquire the comfort, familiarity, technical language and skills to write, perform, discuss, reflect on, critique, and write about poetry. We’ll also think from the poem outwards, considering how such matters as performance, politics, translation, embodiment and publishing media and platforms affect the way poems are written, read, shared, and talked about. Course activity will include reading poetry, writing poetry, discussing poetry, performing poetry for each other, viewing poetry performances, speaking with poets, and writing about poetry in a manner reflective of your newfound, immersive expertise. Expect to write brief weekly critical and creative responses as well as fully-realized essays. Class attendance and participation required.