Self and Society in American Poetry
This course is an introduction to American poetry, focusing upon a central dilemma within American culture—the relationship of the individual to the social body. We will explore seven major poets: Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, Denise Levertov, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Creeley. The poetry we read extends from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present, and it ranges from the short lyrics of Dickinson, Williams, Levertov, and Creeley to the epic scope of Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Ginsberg’s Howl. Student work involves reading poetry, discussing it with classmates, and learning to write essays about it.
The Death and Return of God? 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).
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 throughout time toward various types of great ideals: personal, national, moral, spiritual, even counter-cultural or underground. 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, Kerouac, McCarthy, and selected film makers, including the Monty Python troupe.
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.
Black Diaspora Women Writers on Home
This University Seminar will focus on an extended reading of Black Diaspora women’s writing in English, across time and space. In the complex body of work that is Black Diaspora women’s literature, the idea of “home” is wrought with ambivalences and contradictions. It could be argued that for Black Diaspora women writers “home” is an especially contested site and writing a primary vehicle for negotiating and troubling hegemonic ideologies of gender, identity, labor, reproduction, sexuality, and belonging that are often sutured to home. In this course, we will focus on texts by Black women whose experiences and radical epistemologies powerfully shaped, and at times transformed, their discursive conceptualizations of home. We will explore texts by a diverse set of Black women writers producing work from the late 19th century to the present, writing in various genres and forms including novels, short stories, drama, poetry, essay, film, and memoir. As we grapple with each writer’s imagining of home, we will examine how the intersections of gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, sexual identity, and class complicate singular definitions of home.
Soundscapes of Africa-American Literature
Historically denied the right to literacy and education, African-Americans have utilized sound, primarily in the form of music and orature, as a mode of protest and an expression of freedom, subjectivity, and citizenship. This course explores the rich interplay between sound and literature in nineteenth and twentieth-century African-American letters, particularly how African-American writers have drawn on this rich sonic tradition to make political claims about race, gender, class, region, nation, and cultural identity. While many of the readings feature music, we will also attend to other modes of sonic expression - such as laughter, oratory, screams, yells, shouts, grunts, and noise - to think more expansively about the multiplicity of sounds that emanate from black literature and their various cultural and political connotations. We will read seminal works by Frederick Douglass, Pauline Hopkins, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Gayl Jones, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Paul Beatty, among others. Readings will often be accompanied by sound recordings, ranging from early minstrel and vaudeville ditties to speeches, work songs, blues, jazz, gospel, spoken word poetry, and hip hop. As such, practices of critical listening and audition will figure centrally in our discussions. Some of the concerns we will take up include: How does sound function as a hermeneutic for analyzing African-American literature? How have black writers adapted literary form to mirror musical forms and vice-versa? How does the African American literary tradition rupture the putative binary between orality and literacy? What is the relationship between sound, the body, and subjectivity? How has sound recording technology impacted the way that we hear racial identity? Assignments may include: 1 group presentation, 2 short papers, and 1 longer final paper
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 especially to the relationship between a story’s form and its content. We'll keep an eye on writers’ innovations and experiments as we explore stories about immigration, family, class, labor, and race
U 7:00-9:30 p.m.
An introduction to the seminar method of instruction, emphasizing the analysis of literary texts.
Autobiography & Subjectivity
Life-writing is a capacious term that can be used to describe a variety of private and public statements about the self. Some of these are easily recognizable as artistic representations of subjectivity (for example, memoirs, diaries, letters, self-portraits) and some less so (for example, legal testimony, graphic novels, blogs, social media, even medical forms have been read as part of the complex project of articulating subjectivity). This course will attend to a wide variety of forms of life-writing in order to trace shifting notions of what counts as a self and track the complex project of defining and representing subjectivity. A broad range of critical approaches to subjectivity and definitions of the autobiographical project will assist us as we attempt to map changing notions of the self. Our materials will be drawn from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries: texts may include a selection of writings by Wordsworth and Mill, Art Spiegelman's graphic family memoir Maus, Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Virginia Woolf's “Sketch of the Past,” Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, selections from Samuel Delany's The Motion of Light in Water, Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home, selections from Knausgaard’s multi-volume My Struggle, photography by Cindy Sherman, Jo Spence and others, self-portraits by Frieda Kahlo, social media, political and legal testimony or "witnessing," and other examples of autobiography "at work" will also be considered. Requirements: participation, short written commentaries, one group presentation, and three essays (a mix of 5 page and 7-8 page essays).