Theories of Literature
In studying literature, and the humanities in general, the term theory demarcates a way of looking at things. For example, a gender theorist focuses 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. This course does not promote any one theoretical perspective but instead surveys numerous styles of literary theory and criticism in order to develop students' intellectual fluency in seeing across different ways of thinking. While a great deal of sheer fun and surprise awaits in learning about different theory approaches, such knowledge is also empowering: it raises our consciousness concerning our commitments and interests as readers and citizens. Our primary literary texts include E.T.A. Hoffmann's "The Sandman," Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, selections of poetry, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, numerous examples from film and modern mass media. Such a course serves all students contemplating work in the humanities, but it should also stimulate students interested in law, political topics, and cultural tensions in their varied historical unfoldings. Graded coursework involves a midterm and a final exam, and a paper documenting a point of theory controversy that interests you individually, taking up a literary or cultural context of your choosing. Regular journal writings and active participation are also graded factors.
In this course we will examine a range of novels which might loosely be understood as “spy fiction,” yet each of them has a very 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. We will be reading novels by (among others): G.K. Chesterton, Ian Fleming, Patricia Highsmith, John Le Carré, and George Orwell. This course will be discussion based and will require regular written assignments designed to hone critical reading skills.
American Literature: Nation and the World
What can American literature before the 20th century teach us about the nation and the world? In this class we will explore America’s literary imaginary and its intellectual pleasures and difficulties. How did early American literature teach us to pay attention and think critically? What are the stakes of “mis-reading” for the average citizen? To answer these questions, we will move from text (close-reading) to context (broader geopolitical history) and in so doing uncover the relationship between the private crises of reading and the public crises of nationhood that has been so crucial to American literature since its inception. The writers and works we will study include: Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frederick Douglass, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Primary texts will be supplemented with appropriate secondary readings that help students become better writers and thinkers.
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.
This course will deal with detection and mystery in fiction from Sophocles to Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie and Walter Mosley. We follow the detective and the criminal (often strangely connected). That pursuit encourages us to consider various genres, including classic tragedy, the Gothic novel, the “thriller,” film noir. Moving into the dark Paris streets of Poe’s Dupin, the foggy London of Sherlock Holmes, or the pleasant Chinese tea-gardens and rough highways known to Judge Dee, readers hope to be surprised. Such a repellent matter as murder presented in close association with normal social life and desires evidently provides strong entertainment. Encountering important concepts such as “tragedy,” “realism,” or “the Gothic,” we will consider the various kinds of pleasure the “mystery story” offers us. The study of “mystery” turns us towards philosophical questions regarding good and evil, revenge and justice, guilt and the law, the appeal of the ugly and the “sublime.” We will read works by writers of some of the world’s best short stories: Hawthorne, Hoffman, Poe, Doyle, and Chesterton.
Students participate in creation of the syllabus by picking films/TV shows for team reports.
Writing for Social Justice
We often read about these issues: homelessness, disability, immigration, AIDS. Perhaps we read about government proposals designed to address specific problems or about battles in Congress over funding competing proposals. We may read statements by leaders of national advocacy organizations about how to improve the lives of the homeless, the disabled, new immigrants, and people with AIDS. Yet often missing from such accounts are the voices of those persons who are living these experiences. Often we do not hear from the homeless mother with three children, the intellectually disabled man working at a factory, the immigrant family studying English, or the woman living with HIV. We do not hear their stories directly from them, and so we cannot learn what they may have to teach us.
This class is about listening to those voices. You will partner with a South Bend community agency to interview a person whose voice is rarely heard, and whose story is seldom told. You will record the interview and write that person's life history. Based on what you learn from the life history, you will explore a question related to social justice, which we shall define broadly as concern for the lives of the poor and the vulnerable. You will be expected to read extensively, research assiduously, and write regularly. Most important, you will be expected to listen, which will be the foundation of our learning.
Autobiography and 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,” Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home, selections from Knausgård’s multi-volume My Struggle, autofictions such as Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts, self-portraits by Frieda Kahlo, social media, political and legal testimony, witnessing, and other examples of autobiography at work will also be considered.