All Courses

208019_2007249985459_2295494_nA 100-level course is required for admission to most upper-level English courses, except in the case of students who have placed out of the introductory courses by receiving a score of 5 on the Advanced Placement examination in English Literature or of 6 or 7 on the International Baccalaureate.

If you are such a student, the English Department encourages you to select a Gateway course in either the fall or spring semester of your first year. You are also encouraged to look at other 200 and even some of our 300 level offerings for courses that interest you.

Students who receive advanced placement may still register for our 100 level offerings, but be aware that you will be given a lower priority for those courses and you may be dropped if the course becomes over-enrolled. Pat Malanga, the department Academic Assistant, can advise you on which 100 level courses that many advanced placement students take.

If you are a first-year student or have questions about getting into a 100 level course, please see our Information for First-year Students.

If you are having trouble finding a suitable English Course, do not hesitate to contact Pat Malanga at [email protected]. For more information on the way courses are numbered, please see The English Major for information.

ENGL 104 SEM Borders, Migration, and the Literatures of Displacement

Last offered Fall 2023

In this course we will read literature that is about migration experiences, border-crossings, and various forms of colonial displacement. Our aim in reading such literature will be not merely to study the problem of borders, displacement, and forced migration from a top-down perspective (like that of the analyst who, for the best of reasons, seeks to understand an issue in order to resolve it); but to shift our own perspective away from a position that assumes that the problem is not truly ours in the first place to deal with. While the contemporary issue of global migration and its particular manifestations in and around the site of the U.S.-Mexico border will be a central component of this course, our readings will not be limited to texts that deal exclusively with the historical present or the U.S.-Mexico border alone. As such, readings will likely include work by figures such as: Américo Paredes, Gloria Anzaldúa, Jason De León, Carmen Boullosa, Héctor Tobar, Javier Zamora, Tayeb Salih, Karen Tei Yamashita, Amara Lakhous, and others. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

ENGL 105(F) SEM American Girlhoods

The image of the girl has captivated North American writers, commentators, artists, and creators of popular culture for at least the last two centuries. What metaphors, styles of writing, ideas of "manners and morals" does literature about girls explore? What larger cultural and aesthetic concerns are girls made to represent? And how is girlhood articulated alongside and/or intertwined with other identities and identifications, such as race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality? These are some of the issues we will explore in this course. [ more ]

ENGL 107(F) SEM Temptation

We want most those things we can't--or shouldn't--have. Or, to put it another way, it is when limitations are placed on our actions by law, religion, or the facts of our own biology that we experience desire most acutely. In this course, we will examine fictional narratives, lyric poems, and philosophical meditations in which people are tempted to act against their better judgement. Free will, ambition, temperance, suspense, despair, and repression will be our conceptual preoccupations. We will get to know such writers and artists as Homer, Euripides, Ovid, Augustine, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Laclos, Mozart, Freud, Frost, and Scorsese. [ more ]

ENGL 108(F, S) SEM Idleness & Insubordination: Literatures Against Work

Under the regime of idleness, to kill the time, which kills us second by second, there will be shows and theatrical performances always and always. --Paul Lafargue, "The Right to Be Lazy" What right do we have to stay in bed? To laze about in the heat of the day? What is the relationship between loafing and literary production? Departing from the ancient paradigm of otium (idleness, leisure, retirement) and negotium (work, service, activity), this course tracks the diversions and detours by which artists and writers have insisted on not keeping busy. We'll consider the possibilities and limits of idleness in the space of the household and on Wall Street; we'll read about people who literally wander and those who stay in place and say, "I prefer not to." Encountering Virgil's world-weary shepherd-songs, Shakespeare's colonial imaginary, and contemporary meditations on pastoral retreat, we'll ask after the difference between idleness as rest and idleness as protest. What poetic, narrative, and visual forms constitute an "idle aesthetic"? Alongside literature and a few films, we'll dip into a selection of theoretical essays that think about how repeated refusals to work can cultivate new subjectivities under capitalism. What forms of creativity and community are developed when we withhold our labors? How do such forms resist and remake the world? Our inquiry will likely include works by Nanni Balestrini, Zora Neale Hurston, June Jordan, Clarice Lispector, Herman Melville, Andrew Marvell, Arthur Rimbaud, Ed Roberson, Ousmane Sembène, Agnès Varda, among others. [ more ]

ENGL 109 SEM Narrating Change

Last offered Spring 2024

How do we narrate change? Change is radical (from radix, "root," thus pertaining to what is essential) when it alters how we experience, think, and act. If we change radically, and the structure of our experience is altered, how are we then to connect what comes before to what comes after? On the other hand, if change does not cause such a transformation in the self, then how is it experienced? The works we will consider in this class will help us examine the ways human beings work through, think about, and represent change. The event of colonization will be our chief example and we will examine it through novels, critical theoretical works, and films that focus on Africa, South Asia and North America. Expect to encounter works by Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer, Satyajit Ray, Saadat Hasan Manto, W.E.B. Du Bois and others. [ more ]

ENGL 112(F) SEM Introduction to Literary Criticism

What determines meaning? How we interpret is inevitably inflected by our own priorities and preoccupations, by the contexts in which we read, by literary and other conventions, and by the historical and personal circumstances of a work's composition, as well as deriving from the particular words of a text and from the mutable life of language itself. So how to go about the task of reading literature well? This course will focus on key introductory methods and critical approaches, and is intended to develop your skills in reading, writing about, discussing and interpreting literary texts. Our initial readings--mainly short fiction and poetry, along with selected introductory work in critical theory--will invite increased self-consciousness about literary form, the functions of criticism, and the process of reading and interpretation. In the last weeks of the course, we will address longer texts, including at least one play, one novel and one film. [ more ]

ENGL 113(F) SEM The Feminist Poetry Movement

Feminist poetry and feminist politics were so integrated in the 1960s and 1970s in America that critical essays on poets, such as Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde, appeared in the same handbook that listed such resources for women as rape crisis centers and health clinics. This course will map the crucial alliance between feminist politics (and its major cultural and political gains) and the feminist poetry movement that became a major "tool" for building, organizing, and theorizing second-wave feminism. In order to track this political and poetic revolution, we will take an interdisciplinary approach that brings together historical, critical, and literary documents (including archival ones) and visual products (through the Object Lab of the Williams College Art Museum) that recreate the rich context of the period and help us consider the important social nature of aesthetic production. At the center of the course will be writings of major poets of the period, as well as anthologies and feminist periodicals that published their work and created a significant forum and shared space for women to articulate the politics and poetics of change. These periodicals and anthologies will also help us track the diversity of the feminist poetry movement and its intersection with issues of race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. Ultimately, we will want to consider how poetry serves as an important tool for thinking through questions of power and injustice and what role it plays in creating necessary imaginative space in the world for expression, critique, and change. [ more ]

ENGL 114 SEM Literary Speakers

Last offered Fall 2023

The general purpose of this course is to develop students' skills as interpreters of poetry and short fiction. Its particular focus is on how--and with what effects--poets create the voices of their poems, and fiction writers create their narrators. We'll consider the ways in which literary speakers inform and entice, persuade and sometimes deceive, their audiences. Readings will include texts from various historical periods, with particular emphasis on twentieth-century writers (including works by James Joyce, Henry James, Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Frost, Toni Cade Bambara, Raymond Carver, and Seamus Heaney). [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

ENGL 115 SEM The Literature of Sports

Last offered Fall 2020

The ubiquity of the sporting event, the athlete as hero, the athlete as failure, the crowd, the fan, the stadium, and all of the complex conflicts therein have long been the subjects of some of the finest writing in America and throughout the world. Writers have used sport as a context through which to explore and examine ideas such as beauty, the sublime, tragedy, politics, race, class, sexuality, and gender. This course will focus on poetry, fiction, and non-fiction invested in the public spectacles and private revelations of sport ranging from the poetics of praise to issues of urbanism, colonialism, globalization with readings by Pindar, Rankine, CLR James, Baldwin, Hemingway, Oates, DeLillo, and many others. [ more ]

ENGL 116 SEM The Remix: Adaptation and Revelation

Last offered Fall 2022

This course explores the ideas of remaking and adaptation. We examine twentieth and twenty-first-century fiction, poetry, film, and hybrid texts that interact with subject matter stretching from Greek mythology to New World castaway stories to global pandemics. What is the nature of the work they attempt? What is lost and gained in these re-visions? In response to these questions, emphasis is placed on critical reading and writing (and rewriting), as well as on research skills. Works considered throughout the term come from, among others, Jorge Luis Borges, Anne Carson, J.M. Coetzee, Alfonso Cuarón, and Natasha Trethewey. [ more ]

ENGL 117(F) SEM Introduction to Cultural Theory

This course has a clear purpose. If you had signed up for a course in biology, you would know that you were about to embark on the systematic study of living organisms. If you were registered for a course on the American Civil War, you would know that there had been an armed conflict between the northern and southern states in the 1860s. But if you decide you want to study "culture," what exactly is it that you are studying? The aim of this course is not to come up with handy and reassuring definitions for this word, but to show you why it is so hard to come up with such definitions. People fight about what the word "culture" means, and our main business will be to get an overview of that conceptual brawl. We will pay special attention to the conflict between those thinkers who see culture as a realm of freedom or equality or independence or critical thought and those thinkers who see culture as a special form of bondage, a prison without walls. The course will be organized around short theoretical readings by authors ranging from Matthew Arnold to Laura Mulvey, but we will also, in order to put our new ideas to the test, watch several films (mostly of the class's choosing) and listen to a lot of rock and roll. Why do you think culture matters? Once you stop to pose that question, there's no turning back. [ more ]

ENGL 118 SEM Creative Non-fiction

Last offered Fall 2023

In this course we will read some of the most prominent practitioners of creative non-fiction--writers like John McPhee, Joan Didion, Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Orlean, Janet Malcolm, Joshua Foer, Zadie Smith and Oliver Sacks. Students will also write in a variety of non-fiction modes--explainers, profiles, essays, memoirs. We will probe the border between invention and fact and consider the ways that narratives are constructed. [ more ]

Taught by: John Kleiner

Catalog details

ENGL 119 SEM Missed Encounters

Last offered Spring 2019

Although we all entertain the dream of reaching directly across boundaries of personal and cultural difference, such exchanges remain inseparable from fantasies of otherness. Those fantasies can be as reductive as a stereotype, but they can also be enormously nuanced and self-revealing--as rich as literature itself. We will study the missed encounter--the encounter in which the element of presupposition and fantasy is vividly apparent--in cultural contexts from the first English accounts of the inhabitants of Virginia to race relations in contemporary African fiction; we will consider such encounters in other contexts as well, including sexual relations, the relations between young and old, even the relation between past and present. But in every case, we will keep our gaze trained on what such events tell us about the nature of fantasy and the place of fiction. The course will consider novels, drama, film, opera, and non-fiction, works such as: Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians; Harriot, "Report of the New Found Land of Virginia"; Conrad, Heart of Darkness; Stephen Crane, "The Blue Hotel"; Nadine Gordimer, The Pick Up; Herzog, "Aguirre"; Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice; Puccini, Madame Butterfly; Huang, M. Butterfly; Austen, Pride and Prejudice; Gyasi, Homegoing; and theoretical writing, including texts by the psychoanalytic critic, Jacques Lacan. [ more ]

ENGL 120(F, S) SEM The Nature of Narrative

Narrative--storytelling--is a fundamental human activity. Narratives provide us with maps of how the world does or should or might work, and we make sense of our own experiences through the narratives we construct ourselves. This course examines the nature and functions of narrative using texts from a wide range of literary traditions, media, and genres. Readings may span classics (e.g. Homerian epic, The Tale of Genji, and/or the Popol Vuh), fiction ranging from nineteenth-century realism to postmodern experimentation (possibly including Kafka, Tolstoy, Toni Morrison, and/or Emile Habibi), and visual literature from film and drama to graphic memoir (possibly including Mizoguchi Kenji, Art Spiegelman, Alison Bechdel, and/or Joe Sacco). We may also read some short works of literary theory from around the world to help us broaden our idea of what literature can be and do. All readings in English. [ more ]

ENGL 123(S) SEM The Short Story

The reading for this course will consist entirely of short stories by such writers as Poe, Hawthorne, James, Doyle, Hemingway, Faulkner, Gilman, Chopin, Cather, Toomer, McCullers, O'Connor, Borges, Nabokov, Kincaid, Saunders, Diaz, and Shepard. We will read one or two per class meeting; at the end of the course, we'll be reading one collection, by Raymond Carver. Reading short stories will allow us to pay close attention to the form of our texts, and to paragraphs, sentences, and words. The premise of the essays you will write is that short stories and short essays are both arts based on controlling the release of information and meaning, and that studying the two genres together will have reciprocal benefits for reading and writing. [ more ]

ENGL 128 SEM Reading Asian American Literature

Last offered Spring 2020

Though the category and term "Asian American" came about as a result of political struggle in the 1960s, what we now call Asian American writing in English began in the nineteenth century and has played a significant role in every American literary "movement" from Modernism, realism, protest literature to various avant-gardes, the graphic novel, and digital poetries. This course closely reads a sampling of texts in a variety of genres and styles-produced by writers from various Asian American ethnic groups-from the late nineteenth century to the present and contextualizes them historically, both domestically and globally. We will examine the material, cultural, political, and psychic intersections of larger structural forces with individual writers and texts. Along the way, we will interrogate the notion of "Asian American"--its contradictions, heterogeneous nature, and our assumptions--and its relation to the idea of "American." Some questions we will ask: "Why have Asian Americans and Asian American writers and writing so often been viewed as 'foreign' or 'alien' to the American body politic and the English-language literary tradition?" "How might Asian American writing be linked to other English-language texts in the Asian diaspora?" [ more ]

ENGL 130 Writing for the Humanities

Last offered NA

Compelling academic prose is a rare beast. In this course we will investigate what makes for good academic writing and how we can produce it ourselves. We will begin with words, then progress to sentences, paragraphs, and essays. Our reading will be close, our writing closer. Topics include the following: Are adverbs incredibly important? When is less more, and when isn't it? Is your garden English, or is it Chinese? What is the "uneven U" and why does it work? How does your audience affect how you write? In addition to reading writing about writing by Orwell, Fish, Tufte, Hayot, and (inevitably) Strunk and White, we will look closely at academic prose out in the wild, both good and bad. This course is for anyone who is interested in exploring in more depth the craft of writing, whether you have always considered yourself a "good writer" or struggle to fill a single page (or both). Our focus will be on academic writing for the humanities, but the skills we will develop are relevant to many other contexts as well. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 131 TUT All About Sonnets

Last offered Fall 2023

Fourteen lines in a fixed pattern. When Sir Thomas Wyatt introduced the sonnet to England in the 1500s with his translations of Petrarch, the form quickly became entrenched in English, and has been in regular use ever since. Originally penned as expressions of idealized love, sonnets soon expanded to address other kinds of emotionally intense relationships--to God, Nature, art, a particular place, the State, oppressors--while still, obsessively, returning to love in all its myriad forms. This makes the sonnet, deeply personal though it is, also a kind of pocket-sized literary tradition, as each new generation of poets extends, disrupts, and comments upon the whole history of sonnets. "A sonnet is a moment's monument," wrote D.G. Rossetti (in, of course, a sonnet)--speaking of the sonnet's tendency to offer just a snapshot of the poet's mental and emotional state--but the tradition of producing numbered sequences of sonnets can also string those moments into a kind of narrative. Similarly, while the sonnet is founded in strong feeling, it is also obsessed with logic, delighting in logical argumentation, contradictions and paradoxes. This course will focus on a broad range of sonnets, historically, geographically and thematically, as well as criticism and theory relating to sonnets. Studying sonnets that are variously inspiring, devastating, and lol funny, we will become Sonnet Experts, while developing broadly useful skills in careful reading, concise writing and sound argumentation. Poets will include Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Elizabeth Barret Browning, DG and Christina Rossetti, Claude McKay, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Berryman, Seamus Heaney, Vikram Seth, and many, many more. No prior experience with poetry is presumed. [ more ]

ENGL 133 SEM Shakespeare's Uncertain Ends

Last offered Fall 2018

We've come to expect that the heroes of Shakespeare's tragedies learn something. Othello, Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, and all the others, are supposed to achieve some kind of clarifying self-knowledge as a reward for their terrible suffering. After all, the heroes' flaws are revealed and their delusions are exposed so that they can eventually understand what has happened to them and why. They are meant to learn from their suffering. Or so we'd like to think. But the plays don't always cooperate with our desire for some compensating enlightenment. We don't always come away with a clear sense that Shakespeare's tragic heroes have arrived at a true self-recognition; in other words, they don't always fully grasp how their fate is implicated in their character. Nor are we granted an obvious, edifying moral to compensate for the misery we witness. What, then, do we discover at the end of a Shakespeare tragedy? [ more ]

ENGL 135 SEM Vengeance

Last offered Fall 2017

For almost three thousand years revenge has been a central preoccupation of European literature. Revenge is inviting to literary and dramatic treatment partly because of its impulse towards structure: it traces a simple arc of injury and retaliation. A injures B, and B retaliates against A. But retaliation is never easy or equivalent, and there is always a volatile emotive mixture of loss and grievance that stirs up ethical ambiguities that are seldom resolved. Vengeance also fascinates because it is so paradoxical. The avenger, though isolated and vulnerable, can nevertheless achieve heroic grandeur by coming to personify nemesis. And yet the hero is always contaminated by trying to make a right out of two wrongs--and he usually has to die for it. Driven by past events, cut off from the present, and wrapped up in stratagems for future reprisals, the avenger's actions are almost always compromised by impotence or excess. At best, revenge is "a kinde of Wilde Justice"--a justice that kills its heroes as well as its villains. We will look at as many stories of vengeance, across as wide a range of cultures and media, as possible. Readings will include Sophocles' Electra, Dante's Inferno, Shakespeare's Hamlet and The Tempest, Chalderon de Laclos' Dangerous Liaisons, and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, as well as several short stories and films. [ more ]

ENGL 138(S) SEM What is a Self? Investigations in Literature, Philosophy, and Psychology

The experience of having a self (or a subjective point of view) informs and colors literally everything we think, see, and feel. And yet what is a self? Is it the unchanging essence of who we are as individuals? Or is it the historically contingent product of ever-changing cultural and political forces (like the media, gender norms, and ideologies about race, to name just a few)? Or, perhaps, is the belief that we have a self just one big illusion, as the Buddha suggested millennia ago and as modern philosophers and scientists have argued in their own different ways more recently? In this class, we'll explore the deep mystery of human existence that we call "the self" or "subjectivity," looking at various attempts to capture, represent, and explain it (even escape it!). Our investigations will be wide-ranging, looking at examples from literature, philosophy, religion, and psychology. Works we'll study include: Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and theoretical writings on the self by Plato, Thoreau, and Jean-Paul Sartre among others. We'll even try our hand at meditation, while learning about the Buddhist idea of "no self." Students who genuinely find the experience of the self puzzling and fascinating will get the most out of this class. Bring an open mind about what it is to have a mind in the first place. [ more ]

ENGL 139 SEM Living a Feminist Life

Last offered Spring 2020

The course invites students to consider the range of ways in which "knowledge" about women's, femme's and non-binary lives has been constructed in text, and how this knowledge determines and impacts the we have and make. The first half of the course is organized around a deep reading of Sara Ahmed's recent theoretical book, Living a Feminist Life, while the second half of the course will examine a spectrum of women's life writing-poetry, music, journalism, theory, and memoir-to discover how text continues to shape feminist lives, and how femmes' lived experience in turn shapes feminist discourse. Course materials for the second half of the semester will be generated in part through discussion and students' suggestions. Key texts will include Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider, Djamila Boupacha's memoir, Ana Lily Amirpour's film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Sara Ahmed's Living a Feminist Life, Valerie Solanas's SCUM Manifesto, and bell hooks's Teaching to Transgress. In their writing for this course, students will consider how their own intimate relationships-with parents, partners, children, neighbors, or friends-can become sites of feminist activism, and sources of strength and knowledge to be carried into the broader world of public engagement and intervention. In the final weeks of the course, we will collectively interrogate the (false) boundary between writing and living as modes of feminist praxis. [ more ]

ENGL 140 SEM Introduction to Creative Writing: The Short Story

Last offered Fall 2021

This course introduces students to the art of fiction writing through the crafting of short stories. Students sharpen their tastes and inclinations by reading and responding to short stories from significant contributors to the form. The writing exercises and overall course trajectory are designed to build a writing community in order to facilitate a better understanding of students' own writing processes. Individual conferences with the instructor are a central part of the course. [ more ]

ENGL 146 SEM Campus Life: The University and the Novel

Last offered Spring 2018

What is college for? To a significant number of writers from roughly 1945 onward, one answer seemed to be: college is the perfect setting for a novel! The Campus Novel, as it is known, mines the rich, frequently zany dramatic terrain that emerges when large groups of young people try to live and learn together in a closed environment. Filled with the absurdities of academic and collegiate life, the scholarly and sexual intrigues of the college campus, Campus Novels also are microsociologies of college: not just reflections of, but reflections upon, the institutional contexts of the American university. This course will introduce students to the Campus Novel (and its cousin, the Campus Movie), as a way to explore the history and meaning of liberal arts education in the American University from roughly the post-World War II emergence of mass higher education through co-education, multiculturalism, and the rise of the corporate university. Fictional lab reports upon experiments in living, works dedicated to figuring out what and whom a liberal arts education is for, these novels will be our own guides to an exploration of these questions. Likely texts: Amis, Lucky Jim, McCarthy, The Groves of Academe, Delillo, White Noise, Donna Tartt, The Secret History, Zadie Smith, On Beauty, Dave Eggers, The Circle, and films such as Breaking Away, School Daze, and The Social Network. [ more ]

ENGL 149 SEM First-Hand America

Last offered Fall 2016

Gonzo journalism, the nonfiction novel, literary journalism, the "new new journalism": the study of American culture has thrived in the able hands of writers, reformers and amateur anthropologists. This course is an introduction to American writing and culture through the eyes of extraordinary witnesses who work as public intellectuals, addressing a readership that reaches beyond the university. Through essays, films and music we will track the documentary impulse from coast to coast: from Ferguson, Baltimore, Miami, Watts, Denver, Harlem, Chicago, Compton and Sing-Sing prison to the wilds of Alaska and rural Georgia; from mass demonstrations to the most intimate, bedside revelations. How have writers and artists given their audiences tools for understanding power, privilege, and difference in America? [ more ]

ENGL 150(F, S) SEM Expository Writing

Writing clearly is the most important skill you can learn in college. Do you suffer from writer's block? Do you receive consistent criticism of your writing without also learning strategies for how to improve? This course is for students who want to learn how to write a well-argued, intelligible essay that offers a complex interpretive argument based on close, critical analysis of texts. We will derive our method for mastering the complex art of writing from Atul Gawande's bestselling book, The Checklist Manifesto. In addition to sharpening your skills in reading, note-taking and literary analysis, this class will give you tools for generating drafts, peer editing, revising, and polishing your writing. The readings for this course will be literary works, scholarly essays and nonfiction -- mostly contemporary, and mostly American. [ more ]

ENGL 151 SEM Lying About the Truth: Writing about Autobiographical Writing

Last offered Fall 2023

The goal of this course is to teach you how to write a clear, well-argued, intelligible and interesting analytical paper. We will spend most of our class time actively engaged in a variety of techniques to improve your critical reasoning and analytical skills, both written and oral. Though the skills you learn will be applicable to other disciplines, and a central purpose of the course is to improve all aspects of your writing, this is a literature class, designed partly to prepare you for upper level courses in the English Department, so we will, therefore, spend equal time on the interpretation of literature, in this case, contemporary American autobiographical fiction. All readers fall prey to it: the autobiographical fallacy--the conflation of author and narrator. Writers know readers are susceptible to it. A course designed to explore the uses and abuses of the autobiographical fallacy by contemporary American authors. How do writers of autobiographical fiction take advantage of this tendency? What role does the autobiographical play in a writer's authority? What's the relationship between reader and writer in autobiographical writing? What do writers of such fiction want from a reader, and how does encouraging the autobiographical fallacy get them what they want? Reading list may include: Tim O'Brien, Yiyun Li, Junot Diaz, ZZ Packer, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Nam Le, Dorothy Allison, Ocean Vuong. [ more ]

ENGL 152 SEM Family Matters: Family in Recent American Fiction

Last offered Fall 2021

"Anyone who has survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life" (Flannery O'Connor). A course designed to explore the representations of family in recent American literature. Family is our first community, and in the literature of family one commonly accepted convention emerges: family members are morally bound to one another. These bonds of blood, both liberating and limiting, have always been a literary convention. In this course, we will examine recent American fiction that explores such bonds. What do such narratives claim we want from our families? What do such narratives claim we're willing to do to get it? Have recent narratives developed particular and characteristic strategies for approaching this topic? And are there importantly particularizing aspects of the American family? The goal of this course is to teach you how to write a clear, well-argued, and interesting analytical paper. We will spend most of our class time actively engaged in a variety of techniques to improve your critical reasoning and analytical skills, both written and oral. Though the skills you learn will be applicable to other disciplines, and a central purpose of the course is to improve all aspects of your writing, this is a literature class, designed partly to prepare you for upper level courses in the English Department, so we will, therefore, spend equal time on the interpretation of literature. Authors to be considered may include: Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Danielle Evans, Rick Moody, Junot Diaz, Amy Hempel, ZZ Packer, Lorrie Moore, Gish Jen, Cormac McCarthy, Edward Jones, among others. [ more ]

ENGL 153(S) SEM Androids, Cyborgs, Selves

In this expository writing course, we will analyze and argue about how humanoid and partly human bodies appear in legend, fiction, and film. When are these bodies inviting? When are they threatening? How are they gendered, how are they raced, and why? Which technologies fit easily into human forms, and which are resistant? What do the persons who inhabit these near-human bodies desire? Students in this course will develop arguments in reply to these and related questions, developing 3 or 4 essays through multiple stages of planning, drafting, and revising. Because this is an expository writing seminar, we will spend half or more of our class time discussing and practicing writing skills. [ more ]

ENGL 154 SEM Imagination and Authority

Last offered Fall 2018

A course on the subject of who gets to write about what when it comes to fiction. Among the questions we'll be taking up: What are the outer boundaries of those imaginative acts that should be attempted? The central goal of this course is to teach you how to write a well-argued and interesting analytical paper. We will spend most of our class time actively engaged in a variety of techniques to improve your critical reasoning and analytical skills, both written and oral. Though the skills you learn will be applicable to other disciplines, this is also a literature class, designed as well to prepare you for upper level courses in the English Department. [ more ]

ENGL 155 SEM Contemporary Mexican Cinema and the World

Last offered Spring 2022

This expository writing course is grounded in an exploration of contemporary Mexican cinema and develops students' ability to critically write about film. We will focus on feature-length films, documentaries, and short films that not only grapple with Mexican history and identity but also those that travel beyond the borders of Mexico. The list of directors whose work will be considered includes Natalia Beristáin, Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alejandra Márquez Abella, Kenya Márquez, Jorge Pérez Solano, and Patricia Riggen. [ more ]

ENGL 156(F) SEM New American Fiction

The goal of this course is to teach you how to write a clear, well-argued, and interesting analytical paper. We will spend most of our class time actively engaged in a variety of techniques to improve your critical reasoning and analytical skills, both written and oral. Though the skills you learn will be applicable to other disciplines, and a central purpose of the course is to improve all aspects of your writing, this is a literature class, designed partly to prepare you for upper level courses in the English Department, so we will, therefore, spend equal time on the interpretation of literature, in this case, contemporary American fiction, examining the very, very recent (last thirty years) developments in American fiction. We will read short stories and novels by writers such as Danielle Evans, George Saunders, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Mary Robison, Karen Russell, ZZ Packer, Ocean Vuong, Yiyun Li, among others. [ more ]

ENGL 157 SEM Reading the 'Inferno'

Last offered Fall 2019

This is an expository writing course, but also a journey through hell---more precisely, through Dante's Inferno. Over the course of the semester, as we wind our way through the underworld, we will consider the circumstances of the damned, their guilt, their punishments, and the overall aims of Dante's extraordinary vision. How and why are the condemned sentenced to an eternal afterlife in this underground kingdom of cruelty? What are we to make of the poem's humor and malevolence, and how are we to understand its vast architecture? In writing about the fate of these sins and sinners we will focus on techniques to improve your critical reasoning and analytical skills with the goal of writing interesting and well-argued essays. Students will receive from the instructor timely comments on their writing skills, with suggestions for improvement. [ more ]

ENGL 158 SEM Expository Writing: Contemporary Linked Stories

Last offered Fall 2022

In this expository writing and writing intensive course, we will read and write about several collections of linked short stories about altered states of mind and body, immigrant experiences, and the magic of everyday life. We will examine linked stories as a form organizing narratives that can stand alone, but that resonate powerfully with one another, sharing themes, settings, and sometimes even characters. Texts may include Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, Bryan Washington's Lot, Carmen Maria Machado's Her Body and Other Parties, and Alice Munro's Juliet stories. Class time will be split nearly equally between analysis of the assigned texts and active work with student writing, including freewriting, rewriting, sentence and paragraph workshops, peer editing, and writing strategy sessions. [ more ]

ENGL 159 SEM Other People's Lives: Contemporary American Memoir

Last offered Fall 2022

The goal of this course is to teach you how to write a clear, well-argued, intelligible and interesting analytical paper. We will spend most of our class time actively engaged in a variety of techniques to improve your critical reasoning and analytical skills, both written and oral. Though the skills you learn will be applicable to other disciplines, and a central purpose of the course is to improve all aspects of your writing, this is a literature class, designed partly to prepare you for upper level courses in the English Department, so we will, therefore, spend equal time on the interpretation of literature, in this case, contemporary American memoir, examining the ways in which recent American memoirists represent themselves through prose and the choices they make in shaping their life stories. Given the techniques shared by novelists and memoirists, how firm is the line between fiction and non-fiction? What are the sources of a memoirist's authority? What are the ethics of memoir-writing? What kind of relationships do memoirists seek with their readers, and how do they go about achieving them? [ more ]

ENGL 161(F) SEM Metafiction

This course will examine ways in which literary works reflect on their status as written texts. We'll look at the formal pleasures and puzzles generated by techniques including frame narratives, recursion, and self-reference, in novels, films, and stories by Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Kelly Link, Paul Park, and others. Ultimately, we will use our study of metafiction to focus inquiry into the socializing force of self-consciousness in human development. Note that students will be required to use, as well as interpret, metafictional techniques in their assigned writing, and will write one or two essays in collaboration with a Chat AI. [ more ]

ENGL 162 SEM Robots, Puppets, and Dolls

Last offered Spring 2024

Is Pinocchio alive? How about the Terminator, or Chat GPT-3 ? This course explores our persistent interest in human simulacra (robots, puppets, dolls; but also automata and cyborgs) and what they suggest about human identity, independence, and free will. We'll look at a wide range of simulacra as they appear in literature, film, and, increasingly, in the actual world ("reborn" dolls, therapy robots, AI). We will frame our explorations with readings in artificial intelligence, neurology, and psychoanalysis (Freud on the uncanny; Winnicott on transitional objects). Throughout, we will wonder: why this fascination with the almost living? How is it that we often care more for Wall-E or the Velveteen Rabbit than we do for real people? [ more ]

ENGL 201 SEM Shakespeare

Last offered Fall 2019

One of Shakespeare's most original recent readers has claimed, "Nothing without, perhaps nothing within, Shakespeare's words could discover the power to withstand the power Shakespeare's words release." To put it another way, this was a writer who created something so new, so unfathomable, that neither life nor language could easily contain it. In this course, we will become acquainted with Shakespeare's major works, but we will also remain alert to their capacity to confound. Serious attention will be given to genre, form, the historical conditions of the Renaissance theater and book trade, modes of literary transmission, and the shape of Shakespeare's career. Plays will include A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV, Part I, Hamlet, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest. We will also read the Sonnets. The course is designed to offer a first encounter with Shakespeare, but more advanced students are welcome too. [ more ]

ENGL 202(S) SEM Modern Drama

An introduction to major plays and key movements in European and American theatre since the late nineteenth century. Our focus will be on close reading, with attention also to questions of performance and production. Plays to be discussed will likely include: Ibsen, Hedda Gabler; Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest; Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard; Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author; Brecht, Mother Courage; Miller, Death of a Salesman; Beckett, Waiting for Godot; Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun; Pinter, Betrayal; Churchill, Cloud Nine; Stoppard, Arcadia. [ more ]

ENGL 203 SEM The Uses of Shakespeare

Last offered Spring 2024

The plays of Shakespeare have a performance history that is exceptionally rich and strange. In this course we will read several of the plays and look at some of the ways they have been re-imagined and restaged. We will consider the origin of the plays as popular entertainment--competing for an audience against bear-baitings and public executions. We will consider their transformation into canonical texts and their de-canonization in parodies like Dogg's Hamlet and Drunk Shakespeare. Among the works we will read and watch are Twelfth Night, Shakespeare Behind Bars, Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead, The Merchant of Venice, To Be or Not to Be. Assignments will include analytical essays and creative adaptations in a variety of media. [ more ]

Taught by: John Kleiner

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ENGL 204(F) LEC Hollywood Film

For almost a century, Hollywood films have been the world's most influential art form, shaping how we dress and talk, how we think about sex, race, and power, and what it means to be American. We'll examine both the characteristic pleasures provided by Hollywood's dominant genres--including action films, horror films, thrillers and romantic comedies--and the complex, sometimes unsavory fantasies they mobilize. We will do this by looking carefully at a dozen or so iconic films, probably including Psycho, Casablanca, The Godfather; Schindler's List, Bridesmaids, Groundhog Day, 12 Years a Slave and Get Out. [ more ]

ENGL 205 SEM The Art of Poetry: The History and Theory of Lyric

Last offered Fall 2019

"If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?" This excerpt from a letter by Emily Dickinson indicates both the particular pleasures of reading poetry, and also the persistent difficulty of defining poetry as a genre. In this course, we will train our focus on lyric poetry in particular, tracing its long history as well as trends in the theory of lyric. We'll begin by uncovering the roots of lyric in antiquity before shifting our focus to the development of lyric in English. We'll read closely the work of such poets as Wyatt, Donne, Wordsworth, Keats, Hopkins, and Dickinson before turning to questions of lyric in the 20th and 21st centuries. Along the way, we'll examine the trends in criticism responsible for the conflation of lyric and poetry in our time, and will get a strong sense of the current state of lyric theory. [ more ]

ENGL 206 TUT Beyond the Tiger Mom: Depictions of East Asian Mothers in Contemporary American Literature

Last offered Spring 2024

A tutorial designed to explore the interpretative difficulties and possibilities of East Asian mothers and motherhood in contemporary American literature (fiction and memoir). The "Tiger Mom"--highly controlling, strict, severe almost to the point of abuse--has become the go-to phrase for many Americans when referring to traditional East Asian mothering styles. This attempt to categorize and simplify cultural differences fails to capture the complex nature of East Asian mothering. While the American public imagines East Asian parenting as only unwavering and harsh, immigrant parents, for example, must often find a parenting strategy that bridges traditional East Asian and mainstream American norms. This course will explore the ways that contemporary Asian American authors depict the complexity of East Asian mothering and mothers. What kinds of mothering does the reductive category of Tiger Mom ignore? What are the central questions these authors pose about mothers and motherhood? How do they negotiate the tension between the individual versus the community, or the pursuit of the child's own interests as opposed to success as defined by the parent when it comes to that child's future? And what are the pitfalls of reading literature as social science? In keeping with tutorial format, students will meet in pairs with the instructor once a week; during these meetings, one student will present a short analytical paper on the texts covered that week. The other student will write a response paper and join the instructor in a discussion of both papers. The reading list may include work by Ocean Vuong, Yiyun Li, Michelle Zauner, Celeste Ng, Amy Tan, Jessamine Chan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Sola Kim, and Amy Chua, among others. [ more ]

ENGL 208(S) SEM Designer Genes

In this course, we explore cultural texts that attempt to come to terms with--or exploit--the revolution in contemporary genetics with a particular focus on gender, race, class, and sexuality. The mapping of the human genome in 2001 opened incredible opportunities for medicine, law, and society, but it also, as Alice Wexler has written, "opened a vast arena for contests of power over what it means to be human, who has the power to define what is normal, [and] who has access to what resources and when." Wexler was writing before the final sequencing of the human genome. Now we have CRISPR technology, ushering in a new, more pressing set of ethical concerns. We are currently in the midst of a "global race to genetically modify humans," as the anthropologist Eben Kirksey has documented in his new book The Mutant Project. How will we come to define the human? Who gets to decide? Our writers and filmmakers make clear that genetic medicine cannot be thought apart from a profit-driven American health care system or family and gender dynamics. Joanna Rudnick's documentary In the Family, for instance, explores the personal and political issues associated with hereditary breast cancer and the patenting of genes. Octavia Butler's Afro-futurist novel Dawn explores black female sexuality, reproduction, and the survival of the species in her character's encounter with a genetically enhanced alien species. The film Gattaca shows us a fully realized dystopian society where genetically modified humans are the norm--a society that now "has discrimination down to a science." The transgender artist Tamara Pertamina, on the other hand, "hopes to decolonize the science of genetic engineering," as Kirksey has written, with her performance artist projects. Our texts come from a number of different genres, including the memoir, science fiction, film, documentary, art, and non-fiction writing at the intersections of science, medicine, philosophy, anthropology, and law. [ more ]

ENGL 209(S) SEM Theories of Language and Literature

This course is made up of questions: What is literature and why would anyone want to study it? What can you figure out by examining language that you can't figure out by studying history or psychology? Do students of literature have distinctive ways of asking questions about the world? Why do we call some language literary? Can any language be literary if it appears in the right kind of book? Is there a difference between verbal forms of art and visual or auditory ones? Can novels do things that plays and poetry cannot? Why does anyone read poetry anyway? [ more ]

ENGL 210 SEM American Modernism

Last offered Fall 2020

Modernism in art lasts from about 1850 until about 1950; this course focuses on American fiction centering on the 1920s. Texts in the course run from the familiar (Cather, Fitzgerald, Hemingway) through the difficult (Faulkner), very difficult (Jean Toomer), and impossible (Gertrude Stein); but we'll learn how to read them all. Even the familiar texts turn out to be stylistically experimental, and experiments in style, in every case, are linked to novel conceptions of religion (especially Hemingway, Fitzgerald), race or ethnicity (Faulkner, Toomer), and gender (Cather, Hemingway, Stein); most of our texts interrelate all of these concerns. After the Great War, the urgency of questions of form, in relation to questions of identity, is whether the world can be redeemed by the reformation of linguistic and generic conventions. [ more ]

ENGL 213 SEM Making Radio

Last offered Spring 2023

This course has two aims. The first is to teach the necessary skills (including interview technique, field recording, editing, and scoring) to make broadcast-worthy audio nonfiction. The second is to use this process to investigate fundamental aspects of narrative. How does a story build a contract with listeners? What's the role of the narrator? How can one appropriately speak for (and sometimes against) another person? This is less a course in journalism than an experiment in documentary cinema for the ear. We'll do some reading in narrative theory and radio technique, and will listen to exemplary works (including episodes of This American Life, RadioLab, Love and Radio, and Snap Judgment), but most of our time--and this is a time-consuming course--will be spent making and critiquing each other's pieces. Students will produce five or six pieces total, at least two of which must develop out of interviews with strangers. [ more ]

ENGL 214 SEM Writing for Stage and Screen

Last offered Spring 2020

This studio/workshop course is designed for students interested in a semester-long immersion in the practice of dramatic writing for theater, film, television and audio. Students should expect to write most days. Our focus will be on the fundamentals of story, and the cultivation of each writer's individual voice. In addition to reading existing dramatic texts of various genres and forms, and completing weekly prompts and exercises exploring character, dialogue, structure, theme, conflict and world building, students will work toward a longer final project. Students will present their own work regularly, and respond to each other's work. The course will culminate in a staged reading of excerpts for the campus community. [ more ]

ENGL 215(S) SEM Introduction to Asian American Literature

This course will provide an introduction to some of the major works of Asian American literature, from the mid-20th century to the present. Throughout, we'll attend to the intersection of aesthetics and politics, exploring the creative ways Asian American literary texts both reflect and respond to the historical forces that have shaped Asian American experiences and identities, including exclusion, internment, and U.S. wars and imperialism in Asia. Works we're likely to read include: John Okada's No-No Boy, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee, Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters, lê thj diem thúy's The Gangster We Are All Looking For, and Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies. [ more ]

ENGL 216 LEC Introduction to the Novel

Last offered Spring 2022

There was a time when novels as we understand them didn't exist; then there was a time--centuries--when novels were overwhelmingly the dominant storytelling and literary mode in English. This course, part lecture and part seminar, will stage encounters with 7 or 8 novels, each the product of a distinct configuration of subject position, history, form, and ambition. We will move from the English novel's beginnings through (at least) the late 20th century, when novels competed for cultural space with new storytelling modes. Along the way we will think about what stories are for, generally; why this kind of long-form storytelling was invented; and what cultural work English-language novels do, have done, and may yet do. Possible writers to be studied include Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and Zadie Smith. [ more ]

ENGL 217 SEM Experimental Asian American Writing

Last offered Spring 2015

Asian American literature did not begin in the 1980s with Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Nor has the writing primarily been confined to autobiographical accounts of generational conflict, divided identities, and glimpses of Chinatown families. Asian American literature in English began with poetry in the late nineteenth century, and has encompassed a variety of aesthetic styles across the last century--from Modernism to New York School poetry to protest poetry to digital poetics. This course will explore Asian American writings that have pushed formal (and political) boundaries in the past 100+ years, with a particular focus on avant-garde writers working today. We will look at such authors as Jose Garcia Villa, Chuang Hua, Wong May, Theresa H., Cha, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Tan Lin, Prageeta Sharma, Bhanu Kapil, and Tao Lin. [ more ]

ENGL 22 Shakespeare's Love's Labor's Lost

Last offered NA

A close study of Shakespeare's brilliant and strange comedy, Love's Labor's Lost, culminating in a performance. No prior experience in the theater is required, not least because your instructor is, in this area, an ignorant schoolmaster. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 220 SEM Introduction to African American Literature

Last offered Spring 2023

What does it mean, socially, culturally, historically, personally, and spiritually, to be African American? No single, simple answer suffices, but African American literature as a genre is defined by its ongoing engagement with this complex question. This course will examine a series of texts that in various ways epitomize the fraught literary grappling with the entailments of American blackness. Readings will include texts by Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, and Ishmael Reed. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 221(S) SEM Hip Hop Culture

The course examines how young people of color created hip hop culture in the postindustrial ruins of New York City, a movement that would eventually grow into a global cultural industry. Hip hop music producers have long practiced "diggin' in the crates"--a phrase that denotes searching through record collections to find material to sample. In this course, we will examine the material and technological history of hip hop culture, with particular attention to hip hop's tendency to sample, remix, mash-up, and repurpose existing media artifacts to create new works or art. We will use a media archaeological approach to examine the precise material conditions that first gave rise to graffiti art, deejaying, rapping, and breakdancing, and to analyze hip hop songs, videos, and films. Media archaeology is a critical and artistic practice that seeks to interpret the layers of significance embedded in cultural artifacts. How does hip hop archaeology remix the past, the present, and the future? How do the historical, political, and cultural coding of hip hop artifacts change as they increasingly become part of institutional collections, from newly established hip hop archives at Cornell and Harvard to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture? [ more ]

ENGL 222 SEM Lyric Poetry

Last offered Spring 2024

The goal of this writing-skills gateway course is to advance our abilities as rigorous, subtle, and imaginative interpreters of poetry. Our focus will be on lyrics--relatively short poems in which a single speaker describes (often in intense language) his or her emotions, attitudes, or state of mind. Our readings will be drawn from a range of historical periods from the seventeenth century forward, with particular emphasis on poems written since the mid-nineteenth century. Among the poets we are likely to study: Ben Jonson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Dickinson, Hardy, Owen, Yeats, Auden, Frost, Gluck, and Heaney. We will also discuss works by two poets at Williams: Lawrence Raab and Jessica Fisher. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 223 SEM Apocalypse Now and Then: Poets Confronting Political Crisis

Last offered Spring 2021

In moments of great crisis, common wisdom says to turn to the poets; where, then, do the poets turn? Tracing the history of Poetry of Witness throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries, this course explore various strategies poets have used to write about the end of the world, however that may be defined. We will read contemporary poets (such as Danez Smith, Ilya Kaminsky, Aracelis Girmay, and Solmaz Sharif) alongside 20th Century writers who were responding to the catastrophes of their own times (Paul Celan, Pablo Neruda, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bei Dao, and others). Looking backward to other times when the world seemed to be ending, this course will examine some of the strategies that poets have used to navigate writing about war, genocide, forced migration, gendered violence, climate crisis, and other dystopias. The readings we encounter will span various schools and poetic forms, from documentary poetics, to surrealism and the avant garde, to the Black Arts Movement, to speculative writing, and so on. They will be supplemented with critical texts on the political stakes of writing and reading practices by thinkers like Eve Sedgwick, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde. This is a course that views creative writing as a valid form of critical inquiry; therefore, students will have opportunities to engage creatively with texts throughout the semester. For the final, students will have the option of either writing an analytical paper or submitting a creative project with a critical introduction. [ more ]

ENGL 224 TUT American Drama: Hidden Knowledge

Last offered Spring 2022

The Buddha is said to have identified three things that cannot stay hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. What's the secret? Who is lying? Who is breaking the rules? American drama abounds with hidden knowledge and false representations. (This is not surprising: theatre is always on some level a deceptive practice, a place where one person pretends to be another, and where what is spoken is always open to skeptical scrutiny. We might say theatre is always lying as much as lying is always theatre.) This tutorial course will examine what lies hidden in American plays from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first. Beginning with excerpted critical and historical writings on secrecy and lying (The Adventures of Pinocchio, Machiavelli's The Prince, Thomas Carlson's Lying and Deception: Theory and Practice, among others), we will proceed to a set of American plays from across a wide spectrum of playwrights, including Eugene O'Neill, Edward Albee, Sarah Ruhl, Arthur Miller, Amy Herzog, Susan Glaspell, Sophie Treadwell, Annie Baker, and others. Student papers will explore how hidden knowledge structures dramatic action, how different characters create and respond to untruths, and what can we learn in particular from American drama about a national relationship to honesty and its opposites. [ more ]

ENGL 225 Introduction to Asian American Literature: Fiction and Memoir

Last offered NA

This Gateway is for students who want an opportunity to explore some of the wonderful fiction and creative nonfiction written by Asian American writers over the past hundred years. Likely readings include: Carlos Bulosan's America is in the Heart (1946); John Okada's No-No Boy (1957); Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior (1976); Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker (1995); Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies (1999); lê thi diem thúy's The Gangster We are All Looking For (2003); Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being (2013); and Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You (2014). As we read, we will attend to the various ways in which the often difficult, and sometimes traumatic, historical experiences of Asian Americans have informed their acts of literary invention. And in order to better understand the broader, ever shifting, social contexts in and against which these literary works were created, we will supplement our primary readings with texts that discuss the experiences of Asian Americans from a historical and sociological perspective. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 226 SEM The Irish Literary Revival

Last offered Spring 2019

This course will focus on the Irish Literary Revival of c.1885-1920, during which Irish literature in the English language became firmly established as a canon clearly separate from the English tradition, and writers such as W.B. Yeats and James Joyce achieved international renown. Readings will include drama, poetry, fiction and non-fiction prose by Yeats, J.M. Synge, Joyce, George Moore, George Bernard Shaw, Lady Gregory, Douglas Hyde, Sean O'Casey and others. We will foreground key fault-lines of the period: competing visions of what constituted "authentic" Irish identity; debate over the propriety of writing in English, drawing on British literary traditions, or seeking a non-Irish audience; the work of "self-exiles" such as Shaw and Joyce, versus that of writers who stayed in Ireland; and the long-entrenched political tensions between Catholics and Protestants, and Unionists and Nationalists. Throughout, we will consider the functions and efficacy of literature in promoting cultural or political change. The course will conclude by considering the extraordinary vitality of post-independence and contemporary Irish literary culture, with readings of work by Seamus Heaney, Colm Toíbín, Anne Enright and Martin McDonagh, and discussion of recent Irish film. Key considerations here will be the ways traditional notions of Irish Nationalism and national identity have been revised or abandoned under the impact of independence, economic prosperity and globalization, contemporary sexual politics and other forms of change. [ more ]

ENGL 227 TUT Elegies

Last offered Fall 2023

This tutorial explores elegies as a literary genre. In their most familiar form, elegies honor and memorialize the dead. More broadly conceived, the genre includes works lamenting other kinds of loss as well: the loss of a lover, place, country, or cherished version of one's past. We'll consider the special challenges and opportunities of the elegiac voice: how it manages to give public expression to private grief; negotiates problems of tone and perspective; worries about and celebrates the capacity of language to generate hope and consolation; and seeks a kind of solace in the literary effort to evoke, preserve, or rewrite a lost life or an absent past. This course focuses primarily on poetry, English and American, across a broad historical range. We'll first read poems from 1600-1900--including works by Jonson, Milton, Donne, Dryden, Gray, Shelley, Tennyson, and Whitman, and then turn to some of the twentieth-century's great poetic elegists--Wilfred Owen, W.B.Yeats, W.H.Auden, Robert Lowell, and Seamus Heaney. Finally, we'll consider how the elegiac voice works in fiction, especially in stories by James Joyce ("The Dead") and Vladimir Nabokov ("Spring in Fialta"). [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 228(S) SEM The Renaissance in England and the European Continent: Self and World

At the same time as the individual human being in possession of a distinctive personality was taking on enormous importance in politics, philosophy, literature, and the visual arts, early modern Europeans were encountering unprecedented levels of cultural diversity. In this interdisciplinary course, we will consider these two developments both separately and together. As Renaissance humanists were acquiring a sophisticated understanding of the distance between the present and various European pasts (the recent medieval past and the remote history of antiquity), they were also coming into contact with non-European cultures in Africa, the Americas, and Asia via trade and economic development, imperial expansion, and religious conversion. Always at stake in these encounters was the question of who counted as an individual; the self was not considered to be intrinsic to human nature but rather the product of historical and cultural developments. Themes will include religious pluralism, the sacred and the secular, vernacularity, exploration and empire, the relationship between mind and body, slavery, trade, wealth, gender, self-fashioning, and style. We will consider such English writers as the Pearl poet, More, Marlowe, Spenser, Shakespeare, Browne, and Milton; such continental intellectuals as Descartes, Erasmus, Las Casas, and Castiglione; and such continental artists as Michelangelo, Velázquez, Bruegel, and Rembrandt. [ more ]

ENGL 229 SEM Contemporary American Fiction

Last offered Spring 2019

In this course we will read and analyze a selection of fiction written between 1945 and the present, with an emphasis on proving (in the sense of testing) the three terms in the course title. Could John Cheever's "The Enormous Radio" really be contemporary? Is James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room American in the same way as Alice Munro's Dear Life? And is Michelle Tea's Black Wave fiction or something else? Along the way, we'll also ask: What forms and themes define contemporary American fiction? And why should we invest in defining the "contemporary" period at all? Other authors we will study may include: Raymond Carver, Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, Renata Adler, Margaret Atwood, Lydia Davis, Chang Rae Lee, Jennifer Egan, and Colson Whitehead. [ more ]

ENGL 230 SEM Introduction to Literary Theory

Last offered Fall 2019

This course introduces students to some of the most significant and compelling trends in modern criticism-such as gender and postcolonial theory, deconstruction, sociological analysis, and psychoanalytic criticism-in an applied, hands-on way. The course will engage a range of primary texts from Shakespeare to Hitchcock by way of varied theoretical approaches. Can Othello , for instance, be read as a feminist text? A site of class struggle? A staging of the relationship between language and the unconscious? The course aims both to make familiar some of the critical methods students are likely to encounter in the field of literary studies these days, and to show how such methods can transform our understanding of a text, opening surprising possibilities even in familiar works. In the process, the course will also raise broader questions about the imperatives and usefulness of literary theory in relation to texts and worlds. [ more ]

ENGL 231(F, S) SEM Literature of the Sea

The ocean, and human relationships with it, have been central features of literatures and cultures around the world for more than a thousand years. But since literary study is typically based around authors' homelands, careful examination of the oceanic experience is often pushed to the periphery--an "empty space" to be crossed between nations, a "vast darkness" antithetical to human life, or a mirror for land-borne concerns. Increasingly, however, scholars and readers are centering the sea and stories about it as a means stepping outside human frameworks of space and time, situating the complex emotions and narratives inspired by the ocean into a complex network of geologic history and teeming other-than-human life. This course examines a wide range of texts and perspectives on the ocean and human relationships with it. Doing so will help us consider how literature both plays into and subverts dominant viewpoints of the ocean. Through texts that consider 19th-century whaling, the Middle Passage, the postcolonial Caribbean, and islands throughout the Pacific Ocean, we will explore a range of questions, including: What can we learn from examining efforts to write about the ocean? How do ocean stories help individuals understand themselves, their communities, and their place in global environments? What can the range of cultural and literary perspectives on our "single, global ocean" reveal about the ways different people are both connected with and profoundly distant from each other? Most importantly, we will practice, as a classroom community, different strategies for carefully reading texts while connecting them to cultural traditions, surrounding environments, and personal experiences. [ more ]

Taught by: Ned Schaumberg

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ENGL 232 SEM We the People in the Stacks: Democracy and Literatures of Archives

Last offered Spring 2023

"Archives have never been neutral they are the creation of human beings, who have politics in their nature. Centering the goals of liberation is at the heart of the issue" (Jarrett Drake, former digital archivist at Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University). In this generative writing and critical-practice course, students examine the concept of archives through the lens of democratic ideals. A primary focus is on how Latinidades and works of Global South literatures engage archives--their creation and deletions, their contents and omissions, their revelations and concealments. Drawing from the values explored in class, students have opportunities to contribute to existing archival collections and/or to curate their own. [ more ]

ENGL 233 SEM Great Big Books

Last offered Fall 2022

Some of the greatest novels are really, really long--so long that they are too seldom read and taught. This course takes time to enjoy the special pleasures of novels of epic scope: the opportunity to immerse oneself in a wide and teeming fictional world; to focus sustained attention on the changeable fortunes of characters and societies over a long span of time; to appreciate the detailed grounding of lives in their social environment and historical moment; to experience the leisurely and urgent rhythms, with their elaborate patterning of build-ups and climaxes, that are possible in such works. We will read but two novels, both preoccupied with the disruption and evolution of lives and loves at moments of historic upheaval: War and Peace (1869), Leo Tolstoy's epic of the Napoleonic Wars, and Parade's End (1924-28), Ford Madox Ford's modernist masterpiece about World War I and its traumatic impact on English social life. Set a century apart, the novels are distinguished by vivid and scrupulous representation of their respective wars, by their shrewd accounts of political and social pressures informing the crises, and by their insight into the struggles of those whose lives are engulfed in global crisis. Tolstoy's and Ford's approaches to fictional representation, however, provide intriguing contrasts: one favors the lucidity of classic realism, the other the challenges of modernist innovation; one deploys a single multiplot novel, the other a tetralogy of shorter novels developing a single plot. We will discuss the differing strategies and effects of these two approaches, as well as the more general difficulties of reading and interpreting long fiction. [ more ]

ENGL 234 TUT The Video Essay

Last offered Spring 2024

While people today experience an unprecedented flood of moving images, few have had the chance to think critically about film and video. Fewer still have had the opportunity to think with the medium, exploiting the resources of film and video in an effort to understand how these media affect viewers. The Video Essay offers a chance to do that. After being introduced to the fundamentals of film analysis and receiving training in basic video editing, students will spend the term alternating between making short video essays and commenting on the essays produced by their partners. Note that this is primarily a course in film analysis: students will not shoot any original material. No prior experience is required. [ more ]

ENGL 235 TUT Theatre Masters: Become One of Them

Last offered Fall 2021

How well do you know Stanislavsky, Strasberg or Adler? This tutorial offers an exploration of the most notable theatre artists from the past and present. Students will select a specific master with a unique theatrical style, and will study that iconic artist's particular method or approach. Students will be encouraged to choose any master who had made a significant contribution to theatre -- such as Constantine Stanislavsky, Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Bertolt Brecht, Michael Chekhov, Jerzy Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor, Pina Bausch, Tadashi Suzuki, Anne Bogart, etc. Each student will conclude their exploration by writing a script and presenting the essence of their research in a brief performance (for the camera) -- portraying the legendary icon at work, in a social situation, or in solitude. You learn more about others when you become them, if only for a moment. [ more ]

ENGL 236 SEM Fields of Barley, Streets of Gold: Utopia in Fiction

Last offered Fall 2021

Each of the gates was a single pearl: And the street of the city was pure gold, As it were transparent glass. Revelations 21:21 It makes us happy to imagine the future in apocalyptic terms, partly because we love to say I told you so. You didn't listen, and now look. Fort Lee is on fire, and zombies are smashing down your parents' door. Catastrophe satisfies us on many levels; by contrast, the utopian vision provides a more delicate thrill. For a writer, the task is to provide a fiction that will not feel like a moral lesson or the illustration of some theory about how we should behave. This course will consider different utopian stories in a vaguely chronological sequence: Classical Era, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and then moving through the 19th and 20th centuries, and then into modern science fiction. You'd be right if you think this sounds as if I haven't yet finalized the list, but it will include familiar and unfamiliar names--Plato, More, Bacon, Campanella, Fourier, Bellamy, Skinner, LeGuin, Bisson, Kim Stanley Robinson, and various Afro-Futurists. Mostly you will be reading (or else listening to the instructor describe) excerpts and summaries rather than full texts, as utopian visions are often quite long and we want to consider large numbers of them. The emphasis in this class will be on writing rather than reading. Most assignments will consist of either sketching out or actually writing a short story set in one of these imagined worlds, a story that would serve as a critique. In addition, as a final project, students will invent a personal utopia and present it to the class. [ more ]

ENGL 237 SEM Making Things Visible: Adventures in Documentary Work

Last offered Spring 2019

Photography, like ethnography, is an art of looking carefully and taking notice. This course will explore the overlaps between documentary photography and field methods of social science, concentrating particularly on the genre in which the two intersect: the photo essay. The students will learn methods of visual narrative and storytelling, using techniques of interviewing, still photography, and video. Concurrently, we will explore a number of examples of investigative work that blend word and image. We will ask questions about the changing practices and expectations associated with the documentarian's role, and the evolving media in which such work can be presented. Lastly, we will discuss ethical questions that haunt documentary work, including issues of responsibility and politics of representation, as well as the perennial question of whether "objective representation" is even possible or desirable. Experience in photography and/or video is not required, but students will be expected to master basic technical skills in image acquisition and audio editing taught in a separate lab section. Students should also be prepared to interact extensively with people in the community and spend a significant time off campus doing fieldwork. [ more ]

ENGL 238(F) SEM 1930s Black Literature

This course explores Black literary output of the 1930s in all its forms with the belief that this often under-appreciated decade contains many of the impulses that would come to structure the literary landscape in the decades that follow. These include an unflinching embrace of humor and satire, engagements with social realism, and a keen attention to notions of the radical in the international context. Special attention will be paid to how the writing pushes away from the development of what we have come to understand as the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Work to be considered throughout the term comes from, among others, Marita Bonner, Arna Bontemps, Sterling Brown, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, George Schuyler, Dorothy West, Richard Wright, and Octavia Wynbush. [ more ]

ENGL 239 LEC Zen and the Art of American Literature

Last offered Spring 2023

Just one hundred years ago, few Americans knew the first thing about Buddhism. But these days, who hasn't heard of (or even tried) mindfulness or meditation? Buddhist ideas and practices now seem ubiquitous, available even in the form of smartphone apps like Headspace and Calm. In this class, we'll explore how Buddhism came to be the profoundly important cultural force in American life that it is today. We'll read some Buddhist American literary texts, like Ruth Ozeki's wondrous novel, A Tale for the Time Being. And we'll range far beyond the world of literature into other cultural domains in which Buddhism has had a deep impact, like psychotherapy, environmentalism, Western attitudes towards death and dying, and the ongoing struggle for racial justice. And we'll engage in an experiential investigation of the benefits of incorporating contemplative practices like meditation into the classroom: students in the course will learn a variety of meditation techniques, and we'll spend time each class practicing and reflecting upon those practices. Students will be expected to meditate outside of class as well (2-3 times per week). No prior experience with meditation is necessary. Just an open mind. [ more ]

ENGL 240(F) SEM What is a Novel?

What is a novel? Where did novels come from? Why would anyone invent such a thing in the first place? This course is an introduction to the ways literary critics have attempted to give a genre as hard-to-pin down as the novel a theoretical framework. For a long time, nobody thought the novel even needed a theory--too popular, too loose and baggy to be thought of as any one thing. Today, novel theory is legion. To name a few, one can find theories of the novel that identify themselves as formalist, psychoanalytic, post-structuralist, Marxist, historical, and post-colonial, as well as accounts that emphasize sexuality and gender, for example, or the novel's trans-national development. We will move back and forth from the theory of the novel to its practice in order to see how the novel and its understanding have changed over the past 200 or so years. We'll center our studies in the Age of the Novel in Britain, the 19th century (Jane Austen, Charles Dickens), and extend our investigations to one of its contemporary heirs (Sally Rooney). Theorists will include Bakhtin, Benjamin, Marx, Lukacs, Barthes, Ian Watt, Jameson, Sedgwick, Said, Bersani, Moretti. [ more ]

ENGL 241 LEC Introduction to Comparative Literature

Last offered Spring 2024

Comparative literature involves reading and analyzing literature drawn from different times, movements, cultures, and media. In this class, we will study English translations of texts from eras spanning the ancient to the contemporary; literary movements including romanticism, realism, and postmodernism; national traditions arising in Europe, Asia, and the Americas; and media from prose fiction to theater, comics, and film. Throughout the course, we will consider what it means to think about all these different works as literary texts. To help with this, we will also read selections of literary theory that define literature and its goal in abstract or philosophical terms. Assignments will focus on close, creative reading of relatively short texts by authors like Homer, Sei Shônagon, Kleist, Lermontov, Zola, Borges, Wilde, Bechdel, and others. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

ENGL 242 Bewilderment: Contemporary U.S. Poetry and the Ethics of Unknowing

Last offered NA

"I perceive I have not really understood any thing, not a single object, and that no man ever can," wrote Walt Whitman in a great poem of 1860. "Tell all the truth, but tell it slant," answered Emily Dickinson a few years later, as if suggesting a strategy for how to write one's way into Whitman's radical uncertainty. These articulations of knowing and unknowing, of telling and untelling, continue to thread their way into U.S. poetry today. This course will explore bewilderment as both a poetic strategy and an ethical position. How do error, randomness, contradiction, obliquity, and dissociation serve the poem and the poet? How do such strategies counter ideas of literary mastery, heroism, virtuosity, privilege and celebrity? What are the political possibilities of such counter stances, especially as embodied and expressed by poets who speak from outside the stronghold of the white male establishment? We will primarily read from recently published work in the U.S., but will also be interested to track the literary traditions that have shaped how contemporary poets think and write. Authors read may include: Wanda Coleman, Eileen Myles, Anne Carson, Layli Long Soldier, Vanessa Angelica Villarreal, Fanny Howe, Terrance Hayes, Jennifer Chang, Tiana Clark, Brenda Hillman, Jane Wong, Tommy Pico, Paisley Rekdahl, Brian Teare, Diana Khoi Nguyen, and C. D. Wright. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 243(S) TUT The Contemporary African American and Latin American Novella

This tutorial examines how the novella has been deployed in the African American and Latin American contexts in our present century. Throughout the term, we will grow a vocabulary to understand how, from the perspective of craft, an elongated brevity can often lend itself, perhaps counterintuitively, to such an immersive reading experience. We will also contemplate why so many of the texts appear focused on countering established historical narratives. What unique possibilities does the form of the novella offer in this regard? In these explorations, we will encounter novellas from, among others, César Aira, Yuri Herrera, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, Gayl Jones, John Keene, Bruna Dantas Lobato, Toni Morrison, and Alejandro Zambra. These readings will be paired with brief critical texts that will frame the essays to be written each week. [ more ]

ENGL 244 TUT Interpreting Film

Last offered Fall 2021

From the earliest days of narrative film, it was clear that the new medium enjoyed an unparalleled capacity to absorb spectators in the sheer passive enjoyment of the cinematic spectacle, so for many viewers cinema has seemed naturally to be a form of entertainment rather than an art form or a medium for exploring ideas. But not only have entertaining "movies" and artistic "films" always co-existed amicably, but in many cases have coincided: some of the greatest works of cinematic art first billed themselves unassumingly as enjoyable diversions. In order to appreciate the aesthetic and intellectual richness of such films, one must learn to "read" their crucial scenes closely, analyzing their visual and auditory language as well as their dramatic content, and must learn to interpret their surprisingly complex larger patterns of thought. This tutorial offers concrete training in both of these skills. During the first four weeks, students will write and discuss short weekly papers analyzing key sequences of a film, learning to identify diverse cinematic effects in order to illuminate dramatic patterns. During the last six weeks of the semester each student in a tutorial pairing will write a longer interpretive paper in alternate weeks, learning to construct fuller arguments addressing the whole of a film. Most films will be drawn from classical Hollywood cinema of the 1930s and 1940s, but we will also study European, Indian, and Japanese films. Readings during the first part of the semester will concern technical features of cinema; later readings will address larger interpretive issues (e.g., patterns in film genres, such as the nature of the gangster as a tragic hero; or social issues reflected in films, such as the newly empowered roles of women during the early 1940s and their influence in shaping the dangerous heroines of film noir). [ more ]

ENGL 246 SEM The Craft of Writing

Last offered Spring 2023

An introduction to writing short fiction in a course that emphasizes elements of craft. Discussion of published fiction will be combined with exercises, a student workshop, and individual conferences with the instructor. Students should expect a course that focuses on reading as well as writing. [ more ]

Taught by: Nalini Jones

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ENGL 247 Art of the Essay

Last offered NA

The "essay" is one way of writing about the intersection of self and world. Writers from 16th century French Michel Montaigne to contemporary American physician Siddhartha Mukherjee and Canadian lyric essayist Anne Carson have experimented in this form, varying the proportion of self-scrutiny to outward focus. We will study the meandering history of this rich literary form, learning both how to analyze and interpret representative examples from multiple traditions, and how to try our hand at our own creative nonfiction. That is, you will do both critical writing and creative writing for this course. Throughout, we will track how this genre serves those writers and readers who gravitate toward its special arts. Works read include those by the writers named above, as well as a selection from the following list: Henry David Thoreau, William James, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, James Agee, John McPhee, Alice Walker, Gloria Anzaldua, Claudia Rankine, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Maggie Nelson. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 248 SEM Black Women in African American Literature and Culture

Last offered Fall 2017

This course surveys constructions of black womanhood from the nineteenth century to the present through readings of texts by and about black women. In this course, students will trace how black womanhood became central to uplift ideology and the making and sustaining of black communities in the post-Reconstruction, Harlem Renaissance, and Black Power eras. We will read works across a broad historical spectrum to identify the ways different writers wrestle with race and gender using literary tropes, such as the "tragic mulatto," in different social contexts. We will also engage a range of forms, including an essay (Patricia Hill Collins's "Mammies, Matriarchs, and Other Controlling Images"), a choreopoem (Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf), and socio-political propaganda (the "Black is Beautiful" movement). This course will end with a consideration of the way writer and producer Issa Rae engages with contemporary ideologies of black womanhood in the HBO series Insecure. [ more ]

ENGL 250(S) SEM Americans Abroad

This course will explore some of the many incarnations of American experiences abroad from the end of the 19th century to the present day. Materials will be drawn from novels, short stories, films, and nonfiction about Americans in Europe in times of war, peace, and pandemic. We will compare and contrast the experiences of novelists, soldiers, students, war correspondents, jazz musicians, and adventurers. What has drawn so many Americans to Europe? What is the difference between a tourist, an expat, and an émigré? What are the profound, and often comic, gaps between the traveler's expectations and the reality of living in, say, Paris or a rural village in Spain? What are the misadventures and unexpected rewards of living, working, writing, or even falling in love in translation? How did recent lockdowns and border closings impact and/or interrupt these complex experiences? Authors may include: Edith Wharton, Henry James, Langston Hughes, Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, Elaine Dundy, Richard Wright, and Ben Lerner. Additional reading will be drawn from historical and critical works. All readings will be in English. This comparative course is designed to highlight the challenges and benefits of cultural immersion abroad. It will focus on the linguistic, emotional, intellectual, and social adaptation skills that are required to understand others, and oneself, in new contexts. Many of the authors and artists we will study chose, or were forced to, leave oppressive situations in the United States where their futures were limited due to factors related to politics, gender, race or class (and combinations thereof). We will study their dislocation, and freedom, and struggles to reshape their (and our) concept of "home" into something that reflects individual identity, and not one imposed by any national culture--American or foreign. [ more ]

ENGL 252(F) SEM Ficciones: A Course on Fiction

This seminar is focused on the study of published fiction by Latina/o, Latin American, Afro-Diasporic, and other writers of the Global South, paying close attention to how each author employs narrative elements--characterization, plotting, structure, dialogue mechanics, setting, tone, theme--as well as the values and visions expressed. [ more ]

ENGL 253 TUT Feminist Theatres: A Global Perspective

Last offered Fall 2023

What makes a work of theatre "feminist"? How do plays and performances across global networks engage with different models of feminism: liberal, radical, materialist, and intersectional? Why has feminism mattered to theatre-makers of the past? Should it still matter now? If so, what forms might future feminist theatres take? In this tutorial course, students will work in pairs to examine the social and political relation of feminism to the art and practice of theatre. Taking a global and comparative perspective on the subject, we will focus on the intersectionalities of gender, race, class, ethnicity, nationality, and sexual identity in the production of feminist-driven theatrical practices. Artists, companies, and movements to be considered may include: Spiderwoman Theatre, Adrienne Kennedy, Caryl Churchill, Sphinx Theatre Company, Ntozake Shange, Griselda Gambaro, Manjula Padmanabhan, Cherríe Moraga, Lisa Kron, Arethusa Speaks, Maya Krishna Rao, Tracie Chima Utoh-Ezeajugh, Alexis Scheer, Tori Sampson, Clare Barron, and others. Close analysis of source material will be informed by critical and autobiographical writings by: Audre Lorde, Judith Butler, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldúa, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Eve K. Sedgwick, Gayatri Spivak, Jill Dolan, José E. Muñoz, and Donna Haraway. This course will follow a standard tutorial format, with students taking turns presenting or responding to their peer every other week; for their presentations, students will write a 5-page paper or, in up to two cases if they choose, offer their argumentation through more performance-driven methods (such as an oral argument, spoken-word monologue, or activist prompt). [ more ]

ENGL 254 SEM Catastrophe/Apocalypse: The Movie

Last offered Fall 2023

The film industry has always appreciated the visual and dramatic possibilities of catastrophe, and given that the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic sensibility seems to be everywhere in our culture, being plugged into the zeitgeist might at this point necessarily entail a familiarity with the tropes and assumptions of this subgenre. This course will consider the ways in which such films model for us those moments when our expectations and/or actions collide with the devastating realities of our physical world and/or political situation. How do we measure loss when loss occurs at the upper end of the human scale? How do we consider collectively, in either secular or metaphysical terms, the issue of our own complicity in--if not responsibility for--disaster? Films to be studied will include Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, Jordan Peele's Get Out, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, Lorene Scafaria's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter, Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 28 Weeks Later, Bruce McDonald's Pontypool, Yoshiro Nakamura's Fish Story, and Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing. [ more ]

ENGL 256 TUT Stop Making Sense: Absurd(ist) Theatre in Historical Context

Last offered Spring 2024

We want to make sense of things. In nearly all of our academic pursuits, the point of analysis is to find meaning, to explain intricate or confusing phenomena, to provide clarity from complexity. What happens when we can't do this, indeed, when the objects of our analytical attention seem willfully designed to thwart the attempt? Such is the challenge of "understanding" the traditions of the absurd. In this tutorial course, we will engage this challenge within the realm of Western theatre and performance from 1900 to the present. Beginning with selected readings from writers who have engaged the absurd in theoretical fashion (Albert Camus, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Esslin), the course will move swiftly to original artworks for contemplation and analysis. Some questions we will grapple with include: How do we, can we, should we respond to art that specifically defies meaning? Can art that seems pointless have a point? Playwrights will range from canonical (Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco) to more obscure but equally engaging (as well as baffling) artists (Peter Handke, Slavomir Mrocek). We will follow standard practice in tutorial pairs, as each week one student will prepare original analysis of the assigned reading, and the other will craft a response to prompt an hour-long discussion. Whether we "make sense," or perhaps discover different ways of appreciating the varied works of art, will depend on the nature of those weekly attempts. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 257 SEM The Personal Essay

Last offered Fall 2023

The personal essay as a literary form includes a wide range of genres including literary journalism, creative nonfiction and the lyric essay. (Note the exclusion of "memoir" or "autobiography" in this list. This course is NOT a course in memoir or autobiography.) As a Gateway to the English major, this course we will focus on critical methods and analytical writing skills that will serve students who want to pursue more advanced work in the department. (Note: this is not a creative writing course.) We will consider the literary history of the personal essay from Montaigne to yesterday, attending primarily to writers from the 20th and 21st centuries, and from the U.S. The reading list may include: James Baldwin, James Agee, Annie Dillard, Audre Lorde, John McPhee, Joan Didion, Adrian NicholeLeBlanc, Jennifer S. Cheng, Anne Carson, Samuel Delaney, Maggie Nelson, Alexander Chee, Lydia Yuknavitch, Saidiya Hartman and Karen Green. [ more ]

ENGL 258 SEM Poetry and the City

Last offered Fall 2023

In this course we will consider poems generated out of the experiences of urban life. The city provides for poets a vivid mental and imaginative landscape in which to consider the relation of vice and squalor to glamour; the nature of anonymity and distinction; and the pressure of myriad bodies on individual and mass consciousness. We will explore ways in which the poet's role in the body politic emerges in representations of the city as a site both of civilized values and/or struggles for power marked by guile and betrayal. Taking into account the ways in which cities have been transformed over time by changing social and economic conditions, we will consider such issues as what the New York of the 1950s has to do with the London of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and why poetry as a genre might be particularly suited to representing the shifting aspects and populations of urban life. Poets will include Dante, Pope, Swift, Blake, Wordsworth, Whitman, Baudelaire, Yeats, Crane, Moore, Hughes, Brooks, Lorca, Bishop, Ginsberg, Baraka, Ashbery, Yau, Bitsui, Rankine, and Diaz. We will also draw on essays by Simmel, Benjamin, Williams, and Canetti, photographs by Hines, Weegee, Abbott, and Nishino; the blues, as sung by Holliday and Vaughan; and films such as Man with a Movie Camera, Rear Window, and Breathless. [ more ]

ENGL 259 SEM Ethics of Jewish American Fiction

Last offered Spring 2020

After the Second World War, Jewish American writers who wrote about Jewish characters and Jewish themes were increasingly celebrated as central figures in American fiction. Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick and Philip Roth are among those who gained prominence in this period. These writers were literary innovators and often addressed broad humanistic themes. But they also struggled with profound questions that arose in the postwar period about Jewishness, the legacy of the Holocaust, and what it means to be an American. In this course we will read the above authors and others. We will focus, in particular, on the distinctive ethical and political ideas, emotions, and aspirations that animate their work. The course will begin with a study of theoretical approaches that will provide the basis for our ethical criticism: we will read, for instance, Lionel Trilling, Wayne Booth, Martha Nussbaum, and Noël Carroll. Then we will delve into the fiction, following a trail that begins in the postwar period and continues in fictions by Erica Jong, Rebecca Goldstein, Michael Chabon, Gary Shteyngart, and others. Can we find a distinctive Jewish American ethics in Jewish American fiction? [ more ]

ENGL 261 TUT Adultery in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Last offered Spring 2017

In this tutorial, we will read four novels written between 1850 and 1900, all of which focus on the figure of the adulteress: Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856), Lev Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (1873-77), Leopoldo Alas y Ureña's La Regenta (1884-85), and Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest (1894). For each week of class, students will read one of these primary texts, as well as a selection of secondary literature that will allow us to understand, over the course of the semester, how and why the adulteress played a key role in the cultural imagination of Europe during this time. All works will be read in English translation. [ more ]

ENGL 262 SEM European Cinema and Film Theory

Last offered Fall 2023

This seminar explores the foundations of contemporary European cinema by studying a range of films from 1920-1985, and offers a grounding in film theory and aesthetics by pairing such films with theoretical essays by philosophers and aestheticians from the silent era through the 1970s. We will establish a kind of map of cinematic styles and movements, ranging from German expressionism and Soviet montage in silent films of the 1920s, through French realism of the prewar and Italian neorealism of the early postwar era, to the insurrectionary films of the French New Wave and the stylistic innovations of the German New Wave and of Swedish cinema in the 1960s and 1970s. We will study films by such directors as Wiene, Murnau, Lang, Eisenstein, Vertov, Dreyer, Renoir, Riefenstahl, Rossellini, Fellini, Truffaut, Godard, Varda, Herzog, Bergman, Tarkovsky, and Almodóvar. [ more ]

ENGL 263 SEM Novel Worlds

Last offered Spring 2024

Reading a novel can feel like falling into another world, each novel its own trip down a granularly detailed rabbit hole. From Jane Austen's "3 or 4 families in a country village" to the teeming novels of Charles Dickens, the novel's distinctive power is in making both the few and the many feel like a complete world. But what are worlds, anyway? Are they spaces? Or are they not a thing at all, but social systems--ways of belonging that are constantly being made and remade? This course is about the specific world--imagining powers of the novel, tracing out various techniques and strategies by which literary texts create worlds. Our hunch: the modern notion of "world" finds its origin in the novel, and the novel constitutes one of the most sophisticated sites of reflection upon that notion. We'll read a number of novels, ranging from 19th-century authors like Austen and Dickens, to contemporary genre writing--science fiction and the detective novel--to see how novels, and ideas of world, shift over time and space. To get at our central questions, we'll read some philosophical and critical texts preoccupied by world-ness, consider the colonial contexts of some novel worlds, and engage contemporary debates around the possibilities of "World Literature." Likely authors include Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, Italo Calvino, and China Mieville. [ more ]

ENGL 264 SEM Utopia and the Idea of America(s)

Last offered Spring 2023

What value does the utopian/dystopian text hold in the development of alternative thought? This course, primarily grounded in science fiction and the African American and Latin American contexts, will address this question via the thoughtful examination of a range of theoretical, fictional, and cinematic texts from, among others, Thomas More, John Akomfrah, Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Jorge Luis Borges, Alfonso Cuarón, José Vasconcelos, Eduardo Urzaiz, and Fredric Jameson. [ more ]

ENGL 265 SEM Dislocating the Harlem Renaissance

Last offered Spring 2022

Beginning with Alain Locke's The New Negro: An Interpretation, this course introduces students to the black literary and cultural production of the 1920s and 30s that we have come to regard as the Harlem Renaissance. While canonical figures will be covered, significant attention will also be paid to artists that have garnered less attention as well as those that sit outside the geographic boundaries of Harlem. Figures to be considered throughout the term include Sterling Brown, Miguel Covarrubias, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Nella Larsen, Claude McKay, Richard Bruce Nugent, Anne Spencer, Jean Toomer, Eric Walrond, and Walter White. [ more ]

ENGL 266(F) TUT Postmodernism

In one definition, postmodernism in art and literature is what you get when you combine modernism's radical experimentation with pop culture's easy appeal. This term has been used to describe works from Andy Warhol's paintings of Campbell's soup cans and Jean Baudrillard's critical essays on Disneyland to Murakami Haruki's euphoric conspiracy novels. Theorists of the postmodern have argued that it represents not only a radical change in aesthetic sensibilities, but a fundamentally new relationship between art, language, and society. In this tutorial, we will read some of the most important theoretical essays defining the postmodern (essays which themselves often embrace this playful and sometimes ironic style), and we will pair them with artistic texts that are said to illustrate the features of postmodernism. The latter will be mainly novels and short stories from around the world, but one feature of this theory is a flattening of the distinction between high and low culture as well as between the written and the visual, so we will also examine examples from architecture, visual art, and/or broader pop culture. Texts will include essays by critics like Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, Jean-François Lyotard, and Azuma Hiroki; novels and short stories by writers like Don DeLillo, Italo Calvino, and Murakami Haruki; painting and sculpture associated with Pop Art and Superflat; the architecture of Williamstown-area museums; etc. Writing assignments will focus on reading the theoretical texts closely and applying their ideas to the artistic texts in creative and interesting ways. Open to sophomores as well as advanced students. [ more ]

ENGL 267 Stop Making Sense: Absurd(ist) Theatre in Historical Context

Last offered NA

In most academic work the point of analysis is to make sense, to find meaning, to explain intricate or confusing phenomena, to provide clarity from complexity. What happens when we can't do this, indeed, when the objects of our analytical attention seem willfully designed to thwart the attempt? Such is the challenge of "understanding" the traditions of the absurd. In this tutorial course, we will engage this challenge within the realm of Western theatre and performance from 1900 to the present. Beginning with selected readings from writers who have engaged the absurd in theoretical fashion (Albert Camus, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Esslin), the course will move swiftly to original artworks for contemplation and analysis. Some questions we will grapple with include: How do we, can we, should we respond to art that specifically defies meaning? Can art that seems pointless have a point? How and when have strategies of nonsense, circular reasoning, linguistic obfuscation, and intentional theatrical absence been employed to disguise, or deflect attention from, specific didactic (even political) agendas? What role specifically does theatre, theatricality, or performativity play in the presentation of art that refuses understanding? Playwrights will range from canonical (Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco) to more obscure but equally engaging (as well as baffling) artists (Peter Handke, Slavomir Mrocek, Richard Foreman). We will follow standard practice in tutorial pairs, as each week one student will prepare original analysis of the assigned reading, and the other will craft a response to prompt an hour-long discussion. Whether we "make sense," or perhaps discover different ways of appreciating the varied works of art, will depend on the nature of those weekly attempts. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 268 SEM Being Muslim, Being American: American Muslim Literature in the 21st century

Last offered Fall 2022

Islam and Muslims in the United States are the subject of extensive public scrutiny and media coverage in broader public discourses. It is less common, however, to hear Muslims' own voices speak about their lives, experiences, beliefs, and commitments. This course will take a literary approach to exploring American Muslims' own narratives about themselves, which will serve as an introduction to religion in contemporary U.S. culture. We will address questions such as: How do American Muslims attempt to fashion their identity in the wake of 9/11? What are the pressures and demands of American national belonging and cultural citizenship that Muslims must navigate? How are race, gender, ethnic heritage, and immigration definitive of Muslim experiences and self-understandings? How are Muslims approaching the tensions between communal belonging and individuality? What are the competing claims and contestations about authentic expressions of Islam? We will be engaging such themes through an analysis of popular memoirs, autobiographies, novels, short stories, poetry, films, and comedy. [ more ]

ENGL 272 SEM American Postmodern Fiction

Last offered Spring 2020

American fiction took a turn at World War II; the simplest way to name the turn is from modernism to postmodernism. The most obvious mark of postmodern narration is its self-consciousness: postmodern books tend to be about themselves, even when they are most historical or realistic. Already a paradox emerges: why would World War II make narratives more self-reflexive? The first book in the course, and the best for approaching this paradox, is Heller's Catch-22. It also serves as a good introduction to the unlikely merging in American fiction of high European post-structuralist postmodernism and low American punk postmodernism. Subsequent books in the course will probably include Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, Morrison's Beloved, DeLillo's White Noise, Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,, Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, and Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. [ more ]

ENGL 275 SEM Southern Literary Aesthetics

Last offered Spring 2020

Hip-Hop artists signify as "the dirty South" the distinct sounds, rhythms, landscapes, gestures, desires as well as frustrations of Black residents living in the southernmost regions of the U.S. American continent. In this course, students will examine what the South means to American concepts and how the South is used to make meaning in literature, music, art, digital archives, and film. We will give particular attention to how representations of the South are informed by region, gender, sexuality, and class. At the end of the course, students will be able to identify Black southern aesthetics across various genres and mediums with attention to historical and regional specificity despite the opacity of these categories. Potential artists include Jean Toomer, Alice Walker, Ernest Gaines, William Faulkner, Jesmyn Ward, Zora Neale Hurston, Natasha Trethewey, E. Patrick Johnson, Trudier Harris, Kiese Laymon, Julie Dash, Spike Lee, Askia Muhammad Touré, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Alison Janae Hamilton, Outkast, DJ Khalid, Beyoncé Knowles, and Solange Knowles. [ more ]

ENGL 277 SEM Meditation and Modern American Life

Last offered Fall 2019

The first English translation of a Buddhist text was published in the United States in 1844. At the time, few Americans knew the first thing about what Buddhism was, but now, a little over a century and a half later, Buddhist ideas and practices (meditation, in particular) can be found everywhere. In this class, we'll explore how Buddhism came to be the profoundly important cultural force in American life that it is today, looking particularly at the increasingly mainstream role of meditation in modern American life. We'll study how traditional Buddhist meditation practices were transmitted to the West, and then track the way those practices changed over time, as they were adapted to the radically new context of American culture. And we'll study the way meditation is impacting a wide array of cultural domains, including: literature, psychology, education, environmentalism, Western attitudes towards death and dying, and the fight against racism. A key part of the course will be an introduction to the theory and practice of meditation: we'll learn a variety of meditation techniques, and we¿ll spend a significant amount of time each class practicing and reflecting upon those practices. This course is a part of a joint program between Williams' Center for Learning in Action and the Berkshire County Jail, in Pittsfield, MA. The class will be composed equally of nine Williams students and nine inmates. An important goal of the course is to encourage students from different backgrounds to think together about issues of common human concern. Classes will be held at the jail, with transportation provided by the college. *Please note the atypical class hours, Thursdays, 4:45-8:30 pm.* [ more ]

ENGL 278 SEM Buddhism and Contemporary American Literature

Last offered Spring 2022

The influence of Buddhism on American literature is long-standing and appears to be growing ever deeper with time. A very partial list of contemporary American writers who have been influenced by Buddhist practice and theory includes: Ruth Ozeki, George Saunders, Charles Johnson, Alice Walker, bell hooks, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ocean Vuong, Maggie Nelson, Jane Hirshfield, and Norman Fischer. This class, conceived as a follow-up to the introductory course "Zen and the Art of American Literature" (though it's not necessary that students have taken that course), will offer a deeper look into the role that Buddhism is playing in contemporary American literature. Our focus will fall squarely on literary texts (mostly novels and poems by the authors named above, including Ruth Ozeki's latest novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness), but we'll make occasional forays into Buddhist nonfiction, to supplement our understanding of how Buddhism is speaking to pressing contemporary problems like racism and the ecological crisis. Students who want to take this course should already be familiar with the practice of meditation (see pre-reqs below), which they will be asked to continue (for 15-20 minutes a day) alongside their study of texts by writers who have themselves engaged in similar contemplative practices (often as an integral part of their own writing practice). Ideally, practice and theory, reading and experience will mutually inform one another. [ more ]

ENGL 279 SEM Introduction to Latinx Literature: From 'I Am Joaquín' to Borderless-Future Dreams

Last offered Spring 2024

This course is designed to introduce you to Latinx literary and cultural production from the 1930s through the present. We will read and encounter some of the most urgent and exciting literary-artistic texts produced by Latinxs in the U.S., focusing our attention on the post-war period and the flourishing of the Chicano Movement-related cultural renaissance of the late 1960s and early 70s, along with the Movement's significant aftermaths. This focus highlights the significant contributions Chicanx voices have made to Latinx literary studies and creates space for the incorporation of other Latin American-descended peoples (including Nuyoricans, Cubanos, Central Americans, Afro-Latinxs, and more). In addition to traditional narrative forms, we will also study poetry, films, photography, plays, murals, and performance art. In this way, you will gain a critical awareness of how Latinxs have historically engaged in various modes of artistic experiment to better question some of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries' most pressing global and local political issues (from migration to racism to coloniality to heterosexism to gentrification to U.S. imperialism and more). The course, at its core, will explore issues of identity-formation, particularly as they relate to Latinx struggles for equality on the fault lines of race, class, and gender/sexuality. Who and/or what is the Latinx subject, and how does the question of identity relate to struggles for cultural recognition and political equality? To what extent does the Latinx subject's political freedom rest upon practices and processes of identify-formation or, alternatively, dis-identification? As we explore these questions, we will also examine how Latinxs come to inhabit and articulate a sense of space and place in the shifting landscapes of culture--from the city to the campo to the cultural in-between of the border. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 280 SEM Writing for Performance

Last offered Spring 2018

This studio/seminar course is designed for students with some experience in creative writing and/or performance interested in a deep dive into the art of playwriting. What is a play? What distinguishes writing for performance from writing that is meant to be read? How do we craft a blueprint for a live event? In our rapidly evolving digital world, what sorts of stories and phenomena still ask to be experienced live? How are contemporary theater and performance makers pushing the boundaries of what "writing" means and what constitutes "liveness"? We will read works by Sharon Bridgforth, Sarah Ruhl, Tarrell Alvin McCraney, Tony Kushner, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Sarah DeLappe, Suzan-Lori Parks, Edward Albee, August Wilson, Chuck Mee, María Irene Fornés, Young Jean Lee, Stew, and Lightning Rod Special, who have deepened and widened the possibilities of the form. We will also write, beginning with exercises in character, dialogue, action, and world-building, and working toward a longer final project. Students will be expected to present their own work and respond to each other's work regularly. At the end of the term, we will present excerpts of our one-act length works as part of an open studio experience. [ more ]

ENGL 281(F, S) SEM Introductory Workshop in Poetry

Poetry is a capacious genre, and notoriously difficult to define. Emily Dickinson wrote of it this way: "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?" In this introductory workshop, we will develop an expansive definition of poetry and a facility with its many strategies. We'll read broadly in canonical and contemporary poetry and will engage in various exercises, improvisations, and collaborations. You will write your own poems, as well as brief reflection papers. You will give thoughtful feedback on one others' poems, and revise your own work as part of a final portfolio. [ more ]

ENGL 282 SEM Introductory Workshop in Memoir

Last offered Fall 2022

A course in basic problems and possibilities that arise in the composition of memoir. Individual meetings with the instructor will be available. Class sessions will be devoted to the discussion of both published and student work. Students will receive written critiques from other students as well as the instructor. Evaluation will be based on class participation, critiques of classmates' work, the successful completion of several writing exercises, two workshop pieces, and a final portfolio of 25 pages of memoir. No prerequisites. Enrollment limited to 12. Selection will be based on writing samples. [ more ]

ENGL 283(F, S) SEM Introductory Workshop in Fiction

An introduction to the basics of writing short fiction. Exercises and discussion of published fiction will be combined with discussions of student stories, individual conferences with the instructor, and independent work. [ more ]

ENGL 284 SEM Arab and Anglophone: Narratives Beyond Nation and Diaspora

Last offered Spring 2015

This course takes a close look at contemporary Anglophone Arab writings. The objective is to familiarize students with major Arab writers, and/or writers of Arab descent who live in the Anglo-Saxon diaspora, especially the UK, North America and Australia. We will investigate the work of these writers with special attention to the history of Arab migration to these geographies, and the emergence of hyphenated Arab identities and literatures. At the heart of this course is a desire to not only shed light on what it means to be an Arab or an immigrant producing English literature, but also to understand the multiple ways in which we conceptualize and seek to define what transnational literature means. Texts for this course may include novels by the following writers: Rabih Alameddine (Lebanon/USA), Mohja Kahf (Syria/USA), Leila Aboulela (Sudan/UK), Hisham Matar (Libya/UK), and Randa Abdel-Fattah (Palestine-Egypt/Australia). There will also be a course reader that includes critical essays, poems, as well as a number of films and selections of music that shed light on the different articulations of being Arab and Anglophone. [ more ]

ENGL 285 SEM Introductory Workshop in Prose

Last offered Fall 2017

An introduction to the basics of writing creative prose, both fiction and memoir, with a focus on more self-consciously exploring the question of who gets to write about what. From what sources does a work's imaginative authority derive? What role should imagination play in the composition of fiction? What are the outer boundaries of those imaginative acts that should be attempted? Are there any limits on what authors should write about in memoir? Class sessions will be devoted to both published and student work. Students will receive written critiques from other students as well as the instructor. Individual meetings with the instructor will be available. [ more ]

ENGL 286 SEM Black Queer Looks: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary African-American Film

Last offered Fall 2022

In this course we will foreground questions around visibility and memory. We will explore representations of Black queer bodies in experimental, documentary and narrative film. This course will engage foundational texts from Black Queer Studies. We will pair texts with film in order to examine the various relationships between art and scholarship. You will also be asked to think about yourself as a filmmaker. We will screen films such as Looking for Langston (Isaac Julien, 1989), The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), U People (Olive Demetrius and Hanifah Walidah, 2009), Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, 1989) and Litany for Survival (Ada Gay Griffin and Michelle Parkerson, 1995). Throughout the course we will evaluate the different ways filmmakers represent Black queerness on screen. The goal is to think about the possibilities and limitations of representation and visibility. Each of you will be asked to facilitate a class discussion. You also will be required to do weekly critical response papers. In lieu of a final paper you will create a detailed proposal for a short film that "represents" some segment of Black queer living. [ more ]

Taught by: Marshall Green

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ENGL 287 SEM Bloody Vampires: From Fiction to Film and Fashion

Last offered Spring 2017

This course explores the figure of the vampire and seeks to explain the popular appeal such a fictive creature has been enjoying for over two centuries. What kind of fears and fantasies does it crystallize? And what kind of discourse about sexuality, death, and disease does it validate? What does its mere existence reveal about gender and ethnicity? We will examine the emergence of the vampire in gothic literature of the late 18th and 19th centuries, its omnipresence in cinema in the 20th century and investigate its resurgence in 21st-century pop culture. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the figure of the vampire, we will read poems by August Bürger and Goethe, the first vampire story by John Polidori, novels by Sheridan LeFanu and Bram Stoker, and contemporary vampire fiction by Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer. We will watch the films Nosferatu by Murnau and Herzog, Dracula by Browning and Coppola, the Dance of Vampires by Polanski, The Hunger by Scott, Blade by Norrington, Twilight by Hardwicke, and Daybreakers by Spierig, as well as episodes of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries. We will also discuss music video clips by Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson, and fashion shows by Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood. [ more ]

ENGL 288 SEM Introductory Poetry Workshop: Writing as Experiment

Last offered Spring 2022

Some writing gets categorized as "experimental" or "avant-garde." But a spirit of experimentation---of rigorous, playful curiosity---is crucial for writers of all levels and styles to cultivate. In this introductory poetry course, we will engage in games and exercises designed to help us explore the wide set of tools available to poets. We will read works by canonical and contemporary poets, from Shakespeare and Dickinson to Fatimah Asghar, Haryette Mullen, Douglas Kearney, and more. We will also discuss the ways race, gender, and power affect interpretations of the risks such poets take in their work, asking: What are the boundaries of what is considered to be poetry, and what possibilities for writing might we discover by pushing against those boundaries? How might a poem live, not just on the page, but also on a sidewalk, on a screen, in performance? This is a course that approaches writing as a laboratory to test out ideas and asks students to think critically about their own creative processes. Students will be expected to create new writing, submit reflection papers, give feedback on each others' poems, and revise work as part of a final portfolio. [ more ]

ENGL 290 TUT Technologies of Friendship

Last offered Spring 2024

Contemporary friendships--whether among roommates, near neighbors, or friends living thousands of miles apart--are highly mediated. We communicate and signal our attachment through Zoom windows, apps, and social media platforms, and we create ambiguous relationships with people whom we "follow" or "friend" without having met in person. Sometimes we text as much as we talk even with intimate friends, and carrying on in-person friendships was complicated in myriad ways by the Covid-19 pandemic. But friendships have always been mediated, and in this tutorial we will examine how writers across centuries have described the tools and technologies of friendship: some perhaps quaint or sentimental (for example the written letter) and others creepy or invasive (for example Apple's "Find My" app or social media's "suggestions"). We will ask common and important questions, such as "Can one have too many friends?"; "Are long-distance friendships sustainable?"; and "What health risks do we take for friendship, and what other risks do technologies of friendship carry?" Readings will include works of fiction and journalism, and scholarship from psychology, the history of technology, and science and technology studies. The technologies we will consider include emojis, coffeehouses, memes, letters, telephones, video games, social media, and novels themselves. [ more ]

ENGL 291(F) SEM Writing for Television - Creating a Series

You"ll learn about the structure and function of a pilot for a television series, and then write one. Students will provide oral and written comments to their peers on their work and participate in class discussion. Individual conferences with the instructor, and independent work. (The instructor, Michael Sardo, is a Williams College alum and Emmy-nominated writer and executive producer.) [ more ]

ENGL 292 Writing for Television

Last offered NA

You"ll learn about the structure and function of a pilot for a television series, and then write one. Students will provide written comments to their peers on their work and participate in class discussion. Individual conferences with the instructor, and independent work. (The instructor, Michael Sardo, is a Williams College alum and Emmy-nominated writer and executive producer.) [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

ENGL 293(S) SEM "Make it New": The Modernist Experiment

In her essay "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" (1924), Virginia Woolf proposed that around 1910 "human character" itself had suddenly changed, rendering existing conventions "in religion, conduct, politics, and literature" no longer adequate to express the new age. "And so the smashing and the crashing began. Thus it is that we hear all around us, in poems and novels . . . the sound of breaking and falling, crashing and destruction." This course will explore the effort of artists in the decade or so before and after World War I to "make it new." We will read work by Conrad, Yeats, Frost, Pound, Joyce, T.S.Eliot, Mansfield, Woolf, Faulkner, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams and others, and chart the range of innovative narrative and formal strategies Modernist writers adopted in their efforts to represent consciousness, experience, memory and the objective world more fully and accurately in an era of massive social, political and technological change. We will also consider some non-print media, including developments in the visual arts from the post-impressionists through to the surrealists, the work of the Bahaus, and early experiments in film. [ more ]

ENGL 294(F, S) SEM On Occupations: Work, Colonization and Contemporary Life

Reading political essays, critical theory, historiography, and literary works, in this course we will ask what thinking through the different senses of "occupation" can teach us about contemporary life. The course wagers that there is a connection between why some nations are or were "under" occupation and why, as individuals, all of us must "have" occupations. On the one hand, we will think about work: What does it mean to have an occupation today? There was a time when most people could distinguish between the time of work and that of leisure. But we live under a different regime. What now is the difference between work and leisure for those working "gigs"? In the case of "creatives," Bifo Berardi says, it is the soul itself that has been put to work. And then there are those who are unemployed, i.e., those occupied by the most widespread form of work there is--looking for work. On the other hand, we will ask questions about colonialism: Did not Europe's occupation of the globe birth this world in which the only way to live is to be occupied in a narrow sense, i.e., to always be working or looking for work? And isn't one economic function of the occupation of peoples in our own times to create a cheap workforce? Finally, we will ask what art and political organizing can teach us about a "de-occupied" life--a life after work, a life without colonization. Writers will include Marx, Jyotiba Phule, Du Bois, Raymond Williams, Premchand, M. E. O'Brien and Eman Abdelhadi, Bifo Berardi, David Graeber, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Mahasweta Devi, Edward Said etc. [ more ]

ENGL 299 TUT Let the Record Show: U.S, Literature of Research and Witness

Last offered Fall 2023

This is a course on the literature of research and witness in the U.S., from 1853 to the present. We will train our attention on works of long form journalism that stand at the intersection of reportage, archival history, documentary nonfiction, narrative and activism. The writers we study present quantitative and qualitative data that document the existence and effects of systemic racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and uneven economic development. How have American writers defied disciplinary boundaries to speak truth to power? What critical reading skills are mobilized by books of sweeping scope and unflinching detail? The course will be taught in reverse chronological order. Readings include: Sarah Schulman, Let the Record Show; Layli Long Soldier, Whereas; Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land; Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee; James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio; Ida B. Wells, A Red Record; and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. [ more ]

ENGL 301 SEM Sublime Confusion: A Survey of Literary and Critical Theory

Last offered Fall 2022

Which is more appealing, a roller coaster or a rose? For much of its history, art and literary theory has conceived itself as a science devoted to explaining and defining "beauty." But running alongside this is an edgier countercurrent that worships something else: an experience of excitement, fear, suspense, or thrilling confusion often described as "the sublime." The sublime interested early critics, from classical rhetoricians to the German Idealists, as a way to make aesthetics more scientific paradoxically by identifying the doorway through which art and literature escaped the realm of reason. More recently the notion of literature's exciting confusion has played a key role in modern critical theory from Russian formalism to new criticism, deconstruction, postmodernism, and posthumanism. (In fact, poststructuralist criticism itself has a thrillingly confusing quality that we will not ignore.) We will take up a cross section of critical theory from classical times to the present, focusing on careful reading of relatively short texts by Plato, Aristotle, Addison, Burke, Schiller, Nietzsche, Shklovsky, I.A. Richards, Barthes, Derrida, Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, Haraway, and others. Case studies ranging from opera to Xbox will enlighten, thrill, and confound you. Written assignments will encourage you to parse these theories carefully and apply them to the literary texts that most interest you: prose, poetry, or drama from any time and place; film, visual art, or architecture; music, new media, or digital media, and beyond. [ more ]

ENGL 302 SEM "A language to hear myself": Advanced Studies in Feminist Poetry and Poetics

Last offered Spring 2023

The title of this course comes from Adrienne Rich's 1969 poem "Tear Gas," grounding our study in 1960s, 70s, and 80s feminist activist poetry but also in our current moment to answer a fundamental question: what can poetry do for us? In this period, feminist activist poets were at the center of a revolutionary social justice movement that changed the world. Feminist presses published much of the new poetry. This course focuses on the theory and practice of feminist poetry and print culture during this period, and how feminist experiments in language changed how we understand American poetry. We focus on the theoretical writings and poetry chapbooks of a diverse group of poets who powered the movement, including Audre Lorde, Mitsuye Yamada, Nelly Wong, Robin Morgan, June Jordan, Joy Harjo, Gloria Anzaldúa, Sonia Sanchez, Adrienne Rich, Judy Grahn, and Pat Parker. We also read the work of some later feminist theorists, such as Sara Ahmed. We spend time in the archives, analyzing documents from the period, including feminist magazines and original publications of poetry chapbooks often published by the period's many feminist presses and consider how such attention allows us to construct alternative narratives for feminism and American poetry. Writing at the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and of multiple social justice movements (Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, LGBTQ activism, and Black Power), these poets gave us a new language to "hear," not only ourselves, but the experience and pain of others, and, in so doing, they moved personal experience into public discourse around issues of inequality and human flourishing in a democratic society. [ more ]

ENGL 303(S) SEM The New Television

TV has changed a lot, and it seems like a good time to figure out how. We will watch full seasons of landmark shows (Game of Thrones, Girls, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos) in order to answer a series of questions: How does the new television differ from older network shows? What are its distinctive storytelling techniques? What, in particular, is the appeal of complex and long-form narrative? Is modern television, as often claimed, a reinvention of the nineteenth-century novel? Which features does it take over from the novel and do they work the same way on the screen as they do on the page? But then what is television's relationship to the film genres that it also inherits? What happens to a gangster movie when you extend it out to eighty-six hours? What's the difference between a zombie movie and a really long zombie movie? And how is it that the new television has reclaimed the word binge, which used to be associated with broken diets and heavy drinking? [ more ]

ENGL 304 SEM Prophecy, Poetry, and Property in the Radical Seventeenth Century

Last offered Spring 2024

This course offers a study of seventeenth-century poetry and prose in a prophetic strain, with a particular (though not exclusive) attention to writing by women, from Aemilia Lanyer to Anna Trapnell to Anne Bradstreet. How did these writers mobilize the resources of ritual and scripture to criticize and remake the world? In what ways did religious devotion, erotic passion, and dream inform political thinking and shape the public sphere? We'll consider the relationship between intimate feeling, apocalyptic desire, and the material realities of a burgeoning British empire--enclosure, dispossession, transatlantic enslavement. As prophetic modes overlap with and inflect controversies such as the querelle des femmes, the witch hunt, and the execution of Charles I, we'll interrogate the construction and deconstruction of social identities. Thus a collateral concern will be recent critical approaches to the early modern category of "woman"--in Black feminism, queer studies, and Marxist-feminism. Throughout our inquiry, we'll take seriously the claim that the seventeenth century was "radical"--in the sense of enacting a "departure from what is usual or traditional" and in the sense of being the "root, basis, or foundation" of a modernity we are still living in and through (see Oxford English Dictionary, "radical" def. 7c and def. 2). [ more ]

ENGL 305 SEM The American Modernist Novel

Last offered Spring 2024

For the purposes of this course, the American modernist novel will include prose fiction written between 1910 and 1940 by such writers as Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Toomer, and William Faulkner. The emphasis will be on formal prose experimentation for the sake of representing new realities: radical re-conceptions of race and gender, revolutionary technologies such as the car or telephone, the Great War discrediting of all forms of authority. Newly unmoored questions of how to lead a life or organize a society are reflected by a set of unique innovations in how to write a novel. [ more ]

ENGL 306 SEM Beckett, Pinter and Stoppard

Last offered Fall 2017

Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard have been amongst the most influential playwrights of the anglophone theatre over much of the last six decades. This course will explore their mutual concern with the capacities and dysfunctions of language, their questioning of Art's value and the scope for originality in the post-nuclear and postmodern era, and, above all, their collective focus on the extent to which selfhood may be realized in and through performance. Besides reading major plays, we will also give some consideration to the dramatic work crafted by these writers for radio, television and film, and to the political and social commitments animating and counterpointing their literary careers. Readings may include: Endgame, The Caretaker, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Krapp's Last Tape, The Homecoming, No Man's Land, Betrayal, Waiting for Godot, Dogg's Hamlet, The Invention of Love, Arcadia, Rock 'n' Roll, Not I, Rockaby, A Kind of Alaska, Catastrophe, The Real Thing, Indian Ink, Artist Descending a Staircase and One for the Road. Throughout, we will give consideration to these works as both literary and theatrical texts. [ more ]

ENGL 308 SEM Race and the Zombie Apocalypse

Last offered Spring 2021

This course takes a critical approach to our contemporary understanding of the figure of the zombie and its inextricable link to discourses on race and blackness in the Americas. An introductory grounding in theories of social death allows an opportunity to explore the racial anxiety that gave birth to the genre and trace its development throughout the hemisphere. The course considers the novels, films, and critical texts that frame the genre in order to pose the following questions: What can the figure of the zombie teach us about our evolving relationship to race? What roles do gender and sexuality play in the construction of the genre? And, finally, how does the recent proliferation of zombie-related television shows, movies, books, and video games reflect our present-day concerns? [ more ]

ENGL 309 TUT Ibsen, Chekhov and the emergence of Modern drama

Last offered Spring 2022

This course will center on the plays of Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov, key figures in the development of Modern European drama. Prospective readings will include Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879), The Wild Duck (1884), Rosmersholm (1886) and Hedda Gabler (1890); Chekhov's The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1900), Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904): along with August Strindberg's Creditors (1889) and Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband (1894). We will chart the development of dramatic realism and naturalism, and situate these plays in the context of the late-nineteenth century "ache of modernism", with supplemental readings that highlight changing conceptions of identity and subjectivity, emerging strains and contestations over gender and sexuality, and the wider sociological, political and technological changes of the period. The course will also be centrally concerned with these playwrights' innovative explorations of the investigations of theatre's capacities and limitations in representing social reality and the 'performance' of selfhood. [ more ]

ENGL 310 LEC Rebels, Revelers, and Reactionaries: The Poets of the Seventeenth Century

Last offered Fall 2018

The decades following the death of Elizabeth I were period of scandal, schism, dissent and decadence, culminating in a bloody civil war and the beheading of a king. It was, in other words, a 'world turned upside down' by every kind of upheaval: in civics, philosophy, politics, religion, and science. It also produced writers of some of England's finest lyric and satiric poetry, and its greatest epic poet. How the century's poets successfully dramatized the critical events and feelings in this time of turmoil will be the focus of the course. While primarily a course in close reading, we will nevertheless try to reconstruct the lives and contexts of the writers, and examine some of the critical and theoretical issues involved in contextualizing the poems. Authors will include Donne, Jonson, Lanyer, Herbert, Herrick, the Cavalier Poets, Milton, Marvell, Cavendish, Dryden, and Rochester. [ more ]

ENGL 311 SEM Black Critical Theory, Black Avant-Garde

Last offered Spring 2024

What is the relationship between violence and what constitutes the Black avant-garde and Black critical theory? Is it possible to conceptualize the latter two without an investigation of Black rebellion and its relationship between Black artistic and intellectual production? Can one argue that Black critique is none other than Black experimentation in form, or that Black abstraction is the requisite effector for all modes of Black praxis and thought? This course will explore these questions through a study of Black continental and diasporic avant-garde texts in multiple mediums. Alongside, we will also consider the emergence of contemporary Black critical theory, chronicling its development as both experimental and critical. Through the works of historical subjects of experimentation also considered to be objects critiquing in experimental form, the course will approach Black avant-gardism and Black critical theory as a productive opportunity to think about Blackness as critique, as experimentation, and as theoria. This pairing of Black avant-gardes and Black critical theory takes "avant" at its root--indicating what precedes or takes precedent--and "garde" as what is preeminent, or what protects. As such, we will start with the question of whether blackness, as an ideological fiction produced through violent historical ideologies and practices, could ever, or ever not, be anything but avant-garde? [ more ]

ENGL 312(S) SEM Poetry and the Ecological Imagination

How does the human imagination encounter its environment? And how do poets reflect an increasing awareness of anthropogenic climate change and other forms of environmental catastrophe? In this class, we'll read selections from the long tradition of ecologically-minded poetry to answer these questions. Our readings will focus primarily on writers from Romanticism to the present, from John Clare and Gerard Manley Hopkins to contemporary writers including Juliana Spahr and Craig Santos Perez, whom we'll read alongside various theoretical texts that will introduce you to some of the major ecocritical concepts. Finally, we will explore via our own writing the ethical and aesthetic imperative to find ways of imagining the ever-changing relation between the imagination and the environment. [ more ]

ENGL 313 SEM George Eliot and Henry James

Last offered Fall 2018

George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) and Henry James trace dramas of consciousness that ramify in the context of 19th century social transformations. Eliot records the frictions of provincial and cosmopolitan lives; James writes about what it meant for American and European societies around the turn of the 20th century to be mutually exposed to and by one another. Their work explores gender and class fluidity, and the relations of ethical, economic, and aesthetic value. Both evoke fraught political contexts--for Eliot, the failed mid-century European revolutions and pressures of British imperialism, and for James, post-Civil War American consciousness and the struggle between American and European imperialisms. By placing texts in relation to one another--for instance, James' Portrait of a Lady with Eliot's Daniel Deronda, What Maisie Knew with The Mill on the Floss, The Turn of the Screw and The Beast in the Jungle with The Lifted Veil--we'll consider how and to what ends these writers link such issues as law, sacrifice, gambling, gender, and the supernatural. In tracing the relation of their work to one another, we will mark the shift from crucial preoccupations of the 19th century to the modern novel, and the innovations of prose style that accompany them. [ more ]

ENGL 314 LEC Groovin' the Written Word: The Role of Music in African American Literature

Last offered Fall 2016

In an interview with Paul Gilroy, Toni Morrison once said, "Music provides a key to the whole medley of Afro-American artistic practices." Morrison is not the only one who believes that music speaks to numerous aspects of the African American experience. From Sterling Brown and Zora Neale Hurston to John Edgar Wideman and Suzan Lori-Parks, many African American authors have drawn on music to take political stands, shape creative aesthetics, and articulate black identity. In this course, students will explore the work of these authors and more, investigating music's ability to represent and critique African American culture in their literature. Texts will cover a range of literary forms including poetry, plays, short stories and novels alongside theoretical and critical essays. Students will discuss such key issues as assimilation into mainstream culture, authenticity claims on black music, and music used as a tool for protest. Additionally, class assignments will include musical examples in spirituals/gospel, blues, jazz, and rock/rhythm and blues. While this class requires students to practice in-depth literary and performance analysis skills, students are not required to have technical musical knowledge. [ more ]

ENGL 315 SEM Milton's Paradise Lost

Last offered Spring 2024

If you know anything about John Milton, you probably think of him as some blind guy who wrote a really long poem about the Bible. It's hard to shake the feeling that Milton is the fustiest of English poets--dull, pious, brilliant and all, and not someone you would read if you didn't have to. But then what are we to make of the following? The first piece that Milton wrote that was read widely throughout Europe was a boisterous defense of the English Revolution. Milton was most famous in his lifetime as the poet who went to bat for the Puritan insurgents--the poet who came right out and said that the king looked better without his head. Of all the major English poets, Milton is the revolutionary. So a course on Milton is by necessity a course on literature and revolution. We will read Paradise Lost, widely regarded as the greatest non-dramatic poem in English, and a few other books to help us prepare for that big one. Some questions: How did the mid-seventeenth century, probably the most tumultuous decades in the history of modern Britain, transform the culture of the English-speaking world? What is the relationship between literature and the state or between literature and radical politics? Is there a poetics of revolution? How can a poet who seems to be writing for Sunday school--about God and Adam and Eve and the serpent--really have been writing about rebellion all along? [ more ]

ENGL 316(F) SEM Unfinishing America

The Great American Novel is a moribund cliché. Few would argue that any one work of fiction could capture the essence of American life. In this class, we will flip the Great American Novel on its head by reading Ralph Ellison's unfinished second novel. After publishing the acclaimed Invisible Man in 1952, Ellison seemed poised to deliver the next Great American Novel. But he never did. When he died in 1994, 42 years later, he left behind thousands of pages of material, but no finished second novel. Why wasn't he able to finish it? Some of it was bad luck. Some of it was a struggle with genre and form. However, perhaps the real reason Ellison's novel proved impossible is what it was trying to say. This is a book about the historical trauma of racism. Therefore, the thesis of this class is that the Great American Novel cannot be written as long as American history remains whitewashed. Ellison's manuscript shows this in surprising ways, from its depiction of racial passing and the taboo of interracial sex to its extended exploration of Black and Indigenous cultures in the former Oklahoma Territory. In addition to Ellison, we will read the work of the Chicano author Tomás Rivera, whose fragmentary fictions provoke similar questions. This class culminates in a final project that asks students to "unfinish" an American cultural object. [ more ]

ENGL 317 SEM Black Migrations: African American Performance at Home and Abroad

Last offered Fall 2023

In this course, students will investigate, critique and define the concepts migration and diaspora with primary attention to the experiences of African Americans in the United States and Europe. Drawing on a broad definition of performance, students will explore everything from writing and painting to sports and dance to inquire how performance reflects, critiques and negotiates migratory experiences in the African diaspora. For example, how did musician Sidney Bechet's migration from New Orleans to Chicago to London influence the early jazz era? How did Katherine Dunham's dance performances in Germany help her shape a new black dance aesthetic? Why did writer James Baldwin go all the way to Switzerland to write his first novel on black, religious culture in Harlem? What drew actor/singer Paul Robeson to Russia, and why did the U.S. revoke his passport in response to his speeches abroad? These questions will lead students to investigate multiple migrations in the African diasporic experience and aid our exploration of the reasons for migration throughout history and geography. In addition to critical discussions and written analysis, students will explore these topics through their own individual and group performances in class. No prior performance experience is necessary. [ more ]

ENGL 318 SEM Literary Taste and After Taste

Last offered Spring 2024

Why are some literary works acclaimed or neglected when they first appear, and why do their critical assessments change--sometimes drastically--over time? What does it mean to think of a work as 'before its time? What is the relation between critical trends and their affinity for particular literary styles? In thinking about these issues, we will consider a few crucial instances: modernist poets and New Critics' celebration of Donne and Marvell over Milton in the early 20th century; 18th and 19th century writers' fascination with medievalism and the Gothic; deconstructionist critics' absorption with Romantic poetry; Marxist and neo-Marxist critics' qualified embrace of realism and critique of postmodernism; and recent and contemporary debates about the relation of aesthetic forms to representations of race, ethnicity, and gender. [ more ]

ENGL 319 SEM The Literary Afterlife

Last offered Fall 2017

What do writers mean when they say that they will live on after death through their books? In this course, we will explore the long history of thinking about literature as a way to compensate for mortality, and we will compare the literary afterlife to religious and philosophical versions of eternity. Many of the writers on our syllabus were anxious about the compatibility of the pursuit of worldly fame with the desire for Christian salvation. We will study how their sense of a conflict between the two afterlives changed over time: from the recovery of pagan antiquity during the Renaissance, across the theological transformations of the Reformation, to the consequences of print. The course deals with some of literature's greatest ambitions--to cheat death, to make a lasting contribution to human culture--but we will often find ourselves caught in an undertow of skepticism. Is writing any less susceptible to decay than human bodies are? If so, is literary accomplishment worth the risk of one's soul? Authors and texts will include Sappho, Ovid, Lucretius, Ecclesiastes, Augustine, Petrarch, Julian of Norwich, Montaigne, Shakespeare's Hamlet and Richard II, Jonson, Donne, and Milton. [ more ]

ENGL 320 SEM Race and Psychoanalysis: Slavery and the Psyche

Last offered Fall 2022

This course explores slavery and the psyche through a constellation of Black diasporic literary, visual, and theoretical texts from the US, Caribbean, and Africa. Unwieldy and generative, the opacity of race within the field (and practice) of psychoanalysis shares a fraught intimacy with the co-constitutive terrains of violence and race that form the unconscious. Querying what escapes the hermeneutics of psychoanalysis and aesthetics in the fantasies race engenders, we will examine modernity's articulation of racialization through conceptualizations--both fantasmatic and real--of self, world, knowledge, and possibility. Course texts may include: Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones, Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro, Bessie Head's A Question of Power, Arthur Jafa's APEX and Love is the Message and the Message is Death, Conceição Evaristo's Ponciá Vicêncio, Lars von Trier's Manderlay, Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, Derek Walcott's "Laventille"; and, selections from Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, David Marriott, Kathleen Pogue White, Franz Fanon, Hortense Spillers, Nathan Gorelick, Jaqueline Rose, Jared Sexton, Melanie Klein, Jacques-Alain Miller, Melanie Suchet, and Jean Laplanche. Note: This course will reflect the Continental tradition in philosophy. Student should be familiar with the basic interventions of psychoanalysis. [ more ]

ENGL 321 SEM Samuel Johnson and the Literary Tradition

Last offered Spring 2024

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) has been exceptionally influential not only because he was a distinguished writer of poems, essays, criticism, and biographies, but also because he was the first true historian of English literature, the first who sought to define its "tradition." We will read Johnson's own works and James Boswell's Life of Johnson to discover Johnson's talents, tastes, and standards as an artist, as a moral and literary critic, and as a man. We next will use Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare and Lives of the Poets to examine how this great intelligence assessed writers from the Renaissance through the eighteenth century. While reading his commentary on Shakespeare and his critical biographies of Milton, Dryden, Pope, and Gray, we will analyze selected works by these writers so as to evaluate Johnson's views and sharpen our understanding of the relationship between his standards and values, and the ones we hold today--both individually and collectively. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 322 SEM Borges, Nabokov, Beckett

Last offered Spring 2022

Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, and Samuel Beckett were the three most influential writers in western fiction during the 1960s and 1970s; they helped to turn literary history from modernism to post-modernism. What they share is extreme self-consciousness of two kinds: the self is a labyrinth; the text is a labyrinth. Though born around the turn of the twentieth century, each came to international prominence only after the catastrophe of World War II. Unable to follow their modernist teachers in conceiving of art as the last best hope for the redemption of history, Borges, Nabokov, and Beckett each offered a unique, complex, and witty intelligence as compensation. [ more ]

ENGL 323 TUT A Novel Education

Last offered Spring 2021

All novels are conscious of their readers; eighteenth-century novels are obsessed with them. In the century when the genre first flourished, readers are the ultimate objects of novelists' plots. We are addressed, teased, pleaded with, embarrassed, flattered, made fun of, praised, chided, solicited, warned, reminded, rebuked, asked for sympathy, and--always--closely watched. Eighteenth-century novelists--and their narrators--aggressively educate their readers, not only teaching us how to interpret the novel itself, but also demanding that we self-consciously question the powers of mind and habits of heart we bring to the process of interpreting a book, ourselves, and our world. In this tutorial course, we will explore the narrative and rhetorical strategies two of the century's greatest novelists use in creating, shaping, and finally educating their readers. We will focus principally on Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749) and Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1760-67)--long, brilliantly intricate novels that go about their work in very different ways, but that are equally committed to the project of giving their readers a novel education. We will consider--much more briefly--Fielding's Joseph Andrews and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. We will also read criticism by such "reader response" theorists as Stanley Fish and Wolfgang Iser, and--in the individualized setting of a tutorial--students will be asked to develop and articulate their own theories of reading by examining critically the ways in which texts affect and educate them. Emphasis will be placed on developing skills not only in reading and interpretation, but also in constructing critical arguments and responding to them in written and oral critiques. [ more ]

ENGL 324 SEM Romanticism, Belatedly

Last offered Fall 2023

What is Romanticism? Instead of searching for an answer at the movement's supposed point of origin (1790-1830, in Germany, England, and France), we will begin in early twentieth-century South Asia. In the nineteenth century, English Romantic poetry and, to a lesser extent, ethico-political and aesthetic ideas associated with German Idealism circulated in South Asia as part of a colonial education aimed at producing "a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect" (Macaulay). The intentions of this plan of education aside, it unwittingly opened channels for literary, philosophical, and political exchange that were harmful to colonial rule, and essential to how we understand worlds of literature today. Behind the backs of its homegrown, self-anointed inheritors, Romanticism in the "colonies" led multiple other lives and was transformed in encounters that must--belatedly--be read back into its originary texts. Hence, in counter-chronological fashion, in this class we will begin with important postcolonial works by Faiz Ahmad Faiz (Urdu), Suryakant Tripathi Nirala (Hindi), Mahadevi Verma (Hindi), Sarojini Naidu (English), Mohammad Iqbal (Urdu and Persian), and Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali), to move on to Karl Marx and Heinrichs Heine (German), Charles Baudelaire (French), and George Eliot (English), to end with John Keats (English), William Wordsworth (English), and G.W.F. Hegel (German). In considering these texts with an eye to poetics and interpretation, we will pay close attention to concepts that they bring to the fore, key among them "belatedness" (Nachträglichkeit), "allegory", "critique," "non-identity." We will read non-English language texts in translation, though we will have occasion to discuss originals. [ more ]

ENGL 325 SEM Joyce, Woolf, and Proust

Last offered Spring 2023

This seminar focuses on novels by three of the most important writers of modernist fiction: Marcel Proust (Swann's Way, the first novel of his sequence In Search of Lost Time); Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse); and James Joyce (Ulysses, read in slightly abridged form). By juxtaposing these pathbreaking texts, we will examine the distinctive yet related ways in which they explore crucial preoccupations of modernism: the threat and the exhilaration of cultural loss in face of social and political transformations in the early twentieth century; the turn to memory, to art, and to objects as stays against de-stabilized subjectivity and as means of re-thinking value; the emergence of new forms of political and sexual identity; the heightening of consciousness to the verge of transport or disintegration; and the roots and perversities of desire. Students who have studied Ulysses in a previous course are welcome. [ more ]

ENGL 326 SEM Race and Abstraction

Last offered Spring 2015

Minority artists--writers and visual artists mainly and, to a lesser degree, musicians--face a difficult "double bind" when creating works of art: the expectation is that they, like their racially marked bodies, will exhibit their difference by means of concrete signifiers (details, tropes, narratives, themes) of racial difference. Thus, the work is judged primarily in terms of its embodied sociological content (material, empirical) and not by "abstract" standards of aesthetic subtlety, philosophical sophistication, and so on. At the same time, in the popular and academic imaginary, minority subjects and artists poets occupy a single abstract signifying category--homogeneous, undifferentiated, "other," marginalized, non-universal--while racially "unmarked" (white) artists occupy the position of being universal and individual at once. The irony, of course, is that, say, an African American poet's being read as an abstract signifier does not mean that the black subject or writer is seen as capable of engaging in abstract ideas. This course will ask questions about the problem of race and abstraction by looking at the work of various African American and Asian American writers, visual artists and musicians--including Will Alexander, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, David Hammons, Yayoi Kusama, Tan Lin, Nathaniel Mackey, and Cecil Taylor--as well as critics. We will pay particular attention to formally experimental works. This course will ask questions about the problem of race and abstraction by looking at the work of various African American and Asian American writers, visual artists and musicians--including Will Alexander, John Keene, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Yau, Cecil Taylor, David Hammons, and Yoko Ono--as well as critics. We will pay particular attention to formally experimental works. [ more ]

ENGL 327 SEM Autofiction

Last offered Fall 2023

At a minimum, autofiction refers to contemporary fiction with writer-protagonists who plausibly resemble their author and who often share a name with him or her. When did it begin? Perhaps In Search of Lost Time and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are modernist precursors, but the category comes into its own in the twenty-first century, when writers who know that reality is a fiction nevertheless crave truth, and authors who know that selves are constructs need to express themselves. Or perhaps they know that if the world and self are already fictions, why disguise it by traditional plotting and characterizing? The critical world isn't sure yet what to make of this widespread confounding of novel and memoir, so the course will be exploratory. We'll read about seven books of the quasi-genre, chosen from early prototypes by Marguerite Duras and Peter Weiss, canonized exemplars by Ben Lerner and Dave Eggers, and recent experiments by Sheila Heti, Tao Lin, Jenny Offill, Nell Zink, Will Self, Rachel Cusk, and Ron Currie. [ more ]

ENGL 328 SEM Austen and Eliot

Last offered Spring 2024

Austen and Eliot profoundly influenced the course of the novel by making internal consciousness crucial to narrative form. In this course we will explore Austen's innovative aesthetic strategies and the ways in which Eliot assimilated and transformed them. By placing each writer's work in its political and philosophical context-in Austen's case, reactions to the aftermath of the French Revolution, in Eliot's, to the failed mid-century European revolutions and the pressures of British imperialism-we will consider how each writer conceives social and historical exigencies to shape comedies and dramas of consciousness. Readings will include Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion; Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, The Lifted Veil; and Daniel Deronda; selected letters and prose; and critical essays. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 329(F) SEM Writing Gender in Sci-Fi and Speculative Fictions

This creative writing course will pair selected readings in feminist STS and queer theory with science fiction, speculative fiction, and horror stories that together put questions to gender. How and when is sci-fi a home for radical re-imaginings of gender? When and why does "genre fiction" house (and facilitate) radical gender politics--or their opposite? Readings may include works by Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, Brian Evanson, and Samuel Delany. Students will both analyze these fictions and take them as inspirations for their own stories and worlds. [ more ]

ENGL 330 SEM Renaissance Literature in Global Perspective

Last offered Spring 2019

The Renaissance is usually seen as a decidedly Western "rebirth": the moment in which the emerging nations of modern Europe define themselves by both their connection to and their distance from the classical heritage of Greece and Rome. What might it mean, then, to understand the Renaissance also as shaped by a global network of interactions among Western and non-Western societies, economies, and cultures? In this course our focus will be on literature in the broadest sense, including lyric poetry, epic, and drama, but also travel reports, royal memoirs, and philosophical histories as means of imagining the shape of the world, familiar and unfamiliar. We'll begin by considering Europe's eccentric place within the larger Afro-Eurasian cultural system of the late Middle Ages, and how what we call the Renaissance emerges from a sense of linkage to as well as separation from the traditions of the Islamic world and beyond. We'll then examine the intense and troubling interrelation between Renaissance writing's intellectual dynamism and the often catastrophic effects of Europeans' encounter with what was for them a New World in the Americas. Finally, we'll think about whether or not it makes sense to see the European Renaissance as one facet of a broader global process, similar to concurrent movements of cultural expansion and hybridization such as in Mughal India. Authors to be studied may include Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Ibn Khaldun, Thomas More, Babur, Mira Bai, Marguerite de Navarre, the Inca Garcilaso, Marlowe, and Camoes. (All readings in English.) [ more ]

ENGL 331 SEM Fanaticism

Last offered Fall 2023

From the early modern period on, writers of literature and political philosophy have repudiated fanaticism, whether as a religious, political, or amorous posture. But what is fanaticism, and why should it be considered such a threat? In this course, we will examine these questions by considering literary texts that dramatize fanaticism in light of accounts by philosophers and historians. Readings will draw on literary works by Spenser, Swift, M. Shelley, Hogg, Dickens, Eliot, Conrad, among others, and political philosophy and historical writings by Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Kant, Diderot, Burke, Hume, Carlyle, Adorno, and a range of recent critics. We will also watch films by Riefenstahl, Hitchcock and Pontecorvo, and look at paintings, drawings and sculpture by Fragonard, Goya, and Shibonare. Since fanaticism has recently had considerable political currency, we will also examine contemporary accounts that reanimate the debates and concerns of the course. [ more ]

ENGL 332 SEM Aesthetic Outrage

Last offered Spring 2024

In this course we will explore interdisciplinary ways of understanding and theorizing the outraged reception of provocative works of film, theater, and fiction. When riots, censorship, trials, and vilification greet such works in moments of political and social upheaval, the public outrage is often strangely out of proportion to either the work's aesthetic nature or its overt commentary on the political crisis. Something powerfully symptomatic is at work, then: a set of threatened investments, unacknowledged values, and repressed ideas which surface explosively, but indirectly, in the aesthetic outrage. In an attempt to understand the strange logic of public outrage against works of art, we will explore the respective works' historical contexts, and use theoretical models--aesthetic, political, psychological, social--as a means of illuminating the dynamics of outrage and exposing understated linkages between a work's figurative logic and the political passions of its historical moment. We will study instances of outrage in the context of the French Revolution (Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro), the wave of anarchist terrorism in turn-of-the-century Paris (Jarry's Ubu the King), the trials of Oscar Wilde for "gross indecency" (The Picture of Dorian Gray), the Irish Revolution (Synge's The Playboy of the Western World and O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars), and Stalinist collectivization (Eisenstein's suppressed film Bezhin Meadow). Non-literary reading will include historiographic work on these crises, as well as essays and excerpts by theorists from various disciplines, such as Kristeva, Foucault, Freud, Girard, Arendt, Sedgwick, Bakhtin, Douglas, and Rancière. [ more ]

ENGL 333(F) SEM Feminist and Queer Horror Films

This course focuses on pairing theoretical readings with a variety of horror films with feminist or queer themes. Many tropes are associated with this genre - "the final girl" in slasher movies, "the transvestite murderer," femme lesbian vampires, supernatural BDSM figures, vampires as allegories for HIV/AIDS, werewolves as metaphors for FTM gender transitions or puberty, lonely mothers in creaky houses as unreliable narrators, Satanic spawn, and creepy long-haired girls. Some films reinforce gender stereotypes while others snap on more explicitly feminist and queer lenses. This course functions as a survey of many different genres, introducing students to classic 1970s films and working up to the present day and we will learn how these tropes developed and then were subverted by more modern day films such as those by A24 Studies and the new renaissance of Black horror, etc. Most films will focus on the US, with some notable exceptions in Japan, Spain, and elsewhere globally. There will be graphic content. You must be 18 or over to take this class. [ more ]

ENGL 334 SEM James Baldwin and His Interlocutors

Last offered Fall 2021

This seminar explores the life and writing of James Baldwin. Through an examination of both his fiction and nonfiction, we chart his interrogation and development of ideas surrounding, among other topics, race, courage, love, nation, revolution, and belonging. We also trace his impact on our national consciousness by engaging with authors whose own bodies of work intersect with his. This list includes, among others, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Lorraine Hansberry, Barry Jenkins, Audre Lorde, Norman Mailer, Richard Wright, and Malcolm X. [ more ]

ENGL 335(S) TUT Moving Words, Wording Dance

How can we capture the "liveness" of dance and performance through writing? How can the spoken and written word promote a deeper understanding of felt emotions expressed through embodied practice? In this tutorial, we will explore different modes of writing about performance such as ethnography, non-/fiction, and performative writing. While there will be skill-based goals and a set outline for the tutorial, core texts that will anchor the conversations and paired writing assignments will be selected according to the interests of enrolled students. Texts will be complemented with visual materials and/or virtual conversation with artist-scholars to encourage a multilayered experience with writing about performance. The course is reading and writing intensive, and oriented towards juniors, seniors, and those with deep interest in analytical and creative writing. Students will (i) read several monographs during the semester, (ii) produce creative and critical writing (at least 5-6 pages every two weeks and a longer final essay) (iii) be committed to the peer review and revision process of their own work and that of their writing partners, and (iv) participate in discussions about course materials and reflections about their writing process. [ more ]

ENGL 336 SEM Escape, Escapism, Escapology, and the Contemporary American Novel

Last offered Fall 2019

One prestigious set of contemporary American novels seems to confuse escape (evasion of real danger, such as Nazism or slavery), escapology (evasion of invented dangers, e.g. Houdini's art), and escapism (failure to confront real dangers). Some of these books have hyperbolic titles (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), as if to suggest escapist or escapological fantasies about political or existential dangers that require real escaping. What's going on? We'll discuss the conceptual difficulties of escaping in a globalized world; and in particular, we'll discuss the resistance of contemporary American novelists to contemporary forms of messianism (or a place of return) and utopianism (or a place of departure). Besides the hyperbolically named texts, we will probably read Emma Donoghue's Room and Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Film paradigms will probably include The Sound of Music and Life is Beautiful. [ more ]

ENGL 337 SEM The Social Life of Renaissance Poetry

Last offered Spring 2017

What is the relationship between interior life and the public sphere? Many of the accomplishments of Renaissance poetry are inward-facing: psychological intensity, religious devotion, eroticism, the discovery of nature as a space of retreat. This writing was not produced by solitary geniuses, however, but rather by men and women whose texts were embedded in social networks. We will consider social spaces of poetic production, including court, country house, city, and coterie, as well as transnational spaces created by literary influence, cultural exchange, and travel. Authorship, style, commerce, patronage, privacy, sexuality, marriage, censorship, and the history of the book will be our conceptual preoccupations. Poets will include Petrarch, Wyatt, Elizabeth I, Sidney, Spenser, Donne, Shakespeare, Jonson, Marvell, and Milton. [ more ]

ENGL 338(S) SEM Literature of the American Renaissance

The term "American Renaissance" refers to a period of US writing, primarily a couple of decades before the Civil War but extending after it: the time of Poe, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Dickinson, Whitman, Jacobs, and Douglass. At stake throughout was the soul of the nation in a time of exuberant political expansion, spiritual optimism, social experimentation, deadening social conventionality, spiritual constriction, labor exploitation, and slavery. The question repeatedly asked was what it means to be free. The question is personal, political, social, and spiritual, and always, for writers, literary: what are the limits or possibilities of writing freely? The course is foundational for any understanding of American literature of the 20th- and 21st centuries. [ more ]

ENGL 339 SEM William Faulkner

Last offered Fall 2021

William Faulkner was an experimental modernist; he was also deeply mired in the whole history of racism in the South and in the U.S. generally. What is the relation of these two facts? What is revealed, and what is hidden, in the brilliant obscurity of his prose? Faulkner seems to have known, consciously or unconsciously, as much as any white person in the twentieth century about race; for that reason, his African American contemporaries and ours have often sought him out in particular for a dialogue on the topic. Thus, we'll read Jesmyn Ward's "Sing Unburied, Sing" alongside Faulkner's five great novels from 1929-1940. [ more ]

ENGL 34 The Name is Bond, James Bond: Ian Fleming's Creation, Entertainment, and the Legacies of Empires

Last offered NA

In course, we will learn about the fun, as well as the unexpected moments of gravity, in the practice of film blogging about one of the globe's most enduring popular products. Brimming with unabashed expressions of misogyny, racism and a nostalgia for colonialist empire, much of the cinematic and literary world of Ian Fleming's James Bond continues to resist rehabilitation. Without minimizing the unsavory aspects of Bond, we will examine the shifts of emphasis in Fleming's fiction, from the Cold War narratives of Soviet Russia as Bond's enemy to the presciently anti-neoliberal novels about the capitalist conglomerate of SPECTRE as his ultimate adversary. How is SPECTRE portrayed in the novels and the films, and to what extent do the movie adaptations attempt to correct the ideologically problematic aspects of the novels, which even Fleming himself acknowledged? What is the significance of Fleming's training and service in British naval intelligence during the second World War, and how did his peripheral involvement in the project of decoding of the Nazi 'Enigma' code serve as the inspiration for his fiction? Why do fascist politics invariably lurk behind the masks of all the Bond villains, even those who are Communists or ideologues of the free market? By immersing ourselves in the practice of informal blogging outside of the compositional strictures of mainstream film criticism, we will pay particularly close attention to the shifting representations of gender and Englishness in the Bond novels and films, as well as the therapeutic value of imagining a sophisticated evil that may ultimately be defeated. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 340 SEM Elizabeth Bishop in the Americas

Last offered Spring 2020

Elizabeth Bishop has emerged as one of the most important poets of the 20th century. She is admired not only for her dazzling mastery of the craft but also her adventurous life as a world traveler. Her more than two decades living in Brazil and translating the culture and literature of that country for a North American audience, for instance, make her life and work a rich focal point for cross-cultural study. At the center of the course will be Bishop's stunning meditations on childhood, memory, travel, lesbian sexuality, gender identity, ecology, and race and class in the U.S. and Brazil. We will look at how Bishop intertwines personal and global historical encounters in order to raise serious ethical questions about our shared history of conquest and sense of place in the Americas from the 16th century to the Cold War period of the twentieth. What is ultimately at stake in our claiming of a "home"? We also read a number of the writers in North and South America who were closely connected to Bishop, from Robert Lowell and Ernest Hemingway in North America, to Pablo Neruda and Clarice Lispector in South America. Ultimately, we study how craft, poetic process, and an ethical eye on the world can open up the study of poetry and poetics in the 21st century. [ more ]

ENGL 341 SEM Sexuality in US Modernisms

Last offered Spring 2024

This course investigates how sexual identities, desires, and acts are represented and reproduced in U.S. literary and popular culture. Focusing on 1880-1940 (when, in the U.S. the terms "homosexual" and "heterosexual" came to connote discrete sexual identities), we will explore what it means to read and theorize "queerly." Among the questions we will ask are: What counts as "sex" or "sexual identity" in a text? Are there definably queer and/or transgender writing styles or cultural practices? What does sexuality have to do with gender? How are sexual subjectivities intertwined with race, ethnicity, class, and other identities and identifications? Why has "queerness" proven to be such a powerful and sometimes powerfully contested concept? We will also explore what impact particular literary developments--the move from realism to modernism-- and historical events such as the rise of sexology, first-wave feminism and the Harlem Renaissance--have had on queer cultural production. The class will also introduce students to some of the most influential examples of queer literary and cultural theory. Readings may include works by authors such as James, Cather, Far, Hughes, Nugent, Stein, Fitzgerald, and Larsen, as well as queer literary theory and critique by scholars such as Butler, Coviello, Ferguson, Foucault, Freeman, Freud, Hartman, Lorde, Love, Muñoz, Rich, Rodriguez, Ross, and Sedgwick. [ more ]

ENGL 342 SEM Advanced Topics in Cultural Theory

Last offered Spring 2023

Many people these days have views about the politics of pop culture. Audiences show up at superhero movies already asking questions about how Marvel has opted to represent this or that group. Fans don't need to be told that hip-hop in the US involves questions of power. So what are the questions we ask next? Can we get more precise about the role of politics in culture? Or about the role of culture in politics? Is there, for instance, a right way to represent injustices? And how exactly could culture and the media be made more democratic? Can the arts help us imagine better ways of organizing our societies? Does all political struggle have to involve the media? And what is the fate of art in societies in which everything is for sale? Readings will include Antonio Gramsci, Raymond Williams, Fredric Jameson, Theodor Adorno, Ernst Bloch, and others. [ more ]

ENGL 343 TUT Whitman and Dickinson in Context

Last offered Spring 2024

In this tutorial, we will read closely the works of two of the most influential and experimental poets in the nineteenth-century U.S., Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. In addition to studying in depth their poems and other writings--in Whitman's case, his essays, in Dickinson's, her letters--we will delve into some of the major critical debates surrounding their work, both individually and when compared to one another. For example, Whitman is often viewed as perhaps the most public nineteenth-century American poet, whereas Dickinson is regarded as perhaps the most "private." We will interrogate this assumption, exploring how each poet represents publicity and privacy in their work, as well as their efforts to "perform" and/or reform an American self. We will also examine how each poet engages questions of gender and sexuality, as well as contemporary debates surrounding such issues as abolition, slavery, women's suffrage, temperance, and settler colonialism. We will consider what role their whiteness plays in their poetry and personas. Finally, we will explore Whitman and Dickinson's relation to significant literary and philosophical movements of the period, including transcendentalism and the culture of sentiment. Throughout the course, emphasis will be on analyzing and generating interpretations of Whitman and Dickinson's works, constructing critical arguments in dialogue with other critics, formulating cogent written critiques, and carrying on an oral debate about a variety of interpretations. Students will meet with the instructor in pairs for an hour each week. They will alternate between writing 5- to 7-page papers and commentaries on their partner's papers. [ more ]

ENGL 344 SEM Aestheticism & Decadence

Last offered Spring 2018

"Fin de Siècle": Despair over a seemingly perilous decline in moral standards, scandalous forms of art and writing, anxieties brought on by Britain's uneasy relation to its colonies, and the emergence of new dissident sexual and social identities, led some to fear (and others to celebrate) that the ways of Victorian Britain were not long for this world at end of the 19th century. This course will consider two loosely affiliated artistic movements, aestheticism and decadence, as responses both scandalized and scandalizing to this exhilarating period. The terms themselves are elusive; so, much of our work will entail tracing out the multiple and often contradictory uses of them. Do they designate a distinct cultural and historical moment, a loose set of writers and artists, a set of thematic preoccupations? Or, might we better understand aestheticism and decadence as a style of writing, or even of the self--one we are as likely to find in 21st-century New York as 19th-century London? We'll read writers such as Oscar Wilde, who reveled in amoral manifestos like "art for art's sake" by elevating artifice and shallowness to first principles of life; as well as Sherlock Holmes, who pursued something like "detection for detection's sake". Our reading will range across novels, plays, poetry, essays, and works that seem to exceed or fall short of those genres, all in the period that gave us both science fiction and the detective story. We'll be especially interested in attempts to rethink traditional social bonds in works that value solitude over sociality, the transient encounter over the enduring relationship, new forms of affective communities, and to think about how literary form might relate to those efforts. Along with fiction, essays, and drama, we'll explore their interrelation with the broad and compelling range of visual art produced in this period. Likely authors include: Huysmans, Wilde, H.G. Wells, Darwin, Conan Doyle, RL Stevenson, Kipling, Edith Wharton. [ more ]

ENGL 345(F) SEM Shakespeare on Page, Stage and Screen: Text to Performance

Four centuries on, Shakespeare still challenges us. How should we weigh the respective claims of our own era's concerns--with matters of gender, sexuality, race, class, or materiality, for instance--against historicist attention to the cultural, political and theatrical circumstances in which his plays were actually written? And when it comes to realizing the texts in dramatic performance, such challenges--and opportunities--multiply further. Critical fidelity to Shakespeare's times, language and theatrical milieu prioritizes a historical authenticity that can be constraining or even sterilizing. At the other extreme, staging the plays with the primary aim of making them "speak to our times" risks revisionary absorption in our own interests. We will read six plays, of different genres and written at different periods of Shakespeare's career. These will likely be Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Close reading of the texts will be the priority, but we will also attend to the demands and opportunities of performance, and assess a range of recent film and stage productions. [ more ]

ENGL 346(S) SEM Literary History: Shakespeare, Dickinson, Celan, Knausgaard

This course will consider literature as a distinctive kind of historical object, one that emerges within a specific linguistic, cultural, and political context and that, nevertheless, travels far beyond its point of origin into unknown and, indeed, unknowable futures. The four figures who will concern us this semester are interested in one another - the later writers are careful readers of the earlier ones - but our thinking will go beyond reception history and the dynamics of literary influence. Instead, we will focus on the way in which literature's own temporality structures its history and, indeed, the way in which history itself might be conceived in literary terms. We will read a lot of lyric poems, but we will end the semester with perhaps the most important contemporary European novel. We will also read a significant body of theory and criticism, including works by Theodor Adorno, Giorgio Agamben, Maurice Blanchot, Martin Buber, Sharon Cameron, Anne Carson, Jonathan Culler, Joel Fineman, Virginia Jackson, Boris Maslov, and Sianne Ngai. [ more ]

ENGL 347 SEM Love and Revolution

Last offered Fall 2021

"Love" is here a kind of shorthand for questions of sexuality and gender: why do novels, plays, and films about contemporaneous political revolutions so often get caught up in seemingly superfluous and unrelated disturbances in the field of sexuality and gender relations? In this course we will study such works, which are especially responsive to social currents whose logic they cannot fully articulate. In these texts a state of political revolution almost irresistibly touches off sexual subversiveness as well, inviting the reader or spectator to interpret just what sexual upheaval has to do with political revolution. We will take up this problem in the setting of several historical revolutions and some literary and cinematic works that represent them: for example, the French Revolution (Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro and the Marquis de Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom); the Irish Revolution (plays by Synge, O'Casey, and Yeats); the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 (Bely's Petersburg, Babel's Red Cavalry); the revolution constituted by Nazism (Hitler's Mein Kampf, the films Triumph of the Will and The Damned); the Prague Spring (Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being); and the Algerian Revolution (Pontecorvo's film The Battle of Algiers). We will confront such questions as why an author might suggest that revolution can only be sustained through incest and libertinism; why passionate nationalist revolutionaries should be scandalized by the idea of oedipal violence and take refuge in myths of female purity; how to interpret revolution and gender relations in the context of disparate cultures. We will examine historical and social texts as well as artistic ones, learning how literature and history might be read together and inversely: that is, learning to read literature or film as a kind of political event, and to read history literarily, with an eye to its rhetoric and figuration. [ more ]

ENGL 349 SEM Contemporary American Theatre: Poetry, Politics, Place

Last offered Spring 2024

As Gertrude Stein once remarked, "The hardest thing is to know one's present moment." What is going on in U.S. theatre today? Who are the dramatists and theatre makers of the present moment? This survey course will introduce students to twenty-first century American drama and performance, focusing on the poetic, political, and environmental aspects of the art form. Topics to be considered may include: theatre as social practice, the rise of artivism, participatory, site-specific, and immersive theatre, social justice theatre, supernaturalism, changing labor practices in the industry, and the turn to digital performance. Artists and companies to be considered may include: Suzan Lori-Parks, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Anne Washburn, Taylor Mac, Hansol Jung, Clare Barron, Jeremy O. Harris, Lucas Hnath, Lauren Yee, Larissa FastHorse, Jihae Park, The Civilians, Elevator Repair Service, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Eboni Booth, Sanaz Toossi, Alexis Scheer, and Jacklyn Backhaus. Assignments will include both critical and creative responses to the material addressed in the class. Whenever possible, we will attend live performances on campus and in the regional community. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 35 Alternative Literatures

Last offered NA

Publishing is a mature industry dominated by a few incumbent forms, perhaps the most enduring of which is the book. This codification affords powerful reach and dazzling variations on theme, but, as with all dominant forms, demands conformity, which excludes divergent experiences and modes of expression. Traditionally, the gaps left by mainstream publishing have been filled by experimental texts printed in shorter runs within smaller, alternative communities, many of which constitute forms and traditions in and of themselves. Zines, chapbooks, pamphlets, broadsides, and more will be xeroxed, risographed, and printed-on-demand by and for immigrants, punks, the disabled, political dissidents, and other outsiders. In this explosion of multiplicity, we see text paired with image, innovations in layout and book binding, and radical expressions of the book as a site of casual play, among other surprises. Alternatives Literatures will survey the many forms a literary text might take, giving students a conceptual and practical basis for the creation and publication of their own alternative literatures, which will be exhibited and circulated as a capstone to the course. This structure, commonly known as a craft course, mixes two primary modalities, the literature seminar and the creative writing workshop, but will also borrow elements from the art studio and lecture. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 350 SEM Modern Poetry

Last offered Spring 2021

A study of British and American poetry between 1890 and 1945, centering on the radical aesthetic, formal and political shifts which took place during the Modernist era. We will consider the changing authorial and public perceptions of the place and function of poetry during the period, the cross-pollinations and strains between the British and American literary traditions, and the writers' individual relationships with the culture of their times. Readings will focus primarily on the poetry of W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens and W.H. Auden. [ more ]

ENGL 351 SEM After Nature: Writing About Science and The Environment

Last offered Spring 2018

Over the last few decades, the nature of nature has changed and so, by necessity, has nature writing. In this course we will read some of the classic works of nature writing as well as essays and articles by contemporary authors. The emphasis will be on producing our own work. The class will include workshop sessions and group discussions. There will be frequent short exercises and a long final project. [ more ]

ENGL 352(F) SEM Separation: An Introduction to Postcolonial Literature

Few themes in the history of human societies have produced as much writing as that of separation--from a lover, from one's homeland, from God(s). In the past two centuries, this theme has been essential to representing experiences of exile and migration in the wake of the colonially mediated transition to world capitalism. In this course, we will take up the theme of separation as a privileged point of entry into postcolonial literature and towards understanding the multiple meanings of "postcoloniality." We will encounter examples in which this theme shapes critical thought and helps imagine new modes of existence, as well as those in which the grief of separation shades into such overpowering melancholy that writing becomes impossible. We will also look at what the preoccupation with separation can tell us about the ways human beings relate to human and non-human objects, and how they make and experience history. To think through these issues, we will read nineteenth and twentieth century works dealing with experiences of love, ecstasy, migrancy, and exile, composed in diverse geographical, socio-political, and linguistic contexts. We will read works (novels, poems, memoirs, essays) and watch films from South Asia, Egypt, the Caribbeans, the US, and Europe, composed in multiple languages (English, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, French, Arabic, Bengali and Malyalam). [ more ]

ENGL 353(S) TUT Disinterest in the Bhagavad Gita

In this course, students will read the Bhagavad Gita alongside selected responses to it. These responses range from philosophical and theological commentaries written in Sanskrit by Shankaracharya, Abhinavagupta, and Ramanuja, to later "Bhakti" poetic responses in other Indian languages, to 18th and 19th century European aesthetic and political commentary (Herder, Schlegel, Hegel), to the work of 20th century commentators like M.K. Gandhi, B.G. Tilak, B.R. Ambedkar and D.D. Kosambi. We will examine the Gita's theory of action and the place of disinterest in this theory. We will inquire into the social, metaphysical, and political conditions of possibility of such disinterestedness, and think about disinterestedness itself as a condition for political action and aesthetic experience. Finally, we will reflect on how such a comparative history of interpretation might help us model a dialectical history of thought. [ more ]

ENGL 354 SEM Contemporary American Fiction

Last offered Fall 2020

This course centers on American fiction from a late phase of postmodernism: we take for granted that history is a form of literature, and that race, gender, and self are constructions. Now what? The premise of the authors of this course is that we can return from these assumptions to write about history, race, gender, and the self in self-conscious but not debilitatingly self-conscious ways. Novels likely to be in the course that move from self or autobiography outwards: Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Ben Lerner, 10:04; Emma Donoghue, Room. Novels likely to be included that work from history inward: Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad; George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo. A novel likely to be included that is poised between self and history: Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing. [ more ]

ENGL 355(S) SEM Attention and Distraction

Reverie, absorption, immersion, daydreaming: this class will be about the history, cultural forms, and affects of attention and distraction. We'll occupy ourselves with a range of literary and visual works to get at the varied histories and states of attention from the past two centuries. The nineteenth century will be the locus of our investigations, and the realist novel--whose attention to the unnoticed and ordinary is one of its distinctive features, and whose size can lend itself as much to skimming as to intensive reading--will be of particular interest to us. But we'll also read around in detective fiction, poetry, experimental novels about what happens when nothing happens, art history, Erving Goffman's sociology of everyday life, and theoretical works on perception, attention, and reading. Oscillating between the nineteenth century's anxieties about attention and distraction and more contemporary texts, we will take the measure of the long arc of what Jonathan Crary calls a state of 24/7 attentiveness, an "unremitting glare of monotonous stimulation." Among our questions: Why does being deeply absorbed in an artwork or activity often feel a lot like zoning out, a drift into a state of distraction? Do artworks encourage, or discourage, certain forms of attention? What conditions--cultural, political, philosophical--made attention into a subject of concern over the past 200 years? Do certain literary forms encourage, or discourage, particular forms of attentiveness? Alongside our reading, we'll engage in a variety of attentional exercises, and keep an attention journal to register and reflect on our own states of distraction, absorption, reverie, drift, etc. [ more ]

ENGL 356(S) SEM Comic Lives: Graphic Novels & Dangerous Histories of the African Diaspora

This course explores how the graphic novel has been an effective, provocative and at times controversial medium for representing racialized histories. Drawing on graphic novels such as the late Congressman John Lewis' March and Ebony Flowers' Hot Comb, this course illustrates and critiques multiple ways the graphic novel commingles word and image to create more sensorial access into ethnic traumas, challenges and interventions in critical moments of resistance throughout history. Students will practice analyzing graphic novels with the help of critical essays, reviews and film; the chosen texts will center on Africana cultures, prompting students to consider how the graphic novel may act as a useful alternate history for marginalized peoples. During the course, students will build comic creation and analysis skills through short exercises, eventually building up to the final project of a graphic short story that illustrates historical and/or autobiographical narratives. No art experience is required, only an openness to expanding one's visual awareness and composition skills. This course is often taught in collaboration with the Williams College Museum of Art's Object Lab program, which allows the class to have its own space and art objects that are directly related to the course topic. This class may feature Object Lab participation, film screenings, and collaborations with guest speakers. [ more ]

ENGL 357 SEM Film and Philosophy: Cavell and Hollywood Cinema

Last offered Spring 2023

A central figure in the movement known as ordinary language philosophy who wrote compelling studies of Wittgenstein, Emerson, Thoreau, and Heidegger, Stanley Cavell was also passionately devoted to Hollywood cinema. Although the highly popular films of Hollywood's "Golden Age" in the '30s and '40s have often been dismissed as light entertainment, Cavell took such films very seriously. Following his early major study of the aesthetics of cinema (The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film), he transformed the critical understanding of two central Hollywood genres that had previously been regarded as slight and commercial, in Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage and Contesting Tears: The Melodrama of the Unknown Woman. For Cavell, the seeming frivolity or pathos of such films energizes the subtle engagement of philosophical and political ideas that he traces in them. Cavell's culminating work on cinema, Cities of Words, explores ideas of moral perfectionism in essays on prominent philosophers and literary artists, paired with analyses of Hollywood films that for him pursue the same issues. His essays explore these films' meditations on the nature of happiness, the instability of identity and difficulty of self-knowledge, the surprising forms fidelity may take, the genuineness of false appearance, the explosiveness of desire in a world of compromise, and the claims and possibilities of moral growth. Yet his analyses never lose sight of the immediate pleasurability of such films as a popular art-form, and his acute eye allows him to single out and make use of their striking cinematic qualities. In few other thinkers is the disarming appeal of popular art brought together with the resonances of philosophical and literary thought so productively. Readings will be drawn from the four books named above, and will be analyzed together with films such as The Lady Eve, The Philadelphia Story, Gaslight, Adam's Rib, Stella Dallas, It Happened One Night, Letter from an Unknown Woman, and The Awful Truth. [ more ]

ENGL 358 SEM The Myth of Venice and its Modern Aftermath

Last offered Spring 2018

The Republic of Venice existed for over a millennium, during which time its historical image came to be enmeshed with mythical representations, such as the image of the city rising out of the waters of the lagoon, or the personification of the city itself as a Queen of the Adriatic. This course begins in the year 1797, at the end of the Republic, and the emergence of an extensive body of literature centered on Venice and its mythical facets. Readings will include Romantic views of Venice and the 20th century reshaping of the literary myth surrounding the city. A journey into this fascinating tradition will shed light on how the literary and visual representation of Venice, rather than the focus on a nostalgic evocation of the death of the Republic, became a premise of exploration for literary modernity. Toward the end of the course we will leave the lagoon to explore the postmodern recreations of Venice around the world (from Los Angeles and Las Vegas, to Macao, Yongin, and beyond) Readings will include excerpts from Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, John Ruskin's Stones of Venice, as well as full readings of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, Marinetti's Futurist manifestos, Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, and more. We will also examine movies, such as Luchino Visconti's Senso and Death in Venice and Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now. This course is offered in English; all texts are provided in translation. [ more ]

ENGL 359 SEM Irregular Unions in James and Ford

Last offered Fall 2023

Henry James and Ford Madox Ford helped to inspire the crucial shift in British fiction from late 19th-century classic realism to the pathbreaking modernism of the 1920s. Their formal experiments were driven in striking ways by their response to recent dissident trends in attitudes toward sexuality, gender, and marriage, and their consequent engagement with so-called "irregular unions," sexual relationships forged out of wedlock in the face of societal repression and in the name of more liberated ideas of sexual morality. For James and Ford, such revolutions in the social sphere prompted renewed scrutiny of conceptions of moral fidelity and integrity, new ways of capturing subjectivity and its limitations, and a radical probing of what it means to know. Their work reflects the transition from the norms of Victorianism to a disorienting modern world marked by newly permissive social behavior, class mobility and conflict, emergent technological and commercial forms, suffragism and "the New Woman," and world war. We will study such novels as James's What Maisie Knew and The Ambassadors and Ford's The Good Soldier and Parade's End. [ more ]

ENGL 360 SEM James Joyce's "Ulysses"

Last offered Spring 2022

This course will explore in depth the demanding and exhilarating work widely regarded as the most important novel of the twentieth century, James Joyce's Ulysses, which both dismantled the traditional novel and revitalized the genre by opening up new possibilities for fiction. We will discuss the ways in which compelling issues of character and theme (e.g., questions of heroism and betrayal, sexuality and the politics of gender, civic engagement and artistic isolation, British imperialism and Irish nationalism) are placed in counterpoint with patterns drawn from myth, theology, philosophy, and other literature, and will consider the convergence of such themes in an unorthodox form of comedy. In assessing Ulysses as the outstanding paradigm of modernist fiction, we will be equally attentive to its radical and often funny innovations of structure, style, and narrative perspective. In addition to Joyce's novel, readings will include its epic precursor, Homer's Odyssey, as well as critical essays. Students unfamiliar with Joyce's short novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which introduces characters later followed in Ulysses, are urged to read it in advance of the course. [ more ]

ENGL 361 SEM Nabokov and Pynchon

Last offered Fall 2018

After a brief comparative study of their short stories, the course will focus on selected novels by each author. Texts include: Pnin, Lolita, and Pale Fire by Nabokov; and, by Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity's Rainbow (to which a substantial portion of the latter part of the course will be devoted). [ more ]

ENGL 362(S) SEM Advanced Writing for Television - Revision

Students will start with the first draft of their (previously written) pilot script. Each pilot will be evaluated by the class, the instructor and the writer, to create a plan for revision that reflects an understanding of story, script and series structure. Armed with a detailed outline for revision, each student will execute two drafts and a polish of their pilot. [ more ]

ENGL 363 SEM Literature and Psychoanalysis

Last offered Spring 2019

The British psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott once wrote: "It is a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found." This course will explore the many ways in which writing enacts this paradox, examining in the process several main strands of psychoanalytic thought in relation to literature that precedes, accompanies, and follows it in history. Approximately the first three-fourths of the course will involve close readings of theoretical and literary texts, which will be shared in a seminar format. In the latter portion of the course, students will work with each other and with the instructor on analyzing the processes of reading and writing as they produce original psychoanalytic readings of texts of their choice. All readings in English. [ more ]

ENGL 364 SEM Boucicault to McDonagh: Irish Theatre, 1870 to the present

Last offered Fall 2023

During the Irish Literary Revival of c.1885-1920, Irish writers sought to assert "Irishness" as culturally distinctive, and resisted the marginalizing impacts of British colonial rule. The achievement of Independence in 1923 brought years of insularity and censorship, but over the past three decades Ireland's embrace of globalization and the hybridizing impacts of postmodernism has led to a remarkable flowering of creative vitality. This course will trace the evolution of Irish theatre over the past century-and-a-half. We will read plays by Dion Boucicault, Oscar Wilde, W.B.Yeats, J.M.Synge, Augusta Gregory, George Bernard Shaw, Douglas Hyde, Sean O'Casey, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Brian Friel, Marina Carr, Frank McGuinness, Christina Reid, Conor McPherson, and Martin McDonagh, and also chart the course of the founding and history of the Abbey Theatre, one of first National Theatres in Europe. [ more ]

ENGL 365(F) SEM Wonderland(s): Alice in Translation

"What do you mean by that?" said the Caterpillar, sternly. "Explain yourself!" "I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, Sir," said Alice, "because I'm not myself, you see?" The confusion around personal identity, which Alice is seen to experience as she makes her way through Wonderland, can be examined productively as an allegory of translation. Beyond its representation of the developmental and socio-cultural transitions of a child, what happens to Alice, a seminal text in children's literature, when it travels down the rabbit hole to a new linguistic wonderland? For starters, the seven-year-old girl becomes Marie in Danish, Arihi in Maori, Ai-chan in Japanese, and Paapachchi in Kannada. Then there are the highly idiosyncratic humor, word play, embedded English nursery rhymes, and iconic illustrations by Tenniel. How do they fare in new linguistic, cultural, and even genre contexts? Lewis Carroll told his publisher in 1866: "Friends here seem to think the book is untranslatable." And yet. Over 200 translations later, including Kazakh, Shona, Papiamento, Braille, and Emoji, Alice continues to delight and confound readers all over the world and to pose myriad challenges as well as opportunities for translators. This course will serve as an introduction to the theory and practice of translation using Carroll's Alice as an anchoring primary text. We will examine key disciplinary issues and concepts, such as equivalence, domestication, foreignization, and autonomy, and challenge the old canard that translation leads ineluctably, and exclusively, to loss. [ more ]

ENGL 366 SEM Modern British Fiction

Last offered Fall 2018

This course focuses on British novels from the early decades of the twentieth century. We will study the emergence of innovative stylistic and narrative forms characteristic of modernism, and consider the ways in which such innovations shape the works' exploration of questions of psychology and sexuality, moral integrity and betrayal, epistemology and aesthetics, race and empire. Readings will include such works as Ford's The Good Soldier, James's The Ambassadors, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Forster's A Passage to India, and Woolf's To the Lighthouse. [ more ]

ENGL 367 SEM Documentary Fictions

Last offered Fall 2019

The first movies excited viewers not by telling stories, but by reproducing the world: a dancer's billowing skirts, the sight of Niagara Falls, the arrival of a train at the station--such vignettes felt viscerally real. Our fascination with documentaries derives, in large part, from the way seemingly transparent images are woven into narratives full of hidden assumptions. Every viewer of the Zapruder film sees the same thing: President Kennedy, struck by a bullet, lurches forward. But what that might mean--whether it points toward a lone gunman or a conspiracy, toward the Soviet Union or the CIA--still remains uncertain. We'll explore the tensions between image and story, evidence and context, in films ranging from Fred Ott's "Sneeze" (1894) to Josh Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing (2012), concluding with a look at the effects of contemporary image technologies on our sense of personal and national identity. Readings for the course will be drawn from narrative theory, epistemology, and cultural theory, as framed by writers including Trinh Minh-ha, Christian Metz, and Bill Nichols. [ more ]

ENGL 368 SEM Ireland in Film

Last offered Spring 2022

In 1909, James Joyce was briefly the manager of one of Dublin's first cinemas. The medium of film has long attracted Irish writers--as a means to explore and represent the country's political and cultural history, to interrogate the very notion of "Irishness", and to promote their work to a wider audience. In turn, Ireland has long provided a rich subject for Hollywood fantasy, often being portrayed by non-Irish directors as either a mythic space for emerald-green romanticism, or, more darkly, as a place of political terror and enduring ideological rivalries. In this course we will view and discuss major films from the canon of Irish cinema, to assess the country's newly ascendant film movement. We will consider the impact of commercial considerations, and the powerful influence of British and American films on Irish filmmakers. We will also read the literary texts on which some films were based, so as to weigh the strengths and limitations of the medium as a resource for writers who initially worked only in print. This course will introduce participants to the technical vocabulary of film art, as well as to major developments in modern Irish history and culture. Films to be viewed will likely include: Man of Aran, The Informer, The Quiet Man, Eat the Peach, In the Name of the Father, Butcher Boy, Intermission, Into the West, The Field, The Crying Game, December Bride, The Commitments, Michael Collins, Ondine, Six Shooter, In Bruges and The Guard; and we will also assess one or more short independent films such as Budawanny and Adam and Paul. Special attention will be given to the work of Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan, Terry George, and Martin McDonagh. [ more ]

ENGL 369 SEM American Poetry

Last offered Spring 2024

In this course, we'll read the work of some of the key figures in American poetry and poetics from the last hundred years. We'll get an overview of the 20th century's major poetic movements and trends, as well as an intimate sense of several contemporary poets, some of whom we will hear and meet in person. We'll read a few writers deeply, tracing both their inheritances and also the ways they "make it new," in Pound's phrase, and asking what these innovations disclose about the formal, political, and experiential possibilities of poetry as a cultural form. At the same time, we will examine what these works reveal about the transactions between poetic practice and social life. How do these poems encounter the conditions of their day--wars on other shores, economic crises and globalization, commodity fetishism, technological progress, racial and gender oppression, ecological devastation--and theorize their work in relation to other forms of media? What do these poems tell us about life in the "American century"? [ more ]

ENGL 370 SEM Literary and Critical Theory in the Twentieth Century

Last offered Fall 2023

From the rise of modern literary criticism around 1900 to the explosion of high theory in the 1980s and 1990s, the twentieth century witnessed an international flowering of new ideas about how to interpret art and literature: Russian Formalism, American New Criticism, French Structuralism and Deconstruction, and a welter of post- prefixed concepts that claim to transcend national boundaries: the poststructural, the postmodern, the postcolonial, the posthuman. What are the ideas associated with these different movements, and how are they connected? Does each represent a radical break with previous ways of reading, or do they actually build on one another and evolve in a systematic way? And given the entanglement between criticism and teaching, which are the theories that seem to define the work we do (and want to do) here at Williams? This course will focus on a very careful reading of essays representing major 20th-century critical schools (and a couple of their earlier precursors), by critics like Plato, Schiller, Shklovsky, Richards, Barthes, Derrida, de Man, Beauvoir, and Butler. Written assignments will encourage you to parse these theories carefully and apply them to the literary texts that most interest you: prose or poetry from any time and place; film, visual art, or architecture; music, new media, or digital media, etc. [ more ]

ENGL 371 TUT The Brothers Karamazov

Last offered Fall 2023

Widely hailed as one of the greatest novels ever written, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov contains a series of enigmas, not the least of which is precisely who murdered the Karamazov father. In addition to exploring the shared guilt of all four of the brothers Karamazov in the crime of patricide, Dostoevsky poses the most probing questions of his day: Are families tied together merely by blood or by deeper spiritual bonds? Is religious faith possible in an age of reason, science, and technology? Can man's earthly laws ever carry out divine justice? Is humanity prepared to bear the burden of responsibility that comes with freedom? This tutorial will spend an entire semester exploring Dostoevsky's masterwork, and we will read a variety of secondary sources alongside The Brothers Karamazov, including history, philosophy, and literary theory. Our goal will be to understand Dostoevsky's answers to these so-called "accursed questions" through the unique artistic form of The Brothers Karamazov. [ more ]

ENGL 372 SEM Documentary Poetry

Last offered Fall 2020

One of the most vibrant trends in contemporary writing, documentary poetry draws on various kinds of source materials in the creation of innovative forms. This course will be a joint adventure in the reception and production of such projects, and is designed for anyone interested in the intersections of archival research and creative writing. Part of our work will be to historicize and theorize this mode of literary making, which emerges out of Modernist experiments in polyvocality, collage, and what Ezra Pound termed the "poem including history." We will begin the semester by looking at Muriel Rukeyser's 1938 poetic sequence, "The Book of the Dead," which exposes the complicity of Union Carbide in the silicosis contracted by the miners who dug the Hawk's Nest Tunnel in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. Rukeyser wrote of her desire for a "poetry [that] can extend the document"; our subsequent readings in this course will look to a number of contemporary book-length projects that do just that. Our documentary models--by such writers as Heimrad Bäcker, Anne Carson, Layli Long Soldier, Don Mee Choi, M. NourbSe Philip, Mark Nowak, and Claudia Rankine--treat a wide range of subjects, yet all share both an investigative approach and a commitment to thinking about the way individual lives are shaped by larger social and historical structures. Generically, these works make use of the strategies of poetry, but also frequently incorporate essay, narrative, and image to create distinctly mixed forms. Students likewise will choose topics to investigate over the term, conducting original archival research and thinking inductively through the material toward a final project that will be shared with the public on our course website. [ more ]

ENGL 374 TUT Mysticism: Vision, Writing, History

Last offered Spring 2020

The promise of God's real presence in the world lies at the heart of Christianity as a messianic and scriptural faith. But mystics, who seek out and bear witness to their own experiences of the divine, have often been viewed with suspicion by church and state authorities. At stake in these confrontations between orthodoxy and the individual witness are questions of knowledge and power. To whom does God speak, who speaks for God, and how can anyone, whether mystic or priest, be certain? We will learn how these questions have inflected certain passages in the history of Christian belief and practice: the flourishing culture of mystical writing by medieval women, the efforts of some Protestant sects to distribute authority more horizontally, and early modern philosophers' criticisms of prophecy and fanaticism. But our deepest concerns will be literary and aesthetic. What modes of writing did mystics use to express what was, in fact, inexpressible? What role did visual art play in visionary experience? And how has mysticism influenced the work two of the twentieth century's most significant theorists of language, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jacques Derrida? [ more ]

ENGL 376 SEM Landscapes in American Literature

Last offered Fall 2019

This course examines representations of American landscapes in selected texts from the British colonial era to the present. Critical approaches will include narrative theory, formalism, eco-criticism, and science and technology studies. The central questions are: (1) How do authors adapt narrative and poetic forms to the representation of particular landscapes? (2) How do literary landscape representations change when new technologies arise for traversing and transforming them? (3) What effects can literary landscapes have on the landscapes we live in? Landscapes include settlements, cities, wildernesses, "frontiers," suburbia, and infrastructural scenes. Relevant technologies include the postal service, the railroad, the telegraph and telephone, the automobile, commercial aviation, and Skype. Texts may include: letters of Columbus, American Indian creation stories, early American religious texts, captivity narratives, slave narratives, and poems, short stories, and novels from the 17th to the 21st centuries, as different from one another as Dickinson's "Nature-sometimes sears a Sapling-" and Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain. [ more ]

ENGL 377 SEM Legacies of the Gothic Novel: Feminism and Horror in the Transatlantic World

Last offered Fall 2019

Much maligned as a popular or "low" genre at its inception in the late eighteenth century, the gothic form has persisted in its popularity as well as crossed into "higher" forms of modernism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism. In this course, we will read key texts in the gothic mode-Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights among others-and follow the ways in which they are revisited and rewritten by contemporary American and Caribbean writers, filmmakers, and artists. Particularly, we will examine how these texts subvert the realist leanings of Anglo-American narrative fiction and its assumptions of enlightenment rationalism by way of two main processes: narrative hypertrophy and feminist revisions of horror. The class will take up select contemporary criticism on the gothic and horror in literature, film, and art. This course will be of interest to students curious about feminism, postcolonialism, cultural criticism, horror, and comparative literature. [ more ]

ENGL 378 SEM Proust's "In Search of Lost Time"

Last offered Spring 2024

In this seminar we will study Marcel Proust's novel-sequence In Search of Lost Time, widely regarded as one of the most transformative works of 20th-century fiction. The first-person narrative chronicling the life of a fictional figure bearing a close relationship to Proust himself spans several decades from the late 19th to the early 20th century, centering on French high society as it enters the modern world, shaped by historical events such as the Dreyfus Affair and the First World War. Proust's exploration of the consciousness of the protagonist, an aspiring writer, has led readers to see him as a philosopher of aesthetics, of the psyche, of time and memory, and of the nature of desire. His narrative ranges from meditations on such subjects to social satire to absorbing and sometimes soap opera-like plots exploring upward and downward social mobility and a wide array of sexual entanglements, straight and queer. Through his fluent prose, Proust renders the vicissitudes of desire, loss, and joy, of betrayal and emotional intransigence, and tests the power of memory and the imagination to recapture the past. Because of the length of In Search of Lost Time, the emphasis of the course will be more on reading (about 7 to 7½ hours per week) and less on writing (four or five 1½-page journal entries and a final paper of 8-10 pages) than the average 300-level course; and approximately one-third of the sequence will be bracketed as optional reading. [ more ]

ENGL 379 SEM Writing Art

Last offered Spring 2021

This course is conceived primarily as an experiential adventure in creative forms of art writing. We'll read several recent examples of such work (from writers including John Ashbery, Roland Barthes, John Berger, Teju Cole, Jorie Graham, Robin Coste Lewis, Eileen Myles, Ali Smith, Roberto Tejada, and John Yau) to get a sense of the range of approaches, from the ekphrastic poem to the essay to the novel, alive today; and we will spend considerable time in local museums, engaging intimately with works of art through various writing prompts, as you create your own creative responses to visual art. Along the way, we will work to historicize and theorize the relation between the verbal and visual arts, and to ask what looking at art brings to creative writing, as well as the ways creative writing might extend or alter the work of art history. [ more ]

ENGL 380 SEM The Art of Modern Crisis

Last offered Spring 2020

The first half of the twentieth century was marked by extraordinary social and political upheaval. The same era witnessed a feverishly creative revolution in the nature and the strategies of artistic representation. In this course we will examine what these two kinds of crisis have to do with one another: how a wide range of startling innovations in literary and cinematic art may be seen as responses to the particular pressures of the historical crises they represent. Focusing on instances from Britain, Europe, America, India, and/or Africa, we will study such diverse historical crises as the wave of anarchist terrorism around the turn of the century; the Bolshevik revolution; the woman¿s suffrage movement; World Wars I and II; the Indian independence movement led by Gandhi; and the Cold War. Novels and films will be studied for their distinctive, often dazzling aesthetic strategies for representing such crises, and will be chosen from works by such authors as Joseph Conrad, Andrei Bely, Sergei Eisenstein, Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, Jaroslav Hasek, Mulk Raj Anand, Elizabeth Bowen, Joseph Heller, and Stanley Kubrick. [ more ]

ENGL 382(F) SEM Advanced Workshop in Poetry

As an advanced poetry workshop and reading seminar, this class assumes that its members are already practicing poets with a grounding in the foundational techniques of poetry writing. We will work in a spirit of shared experiment, pushing our inquiries into this art form further and developing a community of writers engaged in collaborations on and off the page. Readings and assignments will investigate different impulses--formal, textural, tonal, thematic--in poetry across time. I will ask you to inhabit, query, stretch, and even resist these impulses as you develop your own poems. My hope is that through sustained interaction and collaboration with each other, your writing will undergo a variety of productive evolutions. [ more ]

ENGL 383 SEM Advanced Fiction

Last offered Fall 2022

A further consideration of the complexities and possibilities involved in the writing of short fiction. Exercises, short assignments, and discussion of published fiction will be combined with workshops of student stories and individual conferences with the instructor. [ more ]

Taught by: ZZ Packer

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ENGL 384(S) SEM Advanced Fiction Workshop

An advanced workshop for students with experience writing fiction and an understanding of the basics of plot, character, setting, and scene. Exercises and discussion of published fiction will be combined with workshops of student fiction and individual conferences with the instructor. Writers will submit manuscripts for discussion, receive feedback from peers, and revise their work. [ more ]

ENGL 385 SEM Advanced Fiction Workshop: Form and Technique

Last offered Spring 2020

A course for students with experience writing fiction and an understanding of the basics of plot, character, setting, and scene. Through close study of stories in both traditional and unusual forms, we'll examine how a story's significant elements are chosen, ordered, and arranged; how the story is shaped; how, by whom, and to what purpose it's told. Students will write new stories, employing the forms and techniques studied, and discuss them in workshop. [ more ]

ENGL 386 SEM Fiction of Beckett and Sebald

Last offered Spring 2018

This seminar explores the work of two of the most original and influential fiction-writers of the last half of the 20th century, Samuel Beckett and W. G. Sebald. The work of both writers was profoundly influenced by World War II and the Holocaust, and their fiction centers on issues of loss and memory, of decay (of bodies, things, cultures, traditions), of reason and imagination as fragile means of enduring privation. Yet material so sobering and often bleak has rarely been rendered so absorbingly, or with such unorthodox forms of beauty. Their methods for reinventing fiction differ. Beckett increasingly strips his fiction of details of time, place, and even event, and ultimately struggles to free his speaking voice from the burdens of narration itself, the better to focus attention on the simple but logically rigorous, brilliant, often comic effects of his spare language. Sebald, who sometimes called his novels "documentary fiction," fashions a blend of recollection, fiction, geo-cultural history, and dream-like meditation, focused on the decline of European civilizations; his more chromatic prose, marked by obliquity, melancholy, and dry wit, is filled with curious facts and haunting anecdotes. We will read some of Beckett's short fiction and his great trilogy, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable; Sebald's major works of fiction, Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz; and a few short stories and novellas by precursors or successors such as Kafka, Borges, and Thomas Bernhard. [ more ]

ENGL 387(F) SEM The Fabrication of Nature in Early Modernity: Literature, Science, Empire

Writers in early modern Europe frequently conceived the order and movement of nature in terms of one of two central figures: as a book written by God or as a divinely woven tapestry. This course traces an arc from these metaphors to Karl Marx's claim that "the sensuous world [is] a historical product, the result of activity of a whole succession of generations." Taking up episodes in the history of literature and science between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, our aim will be to study the ways that poetic speculation, scientific investigation and experiment, and capitalist expansion (as well as political ambition and struggle) have colluded in the fabrication of "nature"--theories of the cosmos and of climate, of animal and plant life, and of human difference. How does a close study of literary language and form help us to discern nature as a historical product intimately connected to processes of dispossession, to the circulation of goods and bodies, and to the formation of nation and empire? Specific topics may include the Copernican Revolution, the discovery of the microscopic world, fantasies of life on the moon, the literal and discursive "discovery" of Africa and the Americas, mappings of the human body, the figure of the magus and the witch. We're likely to read some drama (Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare), essays (Michel de Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, Robert Hooke, René Descartes), poetry (John Donne, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Margaret Cavendish, Lucy Hutchinson), and fiction (Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift). While the literary will be our "lens," the course should also appeal to students with interests in the sciences, environmental studies, and/or social thought. [ more ]

ENGL 388(S) SEM Fiction Writing Workshop

This workshop is focused on the art and practice of writing fiction and geared toward students interested in working on creative honors theses. Readings include published fiction by primarily Latine and other writers who center Global South experiences, with attention paid to how each author employs narrative elements--characterization, plotting, structure, dialogue mechanics, setting, tone, theme--as well as the values and visions expressed. Students will present short fiction or novel excerpts for peer critique and the editorial advice of the instructor. Regular in-class exercises and take-home assignments will help students expand their narrative skills. [ more ]

ENGL 389 SEM Fiction of Virginia Woolf

Last offered Fall 2022

"Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness. Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small" ("Modern Fiction"). Virginia Woolf's fiction represents a self-conscious and highly experimental challenge to the conventions of Victorian and Edwardian fiction, in an effort to re-center the novel on lived experience. This course will explore the evolution of the innovative fictional forms by which she tried to bridge the gap between the experience of consciousness and its representation in language. We will also consider the links between Woolf's concern with in the fluidity of consciousness and her interest in gender fluidity and androgyny. We will read most of the major novels, probably including The Voyage Out, Jacob's Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, The Waves, and Between the Acts, together with selected short fiction and critical essays. [ more ]

ENGL 390 SEM Robert Frost and Seamus Heaney

Last offered Fall 2022

This seminar examines the achievement of two of the most influential poets of the last hundred years: America's Robert Frost (1874-1963), and Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)--the Nobel laureate widely acknowledged as the greatest Irish poet since Yeats. They have garnered high praise from elite literary critics, and also captured the imaginations of a broad reading public. They write in an idiom that is deeply rooted in the ordinary vernacular speech of their respective countries, but rises above it into a universal language that transcends place and time. Their images first focus our gaze on the natural world we can see all around us, but then subtly shift our attention to what can't be readily observed or reliably known. Their poems can initially appear simple or self-evident in their meanings, but then quietly double-back on us with unexpected forms of mystery and complexity. To get a comprehensive sense of the arc of their careers, we will read most all of their poems, with each class discussion focusing on a few particularly important texts. We will also read some of their essays and lectures on the art and purpose of poetry. Where appropriate, we will attend to the biographical, cultural, and (especially with Heaney) political circumstances that shaped their opportunities as artists. [ more ]

Taught by: Stephen Fix

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ENGL 391(F) SEM Contemporary North American Queer Literatures and Theories

Moving through the mid-twentieth century and into the twenty-first, this course will consider how North American writers have represented queer life in all its complexities. From the problem of the happy ending to the intersectional politics of representation, the narrative complexities of coming out to the rejection of identity, the course will consider the relationship between literary form and queer content. In so doing, it will also touch upon some of the key debates in queer literary theory and consider the impact of events such as civil rights movements, gay and lesbian and trans uprisings, the AIDS crisis, debates over respectability politics, and current efforts to police what students read in schools on literary and cultural production. Readings may include work by such authors as Baldwin, Highsmith, Rich, Lorde, Delany, Kushner, Feinberg, Bechdel, Thom, and Machado and theorists such as Ferguson, Sedgwick, Fawaz, Love, Butler, and Hartman. [ more ]

ENGL 393 SEM Staging Identities

Last offered Fall 2020

The construction of selfhood is always to some extent a performative act--as Shakespeare's Jacques says, "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players[.]" That performance is inherently dual, since constituted both for the audience of the wider social world, and for the self who seeks to act. Drama as a genre, with its constant negotiation of the competing claims of illusion and the operations of reality, is invariably interested in the exploration of social identity, in the tensions between public and private selfhood, and in the functions of 'performance'. In this course we will examine theatre's response to the challenge of self-fashioning in the modern era, and consider the wider ontological status of performance as a category within the context of twentieth century drama and theatrical staging. Readings will include Shakespeare's Hamlet and plays by Chekhov, Pirandello, Churchill, Shepard, Lori-Parks, Beckett, Walcott, Pinter and others, along with selected criticism, theory, and psychoanalytical writings. [ more ]

ENGL 394(F) SEM The Nature of Nature

"Nature" is one of the commonest words in English. And yet what does it mean? Is it primarily descriptive (all living things), or normative ("natural" foods, "human nature")? This course will consider the richly incoherent ways we think about the living world, paying particular attention to the difficulty of narrating processes that are too big, too small, too quick, or too slow for direct human apprehension. We'll explore the way popular nature writing mingles scientific reporting with implicit and explicit judgments about human identity, and take up the insoluble problem of our proper relation to animals. Considerable attention will be paid to the ethical dimensions of contemporary environmental consciousness and unconsciousness. Writers studied will include Elizabeth Kolbert, Descartes, William Cronon, and Charles Darwin. [ more ]

ENGL 395(S) SEM Shakespeare's Hands: Literary Labors and the Politics of Embodiment

The body part that might be said to distinguish the human, a "hand" also signifies metonymically--to indicate a person doing manual (from the Latin manus and French main), domestic, or aesthetic labor. Think of a sailor, a weaver, a soldier, but also an artist, musician, writer, or actor. This course will read a handful of Shakespeare's plays and poems with an attention to the oftentimes marginal figurations of labor and work, asking how such a focus can illuminate the politics of embodiment in the early modern era (as well as in later modern stagings and rewritings). What might allusions to textile production in Othello tell us about the play's contestation of ethnicity and sexuality? How does the performance of hauling wood in The Tempest afford an inquiry into racial formation and its connection with enclosure, colonization, and enslavement? What's the relationship between the "mechanical" craftwork and the mercantile imaginary of A Midsummer Night's Dream? We'll also spend some time considering the economy of early modern play-making, and the disciplining of the hand in the early modern schoolroom. How does the study of such literary labors change or inflect the way we describe generic forms (tragedy, comedy, lyric) and the way we read otherwise central gestures of Shakespearean plots: clasping, lending, building, mending, praying, stealing, murdering, mothering. Each of Shakespeare's plays will anchor a set of other readings in Shakespeare's sources and contemporaries (e.g. Burton, Montaigne, Hayklut, Petrarch, Marlowe, More) and in theories of work, labor, and the body (e.g. Ahmed, Arendt, Bourdieu, Butler, Fanon, Foucault, Marx, Ngai). [ more ]

ENGL 396 Theater and Voyeurism

Last offered NA

Seventeenth-century philosophy was ambivalent about the senses. Around the same time as Descartes was wondering whether everything he had ever seen, heard, and felt might have been an illusion produced by an evil deceiver, Francis Bacon was placing the close observation of nature at the center of a new scientific practice. Do the senses shore up the subject by distancing her from objects and from others and by providing her with insight about them? Or do the senses make her vulnerable to a world that is endlessly and often violently imposing itself on her? We will consider this problem in cultural and intellectual history through the case of the theater, with a special focus on tragedy. Ancient Greek tragedy made the mere fact of seeing the basis of an epistemological difference between the audience (whose looking is a privileged form of knowing) and the protagonist (who is paradigmatically blind), and this difference can be understood as a way of reflecting on the conditions of the theatrical medium itself: the audience sees the character, but the character does not see the audience. Early modern tragedy drew on the Greek tradition of dramatic irony, but wondered whether looking was as straightforward as it looked, making voyeurism a two-way street: one form of seeing what others don't involves being forced to see something unbearable, and early modern theater took a special interest in obscenity, which Greek theater tended to avoid or marginalize. We will consider works by Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristotle, Ovid, Seneca, Marlowe, Spenser, Shakespeare, Vermeer, Jonas Barish, Laura Mulvey, Jacques Rancière, and Michael Fried. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 397(F, S) IND Independent Study: English

English independent study. The current department chair is the official "Instructor," but an independent study can be advised and graded by any willing member of the department. [ more ]

ENGL 398 IND Independent Study: English

Last offered Spring 2024

English independent study. Kathryn Kent, as chair, is the official "Instructor," but an independent study can be advised and graded by any willing member of the department. [ more ]

ENGL 399 SEM Poetry & Performance

Last offered Fall 2021

Though poetry was an oral art form before it was anything else, its contemporary relationship to performance is varied and complex. This course explores poetry writing for/as performance, including works that might be categorized as "spoken word poetry" as well as those that sit far outside of that designation. Course readings will include contemporary and canonical writers, from Walt Whitman, to Sonia Sanchez, to Sarah Kay. We will also study works that blur the genres of poetry, performance art, and theater. Students will engage in writing and performance activities in class, create collaboratively, and exchange feedback on each other's work. The semester will culminate in a final performance open to the campus community. Students must have taken at least one course on the practice of creative writing, acting, or another performance discipline. [ more ]

ENGL 402 SEM The Historical Novel

Last offered Spring 2024

Setting a novel in a prior time period risks estranging a reader, yet the genre has roused deep-rooted interest, intense critical debate, and aesthetic daring. In this course, we will explore the complex and layered uses of a historical past in literary works of the seventeenth through twenty-first centuries, by way of novels by Madame de Lafayette, Scott, M. Shelley, Dickens, Eliot, Ford, Woolf, Morrison, Sebald, and Roy. Exploring the uses of gothic and sensational effects, dystopian and utopian possibilities, and fractured time, we will consider the aesthetic and political experiments historical novels have spawned. We will do so in context of the sustained critical engagement with the genre by such thinkers as Lukacs, Benjamin, Adorno, Jameson, McKeon and Moretti. [ more ]

ENGL 407 SEM Literature, Justice and Community

Last offered Fall 2019

Can we imagine possibilities of justice not dictated by already determined norms? What would a community founded on such a conception of justice look like? Can we imagine a version of community not founded on exclusion? What would the members of such a community look like-what version of subjectivity would that community imply? And might literature in particular have something to say about the possibilities for such versions of community, selfhood, and justice? This course will look at recent, theoretically-oriented writing on justice and community, with an emphasis on the work of Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy and Giorgio Agamben. We will place this challenging and exciting philosophical work in relation to fiction from Euripides to Kafka, Farah and Kushner, films (Almodovar, Farhadi), photography (Silva, Badlands and worldly examples of competing claims to justice. The course pursues the aims of the DPE initiative by engaging works in which cultural difference and power differentials reveal the limits of universalizing accounts of law and justice, works such as Euripides' Bacchae , Nuruddin Farah's Maps , Louise Erdrich's poetry, and Farhadi's A Separation . But the course will equally suggest that such contingency is inherent in the concept of justice as such, insofar as the problem of justice is bound up with forms of constituting indebtedness that define humans as communal beings. In that sense, contingency, and differentials of power mark justice even in its most familiar instances-intimately and close to home, as it were. [ more ]

ENGL 410 SEM Black Literary and Cultural Theories

Last offered Fall 2016

This course will examine the writings of black twentieth- and twenty-first-century Anglophone and Francophone literary and cultural theorists in the African diaspora. We will begin with Sojourner Truth and W.E.B. Du Bois and end with current debates between the "Afro-Pessimists" and "Afro-Optimists." We will be reading writers from the United States, Britain, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe, moving through the writings of the Harlem Renaissance, Négritude, Pan-Africanism, the Black Arts movement and Black Panthers, the Black Atlantic, and black feminism and queer studies. We will come to see that there is no easy separation between questions of politics (e.g., anti-colonialist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist) and those of aesthetics and poetics. [ more ]

ENGL 411 Psychoanalysis and Its Discontents: The Psyche and the Social

Last offered NA

For many decades, psychoanalysis has been profoundly influential to radical thinkers seeking to overthrow regimes of racism, colonialism, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and ableism. At the same time, psychoanalysis has also been crucial to enforcing those very regimes. Whether mobilized towards liberatory or oppressive ends, it is difficult to overstate psychoanalysis's influence on intellection, politics, and everyday social existence over the last century--even though we don't always realize it's there. If you bristle at the mention of Freud but think microaggressions are real, content warnings are a good idea, or that sharing about your feelings supports your wellbeing and relationships, your beliefs and values are probably indebted to psychoanalysis. This class surveys psychoanalytic perspectives on "the social," that is, race, gender, sexuality, capitalism, dis/ability, imperialism, and so on. It also provides an introduction to basic foundations of psychoanalytic thought--especially Freud, object relations theory, and a bit of Lacan--with an emphasis on how the psychoanalytic canon underpins contemporary queer, feminist, and postcolonial theory; ethnic studies; disability studies; and religious studies. Building from foundations, we'll also examine radical psychoanalysis alongside radical critiques of psychoanalysis. Additional topics and bodies of thought include trauma, Afropessimism, sexual difference feminism, antipsychiatry, and schizoanalysis. This class satisfies the WGSS Junior/Senior Seminar major requirement. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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ENGL 415 SEM Theorizing Aesthetic Outrage

Last offered Spring 2019

Outrage has become an increasingly charged and prominent feature of public life in our current political climate. Yet it is surprisingly difficult to analyze and understand, particularly when we confront public forms of outrage, in which collective behavior may shape, complicate, and change its nature. Why are accounts of the reasons for one's outrage so often inadequate to its vehemence? How are we to understand the strange, unconscious mimicry into which the antagonists in public outrage are so often drawn? What are the sources of the pleasure that shadows outrage? In this seminar we will attempt to theorize public outrage, drawing on a range of theoretical models from several disciplines: aesthetics, cultural and political theory, psychoanalysis, gender and sexuality studies, anthropology and sociology. We will focus our attention on aesthetic outrage--riots, censorship, and trials in response to literary and cinematic works, particularly where such outrage has been well documented--and will explore the possibility that such outrage is discernibly different from more straightforward instances of political outrage, such as bread riots or Black Lives Matter activism. We will also analyze the basic nature of outrage in the context of affect studies. Theoretical work by such writers as Sedgwick, Berlant, Foucault, Freud, Weber, Lévi-Strauss, Girard, Arendt, Bakhtin, Butler, Douglas, and Zizek; literary and cinematic works by such authors as Sade, Synge, Wilde, Jarry, and Eisenstein. [ more ]

ENGL 416 SEM Postcolonial Theory and the World Literature Debates

Last offered Spring 2019

When publishers, scholars, reviewers, and critics talk about the massive, beautiful, prismatic literary and cultural traditions outside of Western culture, they sometimes refer to them by their geographical provenance--African literature, say, or Sumerian art--or perhaps by their historical moment--Ottoman architecture, or postcolonial Indonesian poetry--but more and more, the catch-all category of World Literature has begun to hold sway in influential places, and is changing the shape of how we think, learn, and write about non-Western aesthetics, as well as how we participate in our "own" cultures in all their complexity. If we can imagine a kind of literature that truly goes under the headings of "World Literature," or "Global Literature," what can we possibly exclude? Doesn't all literature belong to the world? What might we gain by using this term, and what might we lose? What histories are attached to the various names and classifications we assign to culture and how does cultural "othering" uphold or resist forms of economic, political, and military dominance? In this advanced seminar, we will work carefully through the history and influential writings of postcolonialism as a particular challenge to hegemonic forms of representation, cultural production, and naming, starting with a close consideration of the writings of the movement's founders and key commentators, including Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Robert J.C. Young, Gauri Viswanathan, Partha Chatterjee, and Homi Bhabha, and consider their influence on later postcolonial writers and critics around the world. In the second half of the semester, we will turn our attention to the historical underpinnings and current firestorm of debates about World Literature, beginning with Goethe, Marx, Adorno, Frederic Jameson, Franco Moretti, and Pascale Casanova and shifting finally to critics of the ideas of World and Global Literature. [ more ]

ENGL 417(S) SEM The 19th Century and Its Shadow

This course explores canonical American literature from the nineteenth century alongside a selection of contemporary literary and cinematic texts that call on and intervene with this body of work. Following Toni Morrison's charge that the contemplation of a black presence "is central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary imagination," this course focuses on how ideas of race are explored throughout the canon and how they have been carried forward. Works considered throughout the term come from, among others, Julie Dash, Frederick Douglass, Saidiya Hartman, Harriet Jacobs, Mat Johnson, Herman Melville, Toni Morrison, Nate Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, Quentin Tarantino, Mark Twain, and Colson Whitehead. [ more ]

ENGL 418 SEM Modernisms and the Archive

Last offered Spring 2024

This seminar positions us at the intersection of archival theory, print culture, and literary study in order to chart new pathways for understanding the making of modern poetry and poetics during the period of literary history (from 1900 to 1945) that we most closely associate with the term Modernism. Modernist Studies is at the moment undergoing a major and exciting shift made possible by digital archives that allow us to access and document the rich intertextual experience of reading Modernism as it unfolded in the influential little magazines that came to define Modernisms. Some, like Poetry magazine, defined the new poetry strictly along aesthetic lines and treated these publications as collectible objects. Others, such as The Crisis, brought together poetry and the politics of race and social justice and encouraged, as Bartholomew Brinkman has argued, "both aesthetic and socially engaged readings." We take advantage of digital archives, as well as physical ones, in order to tell new stories about both familiar and unfamiliar writers that can be discovered at the intersections of literary history and archives. Students will also have the opportunity to work in the Sterling Brown archive here at Williams. Recently acquired by Williams College Library Special Collections, this significant archive documents the life, work, and poetic practice of African-American writer and educator Sterling Brown, whose poetry and prose spans nearly five decades of the twentieth century, yet Brown has often been left out of the narrative we tell about modern poetry. Work in the Sterling Brown archive will culminate in a curated public exhibition featuring your discoveries. Iain Bailey has argued that we should think of the archive "as a place of work, rather than as a cache from which to draw certainties." With this caveat in mind and in the spirit of discovery, we will act over the course of the semester as investigators, curators, collaborators, and inquirers in the workshop of literary production and its aesthetic products. [ more ]

ENGL 421 SEM Fanaticism

Last offered Fall 2021

Eighteenth and nineteenth-century writers of literature and political philosophy repudiate fanaticism, whether as a religious, political or amorous posture. But what is fanaticism, and why should it be considered such a threat, particularly during a period that embraced an enlightened secular rationalism? In this course, we will examine these questions by considering literary texts that dramatize fanaticism in light of accounts by philosophers and historians. Readings will include novels by M. Shelley, Hogg, Dickens, Eliot, Conrad, among others, and political philosophy and historical writings by Voltaire, Kant, Diderot, Burke, Hume, Carlyle, Adorno, and a range of recent critics. We will also watch films by Riefenstahl, Hitchcock and Pontecorvo, and look at paintings, drawings and sculpture by Fragonard, Goya, and Shibonare. Since fanaticism has recently had considerable political currency, we will also examine contemporary accounts that reanimate the debates and concerns of the course. [ more ]

ENGL 456 SEM Topics in Critical Theory: Hegel and the Dialectic

Last offered Fall 2018

This course is for students of any major who wish to continue studying critical, cultural, or literary theory. Students will give close attention to a single theorist or philosophical school or perhaps to a single question as taken up by several theorists. Prior coursework in critical theory or continental philosophy, no matter the department, is strongly recommended. The subject of this semester's seminar is the dialectic. "Dialectical" is one of those collegiate words, the kind of word that some people use a lot without knowing for sure what it means. That said, there are a couple of different ways of making sense of dialectics. The word's nearest synonym is "dialogue." Broadly, then, "dialectics" is a name for any philosophy that incorporates into itself the back-and-forth of conversation. Modern dialectics, meanwhile, sets out from two ideas: first, that it is impossible to think about anything in isolation, that we understand all things via relation and contradistinction, that we couldn't call any person "female" if we weren't also compelled to call some people "male"; and second, that all such conceptual pairs (male/female, black/white, east/west) are less settled than they look. You can't not divide the world into oppositions, and all such oppositions will collapse. This is an idea that, systematically pursued, can change the way we think about language, ethics, politics, literature, and art. We will read key texts from major dialectical thinkers: Hegel, Marx, Adorno, but mostly Hegel. [ more ]

ENGL 483 SEM Representing History

Last offered Spring 2023

Moments of political turmoil expose the highly charged ways in which a culture structures itself around a narrative past. In this course, we will read literary and cinematic works that invoke such moments of upheaval -- the French and Russian Revolutions as well as those of 1848, the rise of fascism and the Great Depression of the 1930s, the battle for Algerian independence, and the AIDS crisis -- in order to explore those fraught narratives of the past. We will consider such issues as the aesthetics of fascism and of democracy under pressure, fantasies of decolonization, representational clashes of culture, forms of affective and sexual disorientation, and the uses of melancholy in representing historical loss. Readings will be drawn from literary works by Mary Shelley, Balzac, Eliot, Conrad, Kafka, Borges, Stoppard, Kushner, Morrison, Pamuk, Bolano, Sebald, and Philip, and essays by Kant, Burke, Marx, Benjamin, Adorno, Foucault, Jameson, Lefort, and Ahmed. Films will include such works as Eisenstein's October, Riefenstahl's The Blue Light, Wellman's Nothing Sacred, and Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers. [ more ]

ENGL 493(F) HON Honors Colloquium: English

A colloquium for students pursuing critical theses and critical specializations. Students will present and critique their work in progress, and discuss issues particular to researching and structuring a long analytical thesis. We will also discuss the work of a variety of recent critics representing a range of methods of literary study. Satisfactory completion of the course will be required for students to continue on in the honors program. The course will meet sometimes as a full seminar and other times in tutorial-style small groups. [ more ]

ENGL 494(S) HON Honors Thesis: English

English honors thesis. Required of all senior English majors pursuing critical theses and critical specialization. [ more ]

ENGL 495 SEM Fiction Thesis Seminar

Last offered Fall 2021

A hybrid colloquium /workshop/ seminar for those seniors undertaking an Honors Thesis in fiction writing, with the aim of enabling both the extensive independent work and individual feedback at the heart of the project as well as a greater sense of community and shared learning. Half the week will be devoted to group sessions involving workshopped student work and the close reading of published work and meetings with outside visitors, and the other half devoted to individual tutorial sessions. [ more ]

ENGL 497(F, S) HON Honors Independent Study: English

English honors thesis. Required of all senior English majors pursuing departmental honors in creative writing. [ more ]