NOTE: Below you will find descriptions of graduate and special topics undergraduate courses offered in the Literature program. For regularly offered undergraduate courses, official undergraduate and graduate program information, and course requirements, please visit the online catalog. For recent course offerings, click here.
Dr. Robin Lucy
The United States has the highest rates of incarceration of any country on earth. There are about two million people – or about 1 in every 100 adults – in jails and prisons across the nation. Families and communities are also deeply affected by this reality. In this class, we will examine literary and theoretical texts, many written by (ex-)prisoners and returning citizens, that explore the experience of captivity, slavery, imprisonment, liberation, and freedom beginning with the foundations of the nation itself. We will read work that spans Toni Morrison to Jay Z, Angela Davis to Michel Foucault, the writing of political prisoners, poetry, non-fiction, and a young adult novel about (and for) the children of incarcerated parents. We will also consider the representation of crime and prisons in the media and television shows such as The Wire and Orange is the New Black.
Dr. Abby Coykendall
This class will investigate the vexed interconnection between sexuality and society, the ways in which culture scripts eroticism and eroticism scripts culture in turn, by attending to the myriad discourses of the social body (the 'body politic') and the sexual or sexualized body found in both popular and canonical literature extending from the late seventeenth to the twentieth century. Eroticism and culture are often treated as antithetical domains, with sex strictly segregated from the social order and the obscene no less strictly segregated from the aesthetic; however, that presumed distinction often itself hinges on an arbitrary partition of one mode of normative, socially sanctioned sexuality from another. Where for example would literary culture be if not inclusive of the many "great novels" featuring a heterosexual romance either culminating in marriage (Pride and Prejudice, Portrait of a Lady) or complicating that institution by way of intrigue (Madame Bovary, Great Gatsby, The English Patient)?
The title of this class is deliberately plural, as plural as sexuality itself can be, since we will be considering an array of erotic, affective, and bodily practices that may or may not be monogamous, missionary, marital, and heterosexual. Our readings will extend from the seventeenth-century libertine poetics of the Earl of Rochester and Aphra Behn, and the enlightenment-era novels of John Cleland (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) or the Marquis de Sade (Philosophy of the Boudoir), to Victorian novelists like Oscar Wilde (Picture of Dorian Gray) and contemporary feminist and/or queer works of Angela Carter, Kathy Acker, and Rob Halpern. Along the way, we will ask how the very attempt to sever certain sexualities from the cultural imagination and from the larger social order enables us to trace the trace of the obscene and thereby trace the trace of sociality itself as it transforms in relation to changing political, historical, and material conditions.
Dr. Lori Burlingame
Litr. 450: Major Authors will study in-depth the works of Louise Erdrich, a major author in the overlapping cannons of Native American and American literature. Louise Erdrich is of mixed Turtle Mountain Chippewa (Ojibwe or Anishinabe) and German-American heritage; she writes out of both cultural contexts and is an heir to Native American oral storytelling traditions and the modernist and post-modernist styles of Western authors like William Faulkner. This course will examine at least 5-6 novels from Erdrich's 12 novel series, among them, Tracks, Four Souls, Love Medicine, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, and others. Students will gain a more cohesive sense of Erdrich's body of work, its contributions to the field, and the critical commentary on it. Key themes that will be explored in Erdrich's writing include depictions of family relationships; issues of identity; gender representations; the impact of the Catholic church, twentieth-century wars, and governmental policies, like the Land Allotment Act, upon the Ojibwe people; the power of language and storytelling to create and to shape identity and reality; the subversion of binary ways of thinking; and personal and cultural survival and the importance of a sense of humor to that survival. We will approach the texts that we study from a number of critical perspectives, including ethnographic analysis, social criticism, feminism, and new historicism.
Dr. Elisabeth Daumer
Dr. Craig Dionne
This class will focus on major nondramatic poetry and prose of the English Renaissance. Specific authors covered will include More, Sidney, Spenser, Marlowe, Bacon, Jonson, Donne, Cary, Herbert, Lanier, and some Milton. Emphasis will be on the way the literature works in response to the expansive historical contexts of the period, asking students to bring their own theoretical interest to the focus of the material. Historical themes will include Reformation politics, the emergence of London's print culture, Humanist literacy, New World Colonialism, and the sexual politics of courtly poetry. Students will learn the importance of Tottel's Miscellany and the emergence of its imagined coterie reader keen to assimilate and mimic continental artistic generic fashions. Literary themes will be contextualized in specific cultural frames and linked to critical approaches to tease out the text's imagined response to the questions assumed in its ideological work: for example, Neoplatonism and desire in the context of domestic relations (feminist and performance theory), patronage and courtly modes of address "in" the sonnet (theories of reading and desire via psychoanalytic criticism), lyric pastoralism and Absolutist power (via Foucault and theories of power), Romance as mediation on the disappearance of feudalism and its outworn allegories and exemplars (via new historicism). Cavalier aesthetics as dialogical response to reformation critique of holiday mirth, country house poems as nostalgia work, and the new poetics of the Metaphysicals and its invention of a devotional "self." Writing: shorter responses to the works, with a longer individual research paper. Final: in-class essay.
Dr. Abby Coykendall
Perhaps more than any other era, the eighteenth century represents a moment that we must evaluate and reevaluate to interrogate the values of our own time. While often considered a quaint, tea-and-crumpets blueprint for civil societies across the globe, the British enlightenment witnesses both the positives and the negatives of modernity in the extreme. Thus, in midst of a massive expansion of the slave trade, the birth of the market economy and global capitalism, as well as an increasingly rigid sex-gender system (later culminating in "Angel of the House" Victorian domesticity), we find a celebration of art and culture that students of literature still cannot help but admire. We will test both the dystopian and utopian visions of the British enlightenment through a diverse array of texts that put issues of modernization at the fore, texts spanning from the late seventeenth-century, or Restoration, to the late eighteenth-century French Revolution, the period's spectacular fin de siècle denouement. Ultimately, we will expand rather than confine our engagement with the materials, not only putting literary works in dialogue with the historical and philosophical texts of the time, but also examining how these works shape the myriad claims to (and contestations against) modernity that continue to vex our own.
Texts may include works by libertine poets (Rochester); early novelists like Aphra Behn (The Rover, Oroonoko), Defoe (Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe), or Swift (Gulliver's Travels); the sentimental tradition (Samuel Richardson's Pamela or Sterne's Tristram Shandy); genres such as the gothic (Walpole, Thomas Gray, Jane Austen), the mock epic (Alexander Pope, Hogarth); or satire (Centlivre's Bold Stroke for a Wife), as well as transatlantic and abolitionist texts (Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative).
Dr. Sandy Norton
Dr. Natasa Kovacevic
LITR 580/585 focuses on narrative strategies in contemporary fiction that deals with major historical ruptures and traumatic events in order to think about the relationship between contemporary literature, collective memory, and historiography. Our case study will be 20th-century Europe, illuminated through literary texts that tackle crucial ruptures that have defined the continent's social and political makeup, such as World War II and the Holocaust; the Cold War and history of communism; decolonization and ensuing postcolonial immigration. Our selected texts will rarely operate on the level of literary realism, engaging instead with a host of other narrative strategies derived from absurdism, magical realism, and postmodernism. One of our main concerns, therefore, is how "real" history finds its way into narratives whose stylistic properties complicate straightforward historical readings, as they continually challenge notions of stable knowledge and decenter familiar perspectives on any given topic. In particular, we will think about pedagogical strategies for introducing such texts to students who may not be accustomed to working with these literary genres and the benefits of expanding their comfort level in dealing with "unruly" literature. Furthermore, the course also explores the pedagogical ethics of teaching and reading culturally and temporally distant texts by asking the following questions: How do we teach a culturally different text? What is the relationship between reading about trauma and individual/collective memory, on the one hand, and empathy and identification, on the other? How does stylistically experimental literature both enable and complicate questions of reader access and identification? Finally, what do we gain from reading/teaching such texts?
Tentative readings will include:
Imre Kertesz, Fatelessness; David Albahari, Gotz and Meyer; Herta Muller, The Hunger Angel; Gunter Grass, My Century; Milan Kundera, The Joke; Dubravka Ugresic, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender; Assia Djebar, Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade; Emine Sevgi Ozdamar, The Bridge of the Golden Horn; Zadie Smith, White Teeth; and selected readings in literary theory and pedagogy.