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Literature: Courses

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.

Winter 2017

LITR 411: Epic and Romance

Dr. Christine Neufeld

This course introduces you to two influential literary forms from the dawn of Western literary history: the epic and the romance. As we explore some of the foremost ancient and medieval examples of these genres we will ascertain the formal, thematic, and theoretical legacies of epic and romance, even in the face of their supposed extinction as living literary genres. Equally important will be our interrogation of the reciprocal relationship between early literature and literary theory, the fascinating interactions between the pre- and post-modern. To what extent do the contemporary signifiers of identity—such as gender/sex, race, class, nationality, sexuality—result from or obscure the cultural dynamics of these stories? Does narrative form calcify ideological content? Is there room, for example, for a female knight at the Round Table? As we grapple with the challenges and surprises of encountering texts from a distant past, we will also address how the forms and themes of these genres still haunt our present. We will look at how these genres continue to be used in a variety of contexts and mediums (from politics to comics, from film to video games) and consider the possible futures of our heroic tales of the past.

LITR 422: Postcolonial Literature and Theory

Dr. Natasa Kovacevic

By the beginning of the 20th century, a few European powers – mainly Britain and France – had colonized 80% of Asia and Africa. Nationalist movements during the latter half of the century led to territorial, but not necessarily cultural and intellectual decolonization. Intersecting diverse texts such as novels, theoretical articles, and films, this class will focus on the continuing cultural, economic and political consequences of colonialism, as well as neocolonialism and imperialism. We will study the ways in which postcolonial literature and theory expose and offer a critique of neo/colonialism, while enriching disciplines as diverse as feminism, historiography and political science. We will also examine the vexed concept “globalization” in light of its complex relationship to old colonial politics and narratives, specifically its defining moments such as the increase in global migrations following decolonization, the spread of global capitalism, and, most recently, US and NATO-led interventions in Asia and North Africa. These will be our central concerns:

  • Colonial language, cultural colonization through education, appropriation of colonial language and education
  • Race and colonialism, Orientalism, colonized identities, self and other
  • Anti-colonial nationalism
  • Colonialism and women, postcolonial feminism, Western feminism in a global frame
  • Colonialism, capitalism, and globalization
LITR 450: Major Authors -- John Milton

Dr. Craig Dionne

This course will focus on the poetry and prose of John Milton, one of the most influential thinkers of the seventeenth-century. From his early childhood, Milton acquired the ambition to become a famous writer. Throughout his training in classical humanism, Milton pushed himself to excel in different genres needed to shape his talents and challenge his imagination. In many ways, Milton was England’s first public intellectual: cosmopolitan in his reading, skilled in rhetorical debate, immersed in the London print culture, and always at the center of the greatest political and ecclesiastical debates of the day, from the right to divorce, divine right of kings, the necessity of a free press, and the ever-growing divide between Reformist and high church religious practices. This class will focus on the cultural context of his important works, asking questions that many have asked about Milton’s most compelling literary masterpieces: how did humanism (training in ancient Latin and Greek) shape Milton’s imagination? How was Milton able to push himself into the forefront of the national stage through his writing? How do we reconcile Milton’s religious ideals with his humanist training? And finally, how do we respond to Milton’s aesthetic; that is, how can we appreciate his style of thought and mode of address in an age that no longer appreciates humanist poetic gestures? We will read his major works, including Comus, Lycidas, Paradise Lost, and Samson Agonistes, as well as some selections from his political treatises, including Areopagitica and Eikonoclastes.

Importantly, a major cross-current of this seminar will be to theorize the idea of subjectivity in Milton’s writing; that is, how does he speak of the individual subject –its constitution, its “rights,” its basis for resistance (or unique being)  or, too, its embodied form in terms of gender, nation, and class—within his Christian cosmos.  Within modern philosophy, we find a rich set of critical terms informed by various schools of art and thought to think about the problem of agency, autonomy, and expression.  In fact, as readers our own understanding of political and interpretative freedom so influenced by modern secular ideals informed by post-Enlightenment notions of the state (citizen, property, public vs. private, etc.) might cut us off from --or make us  deaf to – the peculiar bold leaps in Milton’s politics.  The idea of the modern “subject” will allow us to think about the startling vitality and seemingly uncanny difference of Milton’s revolutionary voice. 

LITR 480: Sex and Its Discontents

Dr. Melissa Jones

This class seeks to explore the organization, institutionalization, and performance of sex and sexuality across a range of historical periods and in a variety of literary genres.  Sex, much like pornography in Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition, is something we think we “know when we see it.” Whether we realize it or not, our automatic thinking about sexuality—its norms, practices, and associations—impacts and configures our ideas about institutions like marriage and family, spaces like “public” and “private,” and concepts like freedom, justice, and nation. I hope, over the course of our time together, to destabilize some of these automatic ideological and generic assumptions, using the deeply personal and also intensely cultural questions of sexual practice and identity to interrogate how lives have been, are, and can be lived.

As you can see from the list below, we’ll be reading an eclectic assortment of literary and theoretical texts, to press the questions asked in plays by well-knowns like William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe against those formulated in newer texts like Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home, or Tucker Max’s “fratire,” Assholes Finish First. We’ll be spending significant time perusing theoretical writing, too, asking what relevance Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents (in which he famously elaborates on “the pleasure principle”) might hold for us today, nearly one hundred years after the birth of psychoanalysis?  Likewise, we’ll seek to explore how a reading of feminist and queer theoretical texts such as Judith Butler’s Undoing Gender or Lee Edelman’s No Future might illuminate family lives, sexual practices, and erotic representations from the past as well as the present.

LITR 480/LITR 592: The Question of Convivencia -- Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Spain (Study Abroad, 4/25-5/2, 2017)

Dr. Natasa Kovacevic and Dr. Christine Neufeld

Since its introduction by 19th-century Jewish intellectuals, the concept of Convivencia, the vision of medieval Spain as an interfaith, multicultural utopia, has captured the popular and scholarly imagination, as well as inspired lively debate. This idea of a medieval contact zone of collaboration and conflict on the Iberian Peninsula begs to be considered in light of our contemporary historical moment, with Antisemitism on the rise in Europe, and an influx of Muslim refugees, especially across the Gibraltar strait, confronting the European Union very concretely with urgent questions about the possibility of coexistence and the forms it might take.

This study abroad course offers students the opportunity to explore the intersecting dimensions of knowledge, collective identity and cultural representation through the study of literature from and about medieval Spain and through a guided tour of the rich cultural heritage of stunning cities, such as Toledo, Seville and Granada. The course begins with an overview of the medieval history of the Iberian Peninsula in relation of the great works of philosophy and poetry produced by scholars immersed in Spain’s cultural and religious heterogeneity. With political and social space to thrive during the eighth to eleventh centuries in Spain, the Sephardic Jewish community produced a “Golden Age” of Jewish culture, generating some of Jewish philosophy’s most valuable works, as well as introducing radical poetic innovations that recuperated Hebrew as a living, poetic language. We will also explore some of the interactions between Jewish, Christian and Islamic intellectuals that played a central role in the transmission of science, medicine and philosophy from the Muslim East to the Christian West. Next, students will compare and contrast two of great medieval epics, The Song of Roland and El Cid, whose settings in Arab-occupied Spain invite us to consider how medieval audiences imagined the cultural contacts and political conflicts. We will then move on to study of Spain’s most renowned literary masterpiece, Don Quixote, written a century after the Reconquista, to examine what part Muslim Spain plays in the nostalgic medieval fantasies of Cervantes’ mad knight. Finally, the class will read two contemporary novels whose imaginative engagement with of the Spain’s literary and cultural heritage invite us to consider the ideological legacy and question of Convivencia in relation to contemporary contact zones. 

Note: We will have several class sessions on campus in April before we depart for Spain. 

LITR 512/585: Middle English Literature/Literature for Teachers

Dr. Christine Neufeld

This course introduces teachers to an exciting array of late medieval literary texts (1300-1500 CE) that they will most likely not have encountered during their undergraduate studies. In addition to familiarizing teachers with the diverse genres in Middle English textual culture that can expand their own teaching repertoire, this course also provides the opportunity to learn about common themes of medieval literature in relation to contemporary critical conversations (on topics like disability studies, gender studies, critical race theory, and the history of emotions, for example). Students of LITR 585 will focus on exploring the pedagogical resources available to teachers interested in medieval literature through weekly reading assignments and coursework, with the aim of creating lesson plans and pedagogical resources for their own classrooms. Students will also have the option to submit their coursework for publication in The Once and Future Classroom: Resources for Teaching Medieval Studies (http://once-and-future-classroom.org/) and to compete in the 4th Annual TEAMS K-12 Teaching Prize Competition (http://www.teams-medieval.org/awards.html).

LITR 526: 19th Century African American Literature

Dr. Robin Lucy

Literature 526 focuses on what Toni Morrison has described as the literate roots of the African American literary tradition: the slave narrative and its revisions after the end of slavery.  The course will also explore oral sources of African American writing by examining how folk tales, spoken histories, and music have shaped writing.  In turn, we will read African American texts in the context of other American writing of the period – Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) for example – and representations of African Americans and Black culture in popular forms: the plantation romance (the Uncle Remus tales of Joel Chandler Harris, for example) and the theater of minstrelsy / black face.  African American writers both drew on and subverted these representations in their work. 

We will read: the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs; the first play written and performed by an African American, The Escape (1858), by William Wells Brown; the post-Reconstruction conjure stories of Charles Chesnutt; Frances Watkins Harper’s rewriting of “the tragic mulatto,” Iola Leroy (1892); the political writings of Booker T. Washington and WEB Du Bois; James Weldon Johnson’s novel of passing, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912).  We will finish the class with selections from a list of of 20th-century texts that offer radically different interpretations of the slave narrative tradition as this genre has shaped fiction.  This list includes: George Schuyler’s Black No More (1931); Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937);  Ishamel Reed’s satiric, “Neo-Hoodoo” and post-modern Flight to Canada (1976); and Paul Beatty’s National Book Award-winning The Sellout (2015).  

LITR 576: 20th Century American Literature

Dr. Charles Cunningham

This course primarily employs a cultural studies approach to literature of the 20th century US. It looks the relationship between the great historical shifts and events of the period – the worlds wars, the Cold War, the Great Depression, the ascendance of monopoly/consumer capitalism, Fordism, post-Fordism, etc. – and literary and cultural production. The authors have read in past semesters have included Tillie Olsen, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Leslie Feinberg, Don DeLillo, John Steinbeck, Harriette Arnow, Richard Wright, Sylvia Plath, Thomas Pynchon, Barbara Kingsolver, and others. The course also tries to engage with readings on the MA exam list and with theoretical and critical texts in general. These writers may include, Benjamin, Foucault, Jameson, Marx, Sedgwick, Williams, and others. We will also screen some important films from the period.