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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.

Fall 2014

LITR 440 (Undergraduate): Working Class Literature

Dr. Charles Cunningham

This course examines the powerful literature by and about working-class people, primarily from the United States. Focusing on the 20th century, we'll think of class as both an identity and as a relation determined by the structure of society. Texts and authors from past courses have included Thomas Bell, Out of this Furnace; Bonnie Joe Campbell, American Salvage; Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues; Denise Giardina, The Unquiet Earth; Harvey Pekar, The Quitter; John Edgar Wideman, Sent for You Yesterday; Richard Wright, Uncle Tom's Children; Ben Hamper, Rivethead. Other possibilities include stories, poems, and essays by William Gibson, Walt Whitman, Eugene Debs, Langston Hughes, Philip Levine, Robert Hayden, Tillie Olsen, Harriette Arnow, and many others. We will also screen some documentaries and fiction films, possibly including American Splendor; Struggles in Steel; Harlan County, USA; Salt of the Earth; I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang; Wild Boys of the Road; Blue Collar; and others. A key aspect of our efforts will be to look at working-class writing of Michigan and southeast Michigan. Requirements will include exams, short essays, and a flexible final project that could be "creative" in form.

LITR 443 (Undergraduate): Women in Literature

Dr. Elisabeth Daumer

LITR 450 (Undergraduate): Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison

Dr. Robin Lucy

This course will explore the work of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright. When Ralph Ellison arrived in New York City from Tuskegee, Alabama, Richard Wright, born in Mississippi, became an early supporter of his writing. Over the course of their lives and writing careers, from the 1930s to the 1960s, this relationship evolved from mentorship, to competition, to at times, animosity as each developed his craft. They remain two of the most important writers in the African / American canon. Both writers were involved with the Depression-era Works Project Administration creative projects, were Communist Party fellow travelers, activists, public intellectuals and literary critics. We will examine early proletarian works including Wright's collection of short stories Uncle Tom's Children (1938) and his photo-essay 12,000,000 Black Voices (1941) along with Ellison's magnificent short stories and essays of the Depression era. We will read Wright's novel, Native Son (1940) along with his first autobiography Black Boy (1945) and Ellison's short fiction of the World War II era. Ellison's novel Invisible Man (1952) – often described as the great American novel -- will be a major focus and we will explore elements of his posthumously-published novel, Three Days Before the Shooting (2010). Wright also produced a substantial body of existential fiction, including The Man Who Lived Underground (1942) and The Outsider (1953) and we will examine these texts along with his non-fiction essays and short stories of the final years of his career.

LITR 510 (Graduate): Critical Practices in Literary Studies

Dr. Andrea Kaston Tange

LITR 512 (Graduate): Middle English Literature

Dr. Martin Shichtman

LITR 592 (Graduate): Gothic Literature

Dr. Abby Coykendall

"Angelus Novus [by Klee] is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin ... The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress." — Walter Benjamin, "Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History"

LITR 592: Gothic Literature is a course in which you will investigate a wide variety of British gothic novels spanning the mid-eighteenth to the late nineteenth century.  The gothic is arguably the quintessence of genres, much less a normative literary style with a strict set of conventions (like the sonnet or short story) than a roving yet still recognizable cluster of tropes found in a disparate array of artistic media and traditions.  Indeed, the gothic tends to be particularly pronounced in works relatively new or untested on the cultural scene, so much so that its emergence can unsettle the very conception and cachet of culture itself.  

Consider the prevalence of gothic tropes in early popular fiction (Defoe, Stowe, Dickens), in romantic poetry (Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge), as well as in countercultural forces like critical theory (Freud, Derrida), class critique (Dickens, Marx, Romero), multiculturalism (Kingston, Morrison, Silko), or postcolonialism (Rushdie, Marquez, Ondaatje)—as well as, most notably, in feminism, with the so-called "female gothic" extending all the way from Radcliffe, Perkins Gilman, and the Brontës to twentieth-century writers like Isak Dinesen and Angela Carter.  Gothic settings and themes have also been prevalent in almost every national canon upon its first flowering—British, American, Celtic, Caribbean, South American, Southeast Asian—along with each successive mode of new media seemingly in turn: from early cinema (Dracula, Citizen Kane, Chinatown), its reverberations in pop culture (Rocky Horror, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), to the daytime soap opera, the MTV music video (New Order, Marilyn Manson), or the internet role-playing game.

All along the gothic has been the steadfast haunt of the marvelous, the monstrous, and the delectably horrific, yet notwithstanding the ubiquity and recurrence of its tropes, the protean genre remains one of the trickiest to classify definitively.  Ghosts, vampires, doubles, mutant creatures, haunted castles, orphaned heroines, forged manuscripts, wild landscapes, psychic fissures, secret hideaways, semi-candlelit labyrinths, and such like topoi of the supernatural litter its prolific pages—from the eighteenth-century orientalist tale, to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries of the nineteenth century, to the Twilight or Harry Potter sagas of today—although without any given one of these evocations being essential to subsequent iterations of the genre. 

Moreover, as befits a ghost- and goblin-ridden genre born illegit in the age of enlightenment, the gothic has impressed its contemporaries as decidedly cutting-edge and "modern" ever since its first inception; in fact, despite its unwavering fascination with the past and its insistence on the eternal return of the repressed, the gothic has sustained that aura of modernity now for three centuries and counting.  Perhaps even more curiously, the gothic encompasses everything from the utmost of conservatism to the utmost of radicalism, including everyone from the legendary Shakespeare (Macbeth) to the libertine Sade (Justine), the zealous counter-revolutionary Burke (Reflections) to his most outspoken public opponent Mary Wollstonecraft (Wrongs of Woman), not to mention her end-of-life partner, the anarchist philosopher Godwin (Caleb) and her famous daughter, Mary Shelley (Frankenstein).

The primary objective of this course is to investigate how the gothic genre transforms over time in relation to changing perceptions of modernity, beginning with the origins of the gothic—the seminal, if highly satiric, Otranto and the prototypical, although still highly parodic, Italian—and then continuing with an eclectic range of Victorian gothic novels: the queer gothic (Picture of Dorian Gray), the bourgeois detective mystery (The Moonstone), and the imperial adventure story (King Solomon's Mines).  Throughout the term, we will test both the utopian and dystopian visions of the genre, not only putting the gothic works in dialogue with the historical or philosophical context of the time, but also examining how they shape the myriad claims to (and contestations against) modernity that continue to vex our own.

LITR 566 (Graduate): Studies in 20th Century British Fiction

Dr. Paul Bruss

LITR 566 will address/interrogate the unstable and permeable edge between modernism and postmodernism. The seminar will consist of three units that attend to the deconstructionist tendencies already evident in modernism and then thoroughly explored in postmodernism: (1) the retreat from structures of "common meaning" and the destabilization of narrative; (2) the increasing commitment to a (postcolonial) reconsideration of empire/identity; and (3) the increasing attention to the uses and abuses of history. The seminar will focus on primary texts, five texts from the first half of the century, five from the second--but always in an effort to isolate the theoretical "fault lines," the moments of errancy when the text wanders beyond its putative framework and provides a window for exploring the murky relations between modernism and postmodernism. Occasionally, as time allows, the seminar will also refer to parallel developments in 20th c. art and architecture. While the reading list is not yet final, the ten texts will include a large number from the following:

Byatt, Possession (1990)
Conrad, The Secret Agent (1907)
Durrell, Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958)
Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)
Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969)
Lowry, Under the Volcano (1947)
Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh (1995)
Swift, Waterland (1983)
Thomas, The White Hotel (1981)
Welsh, Trainspotting (1993)
Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)