Sample Course Offerings - Modern Literature & Culture
ENGL 419: Contemporary Issues in Literature and Culture - Dr. Pamela Caughie
Speaking for and writing about the working-class can put one in an untenable position insofar as one's daily life depends upon the invisibility of their work and because of the elusive and unstable nature of class itself. "While class is constantly being rethought vis-à-vis the social, it is generally undertheorized in terms of the literary," writes literary critic Peter Hitchcock. In this course, we will confront the ethics and the hermeneutics of reading and writing across class lines. We will analyze literature, film, and theory from the early 20th century to our contemporary era in terms of the semiotics, not just the economics, of class. We will examine the implications of various definitions of class; analyze how class is negotiated in various types of writing (fiction, memoir, journalism, theory); confront how writers attempt to deal with the discomfort of writing across class boundaries; and discuss the class-inflected history of our own discipline. Reading class in literature is a matter of understanding how aesthetic taste and reading practices do not simply reflect but constitute class identity, and a matter of understanding how class “acts” in our everyday lives.
This course will be a seminar in the strict meaning of the term: a group of advanced students studying with a professor and each doing original research and all exchanging research and ideas through reports and discussions (adapted from Webster's Ninth). This course can fulfill either a theory or a modern literature requirement. We will begin with Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction : A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1984), and the PMLA Special issue: "Rereading Class" (January 2000). Other theorists we will likely read include Jean Baudrillard, Barbara Herrnstein-Smith, Jacques Rancière, and Rita Felski. Sample literary and filmic works (American and British) include Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth (1905); Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life(1933) and the 1934 film adaptation, Dir. John Stahl; Stella Dallas(1937), Dir. King Vidor; Ann Petry, The Street (1946); Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Life as We Have Known It (1931); Virginia Woolf’s Flush (1933); George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (1937); Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (1988); and Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis(2003).
ENGL 490: Topics in American Literature - Dr. Jeffrey Glover
Literature is often thought of as synonymous with the printed word. But print often signifies in tandem with other ways of sharing information, including writing, oral publication, and public readings and performances. In this course, we will undertake a comparative survey of the English-language literatures of the early Atlantic world. Our aim will be to situate English colonial writing in a broader public context that included Spanish, French, Dutch and Native cultures. Our readings will range across a number of genres, including settlement histories, spiritual autobiography, and captivity narratives, as well as several different forms of media, including print, manuscript, oratory and performance. We will discuss topics such as conquest and discovery, religion and magic, intercultural encounter, independence movements and nationhood, states as publishers, and the theory and practice of international law. Our focus throughout will be on written and printed artifacts rather than anthologized texts.
ENGL 488: Twentieth-Century Literature in English - Dr. Joyce Wexler
As twentieth-century writers confronted the political violence of their time, they were overcome by rhetorical despair. Unspeakable acts left writers speechless. Writers knew that the atrocities of the century had to be represented, but this was a daunting responsibility. What made writing about twentieth-century violence so difficult was that it occurred in a secular age. In the past, communal beliefs had justified or condemned the most horrific acts, but the late nineteenth-century crisis of belief made any consensus about the meaning of violence unattainable. This situation produced an aesthetic dilemma because representation always expresses beliefs. To write about violence is to give it a meaning. A dead body does not explain itself, and the narrative of the suicide bomber is not the story of the child killed in the blast. In this course we will ask how the new forms of the early twentieth century represent the political violence of the period. Our primary texts will be Heart of Darkness, Women in Love, The Waste Land, Mrs. Dalloway, Midnight's Children, and Austerlitz.
ENGL 480: Studies in Modernism: Queer Modernism - Dr. Pamela Caughie
“The twentieth century is often called ‘the century of sex’.” In the early decades, the birth control movement, the suffrage movement, increasing advocacy for homosexuals, and the new science of sexology all contributed to this moniker. Sex became more and more central to identity and to scientific research. Contemporary genealogies of transgender are now returning to the scene of the modern, for the modernist era (c. 1890-1940) witnessed tremendous change in concepts of sexual and gender identity. Psychoanalysts, sexologists, and endocrinologists were challenging the sacrosanct nineteenth-century belief in sexual dimorphism. Anthropologists were disclosing the tradition of the “man-woman” (men dressing and living as women) in various cultures. The “new woman” was cutting her hair, wearing pants, smoking in public, and riding the subway, arousing anxiety about "masculine women and feminine men," the title of a 1926 popular American song. In Germany in the 1920s endocrinologists and sexologists connected to Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin were preparing for the first transsexual surgeries. In Copenhagen in 1928 Hirschfeld, British sexologist Havelock Ellis, and Swiss psychiatrist Auguste Forel founded the World League for Sexual Reform. Add to these events numerous literary examples of transgender, works such as Sherwood Anderson's “The Man Who Became a Woman” and James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness and Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1928), and Djuana Barnes's Nightwood (1936), and is it any wonder that Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929, “No age can ever have been as stridently sex-conscious as our own”?
This is the historical context for this course on Queer Modernity. We will read primary works, fiction and nonfiction, from the early 1900s through the 1930s, along with secondary scholarship in modernist and queer studies. Readings include works by sexologists Edward Carpenter, Havelock Ellis, Magnus Hirschfeld, and Norman Haire; novels by Virginia Woolf, Radclyffe Hall, Djuna Barnes, and Christopher Isherwood; and scholarship by historians Robert Beachy and Alison Oram, and literary scholars Tim Armstrong, Heather Love, and Christopher Reed (among others). Students will give one oral presentation with a written component and produce a final research project to be tailored to the student’s disciplinary interests.