Department of English
Fall 2020 Courses
Instructor: Dr. Clara Joseph
This course will provide an in-depth study of seminal texts in poststructuralism and postcolonialism. Both poststructuralism and postcolonialism have been shaped by each other and preceding movements, for instance, Formalism and Marxism. Poststructuralism and postcolonialism have also, in turn, influenced several other related fields and theories, such as Ecocriticism, Gender studies, and Digital Humanities. Students will, therefore, read primary sources to understand, interpret, and discern premises and problems in literary and cultural theory and, importantly, learn how to derive theoretical methodologies for writing about literary and cultural texts.
Readings would cover some of the well-known theorists (Barthes, Derrida, Spivak, Said, etc.) but also interdisciplinary sources that adopt poststructuralism and postcolonialism to make sense of processes outside literary studies. A literary anthology will accompany the theoretical readings to allow students to easily apply theories and practice formulating methods of reading and interpreting.
The instructor sees this as a fundamental course that can help shape and refine MA and PhD theses in the Humanities and the Social Sciences.
Instructor: Dr. Pamela Banting
Climate change presents a profound historical rupture and threatens our very presumption of our own survival as individuals and possibly our continuation as a species. In this course we will analyze how the Anthropocene is represented in contemporary texts. How might studying such representations advance our thinking about how to live on in this rapidly unfolding epoch? Should we call it the Anthropocene, Capitalocene (Moore, Klein), Chthulucene (Haraway), Plasticene, the Great Derangement (Ghosh), the Long Emergency (Kunstler), climate change or “everything change” (Atwood)? What role can those of us in the Arts play in helping our fellow citizens comprehend it, forestall widespread misery and catastrophe and envision non-fossil-fueled social formations? When, collectively, humans – especially those of First World, capitalist nations – become agents of geological change, what happens to notions of agency and subjectivity? What does human agency mean in light of the fact that we owe every second breath we take to plankton, tiny creatures that are having difficulty forming their shells in the acidified ocean? Will the future be settled or nomadic? Will we be vaulted into extreme precarity, a semblance of the homestead era or dystopias of the kind we read about in speculative fiction?
Theoretical readings will pertain to terminology (as above); survival; connections between decarbonization and decolonization; concepts of matter and materiality; bodies, corporeality, life; subjects, objects and agency; energy; food security; extirpation / extinction; systems and infrastructure; pollution and toxicity; plastic; social and environmental justice; elemental ecocriticism; resilience, action and activism.
Literary texts will include (but not be restricted to) Richard Powers, The Overstory (novel) and Adam Dickinson, Anatomic (poetry).
Instructor: Dr. David Sigler
In this seminar, we will see how a number of important women writers in the British Romantic period—historians, cultural critics, novelists, and poets—began to describe themselves as “future historians,” an oxymoron that suggests a strange relationship between gender and temporality. As male cultural commentators were predicting calamity in the face of permanent war and likely revolution, these women, including Britain’s first openly female historian Catherine Macaulay, the feminists Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays, the poets Hannah Cowley, Anna Barbauld, and Charlotte Smith, and the science fiction pioneer Mary Shelley, were writing in fractured temporalities as if they were benevolent visitors from the future, able already to offer the benefit of hindsight. By describing current events from outrageously impossible perspectives, these women were challenging the very meaning of being contemporary, developing a line of argument that put women and gender at the forefront of history. As writing from the future became an available discourse to Romantic-era women writers, it enabled those who would otherwise have been marginalized in political debates to challenge many of Great Britain’s most hegemonic institutions, such as imperialism, capitalism, the slave trade, the monarchy, and conjugal heterosexuality.
This course is designed to offer students new to graduate studies or new to the University of Calgary an introduction to a variety of scholarly and professional skills. The aim is to ensure you have the training to help you succeed academically and professionally. To this end, guest with a range of expertise will meet with us each week to present their areas of research or their research methodologies, to help you develop specific skills (grant writing for example, or advanced library research), or guide you through useful practices such as proposal writing and conference presentation).
This is a half-year, pass/fail course, not included in GPA.
Instructor: Vivek Shraya
In this course, we will examine several contemporary popular prose texts including science fiction, fantasy, YA/children's lit, graphic novel, romance and horror to inspire and inform students' own writing in this field, which will also be discussed. We will not only analyze what is popular and the conventions of popular genre, but also what is unpopular and why. Students will be expected to experiment with stretching notions of the popular (and the limits of particular popular genres) in their own writing to create narratives that push beyond what is expected.
In order to be considered for a place in this course, potential students must submit a portfolio of creative work by August 1, 2020. Download application form.
Winter 2021 Courses
Instructor: Dr. Shaobo Xie
This course explores the idea of minority writing as variously named and practised in
contemporary theory and literature. A minor literature, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is not literature written in a minor language, but a minor, intensive, or subversive use of the major language. It implies four negations or rejections as Foucault would insist, or, to borrow terms from Nietzsche, it is an “untimely” style of writing, which “act[s] counter to our time and thereby act[s] on our time . . . for the benefit of a time to come.” The seminar discussions will center around the following questions: What are the central concerns shared among various forms of contemporary minority writing? In what sense is minority writing a revolutionary force? Why is it that a minor literature always opens up a new way of imagining or experiencing aesthetic, cultural, and epistemological otherness? To what extent might a minor literature deterritorialize dominant language and social imaginaries in a way that is really heterogeneous or external to the rule of neoliberal capitalism? What role can minority writing play in transforming the English classroom into a vibrant space of production of creative energies and ideas?
Instructor: Michael Ullyot
In the 1980s, new historicists expanded literary critics’ use of archival evidence. Similarly in the 2010s, digital humanists expanded our use of machine-readable texts. Using tools like the Natural Language Toolkit on text corpora like the HathiTrust Digital Library, we base critical arguments on ever-expanding evidence. But setting aside mere capabilities, what methodological principles impel this expansion? This course considers how literary critics have used textual evidence in the past, how we use it today, and how future critics can combine persuasive discourse with claims to categorical evidence. We begin with new historicist and cultural-materialist arguments for embedding literary texts in social texts. Then we examine digital editions and text corpora that critics parse with increasingly nuanced tools. Our core question is what effect these expansions of evidence have on literary-critical methodologies, particularly as they resist arbitrary case-studies or exemplary close readings. What do we gain and lose by treating literary texts as data? How much evidence is sufficient to make an argument, and who decides? How can our criticism be both rhetorical and empirical? Assignments will include:
● a presentation on a major text by a chosen author comparing it to a larger corpus;
● an annotated bibliography of books and articles since 2015; and
● a research essay.
Provisional Reading List
Readings will include the 2019 and forthcoming 2021 editions of Debates in the Digital Humanities; recent books on texts and data (Andrew Piper, Jessica Pressman) and on literary periods (Ted Underwood); recent articles on computation and evidence from New Literary History and Critical Inquiry; and key backgrounds on reader response (Stanley Fish) and new historicist criticism (Stephen Greenblatt, Catherine Gallagher). Students will also read 1 book-length text by a proposed author whose complete corpus is machine-readable and out of copyright.
Instructor: Dr. Jacqueline Jenkins
In this course, students will encounter the English Middle Ages from a transcultural perspective. With a focus on globalism, the course seeks to de-centre medieval England by bringing western medieval studies, specifically the study of medieval English literature and culture, into conversation with critical work in the fields of globalization and global literature, postmodernity, and race and ethnicity studies, among others. Beginning with a focus on medieval map-making, the histories of travel and pilgrimage, and even the ubiquity and movement of the plague known as the Black Death, we will consider the ways medieval English literature represents encounters with the world outside its national and social boundaries. We will also consider the transcultural movement of literature itself through consideration of select texts, specifically romances, whose analogues and ‘afterlives’ speak to the permeability of linguistic, national and cultural borders. Readings will include literary and non-literary texts, and though the focus will be on Middle English texts, students will also read works from languages other than English (in Modern English translations) as well as a wide range of contemporary critical work. The course will end with a consideration of the ways notions of the ‘medieval’ continue to pervade national discourses and have been leveraged, for instance, to support the formation of white nationalist identities. Readings for this concluding section will be drawn from ongoing scholarly discussions, for instance in online forums such as The Public Medievalist (https://www.publicmedievalist.com/) and In the Medieval Middle (http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/).
Instructor: Dr. Michael Clarke
Pro-democracy movements have swept the world in recent decades, including the Arab Spring, Tajamuka in Zimbabwe, Movimiento 15-M in Spain, the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, and campaigns in Myanmar and Sudan, to name a few, and these movements join longstanding crusades like the pro-democracy movement in China. Meanwhile, we have seen the renewal of far-right activism, fascism, and totalitarianism in various parts of the world. Powerful global economic institutions operating outside the control of democratic governments are also putting pressure on democratic governance, and the widespread political prioritization of security and terrorism within ostensibly democratic nations often curtails both citizens’ and non-citizens’ rights, undermining the individual liberty that has long been an integral component of democratic politics.
This context has encouraged a new wave of art and theory on the possibilities and challenges of democracy. This course situates the current outpouring of theoretical reflection in the long history of democratic theory and reads a range of literary texts in relation to such work and as theory in its own right.
Course readings will be selected from among such works as Crèvecœur’s Letters from an American Farmer (1782), Balzac’s The Chouans (1829), Whitman’s Song of Myself (1855 edition), Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869), Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008), Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China (2014), Hardt and Negri’s Assembly (2017) and Multitude (2005), essays by Agamben, Badiou, Bourdieu, Butler, Žižek and others in What Is a People? (2016) and Democracy in What State? (2012), Brown’s Undoing the Demos (2015), Nancy’s The Truth of Democracy (2010), Rancière’s Hatred of Democracy (2009), Derrida’s Rogues (2005), Mouffe’s The Democratic Paradox (2000), Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), Mill’s On Liberty (1859), de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835/1840), and Rousseau’s The Social Contract (1762).
Graduate program contacts
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Graduate Program Advisor
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Associate Head (Graduate Program)
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Dr. Stefania Forlini
Creative Writing Coordinator
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