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Topics Courses Fall 2020

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, 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?

The 1999 publication of N. Katherine Hayle’s landmark work, How We Became Posthuman, signalled the increasing importance of notions of the Posthuman to contemporary cultural, technological, and literary studies. Since the appearance of that work, a profusion of cross-disciplinary scholarly interest has transformed the Posthuman in ways that not even Hayles herself envisioned. The objective of this course is to familiarize students with key developments in the intellectual history of the Posthuman, with emphasis on its articulation in the fields of critical theory and literature. By the end of the course, students should not only have an understanding of the Posthuman informed by its foundational expressions as well as its contemporary innovations, but they should also be able to draw on the Posthuman as a lense for textual analysis.

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. 

An exploration of the history of book production, including paper, printing, typography, and binding. A special focus will be the history of scientific illustration. Students will work with rare books and ancient coins, as well as with specimens from the university's herbarium and entomology collections. Students from Departments other than English can enrol with consent of the instructor.

The year 1986 is routinely held up as a turning point in the history of the American comic book as it saw the release of three of the ten most taught graphic novels in the contemporary canon: Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen. This course will address these works and others from the period (Jaime Hernandez, Howard Chaykin, Charles Burns) in order to historicize the shift from the “comic book” to the “graphic novel” as it occurred.

Topics Courses Winter 2021

Instructor: Faye Halpern

How did enslaved people fight against slavery through their own narratives of their lives in bondage? How do contemporary authors revise these earlier narratives? Readings include two nineteenth-century slave narratives, Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, as well as Toni Morrison’s masterpiece Beloved (1987). Students will leave this course with different strategies for appreciating and interpreting literary works.

This class will explore a range of recent queer theoretical perspectives on video games, with attention to how four thematic dimensions of queer theory – affect, failure, sociality, and time – serve as particularly fruitful means of critically reading games. The class will be structured as an inquiry project that will consist of four primary assignments: PLAY (students must play a queer Indie game and offer a concise theoretical analysis, READ (students must acquire and analyze additional peer-reviewed resources on their selected inquiry topic, CREATE (in groups, using the free, MIT-developed, child-friendly coding software, Scratch, students will create a queer game), and SYNTHESIZE (the final assignment, an inquiry project synthesis, will as students to reflect how their thinking at the intersections of queer theory and gaming has shifted over the course of the term.

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?

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/).

This in-depth examination of the work of Carol Shields will examine her influence as a writer, critic, and reader within a critical context. Students will develop research questions and conduct original research on her oeuvre.


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