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Topics Courses Spring 2023

Topics Courses Winter 2023

Instructor: Derritt Mason


As Naomi Clark explains in “What Is Queerness in Games, Anyway?”: “Games, much like queers, have a long history of being maligned and regarded as frivolous, jejune, or degenerate.” Such resonances have enabled a recent explosion of theoretical work at the intersections of queer theory and gaming, as well as projects like the LGBTQ Game Archive and the Queerness and Games Conference (QGCON), which attracts scholars, gamers, and creators from around the world. Moreover, queer indie game designers like Anna Anthropy and Robert Yang continue to provide gamers and queer theorists with fodder for both play and analysis.

This class will explore a range of recent queer theoretical perspectives on video games, in addition to various manifestations of queerness in games themselves. The class consists of six modules, each of which explores a specific aspect of queerness and games: (1) definitions and core concepts of queer video game studies; (2) indie games and queer game history; (3) intersections of queerness and Indigeneity; (4) the (queer) art of failure; (5) queer space and time, and (6) the queer future of video games.

Instructor: Aruna Srivastava


With current debates in the US in particular from the right-wing banning the teaching of critical race theory, it is important to examine the long history of critical race studies, its origins in critical legal studies in the 80s and 90s, its various national and academic formations, especially in Canada, and its relationship to linked fields such as critical whiteness, ethnic and critical Indigenous studies,

In particular, the course will examine the contemporary relevance of CRT in activist movements such as Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, as well as in literary and artistic movements by racialized (BIPOC) academics and creators.

Instructor: Kit Dobson


This course is designed as an inquiry into the poetics of posthumanism in the place currently known as Canada. Working through theories of post-humanism, and especially post-human ecologies, this course brings students to encounters with the environment in contemporary poetry produced in Canada. It does so in the service of creating a dynamic textual encounter with the flows between the human and the more-than-human worlds that students and poets alike inhabit.

Students will seeks to engage the scholarship of research-creation in order to enable an expanded range for both scholarship and assessment: students in this course will have the capacity not merely to engage with poetic and artistic texts that challenge and blur the (post)human, but they will also have the opportunity to begin to take on the task of research-creation efforts in their own assessments for the course.

Contemporary texts by poets in Canada who take seriously questions of environment, land, and the unstable boundary between the human and the non-human will be studied. 

Instructor: Shaobo Xie


This course explores the idea of minoritarian writing as variously named and practiced in contemporary theory and literature. A minor literature, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is not literature written in a minor language; “it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language.”

Its three defining characteristics are:

  • the deterritorialization of language
  • the connection of the individual to a political immediacy
  • the collective assemblage of enunciation

The seminar discussions will center around the following questions:

  • What are the central concerns shared among various forms of contemporary minoritarian writing?
  • In what sense is minoritarian 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 minoritarian writing play in transforming the English classroom into a vibrant space of production of creative energies and ideas?

Instructor Faye Halpern


This class will follow critic Amy Kaplan’s lead in seeing American literary realism not as a reflection of social reality but as a means of constructing new ideas about such historical developments as the rise of the New Woman and the widespread violence against Black people in the Post-Reconstruction period. We will explore how realist texts depict these developments, how it arose as a response to antebellum sentimentality, and how it constructs its intended readers.

To what extent does it invite its readers to adopt a stance of critical distance? Assignments are aimed at introducing students to the different genres of academic life and will include blog posts, a teaching essay or analysis of a scholarly journal, and a conference paper and abstract. In this course, we’ll read works of fiction by Rebecca Harding David, Stephen Crane, Henry James, Charles Chesnutt, and Kate Chopin as well as a range of critical works: works that illuminate literary realism as a genre, works that theorize author-character-reader relationships, and works that expose current literary critical practices.

Instructor: Michael Clarke


A wave of pro-democracy movements has swept the world in recent decades, including the Arab Spring, Tajamuka in Zimbabwe, Movimiento 15-M in Spain, the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, Occupy Wall Street in the US, and campaigns in Burma, Sudan, and Belarus, to name a few, and these movements join longstanding campaigns 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.

Finally, feminist, anti-colonial, and race studies scholarship continues to challenge many of the supposedly liberatory premises of Western democratic theory.

This context has encouraged a new wave of art and theory on the possibilities, challenges, and contradictions 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.

Instructor: Morgan Vanek


In a 2016 interview with Dissent, feminist philosopher Nancy Fraser declares that the “current, financialized form of capitalism is systematically consuming our capacities to sustain social bonds,” producing a “crisis of care every bit as serious and systemic as the current ecological crisis, with which it is…intertwined.” For Wendy Brown, this crisis is one of the defining features of neoliberalism, the consequence of the “the relentless and ubiquitous economization of all features of life” – and, as economic historians from Silvia Federici and Marilyn Waring to Thomas Piketty have now observed, it has its origins in the gendered separation of social reproduction from economic production, and thus in the protocols of dispossession that helped to define and institutionalize these separate spheres over the course of the eighteenth century.

In this course, reading across a series of eighteenth-century debates about the value of women’s work (and lives) under this emerging capitalist order, we will examine how this notion of gendered difference was developed in order to hold these spheres apart. What, in the eighteenth-century imagination, was a ‘woman’ supposed to do? What economic conditions, institutions, and consequences could compel this work? What can we learn about the category of gender from what these writers imagined as existential threats to the emerging capitalist order? Insisting,  that the domestic policies of enclosure, dispossession, and accumulation that produced these gendered spheres of work and value cannot themselves be separated from the projects of British colonial settlement and mercantile expansion unfolding around the world during this period, and working to resist the separation of the archives that makes the relationship between these projects so difficult to see, most of our research in this course will be collaborative.

In the first half of term, you will prepare a research paper on the economic function of a distinct element of gendered difference in one of these eighteenth-century debates (about sex work, vagrancy, inheritance, the fur trade, the slave trade, or the trade in beauty), with the aim of comparing your findings to your classmates’ in a conference that will draw out points of connection and critical difference between these projects.

In the second half of term, we will use these findings to cast new light on the contemporary crisis of care, and you will collaboratively develop a 45-minute podcast episode on the economic function of a new element of gendered difference at another moment you identify as critical to the development of the catastrophe Fraser and Brown describe here.

Instructor: Aritha van Herk


An in-depth examination of Carol Shields as writer, critic, and biographer.

The writings of Carol Shields altogether comprise an astonishing achievement. In her life, she authored three collections of poetry, nine novels, three gatherings of short fiction (collated in Collected Stories), three works of biography and criticism, and seven works of drama, as well as editing two collections of essays by others (Dropped Threads). Her body of work and many awards (Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Mystery, Governor General's Award for Fiction, National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize,
Orange Prize, and Prix de Livre) declare her importance. More germane to our study will be her approach to meta-textual fiction, material detail, gender, and what has been called “radical ordinariness” or “the profundity of the mundane.”

This course will study the work of this author through the lens of genre and etched narrative, with attention to that aspect of trajectory and its resonance, how domestic and family origins are key to Shields’ process and literary production. Shields articulates a meta-textual oeuvre that raises questions for Canadian literature as well as for writing, particularly for what has been identified as domestic, or “women’s literature.” This class will examine that rubric but will also examine how her writing models different subversions
of realism, postmodernism, mystery, and autobiography.

Instructor: Bart Beaty


The Comics Canon: Maus. A follow-up to my 500-level course on Watchmen, this course has been requested by students several times.

This course will deal extensively with Art Spiegelman's Maus and its semi-sequel Meta-Maus, and the book's oversized influence on the fields of comics studies and autobiography studies.

Topics Courses Fall 2022

Instructor: Pamela Banting

Course Description:

Over the course of the semester, you will learn In this course we will study three or four areas of emergent contemporary theory: animal studies; plant studies; mineral studies (or elemental
ecocriticism); and maybe water studies or blue cultural studies.

Topics addressed across the spectrum of these divergent bodies of theory involve rethinking subjectivity, agency, communication (including 'the woodwide web' among trees and fungi, for instance), the nature/culture divide; and many more issues.

Can we learn to think with animals, plants, soil, and water rather than only about them as objects to our subject hood? How do we think about what Timothy Morton refers to as 'hyperobjects' or climate change?

Instructor: Clara Joseph

Course Description:

Thematically, this course will study travelogues on the search for “India” by Portuguese explorers Vasco da Gama and Pedro Alvares Cabral, where the seminar will pursue questions such as: What was the face of this early contact? What were the dominant ideologies that shaped contact? How does the genre of the travelogue both communicate and obstruct colonial ideology?

Other literary sources, such as Rohinton Mistry’s Swimming Lessons and Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger will carry related questions into the so-called post-colonial period, with an emphasis on genres of the postcolonial short story and novel and the theme of decolonization. Students will approach these as well as selected historical and political events (as published on the internet) through a theoretical framework derived by closely reading scholarly articles (listed below) on key postcolonial concepts.

Instructor: Joshua Whitehead

Course Description:

This graduate course will highlight important questions pertaining to Indigenous sexualities, genders, and sexes outside of, beyond, and sometimes aligned with Western conceptions of LGBTQ+. We will begin by unpacking the pan-conceptualization of Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous identities (2SQ) and instead locate it within the specific regional, cultural, and sovereign nations from which they emerge. We will think heavily on how 2SQness became/becomes traumatized from Christianity, contact, internal colonization, and intergenerationally and how it is becoming resurgent through contemporary and hi/storical literature and various cultural texts.

Students will develop a critical and decolonial understanding of queer and trans Indigeneity within its current colonized state as well as build a vocabulary of terminologies, both literary and linguistic, to use as lenses of analyses for the texts we will undertake. This class will take upon a breadth of texts that disrupt borders, time periods, and genres from a variety of peoplehoods such as: the Cree (incl. Plains and Driftpile), Cherokee, Lumbee, Osage, Inuk, Kumeyaay, Métis, Anishinaabe, and non-Indigenous.

Instructor: Pamela Banting

Course Description:

In a fossil-fueled world in which, for example, most of our food travels between 1500 and 3000 miles to land on our plates (our food is more well-travelled than we are), what is the meaning of walking, foot travel and other forms of bodily motion and locomotion?

When people spend more time on freeways and the information highway than face-to-face, what is the meaning of place or faces for that matter? What are the connections between face and place, and how can foot travel give us back both of those? How do we make sense of a world where under free trade agreements and globalization not only data and packages but animals, animal products and parts, and even human organs and blood are rushed frenetically around the world?

Where even bees are no longer local but trucked hundreds of miles from farm to farm to farm? In what ways do our stationary lives inhibit or skew our understanding of nature and wild animals? What is the meaning of the picaresque when it is our devices that are mobile, not us? (The flâneur as phoneur.)

Instructor: Maria Zytaruk

Instructor: Michael Ullyot

Course Description:

Shakespeare has long been a stalwart of the literary canon. But no amount of historical prestige will earn him our future respect. We can read historical texts in two ways: as historicists, situating their values and methods firmly in the early modern period of their origins; and as presentists, viewing them through the lens of our reception. This course does the latter, asking a question vital of all canonical texts: what value to they offer to readers now? Shakespeare can earn our attention by addressing our urgent projects of decolonization, racial reconciliation, queer equality, and patriarchy’s reckoning — and by reframing contemporary social forces from surveillance capitalism to climate change to political polarization.

This course tests Ben Jonson’s claim in the First Folio that Shakespeare was “not of an age, but for all time.” By reading his texts through the lens of the present, we will test not just his relevance but his worth. We will pair his texts with adaptations and commentary in these fields: selected sonnets with decolonization (L’Abbé); Titus Andronicus with racial justice (Loomba); As You Like It with gender fluidity (Sanchez, Stockton); Hamlet with surveillance (Schalkwyk); The Tempest with imperialism (Singh); The Taming of the Shrew with toxic masculinity (Schwarz). Some primary texts we will read, and others we will watch in performances that address these contemporary resonances — including the 2019 virtual reality adaptation Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit (YouTube VR), and film adaptations (Franco Zeffirelli’s 1967 Taming of the Shrew; Julie Taymor’s 2010 Tempest).


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