Literature | LIT: Fall 2018
Six sections and one online course available Fall 2018
LIT 110 introduces (at the college level) and explores the primary genres of literature: poetry, fiction, and drama. The course emphasizes close reading skills and the writing of smart, effective essays of literary analysis. Along the way, we’ll also work diligently on acquiring the critical terms and concepts crucial to the study (and enjoyment) of literary works.
In this course, we’ll explore and the historical and current relevance of Thoreau’s famous assertion that “in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Given that our present cultural moment seems increasingly dominated by politics and technologies of control (cyber surveillance, government-sponsored violation of privacy, police profiling, mass deportation, synthetic biology and geoengineering) what value (if any) might there be in calling for the preservation of “wildness” today? How is valorizing “wildness” conceptually linked with wilderness’s meanings in modern thought? In this course, we’ll examine how Romantic-era thinkers changed our cultural understanding of the “wild” and consider the political and aesthetic legacies of this transformation. Although we’ll begin with late-18th Century texts, we’ll also address contemporary literature (such as New Weird fiction) and environmental movements (such as re-wilding) that celebrate wildness even (and especially) in the context of Anthropocene culture.
CRN 74103 | Tuesdays & Thursdays 12:30PM - 1:50PM
In this course, we’ll be exploring a wide range of approaches to literary interpretation. Along the way, we’ll consider the history of English as a distinct academic discipline and the evolution of critical theory in the 20th Century and beyond. Some of the issues we’ll explore include whether interpretation should focus on uniquely “literary” aspects of creative texts, the relationship between texts and the “outside” world (literature’s social and/or historical contexts), what it means to be an author as well as a reader of texts, whether texts reflect human psychology and to what degree they can be regarded as “meaningful” in any stable sense. In sum, just what are we doing when we claim to be interpreting a work of literature? Another major focus in this course will be how to use ideas derived critical theory to interpret specific texts. Writing assignments are places to test both your understanding of critical theory and your ability to apply theoretical concepts creatively to interpret literary texts. We will use literary theory as a framework for interpreting texts which are hermeneutically challenging, by authors such as Flannery O’Connor, Franz Kafka, Joseph Conrad, Chinua Achebe, China Miéville and others.
CRN 73008 | Tuesdays & Thursdays 9:30AM - 10:50AM
In this introductory course in literary and cultural theory, we will attempt to explore representative schools of and issues in contemporary criticism (formalism, postmodernism, eco-criticism, postcolonial/colonial criticism/psychoanalytic criticism). We will be working, therefore, to build an analytic and critical vocabulary for the activity of reading select number of texts from the canons of literary criticism and from the canons of Anglo-phone culture.
In addition to this “first-principles” objective, however, we will also attempt to engage with such complexities of the current theoretical debate as “the question of the author,” the reconciliation of form and content, the agon of canon formation and canon busting, and, finally, with the crucial issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality.
Throughout the course we will be moving toward our current early twenty-first century moment in which the range and scope of the labor of the literary critic seems—in light of the rise of a host of non-traditional representational and narrative forms—to be both expanding and contracting. Film, video games, the world of the digital, social media, all require the decoding and demystifying work of the engaged critic. A specific focus on Trans Theory and on Critical Race Theory will considering Jack Halberstam’s Trans* a Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability along with excerpts from texts such as Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts and alongside such practices as those embedded in Drag shows, both King and Queen, and a reading of Langston Hughes as against and with The Black Panther (2018).
CRN 70334 | Tuesdays & Thursdays 11:00AM - 12:20PM
LIT 304 examines a limited number of extraordinary African American novels in their historical, cultural, and especially literary contexts. Beginning with Harriet E. Wilson’s Our Nig (1859), we’ll trace the evolution of the African American Novel from the era of sentimental fiction to after postmodernism, explore the impact of the blues on the genre, sound the energy and legacy of the New Negro Renaissance, and read in light of the arguments, disagreements, and cultural analyses of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, among others. As the course progresses, we’ll also have opportunities to discuss different critical theories and apply them to the primary texts. The course aims to deepen your sense of African American literary history and to deepen your interpretative skills.
Texts (Subject to Revision)
- Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. (Vintage.)
- Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. (Harper Perennial Modern Classics.)
- Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. (Vintage.)
- Petry, Ann. The Street. (Mariner.)
- Reed, Ishmael. Mumbo Jumbo. (Scribner.)
- Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad. (Anchor.)
- Wilson, Harriet E. Our Nig. (Penguin Classics.)
CRN 74917 | Tuesdays & Thursdays 12:30PM - 1:50PM
This course is an introductory study of seven of Shakespeare’s plays. We will begin with a comedy, As You Like It, and end with a romance, The Winter’s Tale, but for the most part we will concentrate on what are often called Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies: Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. We will devote much of our time to discussing the things one always wants to discuss in responding to a play: plot, character, theme, mood, figurative pattern, linguistic energy, larger meanings, broader contexts. We will, too, trace connections among the plays we read, clarify the basic preoccupations expressed in the different genres in which Shakespeare works, and explore the distinctive ways in which Shakespeare represents the self. We will try to understand, from a range of perspectives, what Shakespearean tragedy is all about.
CRN 70310 | Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:00PM - 3:20PM
In this course, we’ll explore the complex (and, at times, contradictory) meanings which the term “nature” had for writers of the Romantic period. We’ll examine debates among writers regarding “natural rights” and/or whether there is a universal human subject which should serve a basis for political enfranchisement. Similarly, we’ll address the question of whether Romantic writers naturalize political issues (such as poverty, gender or race identity) in potentially problematic ways. We will also expand the scope of our discussion of “natural rights” to include the issue of whether non-human entities could (hypothetically) be included within the scope of such an ethic. We’ll see that a range of writers debate the question of whether there should be a firm line drawn between humans and animals on this issue. Finally, we’ll address whether Romantic-era writing reflects what could be called a nascent “environmental” consciousness – i.e. an awareness of nature as a web of interconnected ecosystems, concern regarding environmental degradation in the form of pollution and resource exploitation, and a desire to preserve biodiversity. There will be an emphasis on connecting Romantic thought about nature to ongoing, unresolved controversies today over what this term signifies and/or whether it has become “obsolete” in the Anthropocene era.
CRN 74621 | Tuesdays & Thursdays 3:30PM - 4:50PM
This course focuses on John Milton’s epic retelling of the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Like other great works of literature from before our time that continue to fascinate today, Paradise Lost cultivates the habit of studying the past as a way of thinking critically about the present. As we witness Milton himself questioning, challenging, and creatively refashioning the Bible, major works from classical Greece and Rome, and entrenched interpretations of these books—effectively making them new for his own time—we find that the poem is prompting us to do the same with its own text. In short, one discovers that Paradise Lost has as much to do with our personal and global concerns in 2018 as it does with Milton’s immediate concerns in 17th-century England. The poem will engage us in fruitful debates about the meanings of “good” and “evil”; the nature of love; the politics of gender and marital relationships; the respective responsibilities of citizens, leaders, and governments; the age-old question, “what is the good life?”; and the ecological relationships between the Earth and its human inhabitants. We’ll also study closely the aesthetic and scientific fabrics of the several “worlds” that comprise the multiverse Milton creates in this most cosmic of epic poems.
Time permitting, we’ll conclude the semester with comparative analysis of Paradise Lost and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
- — Paradise Lost, Ed. B. Lewalski (Wiley Blackwell)
- — Milton’s Selected Poetry and Prose, Ed. J. P. Rosenblatt (Norton Critical Editions)
- — Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials trilogy.
Satisfies general education “L” and advanced writing (W) requirements
CRN 74939 | Mondays & Wednesdays 2:00PM - 3:20PM | Davidson Honors College
This course will begin with a survey of Celtic literature, from the ancient myths through the plays and poems of William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, Lady Gregory, and others. These readings are wonderful by themselves, and will guide us through the exciting literary era called the Irish Literary Renaissance.
We will then carefully read James Joyce’s Dubliners, the loosely connected collection of fifteen short stories that culminates with the renowned story, The Dead. The stories concern many aspects of the city of Dublin and its inhabitants. Joyce wrote: “I call the series Dubliners to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city”
Joyce once wrote: "I have discovered that I can do anything with language I want."
These stories are written in the characteristic early style of Joyce as he began his lifetime of developing writing styles that continued in Ulysses and in Finnegans Wake.
We will then carefully read James Joyce’s semi-autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This novel begins with the thoughts of a very young Stephen Dedalus: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down the road met a nicens little boy named tuckoo…” The novel ends as the 22 year-old Stephen Dedalus writes in his diary: “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
This course will be taught as a seminar instead of a lecture course and will encourage active participation and discussion by students. A moderate number of literary critical articles will augment the texts and there will be ample opportunity for further studies.
This course is open to students of all academic majors.
CRN 73215 | Mondays & Wednesdays 3:30PM - 4:50PM | Davidson Honors College
“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead
Don’t be shocked when I say I was in prison. You’re still in prison. That’s what America means: prison.
—Malcolm X, “Message to the Grassroots”
This course, “Montana, Manifest Destiny and Mass Incarceration,” will highlight issues that are specific to the Rocky Mountain West and to socio-cultural phenomenon of Mass Incarceration in Montana: Tribal Sovereignty, rurality, and economic and social class. The course is sponsored by the Mellon Foundation and the Humanities Action Lab and will not only function as a theoretical and cultural inquiry into the phenomenon of Mass Incarceration—the term by which activists and intellectuals designate the epoch of the last forty years in which incarceration has exploded in the United States, been privatized, and become big business.
The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world. With approximately 1 in every 108 American adults currently in jail or prison, the per capita rate of incarceration is 50% higher than Russia’s (in second place) and over three times higher than China’s. Incarceration is deeply divided by race: 1 in 15 African American men are currently incarcerated compared to 1 in 106 white men, and Hispanics are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of whites. In 1972, there were only 300,000 people behind bars in the US; today, that number has skyrocketed seven times, to 2.3 million. This phenomenon of Mass Incarceration is unique in US history: the country now has the most incarcerated people per capita and in absolute terms than ever before. These statistics not only describe a transformation of our prison system, but also indicate how its recent, rapid, and racialized growth has shaped society on a wider scale: labor and economic systems; cultural production; racial power structures; landscapes and communities; and democratic practice. How did this staggering change come about, and so quicky? How is Mass Incarceration rooted in much longer histories, such as that of Manifest Destiny? And how can exploring cultural representation lead to understanding and to future change?
Montana is unique in the map of Mass Incarceration in that it shares a specific historical relationship to Manifest Destiny, to the colonization of the West, and to the setting aside of reserved land both for the purposes of incarceration and for settlement. Together prisons and reservations form a complex and multivalent carceral archipelago. As Luana Ross says in her text Inventing the Savage: The Social Construction of Native American Criminality, “[Native people] have been imprisoned in a variety of ways. They were confined in forts, boarding schools, orphanages, jails and prisons and on reservations. Historically, Native peoples formed free, sovereign nations with distinct cultures and social and political institutions reflecting their philosophies. Today, Native peoples are not free; they are a colonized people seeking to decolonize themselves.” Understanding Mass Incarceration in Montana, is, in part, to understand contemporary processes of decolonization and to similarly focus on the labor politics of contemporary capital in the context of incarceration.
In addition to our focus on Montana, the course will read Black Prison Poetics, theories and histories of Slavery, literary and cultural texts in order to understand Mass Incarceration. The two foundations of the course will be work in and with the Missoula Juvenile Justice System in the working with The Free Verse Project and the construction of our own collective “chapter” for inclusion in the traveling exhibit “States of Incarceration” that has been is created by over 500 people in 17 states, and is still growing (e.g. http://statesofincarceration.org/states/minnesota-carceral-colonialism-imprisonment-indian-country). The exhibit explores the roots of mass incarceration in communities—to open national dialogue on what should happen next: statesofincarceration.org The exhibition will travel to the University of Montana and both pick up and then forever include our specific contribution to the national dialogue. The work on this exhibit, which will involve chosing/editing of images, text, digital media for “chapter,” will be the primary work of the class.
Texts (subject to change and to addition):
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, selections from The House of the Dead
- Malcom X, selections from The Autobiography of Malcolm X
- Oscar Wilde, selections from De Profundis
- Selections from Orange is the New Black
- Rosenberg, Newman, et al. Cool Hand Luke, 1967.
- William Faulkner, “Old Man.”
- Selections from the work of “The Last Poets,”: Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan.
- D’Arcy McNickle, The Surrounded.
- Selections from The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader.
- Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
- Cynthia Duquette Smith and Teresa Bergman, “You Were on Indian Land: Alcatraz Island as Recalcitrant Memory Space,” from Places of Memory: The Rhetoric of Museums and Memorials (University of Alabama Press, 2010), 160-190.
- Luana Ross, Inventing the Savage:
- Laleh Khalilli, Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies (Introduction, Ch.1 and 5).
- “The Disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’,” The Guardian, February 24, 2015.
- Film: Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, directed by Rory Kennedy (2007)
- Christian Parenti, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in an Age of Crisis (Preface and Ch. 1).
- “Right on Crime Statement of Principles and The Conservative Case for Reform”
- See “Historians Confront the Carceral State: Special Issue,” The Journal of American History, Vol. 102, No. 2 (June 2015) for a number of very recent and great pieces on incarceration in historical context, including: Kelly Lytle Hernández, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, and Heather Ann Thompson, “Introduction: Constructing the Carceral State,” pp. 18—24.
CRN 74623 | Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:00PM - 3:20PM | UG|G
Indian? Pakistani? English? American? That Salman Rushdie defies any simple national categories makes him one of contemporary fiction's most international writers, and explains his own sense of himself as a "cultural mongrel" and a "bastard child of history." It is hard to overstate the importance of Rushdie in the world of contemporary literature. Not only has he made the category of British fiction more capacious, but his work has come to represent the new novel: postcolonial, decentered, transnational, interlingual, cross-cultural. It has also been celebrated for its historical understanding, its intellectual and linguistic playfulness, and its promotion of border crossings, both literal and figurative.
In this course, we'll read four of Rushdie's major novels – Midnight’s Children, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh – as well as a selection of his short stories and essays; we'll also consider some of his primary influences, such as The Arabian Nights and The Wizard of Oz. Especially given the current conflicts between the West and militant Islam, it remains an opportune time to reexamine the issues surrounding Rushdie's most troubling claim to fame: the controversy and fatwa that followed the publication of The Satanic Verses. More broadly, though, our goal will be to consider such notions, metaphors, and tropes as hybridity, the figure of the migrant, borders and frontiers, sectarianism, history as story, the idea of Islam, multiculturalism, the global village, etc. And we must be sure to take time to relish Rushdie's novels for the endlessly inventive, brilliant page-turners that they are.
CRN 74018 | Tuesdays & Thursdays 11:00AM - 12:20PM
LIT 522 explores fictions that reach for, trouble, ironize, or otherwise grapple with the limits (if there are any) of the novel as a literary form. Not content with telling stories, writers such as Sterne, Melville, O’Brien, and others, building upon some of the greatest traditions in world literature, tell stories within stories, mix genres, parody storytelling, seemingly lose control of both their characters and their narratives, and otherwise see how far they can push (or break?) the bounds of setting, plot, character, point of view, and more. Menippeans, anatomists, fabulists, satirists, jokesters, and keen dissectors of the mind, they mock, digress, play games, lose track, lie, and otherwise try everything they can think of; at the same time, not content with mere gamespersonship, they dive as deeply as they can into the imagination and the sometimes dark, even furious realms of motivation and desire. While some of these strategies and concerns perhaps became commonplace among the postmoderns, our course engages a far deeper tradition of searching or self-conscious (or perhaps fortuitous) artists from ancient Rome to the postmodern era.
Texts (Subject to Revision!)
- Apuleius. The Golden Ass. (Oxford World’s Classics.)
- Borges, Jorge Luis. Ficciones. (Grove.)
- Burton, Robert. The Essential Anatomy of Melancholy. (Dover.)
- Flaubert, Gustave. Bouvard and Pécuchet. (Dalkey.)
- Machado De Assis, Joaquim Maria. The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas. (Oxford.)
- Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. (Penguin Classics.)
- O’Brien, Flann. At Swim-Two-Birds. (Dalkey Archive.)
- O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. (Mariner.)
- Sebald, W.G. The Rings of Saturn. (New Directions.)
- Stein, Gertrude. A Novel of Thank You. (Dalkey Archive.)
- Sterne, Laurence. Tristram Shandy. (Norton Critical Edition.)
- Woolf, Virginia. Orlando. (Harvest Books Annotated Edition.)
CRN 74017 | Mondays 3:00PM - 5:50PM
Death and Literature
In this seminar, we will discuss death. We will read literature, social history, and a range of philosophical and critical work, but the primary aim will be to better situate ourselves to understand this fundamental human experience, which modern culture conspires to place further and further from direct view. Literature will be the central tool through which we explore this experience.
We will pose a set of interlocking questions: What role does literature play in helping us understand death? Is literature well-situated to provide witness to the experience of death in a culture where death is less often directly accessible to us? What value does a richer understanding of past death practices have in the way we might re-imagine death in the present? What value might encounters with the literature and art of death from other cultures play in re-imagining death? What does it mean to think about death in an increasingly virtual world, where constructions of immortality rooted in a definition of humanity as “information” are now possible?
Students themselves will generate a good portion of the reading list, especially for the latter half of the semester, but a tentative reading list will include: death scenes from ancient and medieval epic poetry (Iliad, Aeneid, Beowulf, Chanson de Roland), the medieval morality play Everyman and a modern theatrical re-telling of it; John Lydgate’s Danse Macabre; selected poems of John Donne, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Japanese Zen masters; Leo Tolstoy, “The Death of Ivan Illych;” George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo; and David Eagleman, Sum. We will read all or part of the following historical, cultural and philosophical explorations of death: Phillipe Aries, Western Attitudes Toward Death and Dying; Jessica Mitford’s, American Way of Death and Dying; Robert Pogue Harrison, Dominion of the Dead; Sandra Gilbert, Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve; and Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization. We will also read select philosophical texts on death, including excerpts from Bakthin, Bataille, Baudrillard, and Blanchot.
Students will write weekly positions papers about the readings, engaging in substantive, critical discussion of the form, structure, and content of the course material. They will also give three class presentations: one on a shared critical reading, one on an independent reading, and one on their final project.
Students will write a culminating paper (15-20 pp), the topic and content worked out in consultation with me based on the student’s background, place in the graduate program, and future plans. These papers will require a prospectus and an extensive annotated bibliography reflecting their independent research.
CRN 74624 | Tuesdays 6:30PM - 9:20PM
This course will be a broad, if far from comprehensive, survey of American modernist poetry. On occasion we will briefly turn our attention to English, French, Caribbean, and Latin American poetry as well.
Our primary concern will be to work through a number of important adventures in a century-long tradition of modernist poetry. It is true that the whole question of “periodizing” modernism remains open to debate, not least because different national traditions, as well as different arts (literature, painting, music), require different narratives. That said, we will at least provisionally work with a slightly wider frame than is usual in this context, taking modernist poetry to begin in the second half of the nineteenth century, to become a “cultural dominant” in the occasionally hopeful yet largely catastrophic years of 1914-1945, and to come to an end in the early decades after WWII. Throughout the course we will explore the different ways modernist poets respond to the thoroughly unstable social worlds around them. We will also try to understand the different ways they engage a range of ambitions and predicaments they inherit from earlier romantic and post-romantic poets.
Provisional list of required texts:
- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass: The First (1855) Edition
- Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations and A Season in Hell
- Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons
- André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism
- T.S. Eliot, The Collected Poems
- William Carlos Williams, Imaginations
- Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems
- Marianne Moore, The Complete Poems
- H.D., Collected Poems, 1912-1944
- Wallace Stevens, The Palm at the End of the Mind
- George Oppen, New Collected Poems
- Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land
- Course Packet (poems and essays)
CRN 74325 | Wednesdays 3:00PM - 5:00PM