Literature | LIT: Spring 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.
This course introduces students to the challenges and pleasures of studying literature at the college level. It should also be seen as an opportunity to engage with fundamental questions about the meaning of life, what you value and why others may have very different answers to these questions than you do. On a fundamental level, literature asks us to consider the human experience in all of its variety, complications, uncertainties, flaws, and occasional moments of epiphany. It also asks us to think deeply about the contexts that shape who we are – the identities we forge in relation to others. Social and environmental forces shape who we are, whether these be national, regional (place-based), familial, religious, economic, ethnic, racial, gender-based or to do with sexual orientation.
As an introduction to the discipline of literary studies, our focus will be strategies for how to interpret texts. What makes a text “literary” in the first place? Why might genre—a text’s adherence to the conventions of fiction, poetry, drama or non-fiction —affect the way we go about making sense of a work? What do the most basic elements of literature (figurative language, voice, sound, and structure) contribute to a text’s potential meanings? How do personal experiences and perspectives affect what each of us sees in a work of literature and the ways we each interpret what we see? Discussion and writing are two of the most effective ways we have for thinking through our engagements with texts, ideas, and the world beyond ourselves. For this reason, LIT 110 is both discussion-oriented and writing-intensive. The course will provide guidance through the process of writing clear and interesting essays about literature.
Monday, Wednesday & Friday 12:00PM - 12:50PM
Monday, Wednesday & Friday 9:00AM - 9:50AM
LIT 110 explores the three primary genres of literature—poetry, fiction, and drama—via the study of works set in the American West. Focusing on classic and contemporary Western writing, 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.
Texts (Subject to Revision!)
- Erdrich, Louise. Love Medicine. (Newly Revised Ed., Harper Perennial.)
- Hugo, Richard. The Lady in the Kicking Horse Reservoir. (Norton.)
- Kittredge, William. Ed. The Portable Western Reader. (Penguin.)
- Proulx, Annie. Close Range: Wyoming Stories. (Scribner.)
- Wister, Owen. The Virginian. (Penguin Classics.)
Tuesday & Thursday 2:00PM - 3:20PM
This course will explore through the lens of American poetry and fiction the complex aesthetic currents and crosscurrents of Modernism and Postmodernism. We will begin with Whitman and Dickinson, innovators who set the stage for the formal experiments and ideological trials of the 20th century. We turn next to Modernist poetry (and some fiction), a body of work that served to define key literary and cultural terms and preoccupations. The balance of the course traces the evolution of “postmodern” American fiction (and some poetry) and its critiques (including under the signs of Race, Gender, and the “New Sincerity”).
Tentative Reading List:
- Whitman and Dickinson (selections)
- Modernism: An Anthology (ed. Lawrence Rainey)
- Nova Express (William S. Burroughs)
- Gunslinger (Ed Dorn)
- Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson)
- White Noise (Don Delilo)
- Beloved (Toni Morrison)
- Stone Butch Blues (Leslie Feinberg)
Theoretical perspectives: bell hooks, Madhu Dubey, Cornell West, Judith Butler, D.F. Wallace, and others.
LIT 236 satisfies Literature and Literature & Environment 200-level core course requirements, General Education Area V (L) requirements, and Writing Competency (W) requirements.
Monday, Wednesday & Friday 10:00AM - 10:50AM
If you take a long and broad view of our literary culture—not just the last half century, and not just American books—you can see ways in which writers today are still exploring issues articulated in the Romantic movement and the Victorian era that followed. Look back two or three centuries farther, and you can see how much our thinking is still shaped by writers of Shakespeare’s time, which today is often called the early modern period but has also long been known as the Renaissance. Renaissance is a problematic term: celebratory, judgmental, and contested, not to mention anachronistic (it was coined in the 19th century). It is rich in implications for art, literature, religion, science, history, and politics, and those implications vary in different times, places, and disciplines. This class will look at how it may apply to writers not only in England but in other European countries. We will be reading brief chunks, in translation, of works by Dante, Petrarch, Pico, Ariosto, Machiavelli, Erasmus, Luther, Rabelais, Montaigne, and Cervantes, as well as English writings by Sidney, Spenser, Bacon, Donne, Herbert, Marvell, Hobbes, and Milton. The paper assignments will encourage you to think about ways in which these literary works present radically new, forward-looking ways of understanding our place in the world.
Monday, Wednesday & Friday 12:00PM - 12:50PM
When humans gather together in groups, they like to tell stories, a ritual social activity no doubt as old as Homo sapiens, re-invented with every generation. This class will explore the late medieval vogue for frame narratives: storytelling collections with a dramatic frame that foregrounds the social interactions that form when we tell each other stories. From the brigata in Boccaccio’s Decameron (10 Florentine youth escaping the plague), to the “compaignye” that forms around storytelling during a pilgrimage in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, these social groups forge bonds, but also develop disputes, in and and through the stories they tell to fill the time. Christine de Pizan’s pathbreaking Book of the City of Ladies, meanwhile, suggests the need for women to build their own cultural edifice of stories, less for pleasure and more for self-preservation, self-fulfillment, and virtuous enterprise. Selections of these three medieval masterpieces (in modern English translations; see below) will form the core of the semester’s reading.
Students in this course will be encouraged to think about the range of interpretive responses stimulated by these storytelling collections, conducting close readings of individual stories as well as identifying thematic patterns across the stories. What is the value of the competitive instinct stimulated by storytelling competition, and what dangers does it pose to group identity? What is the proper balance between “meaning” and “pleasure” in a story, which Harry Bailey, Chaucer’s Host, describes as an ideal of “best sentence and most solaas”? Students will also be encouraged to think about these questions within the social and intellectual contexts embedded in the texts, reflecting on the way stories serve as vehicles for ethical debate about contentious cultural matters, ranging from debates over right conduct and ethics, to theology, sexuality, and the shifting class structure of the late medieval societies depicted (Florence, London, Paris). We will find that many of these concepts and debates are directly relevant to the way we live in 21st century America.
Students will write bi-weekly position papers (2-3 pp), take periodic reading quizzes, complete a reading exam, and write a longer, comparative paper that synthesizes the student’s reflection on a major theme or idea in more than one text (8-10 pp).
Required Texts (THESE SPECIFIC EDITIONS, on order at UM Bookstore):
- Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron (Norton Critical Edition). Tr. Wayne Rebhorn. W.W. Norton, 2015.
- Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales: A New Verse Translation. Tr. Sheila Fisher. W.W. Norton, 2012.
- de Pizan, Christine. The Book of the City of Ladies. Tr. Rosalind Brown-Grant. Penguin, 2000.
Tuesday & Thursday 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 Critical Race Theory will involve Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Beyoncé’s Lemonade (the video and musical version).
Tuesday & Thursday 3:30PM - 4:50PM
Though this course is not particularly focused on genre as such, it seeks to cover the various modes (mostly dramatic) that the works of Shakespeare cover, presenting narrative and poetic expression in the divisions loosely based on the First Folio of 1623. In each of these selections, issues of the abuse of power—political, social, domestic—will find expression in both plot and even more trenchantly in the complexities of poetic representation through which Shakespeare’s verse wrestles with animus and affection.
- Lyric: Sonnets (selected)
- Comedy: Twelfth Night
- History: Henry 4 Part One
- Tragedy: King Lear
- Problem: Measure for Measure
- Romance: The Winter’s Tale
Prereq., LIT 300 or consent of instr. A survey of selected Shakespeare plays emphasizing close reading of the texts and consideration of their dramatic possibilities.
- Writing Course-Advanced
Tuesday & Thursday 9:30AM - 10:50AM
LIT 331 explores exemplary fictions by three remarkable siblings, Anne, Charlotte, and Emily Brontë. Like the Beatles in Hamburg, the Brontës underwent their apprenticeships as artists at a young age, reading Lord Byron and Gothic fiction and collaborating on cycles of Romantic poems and tales set in the imaginary realms of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal. Building upon this foundation, and both deeply attuned to the social, cultural, economic, and political dilemmas of their era—especially the plight of women and children—and possessed of an almost uncanny grasp of (extreme) emotional and psychological states and an equally uncanny grasp of narrative technique, they produced within a span of a few years some of the greatest novels written in English. In order to get some sense of the writers and genres that influenced their masterpieces, the course begins with a reading of work by Horace Walpole and Lord Byron and then turns to Jane Eyre (1847), Wuthering Heights (1847), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). The class closes with Jean Rhys’ famous reply to Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). As the course proceeds, we’ll also have opportunities to apply different critical theories to the primary texts and to read critical studies of the authors.
Texts (Subject to Revision!)
- Brontë, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. (Oxford World’s Classics.)
- Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre 3rd Ed. (Norton Critical Edition.)
- Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights 4th Ed. (Norton Critical Edition.)
- Byron, Lord. Manfred. (Wilder.)
- Murfin, Ross C and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms 3rd
- Ed. (Bedford/St. Martin’s.)
- Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. (Norton Critical Edition.)
- Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. (Oxford World Classics.)
Tuesday & Thursday 11:00AM - 12:20PM
Tuesday & Thursday 9:30AM - 10:50AM
This course will introduce students to the foundational methodologies and guiding questions of ecocriticism. We’ll examine first-wave ecocriticism’s humanist/romantic understanding of “place” as a critical category in the early 1990’s, and second-wave ecocriticism’s challenges to first-wave thinking (particularly its concern with investigating intersections between social and environmental justice) at the end of that decade. In the 2000’s, Anthropocene theory is poised to transform ecocriticism yet again by problematizing the localism assumed in earlier place-based critique and by demanding that ecocritics come to terms with the enormous impact our technologies are having on how we understand ecological politics. If Anthropocene thinkers are correct in their assertion that humanity’s collective environmental impact has become the equivalent of a “geological” force on the planet, ecocritics must develop ways of mapping this unprecedented state of affairs. Ecocritics and creative writers are developing frameworks for responding to the Anthropocene’s global scale and deep temporality, while not losing sight of the role that identity politics play in shaping differences in how cultures respond to the Anthropocene’s species-level challenges. We’ll examine ways Romantic and Modernist writers anticipate (but also diverge from) Anthropocene thought and then explore this thought in the work of contemporary authors. Some of the “dreamers” of the Anthropocene we may cover include Percy and Mary Shelley, Joseph Conrad, Robinson Jeffers, Philip K. Dick, Don McKay, Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Octavia Butler, Barbara Kingsolver, David Mitchell and Jeff VanderMeer. Our critical guides may include thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Timothy Morton, Donna Haraway, Bill McKibben, Ursula K. Heise, Stacy Alaimo, Jason Moore, Timothy Clark, Jeremy Davies and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing.
Monday, Wednesday & Friday 2:00PM - 2:50PM
Placing Ourselves: Women and Place
We’ll begin with theories of place and how perception and inhabitation is gendered. Literary texts will range across the century and continent, from urban to rural, with a focus on the American West. How do women of different classes, sexual identities, ethnicities, ages, locations write about place? How does place matter to them? Writers will include: Austin, Babb, Blunt, Chavez, Corpi, Danforth, Didion, Freeman, Hogan, Houston, Johnson, Kruse, Meloy, Robinson, Smith, Viramontes. If these are not household names, why not? We will read novels, short fiction, essays and some criticism. By the end of the course, students will have a better understanding of where they are, how where they makes them who they are, and how gender influences, even determines, one’s perception of place. Students will be expected to participate in class discussions, write frequently, and produce one well-researched consideration of a text from the course. Warning: We may poach the 21st century, but just a little.
Monday & Wednesday 2:00PM - 3:20PM
This course explores theories of emotional affect and intersectionality in relation to gender, identity, and sexuality by examining recent works that mix theory and creativity—through the personal essay and poetry. The notion that ideas can find their expostulation in reference to experience is not necessarily a novel one, but these texts, by exploring gender and sexuality through combining the personal, political, and theoretical in various genres that mix poetry and prose, open up new possibilities of not only challenging the great divide between theory and aesthetic production, but also exploring the boundaries of political and social expression itself.
- Ahmed, Cultural Politics of Emotion
- Banu Kapil, Ban in Banlieu
- Bersani and Phillips, Intimacies
- Blanchfield, Proxies (selections)
- Boyer, Garments against Women
- Butler, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” (essay)
- Edelman, “The Future is Kid Stuff” (essay)
- Halberstam, Trans*
- Nelson, Argonauts
- Preciado, Testo Junkie
- Smith, Don't Call Us Dead
- Solnit, The Mother of All Questions
Tuesday & Thursday 2:00PM - 3:20PM
In this course we will read all of Dante’s famous Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), as well as some of his early love lyrics (collected as La Vita Nuova) and the letter to an aristocratic patron in which he explained his purpose in the great poem. We will read the Commedia in Robert and Jean Hollander’s English translation but pay attention to Dante’s Italian language and to alternate translations of some passages. We’ll also glance at some important precursor texts and intellectual contexts (the troubadour love poetry of southern France and Italy, ancient Latin poetry, classical and medieval philosophy, the Bible, medieval mysticism) on which this well-read writer drew for inspiration. Christian faith is not required for admission—if it were, the instructor would not get in the door—but you should be prepared to assimilate a good deal of medieval religious doctrine as you follow one believer’s passionate struggles with the implications of his belief. The payoff (assuming that this immersion in a vanished world order may be to some degree arduous) will be intimate engagement with one of the most daring, complex, and comprehensive poetic imaginations the world has ever seen.
Monday & Wednesday 3:30PM - 4:50PM
Image: Priamo della Quercia or Vecchietta (?), illustration of Dante, Inferno, Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 10r, 1444-c. 1450 (The British Museum)
LIT 491 is an introduction to the aesthetic sensibilities and intellectual preoccupations of David Foster Wallace. We will survey a range of short fiction and nonfiction (drawn primarily from A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, and Consider the Lobster) as well as reading in its entirety his magnus opus, Infinite Jest.
Tuesday & Thursday 2:00PM - 3:20PM
There has been considerable talk in recent years of a crisis of the humanities. But hasn’t this sort of talk been going on for a long time? Are the humanities perhaps always or nearly always in crisis? Why would that be? What, then, might be specific to the crisis of the humanities in our time? And what are the humanities anyway? What does it mean to think of literature, art, philosophy, religion, and history as forming a distinctive region of human culture? Where does the idea that these fields somehow belong together come from? What is the history of this idea? What are the different ideals and debates that have shaped the history of the humanities? Do these ideals and debates still speak to those of you who, if you are taking this course, have devoted an important part of your time in college to the study of literature? What have you been doing? What are the ideals that have shaped your engagement with literature? Could you spell out these ideals? Are they ideals you see embodied in the larger society of which our university is a part? Are they ideals you think should be embodied in the larger society of which our university is a part?
The purpose of this course is to explore these and related questions. The course will be run as a seminar, and students will be expected to undertake a final project of their own, a long essay in which they try to cast light on one or more of the issues we address throughout the semester.
We will begin and end with Andrew Delbanco’s capacious book College: What Is Was, Is, and Should Be. Along the way we will read essays, books, and parts of books by the following writers (this is a provisional list): Plato, Paul Kristeller, Kant, Emerson, Immanuel Wallerstein, Louis Menand, Eric Hobsbawm, James Baldwin, Adrienne Rich, Eve Sedgwick, Sherry Turkle, Jedediah Purdy, Mark Edmundson, and Tony Judt.
I ask students who sign up for this course to read Plato’s The Republic over winter break. We will not have time to discuss this book in detail in the course. But I would like us to be able to talk about Plato’s allegory of the cave (which appears in Book VII of The Republic) on the first day of class.
Wednesday 3:30PM - 6:20PM
Probably since the 1990s – with the work of Cathy Caruth, Shoshana Felman, Geoffrey Harman, and Dori Laub – trauma has come to be regarded as one of the key interpretive categories of contemporary politics and culture. Underpinned by questions and issues emerging from contemporary trauma theory and, more generally, by the ongoing discussions of historical interpretation, this course will focus on the representations of trauma and traumatic experience in literature and film. Our primary texts will in various ways focus on characters (and collectives) that have lived through or otherwise inherited traumatic events without really understanding them, and that find themselves both remembering and reordering in an effort to reconstruct the past. Through our reading and inquiry, we will undoubtedly come to understand how the literary imagination provides an expansive space for exploring the modalities of responding to trauma. We will want, too, ultimately, to consider that the cultivation of empathy may be essential in the writing of trauma and human misery.
Our central historical contexts will be multiple, and will likely include multi-week segments involving Ireland (with traumatic legacies connected to the Great Famine and the War of Independence), Caribbean cultures (The Middle Passage, the slave trade, etc.), World Wars I and II (including the Holocaust and the atomic bombs), African-American history, and 9/11/2001 in the United States. Some of our operative questions will include: What constitutes trauma literature? What is the relationship between traumatic experience and memory? What are the particular difficulties associated with the representation of trauma? How and when do horrific events become part of a history passed on to the future? To what extent can traumatic suffering be overcome, and what might be the means of doing so? What kinds of memorialization are most appropriate for those who have experienced trauma? What is the relationship between trauma and literary form? What do visual genres and technologies contribute to the process of remembering and bearing witness to trauma?
Primary texts will likely be drawn from the following: Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, William Trevor’s Fools of Fortune, John McGahern’s Amongst Women, Caryl Phillips’ Crossing the River, Derek Walcott’s Omeros, Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic, and poetry by Wilfred Owen, W.B. Yeats, Eavan Boland, Michael Longley, Seamus Heaney, Robert Hayden, and others. Secondary texts will likely be drawn from the following theorists/scholars: Cathy Caruth, Dominick LaCapra, Hayden White, Kali Tal, Ruth Leyes, Shoshana Felman, Geoffrey Hartman, Dori Laub, Derek Walcott, Susan Sontag, and others.
Tuesday 6:30PM - 9:20PM
This seminar explores the relationship between world literature and energy and natural resources. We will read a range of literary, cultural, and theoretical works about that most combustible of planetary resources: oil.
Oil is the signal resource of the post-war capitalist world system, and our world is soaked in oil—in its many diverse forms. Indeed our age can be defined as Stephanie Lemanager does, by the term Petro-Modernity. Petroleum and its associated “products” is everywhere, particularly in those case where it seems to be scarce, as yet undiscovered, and even invisible or absent. Petromodernity determines the entirety of our global lives: how, where, and when we live, move, work and play; what we eat, wear, consume. Oil is the key shaping element in our political and physical landscapes—not simply visible at the pumps, in times of scarcity, and in the spectacular booms and busts of places like the Bakken Oil Patch or in the epic disasters of spills. Oil flows though and undergirds the phones, the paper, the computers we use. The ubiquity of Oil—a situation that is particularly true for the American West—means not only that modern culture is a Hydrocarbon culture. Necessarily then, recent scholarship has begun to engage with Petromodernity, discovering the ways in which oil and other fossil fuels represent the deep well structure in contemporary culture, art and literature.
On the basis of this understanding of Petromodernity, the seminar will engage with global genres of fiction and poetry, cinema and documentary—texts that contain deep structures of petroculture and that unveil deeply connected international patterns in literary form and theme as well as petro-economics and power. We will attempt to track the ways in which world literature can, following Graeme McDonald and Franco Moretti, provide both a method and an archive to cognitively and materially map and critique gloval inequity in the arena of unevenly produced resources. In mapping the emergence of both cultural and political responses to Petromodernity in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the seminar will also try to track the ways in which the documents of culture contain new and important ways to think about new, speculative forms of energy futures in a “post oil” epoch.
Required Texts SUBJECT TO REVISION (there will be a number of PDFs disseminated on Moodle and via email.)
Ballard, J. G., Crash.
Highsmith, Patricia, The Price of Salt.
LeManager, Stephanie, Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century.
Mathews, John Joseph, Sundown.
Melville, Herman, Moby Dick.
Miller, George, Mad Max: Fury Road.
Munif, Abdelrahman, Cities of Salt
Nabokov, Vladimir, Lolita.
Wednesday 3:00PM - 5:50PM
What a piece of work is a Man!
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man. --Pope
[T]he human form is as unknown to us as the nonhuman.
This course is an introduction to Posthumanism, an evolving body of literary and theoretical discourse addressing the possible evolution of human beings (and human being). Our inquiry begins with critiques of Humanism (and its normative subject(s)) drawn from psychology, poststructuralism, ecological science, and systems theory. Additional literary and theoretical texts will be used to explore Transhumanism as autopoiesis (self-creation) in its many guises: gender polymorphism, genetic modification, technological augmentation, and cybernetic apotheosis.
Theory: Kenan Malik, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, Jean Baudrillard, Judith Butler, N. Katherine Hayles, Ray Kurzweil, Carolyn Merchant, Ilya Prigogine, Gary Snyder, Donna Haraway, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Bill McKibben
Literature: Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Bruce Sterling, Richard Powers, Charles Stross, William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, Anne McAffrey, PK. Dick, Greg Egan
Tuesday & Thursday
6:30PM - 9:20PM