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ENG 255

Topics in Literary Studies

While refining students' general analytical and interpretive skills, this course offers intensive examination of specific issues in literature and culture, often those at the center of current critical interest. Recent sections have focused on The Gangster Film, Memoir and Sexuality, Quest for the Grail, and Native American Literature. Students may only count one ENG 255 that is a cross-listed Modern Language course toward the major or minor.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

Spring Semester information

David Alvarez

255A: Tps:Enlightenment Travel Narratives: Alterity and Identity

Tps:Enlightenment Travel Narratives: Alterity and Identity

In this course we will try to answer the question "What is Enlightenment?" through 18th-century travel fictions. The project of the Enlightenment seems to require encounters with exotic others - cannibals, women in harems, talking horses. Why? What do these texts seek to understand through these cross-cultural encounters? Are these fictions creating a rational, Western understanding of the self by defining that self against irrational, uncivilized others? Or are these works enabling a cosmopolitan ethos with the promise of resolving the misunderstandings and violence that too often seems to accompany the clash of cultures? We'll raise these questions and attempt to think past them by closely reading texts by Montaigne, Behn, Defoe, Montesquieu, Swift, Montagu, Johnson, Voltaire, Lessing, and Equiano.

Karin Wimbley

255B: Tps:20th Century American Drama

Tps:20th Century American Drama

This is a survey course of 20th Century American Drama.

Harry Brown

255C: Tps:Subcreation: The Art of World-Building

Subcreation: The Art of World-Building

Subcreation is what happens when storytelling meets systems design: the construction of an imaginary world, or microcosm. More than a setting for a story, the imaginary world, in this sense, is a matrix of interconnected physical, geographical, historical, and cultural systems, in which a potentially unlimited number of stories, each one consistent with the conditions of the world, could be integrated--a narrative ecology. J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth and George Lucas's Star Wars galaxy represent two popular examples, though our investigation will range farther than the "universes" of fantasy and science fiction. We will consider the fundamental meaning of "creation" in myth, literature, history, and cosmology. How do myths of origin serve as organizing models for civilization? In what sense is the "real" world we inhabit a narrative construct? In what sense is god an "author," and the author a "god"? Is subcreation a quest for transcendence? We will also consider the more practical critical questions posed by subcreation, including adaptation, authorship, canonicity, reflexivity, and the relation between new media technologies and new forms of narrative. In addition to fantasy and science fiction, our reading will include myths and sacred texts, exploration stories, utopias, science writing, games, and transmedia franchises.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay

255D: Tps:Global Science Fiction Cinema

Tps:Global Science Fiction Cinema

In this course we will study the neglected traditions of science fiction cinema outside the US production system. Science-fiction cinema is often considered among the most technically and visually innovative genres of film. It has historically been the laboratory for new technologies of sound, special effects, and set design, as well as narratives about the relationship between social life and technological transformation. Although the US has been the primary and most influential producer of science fiction films, major works have been produced in other countries. As globalization extends to more and more societies, science fiction film has become one of its major artforms. In this course we will study films from Russia and Eastern Europe, Great Britain, France, India, Japan, China, and Latin America. We will focus on the science fiction film tradition and the social-historical contexts in which they emerged.

Beth Benedix

255E: Tps:Introduction to World Religious Literature

Tps:Introduction to World Religious Literature

This course introduces major Eastern and Western religious themes and ideas through a combination of sacred and secular literature. The approach is comparative in nature, emphasizing texts that place these traditions in new geographical, cultural, temporal, and philosophical contexts.

Joseph Heithaus

255F: Tps:Poetry In The World

Tps:Poetry In The World

This class will cover poetry from every continent. After surveying poems in translation from around the world, we will study a representative poet from each continent using bilingual texts when necessary. Our class will confront the problems and joys of translation. We will listen, when we can, to poems in their original languages and we will sometimes look at multiple English translations of a given poem. Our goals will be to appreciate poetry in a variety of languages, forms, and aesthetics and to deepen our understanding of cultures, histories, and beliefs from around the world. Students will write reactions, essays, translations and contribute to a web page on world poetry.

Marion McInnes

255G: Tps:Science Writing

Tps:Science Writing

In this course on Science Writing, we will read and discuss an array of contemporary nonfiction essays and book-length studies, all of which have to do, in one way or another, with science and medicine. We'll read, for example, Atul Gawande's Complications, in which he tells hair-raising stories about medical crises and ethical quandaries he faced as he trained to become a surgeon. We'll also read Rebecca Skloot's account of the life of Henrietta Lacks, the American woman whose cells, grown in laboratories around the globe since the 1950s, have helped researchers find cures for disease. Other readings will come from The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013. In this anthology, editor Siddhartha Mukherjee (an oncologist and a beautiful writer himself) brings together essays about animals, atoms, the ocean, the environment, hallucinogens, perception, and the cosmos.

This writing intensive course will give you a chance to develop your skills in critical analysis, but also to try your hand at writing science essays of your own.

Tamara Stasik

255H: Tps:Crossing the Line: Obscenity, Heresy and Treason in Medieval and Early Modern Literature

Tps:Crossing the Line: Obscenity, Heresy and Treason in Medieval and Early Modern Literature

What does it mean when we "cross the line"? Why do we do it? What are the consequences? This course examines texts that transgress: in other words, writing that resists following established cultural, literary, political or religious rules. We will read stories about verbal and bodily excesses--cursing, swearing, and farting; solve raunchy and explicit riddles; sing inappropriate lyrics; read romances of human-animal relations, investigate trials of witchcraft, heretical claims of faith, and forbidden texts. And we will witness the burning of both bodies and books. Why? Because doing so reveals the diverse 'other' of the Middle Ages. We will learn how writers use the body, puns, parody, gender, interracial relationships and religious fervor to express difficult and dangerous ideas and to critique old ones. We will think about why certain tropes, genres, and materials are used, and who is challenged or threatened by these textual constructions. Finally, we will consider these texts in light of our own current events and theories: free speech, the media, censorship and protest. Possible texts and authors include: Welsh poetry, troubadour lyrics, saints' lives, court records, Chaucer, Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, the Romance of the Rose, John Lydgate, John Wycliffe, and the English Bible.

Keith Nightenhelser

255J: Tps:Moulin Hollywood: European Directors in the US Studio System--1920's to 1960's

Tps:Moulin Hollywood: European Directors in the US Studio System--1920's to 1960's

Many directors of the Hollywood studio era established careers in Europe before working in the Hollywood "mill"; in this course we will look at some of their films (both silent and sound, both from Europe and from the United States), and examine how their themes and styles crossed the Atlantic and influenced filmmaking both in Hollywood and outward back to Europe and worldwide.

Our main foci will be the three directors Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, and Max Ophuls, but we also will consider work by Hitchcock, Sternberg, Lubitsch, Pabst, Fejos, Murnau, Sirk, and even Fassbinder, who was strongly influenced by Sirk. Films will include titles such as Destiny, The Joyless Street, Sunrise, M, The Blue Angel, The Return of Frank James, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, Le Plaisir, French Can Can, The Golden Coach, Lola Montes, All that Heaven Allows, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and The Rules of the Game.

One special emphasis of this course will be comparing the process of adapting literary works in Hollywood to European adaptation practice. In recent years "Adaptation Studies" has become a very active area within Film Studies, and this course will give us ample opportunity to read original stories, by writers such as Zola, Maupassant, and Simenon, and compare film adaptations. For instance, Renoir and Lang both adapted Zola's "La Bete Humaine," Renoir in France and Lang in Hollywood. And Renoir's "The Rules of the Game" is partially an adaptation of an 18th century French play, although it's set in its present, 1939.

Fall Semester information

Harry Brown

255A: Tps:American Gothic

We will walk down the shadowed pathways of American literature, exploring the perennially pleasing themes of degeneracy, secrecy, madness, murder, guilt, and the supernatural. We will survey a variety of dark-minded writers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ranging from defining figures like Charles Brockden Brown, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and William Faulkner to cult favorites like H. P. Lovecraft and Anne Rice. We will also read contemporary fiction by Mark Danielewski and Elizabeth Kostova. Beginning with the Marquis de Sade's analysis of the European gothic novel as a reaction to the horror of the French Revolution, we will, in turn, examine these American works as responses to historical traumas in the United States, as texts that are shaped by the shocks of revolution, religious heterodoxy, slavery, immigration, and the repression of women.

Joseph Heithaus

255B: Tps: Reading Earth: Poetry and the Environment

This sophomore writing class will explore the work of poets that connects us to the natural world. The course will ask the question: What is nature? And it will work from the assumption that humans fundamentally are creatures of the earth. Poets and writers we'll explore will include: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Muriel Rukeyser, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Rick Bass, Maurice Manning, and Annie Finch.

Ghassan Nasr

255C: Tps:Translation of World Poetry

This class will cover English translations of poetry selections from around the world using bilingual texts when necessary. Our goals will be to appreciate poetry in a variety of languages, forms, and aesthetics and to deepen our understanding of cultures and histories other than our own. We will listen, when we can, to poems in their original languages. Our class will confront the problems and joys of translation. Where multiple English translations of the same poem are available, we will attempt to recast the poem or portions of it in our own English translations; in so doing, we come to appreciate translation as a creative art in its own right. Students will write reactions, essays, translations and contribute to a web page or blog on world poetry. Knowledge of a foreign language is not assumed.

Howard Pollack-Milgate

255E: Tps:German/Jewish Lit

In this course, we will examine the rich and ongoing story of the encounter between German and Jewish culture, including its highest points, the so-called "German-Jewish symbiosis," its tragic catastrophes, and its improbable next chapter(s). We will investigate this story by reading literary (and, occasionally, other) texts of its key participants, including Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, Heine, Kafka, Freud, Celan, and Arendt. We will begin with the literary announcement of the ideals of emancipation and assimilation in the Jewish Enlightenment; discuss the struggle for both acceptance and maintenance of a separate identity in the 19th century; examine older and newer forms of anti-Semitism, including narratives of Orientalism, race, and blood; attempt to understand the traumatic events of the Holocaust; and survey the complexities of the recent revival of Jewish life in Germany, including its at times tense relationship with Islam. Emphasis will be placed on vital aspects of contemporary Judaism which originated in a German-language context (such as the Reform movement and Zionism), as well as the profound influence of German-Jewish intellectuals on German and world culture.

Ronald Dye

255F: Tps: The Musical Quest on Film

In this course students will explore the content, form and meaning of the quest, one of the world's oldest and most geographically widespread storytelling forms. As the title suggests the course will focus on quest stories with a strong musical component, as told through the medium of film. Films will include both documentary and fictional films, and both original screenplays and adaptations. Students will write about and discuss films and will complete one major research paper.


255G: Tps: 19th Century Russian Literature

James Wells

255H: Tps:Classica Africana

This course explores the ways in which modern literature of peoples of African descent engages with ancient Greek and Roman literature. It focuses upon how the oppositional art of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Rita Doves' Mother Love riffs on such works of classical literature as Homer's Odyssey, Euripides' Medea and The Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

Karin Wimbley

255K: Tps: New York Auteurs: Martin Scorcese and Spike Lee

Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee are both life-long New Yorkers, born and raised. Moreover, New York City often plays a title role in each director's aesthetic praxis and cinematic vision. Through the lens of auteur theory, this W-course examines the cinema of Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee. What is distinct about each director's style of filmmaking? How do race, gender, and ethnicity inform their creative vision(s) and cinematic praxis? What are the similarities and differences between their respective renderings of national belonging? Films we will explore include Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Age of Innocence, She's Gotta Have It, Inside Man, and Do the Right Thing, to name a few.

Spring Semester information

David Alvarez

255A: Tps:

Harry Brown

255B: Tps:

Angela Flury

255C: Tps:

Wayne Glausser

255D: Tps:

Joseph Heithaus

255E: Tps:

Marion McInnes

255F: Tps:

Ghassan Nasr

255G: Tps:

Karin Wimbley

255H: Tps: Readings in the Black Diaspora

Andrea Sununu

255J: Topics in Lit Studies


255K: Tps:


255M: Tps: