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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

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.


Maria Hristova

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:Enlightenment Travel Narratives: Identity and Alterity

This course asks 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 self-reflective, 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, Addison, Johnson, and Voltaire.


Howard Pollack-Milgate

255B: Tps:Fantasy, Love, Horror, Nature: The Worlds of German Romanticism


Angela Flury

255C: Tps:Spy Fiction

The course traces the currency and development of spy fiction to the present. The modern spy novel is very much entangled in the political, historical, economic, and social developments of the 20th century--with regard to imperialism, World War I, World War II, the Cold War and global capitalism. We will study, among other things, stylistic and thematic particularities of the genre (complex plotting, polyglottery, surveillance, etc.), spy fiction's place within the history of the novel, and its relevance to the world at present.


Wayne Glausser

255D: Tps:The Seven Deadly Sins

Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, Gluttony. We will be exploring each of these so-called deadly sins, with analysis of relevant texts in fiction, film, and theology (and perhaps a bit of neuroscience).


Joseph Heithaus

255E: Tps:What Good is Poetry?

This sophomore writing class will explore what poetry is. We will read poetry across time and across space, mostly in English, and write reviews, criticism, some poems ourselves, and even try to answer what is good about this art and what good it might do for individuals and the world. You need not know a lot of poetry prior to take the class, but having some desire to read poetry and experience poetry is most certainly a prerequisite. Poets we'll most probably explore: Rumi, Gibran, Goethe, Neruda, Dickinson, Akhmatova, Williams, Bishop, Hughes, Celan, Szymborska, Adonis, and a wide variety of more contemporary poets.


Marion McInnes

255F: 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 likely come from an anthology (published yearly) called The Best American Science and Nature Writing. 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.


Ghassan Nasr

255G: Tps: Literature in the Arab World

In this course we will study modern and contemporary works of Arabic literature in a variety of genres: the novel, novella, short story, and poetry. Basic principles of literary analysis will be covered at the beginning of the course, with special attention given to the development of the mentioned genres in their various Arab settings and in the context of particular literary movements. The bulk of the reading will be in the primary sources themselves (novels, novellas, short stories, and poems). Among the authors covered are the Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, Abdulrahman Munif, Elias Khoury, Hanan al-Shaykh, Etel Adnan, Ghada al-Samman, Adonis, and Mahmoud Darwish. We will look at film adaptations of a number of Arabic novels. Knowledge of Arabic is not required, but issues of translation will often be presented and discussed.


Karin Wimbley

255H: Tps:Women's Utopian and Dystopian Literature

This course explores how women writers and artists employ utopian and dystopian narratives as socio-political critique and to posit alternative visions and new social orders. Works we will explore include Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, Kelly Sue DeConnick's and Valentine De Landro's comic B*tch Planet, and Janelle Monae's android alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, to name a few.


Andrea Sununu

255J: Tps:Seeker, Poet, Lover, Friend

Drawing inspiration from Eudora Welty's aphorism "all serious daring starts from within," this course will analyze poetry, fiction, and drama while asking questions about the directions that even a "sheltered life" can take. Core poems will include the fourteenth-century poem Pearl, seventeenth-century poems of love and friendship by John Donne and Katherine Philips respectively, T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, and Mary Jo Salter's "Elegies for Etsuko." We will also read Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Austen's Persuasion, Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and some contemporary fiction: Toni Morrison's Sula; Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger; Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams; and Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth. Four of your five papers will be analytical in focus; your penultimate paper will consist of a creative letter or monologue that incorporates research on secondary sources into your explication of poems by Donne, Philips, or Eliot.


Fall Semester information

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay

255A: Topics: Global Science Fiction

In this course we will study the neglected traditions of science fiction outside the US tradition. Although the US has been the primary and most influential producer of works of science fiction, major works have been produced in other countries. As globalization extends to more and more societies, science fiction has become one of its major artforms. In this course we will study works from Europe, Russia, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We will focus on the science- fiction traditions and the social-historical contexts in which they emerged.


Vanessa Dickerson

255B: Topics: Readings in the Black Diaspora

AFST/BLST 240, Readings in the Literature of the Black Diaspora, provides students with the skills to understand the black experience through literary works by black writers from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Writing in AFST/BLST 240 consists mainly of analytical papers and revisions of some of those papers. It may also include response papers, in-class writing assignments, journal entries, as well as final examinations that require short answers and short essays.


Vanessa Dickerson

255C: Topics: The Short Form

We live in an age of short form communication--of texting, of Twitter, and Facebook, so now seems an especially appropriate time to revisit the idea of the short form. Note that while this course may briefly consider flash or sudden fiction, the course's main focus will be on the more traditional short story, short poem, short play, short novel, short film, epigram, and quotation. Centering mainly in the works of American literature from Edgar Allan Poe to George Saunders, the course will address questions about the nature, the effectiveness, the value, and the appeal of brevity.


Angela Flury

255D: Topics in Lit Studies: Spy Fiction

The course traces the development of modern spy fiction up to the present. Although there are precursors of the genre in the 19th century and spying is by no means only a recent phenomenon, the modern spy novel is very much entangled in the political, historical, economic, and social developments of the 20th century--especially with regard to imperialism, World War I, World War II, the Cold War and global capitalism. We will study stylistic and thematic particularities of this largely eurocentric genre (complex plotting, polyglottery, the import of surveillance, the spectacular, etc.), the spy novel's place within the history of the novel (for example, its designation as popular fiction--or so-called genre fiction), the genre's construction of a culture of masculinity, and its infringements on, and appropriations of, other genres (like detective fiction). As this is a W-course, our goal is to develop a sophisticated awareness about all matters of writing, including style, audience, genre, voice, language, writing strategies, editing, etc. To that end, you will write frequently and experiment with your writing.


Joseph Heithaus

255E: Topics in Lit Studies: Poetry and the Difficult World

This class will examine poetry from around the world written about and for extreme circumstances. It will examine how poetry can witness tragedy, but also somehow provide perspective and even comfort. Poetry can also do the work of making us uncomfortable about circumstances we might otherwise ignore: racism, sexism, climate change, poverty, and war. Students will write four or five papers and contribute weekly to various documents we will share.

Poets we will read include Adonis, Mahmoud Darwish, Paul Celan, Anna Akhmatova, Tarfia Faizullah, Miklos Radnoti, Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney, Bei Dao, Wislawa Szymborska, Claudia Rankine, Kofi Awoonor, and many others. We will also, when available, listen to poems in their original languages.


Karin Wimbley

255F: Topics in Lit Studies: African-American Film

Reading African American cinema as a pivotal archive in African American cultural production, this course explores the diverse black aesthetic traditions that African American film has and continues to develop, explore, and shape. Specifically, we will track how African American films produced, written, and/or directed by African Americans are situated in larger debates about the politics of race and representation. Beginning with African American modernism and black cultural politics, we will look at the emergence of African American cinema in the 1910s through to the early 21st century. Films we will investigate include works by Oscar Micheaux, Mario van Peebles, Charles Burnett, Spike Lee, Cheryl Dunye, , and Julie Dash, to name a few.


Ghassan Nasr

255G: Topics in Lit Studies: Art of Translation

The Art of Translation course is a workshop in literary translation. Mainly, students work on translations of poems or short prose pieces. Workshop participants approach a translation by doing a very close reading of the source poem or prose piece in the source language and/or in available English translation(s), identifying its deep meanings, its poetic and aesthetic elements, and its overall literary impact, then they recast it in English. Students find out very quickly that this kind of translation is a form of creative writing in its own right. In essence, they learn how to write--and read--as poets and creative writers.

While students are expected to do a close and rigorous study of texts in the source language, the ultimate goal of the course is for students to produce translations that stand as English poems or poetic prose passages in their own right. Throughout the semester, students continue to engage in a close, nuanced study of the meaning, sense, and literary, cultural and historical contexts of the poems or prose passages in their source languages, but they render those poems in a natural English idiom with all the proper attention given to tone, diction, language register, rhythm, cadence, and the various elements that constitute poetic language. Evaluation will be based heavily on the documentation (through a student portfolio) of the process leading up to a final translation, and not solely on the final translations themselves. The portfolio documentation will show the progression of the translation through its various revisions and through short reflections by the translator on the evolution of his/her work. Portfolios will be collected 2-3 times during the semester. Evaluation is based mainly on the portfolios and student engagement in the in-class workshop discussions.

In a translation workshop such as the one offered, there will always be students (and instructor) who are not versed in the source language of the translated work being discussed. So with each translation, the translator presents a "trot", a very literal, almost word-for-word translation of the original poem, together with his/her translation and any other available English translations. Students without a knowledge of the source language offer their critique of the translated work primarily as a stand-alone English poem, but they also comment on the fidelity of the translation to the original by comparing to other translations and to the trot. They also engage in a discussion with the translator based on his/her articulation of the issues and challenges encountered.

There are several options for students without prior knowledge of another language. They could translate 'vertically' (across historical time periods) within the same language, English. An example would be translating portions of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales from Middle English or Beowulf from Old English, into Modern English. Another option is to re-translate a work based on existing English translations, and perhaps a very rudimentary knowledge of the source language. Yet a third option is for a student to work in collaboration with another student who has a native or near native knowledge of the source language, where the former assumes the role of writer and the latter the role of source language and culture expert.

With prior consent of the instructor, a student may choose to translate from genres other than poetry or fiction. In the past, students have translated film dialogue (subtitling, dubbing) and song (lyrics put to music).


Spring Semester information

Beth Benedix

255A: Topics in Lit Studies:


Deborah Geis

255B: Topics:


Joseph Heithaus

255C: Topics in Lit Studies:


Ghassan Nasr

255D: Topics:


Staff

255E: Topics in Lit Studies: