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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

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay

255A: Tps:Contemporary American Science Fiction by Women

Literary science fiction in our present age differs considerably from science fiction even of the recent past, and even more so from the "sci-fi" of films and television. This is due in large part to the influx of new perspectives from women writers. In this course, we will study literary works by U.S. women writers who are still living and producing literary fiction. Writers may include Nnedi Okorafor, Nisi Shawl, Eleanor Arnason, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemison, Karen Joy Fowler, Ann Leckie, Pat Cadigan, Ada Palmer, Misha, and one digital outlier, Janelle Monae.

Angela Flury

255B: Tps:Writing About Film

This course teaches you to write about film in both conventional and unconventional ways. As you move from writing film reviews to more experimental forms, you are at the same time studying cinema in all of its splendor and complexity, from the basics to more thematic, historical, and socio-political frameworks. The diverse group of films in this course aims to challenge your cinematic sensibilities and broaden your repertoire. Warren Buckland's concise little text book condenses film studies into an accessible general approach (introducing his readers to all the requisite terms); Corrigan's Guide teaches you the skills necessary to write critically in specific genres, and Robert Ray uses the avant-garde arts as model for more experimental ways of writing and thinking about the movies. By studying and practicing different forms of writing, your relationship to cinema and culture-at-large is bound to become more nuanced, expansive, and nimble.

Deborah Geis

255C: Tps:Contemporary African American Drama

This course is for students who are interested in learning about the major playwrights and artistic/political movements in mid-twentieth and twenty-first century African American drama. We will begin with some earlier works from the Civil Rights and Black Arts eras (e.g., Douglas Turner Ward, Amiri Baraka), but most of the course will focus on later plays, including significant Black women playwrights of the seventies (e.g., Adrienne Kennedy, Ntozake Shange), and major theater voices from more recent times (e.g., Tarrell Alvin McCraney, Suzan-Lori Parks). Students should be prepared to participate actively in discussions and scenes, as well as to do a significant amount of writing since this is a "W" course.

Nicole Lobdell

255D: Tps:Dead Bodies in Literature

In our books, movies, and television shows, the corpse has a leading role. From Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus to Hitchcock's Psycho to George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, dead bodies occupy positions of real power. We like to play with dead bodies, according to Fintan O'Toole, "spinning stories around them that can be austere or grotesque, tragic or farcical, haunting or hilarious." Why are we so fascinated and simultaneously repulsed by corpses? How do writers treat dead bodies as characters, plot devices, and symbols? How are corpses represented by writers such as Stephen King compared to other writers such as William Faulkner or Mary Shelley? This course will use literature as its primary vehicle for discussion but will also include short nonfiction writings on the cultural anthropology of the dead and the business of death. Although this course is about corpses, students should anticipate lively discussions and a significant amount of writing.

Spring Semester information

Beth Benedix

255A: Tps:The Literature of Existentialism

Imagine what the world would look like if all points of support were taken away from you, if you had nothing absolute to fall back on, nothing stable to stand on. How would you respond? Would your reaction be fear or relief? Would this emptiness prod you to act or to feel as though action were futile?

Existentialism is concerned with these questions. In this course, we are using the term "existentialism" broadly to include those who pre-dated the philosophical movement (historically, this movement is associated most closely with continental Europe during the war years--emerging just after WWI and reaching its heyday in the period preceding, during, and following WWII) and those who dissociated themselves from this movement. What we are calling existentialism here is a way of thinking, a mindset, a positioning, a shared belief that the world has no absolutes, that we live in the void. All of the authors that we will be reading in this class are moved by the general problem of existence in this fragile world, all concern themselves with the concrete business of living in a world that no longer seems to have answers. There is a central paradox that we have to keep in mind: existentialism is itself a reaction and rebellion against "isms," against systematic philosophies that aim at uncovering truth, and that rally themselves around a given set of principles and ideas. While we call it existentialism, this is more out of convenience than it is descriptive of the similarities or commonalities among these authors' ideas. These authors and philosophers, rather, respond in very different ways to the question of existence, they promote very different ways of living. In this class, we will be sorting out what binds these thinkers together, what sets them apart, and how their thinking can be applied to this current moment.

Nicole Lobdell

255B: Tps:Brain on Fire: Medical Narratives

The title of this course comes from Susannah Cahalan's medical memoir Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (2012), a work in which Cahalan explores how a rare type of encephalitis led to periods of madness and delusion before she received diagnosis and treatment. Cahalan's memoir is compelling not only for the medical mystery it presents but also for its storytelling elements. Through readings of medical narratives, including both nonfiction (memoirs, essays) and literature (poems, short stories, novels), this course will explore narratives of disease and illness while sharpening our analytical and writing skills. We'll read works by writers who practiced medicine, such as William Carlos Williams; writers who reflected on their own illnesses such as Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath; and doctors who became writers, such as Paul Kalanithi in When Breath Becomes Air (2016), which chronicles his diagnosis of terminal, stage IV lung cancer at age 36, when he was at the end of his training to become a neurosurgeon. "Medical Humanities" is a recent movement that emphasizes an empathetic and humanistic treatment of disease, illness, and the doctor-patient relationship, and this interdisciplinary course, open to all majors, offers students an avenue by which to explore these issues. This course will also include discussions and workshops on writing strategies, and students should expect a significant amount of writing and revision.

Angela Flury

255C: Tps:Global Spy Fiction

The course traces the development of the modern spy novel, beginning with the Dreyfus affair (arguably the first full-blown espionage scandal in the world press) and ending with the Snowden affair. We will closely read and discuss literature and (a few) films that are 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.

Joseph Heithaus

255D: Tps:What Good Is Poetry?

Amity Reading

255E: Tps:Viking Myths and Modern Myth-Making

This course introduces students to a wide range of texts from Viking-Age Scandinavia (ca. 793-1300 CE, beginning with the first Norse territorial expansions into Anglo-Saxon England and ending with the widespread Christianization of Iceland and Norway). The course will include selections from the Eddas (Prose and Poetic), the Sagas, Icelandic law, and various historical chronicles that tell the story of cultural contact between the Viking peoples and their neighbors near and far. We will consider the act of encountering literature in translation, investigate the origins of the term Viking, and probe the assumptions behind pop culture representations of medieval Scandinavians. The course will also address the appropriation of Viking culture by certain modern white supremacy groups. What are the past and present myths surrounding Viking culture, and how can we begin to uncover the truth about this complex group of peoples?

This is also a W course, meaning it has additional learning goals, namely "the logical development of argument, clear and precise diction, and a coherent prose style; the development of general skills of expository writing as they apply in the academic disciplines; and the responsible, appropriate, and effective use of sources and special or technical language" (Revised W Course Guidelines). As such, the course will be asking you to hone your writing skills in a variety of ways as you demonstrate your knowledge of the course content (Viking-Age literature).

Michael Sinowitz

255F: Tps:Romantic Comedy: Plays, Novels, and Films

Today, the Romantic Comedy remains one of the most popular of film genres. To some extent it is not a genre that people have taken particularly seriously. This may date back to Aristotle's elevation of Tragedy over all other narrative forms at the very start of literary criticism, or it may have something to do with the fact that the perceived audience of these works have been women, and thus, in patriarchal societies it seen as a lesser form and one on unserious subjects. However, again and again, some of our greatest artists have been attracted to this genre. The origins of the genre can be dated at least as far back as 400 years to William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and the romantic comedy was a genre Shakespeare worked in a number of times. We can point to another great artist, Jane Austen, as popularizing the novelistic version of this genre, and then in the 20th century, it has become a popular film genre, particularly in the United States, since the early 1930s and has attracted some of the greatest filmmakers. This class will explore the origins of the genre with Shakespeare and Austen, and then focus primarily on American film versions of the genre from the early 1930s into the present. In terms of the films, we will look at some of the main subgenres of the form--screwball, the sex comedy, the radical, as well as the disguised. Discussions will focus on how this genre reflects upon the cultures of its creation, what it values and how it conceives of gender and marriage as an institution. We will explore different ways of approaching the narrative genres we will be exploring, and we will have discussions about how to write interpretive essays about these texts.

Tamara Stasik

255G: Tps:Global Englishes

James Baldwin once said that language acts as "a political instrument" it is a "means and proof of power" ("If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?" 1979). This course will empower your own use of writing in English by examining global Englishes (yes, plural!). We will analyze the dominance of the English language and what this means to others and to you. While English has become a lingua franca for business, technology, research, education, literature and popular culture around the world, there are ongoing debates about this phenomenon. Is the spread of English inevitable? What do we consider non-standard English and why? When are we allowed to use it, and who says so?

This course is also designed with a commitment to diversity, inclusion and cross-cultural understanding. This means that we will take an interdisciplinary approach to the topic, emphasizing key topics, current debates and future scenarios on issues such as globalization, education, and identity. Course assignments and activities are designed to consider your own positionality and multilingual abilities in relationship to course content. This also means that you will take an active part in deciding what topics we cover in class, readings we choose, and how we grade certain assignments. In the process, you will receive extensive feedback from peers and professor. We will work closely together and you will be expected to reflect critically on your learning throughout the course.

Michael MacKenzie

255H: Tps:First World War and Modernist Culture

Eugene Gloria

255J: Tps:Contemporary Visiting Writers

An up-close-and-personal learning experience, this English topics course focuses on DePauw University's signature literary event series, the James and Marilou Kelly Writers Series. Students will study the creative work of contemporary poets and writers and have the rare opportunity to meet and talk with these authors. Now in its 20th season, the Kelly Writers Series allows DePauw's small campus community to host nationally acclaimed creative writers for readings, discussion, and class visits.

Fall Semester information

David Alvarez

255A: Tps:Cannibals, Harems, and Talking Horses: Enlightenment Travels

This course asks the question "What is Enlightenment?" by reading 18th-century travel narratives. 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 and accomplish through these representations of cross-cultural collisions? Our course will examine how these Enlightenment narratives think about the universality of human nature; justify and criticize slavery; construct conceptions of reason, religion, and race; and explore the possibility of a cosmopolitan ethos. With a focus on literary form, we'll pursue our thinking about these issues by closely reading texts by Montaigne, Behn, Defoe, Montesquieu, Swift, Montagu, Addison, Johnson, Voltaire, and Equiano.

Nicole Lobdell

255B: Tps:Gothic Short Stories: East and West Legacies

The word Gothic calls forth Western images of haunted castles, dark passageways, and noises in the night, but the Gothic occurs in many literary traditions across the world. In this course, we will explore how different literatures characterize the Gothic. What identifies British Gothic from Indian Gothic or Japanese Gothic? We will also trace developments in the Gothic short story form from the 19th century to the present. For example, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Western authors wrote Gothic short stories as they traversed the eastern edges of the British Empire in India. In turn, Indian writers, like Rabindranath Tagore, adopted and adapted the Gothic short story form for their own uses. Tagore's own Indian Gothic combines features of traditional Bengali ghost stories with those of British Gothic to criticize British colonial rule in India. Why did the Gothic short story become such a popular vehicle for nineteenth-century writers on both sides of the colonial divide? How do postcolonial writers today use the Gothic? In addition to reading Gothic short stories by European and American writers, we will read widely in works by writers from Iraq, India, Cambodia, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, China, and the Philippines.

Amity Reading

255C: Tps:The Literature of Warfare

This course will examine various literatures of warfare ranging from early historical periods to the present day. What is a warrior, and how has this definition changed over time? How do different societies in different time periods describe the act of war? How has literature been used to shape culturally- and historically-situated understandings of military conflicts? We will also consider the ethical and aesthetic purposes of such texts--what are they meant to do, for both their authors and their audiences? Although our subject--war--will remain constant, we will see just how widely the treatments of this subject can vary according to time, place, and perspective. Readings will include pre-modern military handbooks (Sun Zu's Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli's Art of War, and Christine de Pizan's Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry), Mohsin Hamid's novel Exit West (2017), Chris Kyle's autobiography American Sniper (2012), and the influential film by Alain Resnais Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), with original screenplay by Marguerite Duras.

Karin Wimbley

255D: Tps:African-American Cinema

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, Charles Burnett, Spike Lee, Julie Dash, Barry Jenkins, and Ava DuVernay to name a few. As a "W" course, we will also spend time on writing composition, or more specifically, how to craft a compelling, academic, argumentative essay.

Ronald Dye

255E: Tps:The Musical Journey on Film

In this course students will view and analyze films in which principal characters engage in a musical journey or quest. Students will study characteristics of the quest narrative as laid out by Joseph Campbell and others and observe how the quest narrative has been adapted by filmmakers, and explore how quest or "hero" characteristics have been applied to film stories about music.

Students will write short reflection papers about films watched by the entire class; each student will participate in group presentations about films watched and studied by their small group; and each student will write a research based paper on a subject of their choice about a single film or multiple films related to a musical journey.

Spring Semester information

David Alvarez

255A: Tps:

Beth Benedix

255B: Tps:

Harry Brown

255C: Tps:

Angela Flury

255D: Tps:

Nicole Lobdell

255E: Tps:

Amity Reading

255F: Tps:

Michael Sinowitz

255G: Tps:

Andrea Sununu

255H: Tps:

Karin Wimbley

255J: Tps: U.S. Women Autobiography