Topics courses offered, fall 2017
Eng 255a (W): Topics: Global 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.
Eng 255b (W): Topics: Performance Poetry
Not all poetry is meant to stay on the page: poetry in the oral tradition has been around at least since medieval times. In this course, we’ll mostly focus on contemporary performance poetry and the phenomenon known as “slamming,” but we’ll begin with examples from earlier eras, including Beat and Black Arts poets. Students who register for this course should expect to participate actively and to write frequently.
Eng 255c: Topics: Opting In: Reading, Critiquing and Crafting Digital Literature
This is a course on digital literature and criticism, examining the intersection of English Literature and the digital scene. While other English classes may do this on occasion, this course focuses on both theory and practice of the digital. This is thus an approach to literature -- a scholarship and pedagogy--using computing that is more networked, online and publicly visible than we might be accustomed to. In discussion and workshop format, this course will introduce students to digital methodologies, tools, and theory that allow them to engage with literature through elements of excavation, play, and collaboration. Topics may cover distant reading, text mining, mark-up, visualization, and curation, among others. No previous experience with computing necessary.
Eng 255d (W): Topics: American Drama
This course explores American drama, including works by O’Neill, Nottage, Baraka, and Albee to name a few. We will play particular attention to how these plays engage with the American dream; love and alienation; ideological shifts concerning tradition and family across generations; agency and self-empowerment. As a W-course, we will also spend time learning the basic elements of the argumentative essay.
Eng 255e: Topics: First World War and Modernist Culture
It is often said that the First World War – the first industrialized war – changed everything, brought an end to 19th century culture and politics, and ushered in the Modern era. An entire generation experienced the horrors of the trenches, endless artillery bombardments, and poison gas, only to return home to a world they no longer recognized, and that no longer understood them. The painters, poets, novelists, and movie makers among them did their best to convey their experiences of war and combat through their art forms – and in the process, contributed to the creation of modernist art and literature. This course will examine the experience of the war through art and literature.
Eng 255f (W): Topics: Reality, Fantasy and in Between: Fiction and Modernity
In the German tradition, philosophical, scientific, and ethical approaches – theories, facts, and rational faiths – have never been seen as sufficient responses to the mysteries of life. Art, especially literature, is considered essential to making one’s way in the world; the powers of fantasy allow us to approach what cannot be rationally comprehended. In this course, we will consider imaginative treatments of the quandaries of the modern world, a world of perpetual uncertainty and change, of untold danger and opportunity, examining literary forays into such questions as: Are human beings the masters or the playthings of nature? Can there be a society without unjust domination? How has the advance of technology changed human nature and blurred the line between reality and fantasy? Is there a modern answer to death? We will read, in translation, German-language literature and literature inspired by the German tradition by such figures as Kleist, Brecht, Kundera, Wolf, Kehlmann, and Houllebecq in the context of Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Einstein, and Benjamin.
Eng 302a: Fiction Topics: The Long Story
Long stories—alias long short stories—occupy a weird space: too long to sit comfortably in most magazines but too short to be their own books. Ask any reader for her favorite stories, though, and in response you’ll likely hear names of long ones: Joyce’s “The Dead,” Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” most anything by Alice Munro. We’re talking about stories approaching ten thousand words or better, but shorter than a novella. Whereas today you’ll hear that three-to-five-thousand words comprises some kind of short story “sweet spot,” the history of the form and of which stories people love best tells us otherwise. Many of the greatest stories are simply much, much longer. In this class we’ll study some of those long stories, and maybe a few really short ones to throw the long ones into relief. We’ll do exercises to help get your stories going, and everyone will write and workshop one complete story long as all get out, but not too long. As our stories keep growing shorter—or as we keep hearing they should—it’ll be good for us to stretch, to explore, to go long.
Eng 322a: NonFiction Topics: Reading and Writing Queer Memoir
In our framework “Queer” serves as an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are neither heterosexual or nor cisgender, and harkens back to its pejorative references from the 19th and 20th centuries. “Memoirs” are personal written narratives. In this class students will read queer texts from the 18th, 19th and 20th century with an eye on writing their own memoir essay. Participants need not identify as queer but should come with a hunger and openness to read and write in a nonfiction workshop context. Intro to Creative Writing or a demonstrated equivalent is required.
Eng 349a: Form and Genre: Fiction and Poetry
Eng 391a: Advanced Topics: Authors: Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks
Suzan-Lori Parks, the first African American woman playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize in drama, is a fresh, challenging, and always surprising contemporary voice in the theater. This course examines her significant collection of plays, beginning with her early dramatic experiments like Pickling and Imperceptible Mutabilities of the Third Kingdom, continuing to her “Abraham Lincoln” works (including The America Play and the Pulitzer-winning Topdog/Underdog), and culminating in her most recent theatrical projects such as 365 Plays. We’ll also look at her other projects, including screenplays, fiction, and music. Since this is an “S” course, students should expect to participate actively and to give a series of oral presentations.
Eng 392a: Genre: Advanced Topics: The Politics of Representation in the Graphic Novel
As a medium that uses both text and image to tell stories, the graphic novel now enjoys legitimacy as a genre warranting serious intellectual consideration by scholars and critics alike. This 300-level interdisciplinary course investigates fiction and nonfiction graphic novels to explore how graphic storytelling (re)creates new cultural circuits of representation and knowledge. In this course, we will discover the stylistic diversity of this genre, both aesthetically and textually. We will also develop the visual literacy skills to better interrogate the characteristics and tropes operative in these graphic narratives. Lastly, we will engage with current scholarship to situate ourselves in the larger conversations about this form of visual storytelling. Graphic novel sub-genres explored in this course include: utopian/dystopian narratives; high art productions; punk and cyber punk aesthetics; and the autobiography and memoir. Course texts include Alan Moore's Watchman, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Charles Burns' Black Hole, and Wilfred Santiago's In My Darkest Hour, to name a few.