Summer 2020: May 4th – June 23rd
Indigenous Canadian and American Literatures
662.1 AA Tues & Thurs (online) Jessica Bardill
This course will explore fiction, poetry, film, and essays produced by First Nations, Metis, Inuit, and American Indians in the 20th and 21st centuries, with a primary focus on the interrelations of creative production and policy (including legislation, court cases, and constitutions). We will take an interdisciplinary approach to a variety of texts by some of the best-known Indigenous North American writers, who come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, examining the distinctive individual and tribal cultural, historical, and political contexts from which each writer’s work emerges, as well as shared characteristics of structure, form, and theme. The combination of the literary theory and the literature itself will offer a way to examine different approaches to issues and foci within the communities, including identity, violence, adoption, ancestors, military interactions, environmental concerns, land rights, apocalypse, and sexuality.
Fall 2020: September 8th – December 23rd
The Poetics and Fictions of Scale (theory)
602.2/801 A Thurs, 15:30-17:45, LB 646 Nicola Nixon
This course seeks to explore the ways in which scale is achieved in literature. From genres (the epic, the encyclopedia, the tall tale, the miniature, sudden fiction) and figures (the catalogue, congeries, ellipsis, paralipsis) to rhetorical style (hyperbole, litotes) and themes (gluttony, excessiveness, scarcity, leanness, diminishment) literary texts have sought strategies to express scale in poetic and fictional discourse. We will question economies of expression—does a Whitmanian catalogue, for example, offer a heft that can stand in contrast to a Dickinsonian elliptical spareness? or are size and scale not determined by word count but ambition? and what does size on the page have to do with scale of representation? We will also question what big or small, major or minor, short or long might mean in literary terms; and we will extend our questions to cinematic considerations of just such queries, thinking about how the “close-up” or “zoom” makes big what is small. Possible Reading Texts may include: Erasmus, On Copia, Rabelais, Gargantua, Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, Melville, Moby-Dick, Whitman and Dickinson poems, Balzac, The Wild Ass’s Skin, Carson McCullers, Ballad of the Sad Café, Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho, Alexander Kluge, The Devil’s Blindspot. Possible Critical Texts may include works by John Guillory, Mikhail Bakhtin, William Ian Miller, Susan Stewart, Rachel Adams, Franco Moretti, Mark McGurl, Leslie Adelman, Mary Ann Doane, Bruno Latour.
Pedestrian Poetics: Walking as Contemporary Aesthetic Practice (theory)
602.2 B Tues, 13:15-15:30, LB 646 Andre Furlani
The course considers how and to what ends walking should flourish as a contemporary aesthetic practice, one that blazes trails in such fields as ecopoetics, new urbanism, and the digital humanities, as well as in genre, cognitive, gender, race and animal studies. Walking structures and modifies diverse contemporary literary forms, including the travelogue (W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital, Lisa Robinson’s “Seven Walks,” André Carpentier’s Ruelles, jours ouvrables), poetry (Seamus Heaney’s “Station Island,” Anne Carson’s “Kinds of Water,” Alice Oswald’s Dart, Jan Zwicky’s The Long Walk, Thalia Field’s “Walking,” Robert Melançon’s L’Avant-printemps à Montréal), the novel (Gail Scott’s My Paris, Ben Lerner’s 10:04, Peter Handke’s A Moment of True Feeling, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Rawi Hage’s Cockroach, Régine Robin’s La Québécoite, Teja Cole’s Open City), short fiction (Lydia Davis’s “The Walk”), the novella (J.M.G. De Clezio’s “Histoire du pied” and Thomas Bernhard’s Gehen), historical fiction (E.L. Doctorow’s The March and José Saramago’s The Elephant’s Journey), political reportage (Arundhati Roy’s Walking with the Comrades and Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks), social history (Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse and Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Road), memoir (Werner Herzog’s Of Walking in Ice and Piero Bossi’s Quattro animali in viaggio), children’s literature (Sara O’Leary’s Nightwalk), and comics (“Harold and the Purple Crayon”). There are abundant compelling examples of performance art (Sophie Calle, Françis Alÿs, Marina Abramovic, Bruce Nauman), cinema (Tsai Ming-liang’s Walker and Gus Van Sant’s Gerry), photography (Richard Long and Gary Winogrand), interactive audio (Janet Cardiff’s Audio Walks), and digital art (J.R. Carpenter’s Entre-Ville). The syllabus will include excerpts from a number of the above works, selected partly in consultation with the participants. Assessment will be based on a class presentation, participation, a short paper and a term assignment that may either be academic or literary.
(Literary) Listening as Cultural Technique (theory)
ENGL 604.2 B Mon, 15:30-17:45, LB 646 Jason Camlot
This seminar will be about listening in different disciplinary and cultural contexts, and especially in the context of literary studies. We assume a lot about listening. In Althussarian terms we might say that we are persistently interpellated, or hailed into listening subject positions, and the cultural or disciplinary assumptions that those listening positions entail. We listen from positions of cultural protocol and assumption and in doing so practice listening as “cultural techniques.” Media theorist Bernhard Siegert argues that “cultural techniques” incite “a more or less complex actor network that comprises technological objects as well as the operative chains they are part of and that configure and constitute them.” They are conceived as “operative chains that precede media”, presuppose “a notion of plural cultures”, “involve symbolic work”, work to operationalize distinctions, and they function both to sustain and institutionalize codes and sign systems, and to destabilize cultural codes, erase signs, and deterritorialize sounds and images. This is but one theory that may be applied to explain how listening practices function as cultural techniques. In our work together we will read a range of discipline-specific theories about audile techniques (listening practices), and will apply concepts from those readings to our discussion and interpretation of printed literary works and audiotexts (recordings of literary performances) with the ultimate aim of formulating readings, interpretations and critical definitions that help describe and explain what listening means within the context of “the literary.”
Apocalyptic Visions Medieval and Modern (period)
607.2 A Mon, 13:15-15:30, LB 649 Stephen Yeager
The Greek word “apocalypse” refers literally to the “unveiling” of hidden knowledge. Because the fallen world we inhabit is confusing and contradictory, imagining its end is a helpful way of imposing sense on our experience and articulate our values. Perhaps because such visions of the end explicitly aim to represent the unrepresentable, they are often enigmatically allegorical and open to multiple contradictory interpretations. And yet for this very reason, apocalyptic texts are often highly presentist and polemical, working to craft political identities and enable movements towards change. In this on-line, largely asynchronous class, students will work in collaboration with the instructor and their peers in explorations of apocalyptic writing that will move between four nodes: first, a survey of the history of European apocalypticism from the Book of Revelation and St. Augustine to Martin Luther and Christopher Columbus; second, a theoretical examination of the apocalyptic tendencies in Marx’s Communist Manifesto and 1844 manuscripts; third, a focused examination of medieval English apocalyptic poetry circulating in the period between the Black Death and the Peasant’s Revolt (Pearl, the Prophecies of Merlin, Piers Plowman A version); fourth, a consideration of the intersections between (post-)apocalyptic SF and afrofuturism, focalized around Sun Ra, Phil K Dick, Octavia Butler, and Nnedi Okorafor.
The New American Poetry: Experimental US Poetics, 1945-1990 (period)
628.2 A Wed, 13:15-15:30, LB 649 Stephen Ross
This seminar surveys experimental US poetry and poetics from 1945 to 1990. Our starting point will be the “New American Poetry,” a congeries of movements and practices that pushed modernist innovation in new directions at the dawning of the Cold War. Using Donald Allen’s influential anthology, The New American Poetry: 1945-60, as a guidebook and provocation, we will examine the advent of “projective verse” and “composition by field” at Black Mountain College in Asheville, NC; the New York School’s poetic assimilation of painterly abstraction and Pop insouciance; and the invention of “serial poetry” on the West coast. We will then turn our attention to the emergence of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and its mobilization of experimental aesthetics as an apparatus of anti-racist politics. Finally, we will examine the rise and flourishing of Language poetry on both coasts in the 1970s and 1980s as a collective critique of American neo-imperialism and the degradation of public speech. Readings will be drawn from the following poets: Black Mountain: Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov; New York School: John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Barbara Guest, James Schuyler, Bernadette Mayer, Eileen Myles; San Francisco Renaissance: Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Bob Kaufman; Black Arts Movement: LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Gwendolyn Brooks; Language: Rae Armantrout, Ron Silliman, Michael Palmer, Lyn Hejinian.
665.2 AA Wed, 18:00-20:15, LB 659 Jesse Arseneault
This course explores South African literary and cultural texts through the lens of Fallism, a decolonial concept derived from the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall student protests that gained traction in 2015 at universities across that nation. The movements involved efforts by student groups to dismantle the commemorative statue of colonist Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town, challenge institutional racism at South African Universities, and reverse fee hikes that prohibited poor and (given the racialized distribution of wealth in the nation) Black students from attending university. Spurring calls for decolonization across multiple strata of South African society, Fallism overwhelmingly disrupted tertiary education across the nation and infused national consciousness with heightened awareness of and disappointment in the ongoing legacies of Apartheid that structure South African institutions. Despite this, the movement also gained some high-profile detractors, including dismissive assessments by public intellectuals such as Achille Mbembe and Nomoniso Gasa, and criticism for the way its cooptation by masculinist rhetoric undermined many protestors’ dedication to intersectional themes. Evaluating these struggles’ antecedents and aftermaths through the lens of South African literature and theory, this course seeks to understand the political, cultural, and pedagogical ramifications of this decolonial endeavor, as well as the anticolonial movements in the Apartheid and post-Apartheid periods that have shaped Fallist sentiment. It will also consider how or whether this movement contains lessons for those in decolonial movements beyond South Africa. Readings in the course will involve a range of contemporary South African literature and theory, as well as readings from influential figures in the region’s decolonial thought, intersectional feminisms, and Black Consciousness whose ideas influenced the movement.
Poetry – Creative Writing
674.2 AA Tues, 18:00-20:15, LB 655 (Richler) Sina Queyras
Fall/Winter 2020-2021: September 8th – April 13th
Prose – Creative Writing
672.3 A Wed, 13:15-15:30, LB 655 (Richler) Kate Sterns
Winter 2021: January 6th – April 13th
Feminism & Comedy: Theories & Controversies
601.4 A Thurs, 14:45-17:00, LB 646 Danielle Bobker
What, exactly, is bad about bad jokes, and what is good about good ones? What are, or should be, their respective effects and consequences? This course pursues these ethical, political, aesthetic, and legal questions at the intersections of feminist theory and humour studies with sharp attention to the categories of power and publicness, pleasure and harm. We’ll explore theories of humour and laughter by such authors as Henri Bergson, Sigmund Freud, Henry Louis Gates, Michael Billig, Rebecca Krefting, and Anca Parvelescu with an eye to how each navigates issues of systemic oppression. Similarly, we’ll investigate the character of humour in feminist criticism by such authors as Audre Lorde, Hélène Cixous, Kimberle Crenshaw, Donna Haraway, Jack Halberstam, Sianne Ngai, Sara Ahmed, and Roxanne Gay. To test and refine our evolving hypotheses about the qualities, effects, and consequences of humour, throughout the semester we’ll analyze controversies from the eighteenth century through to the present surrounding such writers (and performers) as Mary Wortley Montagu, Oscar Wilde, Mae West, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, 2 Live Crew, Mike Ward, Dave Chappelle, and Hannah Gadsby.
Cultural Technique (theory)
603.4 A Mon, 14:45-17:00, LB 646 Darren Wershler
"Cultural Technique" is simultaneously one of the most compelling concepts to emerge out of cultural and media studies over the last several decades, and one of the least studied. As Geoffrey Winthop-Young notes in his "Preliminary Remarks" on the 2013 special issue of Theory, Culture & Society on cultural technique, while the term has its relative beginnings in agriculture, it has been used with great frequency to analyze interactions between humans and media, and, "most recently, to account for basic operations and differentiations that give rise to an array of conceptual and ontological entities which are said to constitute culture." For Bernhard Siegert, cultural techniques come into being when chains of operations are formalized into something more coherent that can be performed successfully on a repeated basis. The power and utility of the concept of cultural technique stems from its ability not only to theorize a wide range of cultural practices (everything from slaughtering and meat-packing to the use of grids in mapping to composing a sonnet or conducting a close reading), but to provide a methodology for doing so. As such, students will be learning the techniques of cultural technique theory (and, for that matter, the techniques of academic research presentation) self-reflexively as we proceed through the term).
The Philosophical Poet in the Middle Ages (period)
608.4 A Wed, 11-13:15, LB 646 Manish Sharma
My research in the last three years has turned toward Geoffrey Chaucer's place within the intellectual, and especially philosophical, milieu of the late medieval period. In my seminar, accordingly, I would seek to introduce students to some of the most influential philosophers of antiquity and the Middle Ages, including Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Boethius, John Scotus Eriugena, Hildegard of Bingen, Duns Scotus, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, and William of Ockham. I also wish to acquaint students with the crucial contributions of Arabic and Jewish philosophers, such as Averrroes, Avicenna, al-Farabi, and Maimonides, to the intellectual culture of the Christian West. The course would focus especially on the manner with which philosophical ideas are given literary expression, especially in the high and late Middle Ages. I am particularly intrigued by the phenomenon of the “philosophical poet,” a phrase used by his contemporaries and near-contemporaries (e.g. Froissart, Caxton) to describe Chaucer. How did medieval authors distinguish between and correlate these two modalities of knowledge? I envisage beginning the course with a reading of Boethius’s prosimetrical Consolation of Philosophy, and considering the relationship between the prisoner’s dialogue with Lady Philosophy and the intercalated verse passages. We would then consider selections from authors and texts including Chaucer, Dante, Boccaccio, Alain de Lille, the Romance of the Rose, the Pearl-poet, the Cloud of Unknowing, and Julian of Norwich.
The Storyteller (period)
611.4 A Wed, 15:30-17:45, LB 646 Kevin Pask
“The Storyteller” invokes Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay, which associated the decline of the oral culture and oral storytelling with the domination of the novel in modern European culture. In the wake of Benjamin’s essay, this course will examine the relationship between orality and writing in fictions from The Thousand and One Nights to examples from contemporary fiction. Benjamin treated the novel (although not consistently) as inimical to the storyteller, but we will also consider the traces of orality in the formation of the modern novel, including devices such as the “inset tale,” a widely used novelistic device from Cervantes until the nineteenth century, and various forms of direct address to the reader. In the final part of the course, we will also be attentive to newer technological mediations of the effects of orality, from phonograph and radio to the digitized audiobook, and their potential relationship to narrative form. Primary texts will include at least some of the following: The Thousand and One Nights (selections); Boccaccio, The Decameron (selections); William Shakespeare, Pericles; Cervantes, Don Quixote (selections); Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews ; Mario Vargas Llosa, The Storyteller; Rachel Cusk, Outline. Stories by the Grimm brothers, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Edgar Allan Poe, Nikolai Leskov, Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, I. B. Singer. Criticism and theory: Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Marshall McLuhan, Jacques Derrida, Walter Ong, Jack Goody, Friedrich Kittler, Benedict Anderson, Matthew Rubery.
Romanticism, Ecocriticism, and the Anthropocene (period + theory)
623.4 A Tues, 14:45-17:00, LB 646 Jonathan Sachs
What is at stake in the relationship of Romantic writing to nature and the environment? How did ecological crises in late eighteenth-century Europe shape Romantic thinking? How does Romantic writing present the human engagement with nonhuman nature? These questions are important because Romantic poetry is often conflated with nature poetry, and Romantic ecocriticism frequently finds the roots of the environmental movement in the Romantics’ emphasis on nature. The transition to industrial capitalism and related demographic movement to cities certainly inflected literary practices at this pivotal moment, as Raymond Williams, John Barrell, and Leo Marx among others have shown. Further, recent work on the “Anthropocene,” an epoch framed by the effect of human activity on atmospheric and geological transformations, commonly locates the destabilization of nature in the technological, demographic, and economic changes that we associate with Romanticism. Bearing these concerns in mind, this course will survey the intersections between Romanticism, ecocriticism, and the idea of the Anthropocene. In addition to those mentioned above, readings will include critical work by Jonathan Bate, Lawrence Buell, Amitav Ghosh, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and Kathryn Yusuff, to be read alongside literary works by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Clare, Keats, Shelley, Byron, and others. We will pay particular attention to how attention to “nature” inflects questions of futurity, continuity, and the spatial and temporal scales through which Romantic writers and subsequent critics understand both historical and everyday experience.
Twentieth-Century Literature and the Brain Sciences (theory)
626.4 AA Wed, 18:00-20:15, LB 659 Omri Moses
Literature requires very particular kinds of mental effort. But experimental findings regarding particular brain functions have only recently begun to be of field-wide interest to literary critics. This course looks at older philosophical accounts of consciousness as well as fin-de-siècle psychology and more recent neuroscience in order to examine what, if anything, we may be able to surmise about literature as an exercise of the mind as well as an evolutionary social practice. We will begin by informing ourselves about neuroscientific findings in domains relevant to literature, such as the formation of selfhood (important for investigations of literary character), multimodal sensory awareness (important for aesthetic response), and the workings of feelings and emotions (the materials for literary response). We will investigate these topics in fields as neuroaesthetics, cognitive neuroscience, and cognitive literary criticism, delving into more particular arenas such as the neurobiology of reading, theories of embodied cognition, and brain-body interactions. Because humanistic inquiry into these fields is nascent, we will be exploring the kinds of questions that may be fruitful as an analytic perspective on literature. As the course unfolds, we will examine writers’ attention to such matters as memory, habit formation, self-knowledge, and mental access to one’s own thoughts. Ultimately, we will want to know whether neuroscience has something to learn from literature and literary studies as well as the reverse.
Towards a Genealogy of Autofiction
640.4/800 A Thurs 11-13:15, LB 646 Marcie Frank
Contemporary fiction displays a marked preference for first-person narration, often in texts that blur the boundaries between the narrating “I” and the biographical author. The term “auto-fiction” was coined in 1977 by Serge Doubrovsky (with reference to his own novel, Fils), to name this narrative mode. Doubrovsky looked back to Proust through the lens of the nouveaux romanciers and Roland Barthes, but his category can also encompass practitioners of écriture feminine and a group of American writers loosely affiliated under the rubric of New Narrative (including Dennis Cooper, Kevin Killian, Kathy Acker, Cookie Mueller, and others) equally informed by French literary examples and structuralist and post-structuralist theory. This course proposes to investigate what it would take to establish a critical genealogy for Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, Ben Lerner’s 10:04, Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be, the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s multi-volume My Struggle, and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonoauts.
Together, we will explore the aims of this narrative modality to capture or problematize authentic personal experience, bearing in mind the identification of these same goals in classic novel theory (Watt, McKeon, Armstrong) and narratological accounts of narration (Genette, Bal, Fludernik). Can Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World (1666), in which she appears as a scribe to the Empress of the imaginary Blazing World, count as a precursor, especially in view of its 2014 rewriting by Siri Hustveldt? What about Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (1722), a fictional diary about the Great Plague of 1665/6? We will explore the ways the historical and critical frames of reference help or hinder the project of this genealogy at the same time as we consider what the belated naming of the narrative modality, and its current popularity, says about the status of the novel in our time.
Writing the American Economy: Postwar to the Present
657.4 AA Tues, 18:00-20:15, LB 659 Mary Esteve
Over the past seven decades or so the American economy has evolved from an “embedded liberalism”—in which the market, as David Harvey puts it, was “surrounded by a web of social and political constraints and a regulatory environment”—to a neoliberalism marked by deregulation, privatization, and the financialization of economic resources. In this seminar we will examine the way American fiction engages with these evolving conditions and the political-economic idioms they produce. In addition to addressing era-specific economic phenomena and debates (such as the role of the welfare state, the politics of redistribution/recognition, and the positive and negative dimensions of consumerism, deregulation, and globalization), we’ll consider how literary works register and refract formal elements of the economy (such as money, price, speculation, and corporate personhood). In addition to several novels, required reading will include literary, historicist, and socioeconomic criticism.
In addition to several novels--including Patricia Highsmith, THE PRICE OF SALT, Marilynne Robinson HOUSEKEEPING, Richard Powers GAIN, Don DeLillo COSMOPOLIS, Thomas Pynchon INHERENT VICE--required reading will include literary, historicist, and socioeconomic criticism.
Poetic Determination - Form and Mediation in Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil
668.4 AA Mon, 18:00-20:15, LB 646 Nathan Brown
At the core of this course will be intensive study of the 1861 edition of Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil. We will practice and theorize close reading, learn how to work between translation and original, and familiarize ourselves with the scholarly apparatus for study of a major writer like Baudelaire. In this respect our goal will be a thorough understanding of individual poems, the overall structure of the volume, and the thematic concerns and interpretive problems traversing it. But we will also range more widely in order to think through the relationship between form and mediation—the problem of what I call poetic determination—with Baudelaire’s volume serving as a case study for addressing this larger theoretical and literary-critical question. Thinking “below” the level of form, we will ask how form gets made not only at the level of technique but of the historical, conceptual, phenomenological, and affective genesis of the poem. We will also think about how the making of Baudelaire’s book is situated at the crux of the relation between romanticism and modernism. To address these questions we will read excerpts from Kant and Hegel on mediation and the dialectic along with critical texts by Barbara Johnson, Elissa Marder, Ronjaunee Chatterjee, Alexi Kukuljevic, Walter Benjamin, and T.J. Clark, as well as Baudelaire’s own critical writings on art and literature. We will then conclude the course with two sessions on Lisa Robertson’s The Baudelaire Fractal (2020), the novelistic episodes of which are constructed through mediations of Les fleurs du mal and Baudelaire’s prose poems.
Turning Prose Into Performance – Creative Writing
673.4 AA Tues, 18:00-20:15, LB 646 Greg MacArthur
Updated June 15, 2020