Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

Spring 2020

Course No:  350:641
Index # - 28000
Distribution Requirement:  A4
Wednesday - 4:30 p.m.
MU 207

Domestic Fiction, Political Fiction:  1840-1880

John Kucich

There are no two sub-genres of Victorian fiction as seemingly distinct from one another as the domestic novel and the political novel (a category that encompasses “Condition of England” novels, social-problem novels, Chartist fiction, and parliamentary fiction). Yet both sub-genres emerged as popular forms in the 1840s, and it’s difficult to think of an instance of one that doesn’t incorporate the other, if only through a sub-plot or an allegorical affiliation. This course will explore the formal and thematic conventions typical of each sub-genre, as well as their complex convergences. The reading list will most likely include Harriet Martineau, Deerbrook; Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil; Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South and Wives and Daughters; Charles Dickens, Hard Times; George Eliot, Felix Holt; Margaret Oliphant, Miss Marjoribanks; Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage and Phineas Finn. We’ll read a classic prose text at the intersection of domestic and political concerns: John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women; we’ll also explore recent theoretical and contextualizing work by John Frow, Amanda Anderson, Franco Moretti, Fredric Jameson, Nancy Armstrong, Susan Fraiman, Lauren Goodlad, William Cohen, and others.

Course No:  350:642
Index # - 16220
Distribution Requirement:  A4, A5, D
Monday - 9:50 a.m. 
MU 207

Relational Aesthetics & American Literature

Brad Evans

This seminar takes the contested notion of “relational aesthetics” in contemporary art as a frame for thinking through relations and relationality in American literature from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Relationality refers to the between spaces structuring subject-object dualisms, the connections in social networks, the vibrant oscillations animating matter in the new materialism. We will interest ourselves in any manner of art that takes such relationality as its object. 

The term relational aesthetics was coined in 1997 by Nicolas Bourriaud, who used it describe a new turn in art exhibits of the 1990s that emphasized “the community effect in contemporary art.” As Bourriaud explains, relational aesthetics describes “an art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space.” A famous example is Felix González-Torres’s Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) (1991), which consisted of a pile of hard candies in colorful, cellophane wrappers that viewers were invited to share, a pile whose ideal weight was 175 pounds, the same as the artist’s lover before he contracted AIDS. Visitors to the exhibit space, who might have questioned whether or not to take a candy, were thus brought into relation with each other and the space of the exhibit, with Ross and the artist, and with historical accounts of the AIDS epidemic—these evolving and ephemeral relations, assembled as such around the pile of candy, becoming the object of art. 

Relational aesthetics has been said to be participatory not contemplative; intersubjective not private; contingent not portable; collective not personal; part of a service-based not goods-based economy; politically provisional and pragmatic not utopian; collaborative not confrontational; millennial not postmodern; a theory of recognition not otherness; and open-ended not whole or complete. As used commonly, then, relational aesthetics refers to the work of a particular time and place: institutional art exhibits from the 1990s to the present. And yet, similar notions of relationality are familiar across a broad historical spectrum of thinking about art and literature.

The seminar will provide a forum to discuss the history, politics, and theoretical implications of relational aesthetics in this broader sense. We will be interested in art that asks, simply, “What is a relation?” The seminar will open with a three-week deep dive into the work of González-Torres and other artists associated with relational aesthetics, such as Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tino Sehgal, in order to better understand the sources and trajectory of the work that Bourriad understood to be a key movement in contemporary art. Following that will be three weeks on the problem of relations and relationality in recent work in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and sociology, each of which have been affected by this relational turn. And we will then turn for the rest of the semester to the uptake of relations more concretely in literary studies, with examples drawn largely from the nineteenth and early twentieth century U.S.—including, at a minimum, Moby Dick, The Ambassadors, and Manhattan Transfer. Other examples will be added to suit the interests and needs of seminar participants.

The theoretical apparatus of the seminar is designed with other periods, modes of art, and national traditions in mind. Relations were central, for example, to Claude Debussy’s assertion that “music is the space between the notes,” William James’s radical empiricism, and Eadweard Muybridge’s sequential photographs of movement. Moreover, modes of relationality might be said to structure distinctions between the politics of a work like Morrison’s Beloved and, say, Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. Any form of engagement with the problem or relationality is welcome, and students working outside the context of US literary and visual studies are encouraged to enroll.

Course No:  350:542
Index # - 27993
Distribution Requirement:  A2, A3
Monday - 1:10 p.m.
MU 207

Revolution and Culture:  1625-1688

Ann Baynes Coiro 

Revolution and Culture: 1625-1688 focuses on the seventeenth-century English-speaking world during a time of extraordinary cultural and political disruption and change: the first modern revolution fractures the three kingdoms (England, Scotland and Ireland); the ardently divine-right espousing king, Charles I is executed; during the 11 years without a king, Ireland is crushed, and the Caribbean becomes a colonialist target; Charles II is restored; and then his brother James II overthrown. This is a foundational moment in disturbing and still reverberating ways.

Using a revolutionary period that has so deeply shaped subsequent American and British history and literature, our overarching methodological question will be what culture’s role is in a revolutionary moment. We will probe the extent that literary culture can produce, predict or react to a revolution. Professionally, we will debate how and whether we as critics should project our own political viewpoint on the past and how the past shapes our understanding. Here, for example, is my own description for an undergraduate course: “A high-handed executive branch tries to operate alone. Ardent Protestants protest a mainstream culture they find ungodly. Women assume an increasingly central but controversial role across society. Resistance to scientific advances that unsettle old ways of thinking grows. Man-made environmental damage becomes an ethical flashpoint. Credit and resulting debt enable an explosion of growth but also threaten economic disaster. Black men and women become dehumanized items of exchange. War simmers and then breaks out on the border. An almost unimaginable series of civil wars erupts.” Is this pandering? How do we negotiate parallels between the past and the present? We face such question in our classrooms every day.

Our evidentiary texts will include Macbeth, a play that Shakespeare ostensibly wrote to celebrate the first Stuart king but that makes a brutal revolution the play’s central event; apparently sycophantic court masques; weird Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare; poems by aristocratic Cavaliers; and mixed media by revolutionary radicals. Women writers are key during this revolutionary generation; we will read, for example, poems by the American colonist Anne Bradstreet, Margaret Cavendish’s dazzling science fiction proto-novel, The Blazing World, and Aphra Behn’s disturbing novel/first person narrative of the slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean, Oroonoko. We will explore Winstanley’s radical prose and closely read Milton’s Paradise Lost (I promise you will feel confident to teach PL by the end of this class).

There will be several short writing assignments. The final, longer but still short writing assignment will be open-ended, meant to address each of your field interests.


Course No: -----
Index # -----
Distribution Requirement: -----
Monday - 2:50 p.m.
MU 302

Dissertation Writing Seminar

Emily Bartels 

Writing is thinking.  In this seminar, we will work closely on your writing, starting at the level of the word, the sentence, and the paragraph, where individual thoughts take shape. Together, we will explore strategies for producing arguments that are not only accessible and persuasive but also riveting.  That steer your readers from a response of "oh, that's very interesting" to one of "holy cow."   We'll use different kinds of creative exercises (performance, verbal, and visual) to hone in on constructions that animate or numb your prose, and we'll provide you with reusable tools that may help you with your writing down the road.   Our writing requirements will be small: students will produce and present one or two new paragraphs of a single dissertation chapter each week.  But our ambitions will be huge: in 14 weeks, we not only want our writing samples to be better than they were at the start.  We want to become better writers.  Please bring to the first class: a brief (no more than 50 words) description of your chapter topic.   

Course No:  350:511
Index # - 27992
Distribution Requirement:  B, C
Monday - 4:30 p.m.
MU 207

Comparative Racialization

Stephane Robolin

Following the October 2008 PMLA special issue by the same title, this course will place race at the center of comparative cultural analyses. It will invite us to consider what is gained by placing one construction of race alongside another. What value lies in thinking about racial formations—not in isolation but in relation to others—across time or place? And what risks—from reductions and conflations to erasures and presentisms—bedevil projects of racial comparison? In short, how do we think across race ethically and productively?

This course structures comparative racialization in two primary ways. The first, more classical sense focuses, synchronically, on the relationship between racial groups across different social structures, geographies, and histories to consider their similarities and differences—and to discern what those similarities and difference reveal about race and transcultural relation. This approach includes transnational blackness, comparative indigeneities, Afro-Asian relationships, and other cross-racial solidarities. The second sense of comparative racialization involves exploring how the construction of race—and the identity of racial groups entangled amongst others—changes diachronically. We’ll additionally take up ways that race is compared to other categories of social difference, including gender, sexuality, and class. It will include queer of color critique, feminist studies, and critical race theory. The nature of this inquiry will also necessitate a careful meditation on the kinds of, and grounds for, comparison.

The course will draw from a range of critical texts, likely including selections from PMLA and from edited volumes, such as Lionnet and Shih’s Minor Transnationalisms, Feldman’s Comparison, Clarke and Thomas’s Globalization and Race, and Soske and Jacobs’ Apartheid Israel. It will also feature whole or partial monographs that may include Edward’s The Practice of Diaspora, Jaji’s Africa in Stereo, Byrd’s The Transit of Empire, Bald’s Bengali Harlem, Lowe’s The Intimacies of Four Continents, Eng’s The Feeling of Kinship, Schleitweiler’s Strange Fruit, Mayeri’s Reasoning from Race, Rasberry’s Race and the Totalitarian Century, and Glissant’s Poetics of Relation. To ground our discussions, we’ll occasionally take up primary creative texts, which may include the following: Coetzee’s Dusklands, Gyasi’s Homecoming, Lu’s Pamela: A Novel, Kureshi’s My Beautiful Laundrette, Magona’s Mother to Mother, Patel’s Migritude, and Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack.

Course evaluations will be based on regular class participation, pre-class reflections, class presentations, a midterm paper, and a final paper.


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