Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

Spring 2022

Course No: -----
Index # -----
Distribution Requirement: -----
Tuesday - 4:30 p.m.
MU 305

Working with the Ph.D.

David Kurnick

This not-for-credit seminar will think about what sorts of skills graduate students in literature acquire as they progress towards their degrees and how adaptable those are to various kinds of employment after graduation. Many of our sessions will involve visits from professionals in various fields (nonprofit work, publishing, librarians, higher education consultants, public humanities workers, professional grant-writing). They will talk to us about the nature of their work, the skills they seek when they’re hiring, and what you might do while you are still enrolled as a full-time student to put yourself in a position to be a plausible job candidate later on.

Three other related projects: we’ll explore several different tools that promise to help us think about what lines of work are appealing to us. We’ll also pay attention to writing habits, planning and finishing a dissertation, balancing writing, teaching and other forms of work. Finally, though this is primarily a practical class, well also be reading about the nature of the current academic job market (its history, and predictions for where it’s going). The semester will conclude with a collaborative project in which students formulate proposals for possible reforms to our own graduate program structures.

Course No:  350:588
Index # - 14885
Distribution Requirement:  A5, C, D
Monday - 2:00 p.m.
MU 207

Slavery and the Black Feminist Imagination

Evie Shockley

The figure of the Black woman within the transatlantic slave trade and chattel slavery in North America and the Caribbean constitutes a paradox of absence and presence, invisibility and hypervisibility. The exploitation of her labor was facilitated by, among other things, the erasure of her subjectivity from the archive of the Middle Passage and her overdetermined role in the perpetuation of slavery under the rule of partus sequitur ventrem. Launching the course from the recognition of this redoubled brutality, we will investigate some of the ways Black women during and since the era of legalized slavery have imagined, theorized, and represented themselves in the face of and as a counterhistory to the “ungendering” inscription of the Black female figure in white supremacist culture and the dominant public record of, primarily, the U.S., but also the Caribbean and Canada. We will also think through intra-racial issues of gender raised not infrequently by our texts. To keep our inquiry manageable within the context of a single semester, we will focus on two periods: the mid- to late nineteenth century and the post-Black Arts/post-Civil Rights-era through the present. Alongside works of literature from a range of genres, we will take up other forms of Black feminist art, criticism, and theory. We will deploy the term “Black feminist” generously—as potentially encompassing work produced prior to the emergence of feminism, per se, or work by scholars who do not identify as Black women. Our collective goal will be to make literature and literary criticism the spine of a multi-media, interdisciplinary inquiry centering Black women as subjects of and in the social, cultural, and political afterlife of slavery.

Our texts will be drawn primarily from among the following works: Dionne Brand, The Blue Clerk; Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower or “Bloodchild”; Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust; Soyica Diggs Colbert, Black Movements; Marisa Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives; Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Spill or M Archive; Francis E. W. Harper, selections; Pauline Hopkins, Contending Forces; Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Adrienne Kennedy, Funnyhouse of a Negro; Robin Coste Lewis, The Voyage of the Sable Venus; Paule Marshall, Praisesong for the Widow; Jennifer Morgan, “Partus sequitur ventrem”; Toni Morrison, A Mercy; Suzan-Lori Parks, Venus; NourbeSe Philip, She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks; Alison Saar, Topsy-Turvey; Christina Sharpe, Monstrous Intimacies or In the Wake; C. Riley Snorton, Black on Both Sides; Hortense Spillers, “Changing the Letter” and “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe”; Natasha Trethewey, Thrall; Kara Walker, selections; Cheryl Wall, Worrying the Line; Alexander Weheliye, Habeas Viscus; Carrie Mae Weems, selections; Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman; and Sylvia Wynter, “Sambos and Minstrels.”

Evaluation will be based on active participation in oral and written discussions of the texts; two class presentations (one on assigned readings and the other of your final project for the course); a midterm of 5-6 pages; and a final paper or project of 9-10 pages (or the equivalent).

 

Course No:  350:598
Index # - 14886
Distribution Requirement:  A5, C
Tuesday - 10:20 a.m.
MU 207

Encountering the Other in World Literature

Mukti Lakhi Mangharam

World literature has often been theorized as a ‘window into the world.’ These textual windows - in translation or in English - are consumed by a global audience. But what are the stakes of gazing through that window to observe cultures and peoples different from ourselves? Is world literature bound to end up as an exploitative consuming of difference, or are there other ways of reading, other texts, other theorizations of world literature that can challenge the problematic implications of the institution of world literature today. Discussions will center on comparative modes of reading world literature, the inequities or potentialities of translation, and the politics of world literature anthologies. We will also consider theoretical frameworks that have both exacerbated modes of ‘Othering’ and/or demonstrated the potential to alleviate them, including the ‘postcolonial,’ ‘comparative literature,’ and ‘human rights literature and empathy.’ Texts will include theorists as diverse as the Warwick Research Collective, Rebecca Walkowitz, Pheng Cheah, and David Damrosch, discussed alongside canonical writers that have acquired popular global audiences, including Chinua Achebe, J.M. Coetzee, Junot Diaz, Amitav Ghosh, Elena Ferrante, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Han Kang, and Viet Thanh Nguyen.

 

Course No:  350:607
Index # - 14888
Distribution Requirement:  B, C, D
Tuesday - 2:00 p.m.
MU 207

Black Is... Black Ain't: Currents in African American Literary and Cultural Theory

Maurice Wallace

This course is dedicated to new and emergent directions in black literary and cultural theory. It alternately outlines and probes the most generative currents of black thought bearing on literature, literary criticism, culture, aesthetics, history and epistemology. In practical and pedagogical terms, the course aims to help graduate students do (not reductively “apply”) theory and thus give speculative voice to (what it means to be engaged by and in) black study in the context of these discursive frames. Any rigorous undertaking of black study (which, to sensitive ears, sounds like nothing so much as a vague affirmation of Moten’s instincts concerning blackness as a “movement toward and away from death”) cannot escape the problems of method and archive, even if escape is (im)precisely that modality of thought and sociality black study cannot get by without. The literary and cultural preoccupations of contemporary black thought qua thought are continuous with, which is to say set in cross-hatched apposition to, forceful political, theological, and philosophical provocations, historical and futurist, blurring the outer edges of our somewhat narrower apprehensions of what “black is” and what “black ain’t.”

“Black is...Black Ain’t,” the titular heading beneath which the design, content, objectives and outer-limit provocations of this course have been gathered together, recalls Ralph Ellison’s now-classic Invisible Man (1952). Ellison’s modern black Odyssey-work and that fantastic preachment of black onto-theology pronounced in the novel’s prologue. This title, it should be noted, does not mean to gesture toward a positive ontology of what we might call black being, however; nor is it designed to posit a logic of categorization and classification for properly managing blackness in epistemological terms. Rather, it connotes at once a deeper interiority and denser exteriority to the object of blackness/black study than the taxonomic questions of definition, demarcation, and discipline—all reflexes of rational desire—allow. It is the graphic sign of the ellipses, then, more than the dialectic they construct out of Ellison’s (black) thought that best represents this course’s concerns in African American literary and cultural thought for “the blackness of blackness” African American literary and cultural thought are, in a way, after.

In terms practical and pedagogical, we shall, over the course of the semester, apply ourselves (to the degree it seems generative to do) to the working through of several rough postulates informing, and informed by, the theoretical labors of those guiding current thought, provoking current debate, and reconsidering neglected archives in contemporary black humanistic thought. The hope is to see postulation transformed into axiomatic reliability by way of close reading, historicization, amplification, general critique and new world/New World imaginings.

Scholarship (some new, some antecedent) by WEB Dubois, Frantz Fanon, Sylvia Wynter, Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten, Ronald Judy, Zakiyyah Jackson, Philip Butler and Joshua Bennett (with fictional extracts and poetry) will guide the thematic congealing of concern around “the Black,” humanism, animality and transhumanism in black critical contexts from slavery to futurity.

Course No:  350:569
Index # - 14884
Distribution Requirement:  A4, B
Wednesday - 12:10 p.m.
MU 207

Victorian Studies: Genealogies, Theories, Prospects

Carolyn Williams

This is an experimental course that will explore a field in process, at a moment of change. It will present a rich array of texts and methods of analysis for you to consider. The course is designed for graduate students at any point in their program.

Topics, methods, and genres (together with the question of genre in general) will overlap as the semester unfolds, so that we will take different points of view toward some key topics. Topics and methods will be illustrated through primary readings by Victorian authors and secondary readings of critics and theorists. We will read Victorian texts of non-fiction prose, fiction (short and long), periodical journalism, poetry, and drama. Period authors will include: Louisa May Alcott, Washington Allston, Matthew Arnold, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Dion Boucicault, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Wilkie Collins, Hannah Cullwick, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Edmund Gosse, Fitz-Greene Halleck, Felicia Hemans, Thomas Holcroft, Douglas Jerrold, Rudyard Kipling, Letitia Landon (LEL), Vernon Lee, Amy Levy, Ada Isaacs Menken, James Robinson Planché, Mary Prince, Walter Pater, John Ruskin, Mary Seacole, Lydia Sigourney, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Anthony Trollope, Augusta Webster, Oscar Wilde, and others.

Topics and/or methods of analysis to be considered: recent polemics about the field; varieties of historicism; debates about form vs history; genre theory; critique and postcritique; affect theory; transatlantic studies; global Victorian studies; slavery and abolition; gender and sexuality studies; queer theory; social class; 19th-century theories of race; ecologies and energy production; colonial and postcolonial studies; Empire studies; adaptation studies; cultural studies and 19th-c concepts of culture; religion and secularization; disability; seriality; parody; realisms.

A rough outline of the course follows. (However, NB: after the first month, the topics are not in fixed calendar order yet and might well have to be re-arranged).

The first couple of weeks at least will be on Zoom, by order of Rutgers University; we will hope to move to in-person meetings when the Omicron spiking resolves.

Week 1 (Jan. 19) Introduction to the course (Autobiography of Mary Prince; critical works by Lauren Berlant and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick; recent polemics on expansion of our field)

Week 2 (Jan. 26) Autobiography, with Carolyn Williams (continue Mary Prince; Father and Son by Edmund Gosse; excerpts from Mary Seacole, Hannah Cullwick, and Alfred Tennyson)

Week 3 (Feb. 2) Beauty and Form in the Essay, with Jonah Siegel (Walter Pater, Vernon Lee, Matthew Arnold, John Ruskin; critical and theoretical secondary material)

Week 4 (Feb. 9) Historical Poetics, with Carolyn Williams (introduction to the field, then case study: The Poetess and the Dramatic Monologue; Hemans, LEL, Webster, Levy, Browning, Barrett Browning, Tennyson)

Second half of class meeting: Global Victorian studies I, with Tanya Agathocleous (Wilde, Kipling; parody).

Week 5 (Feb. 16) Melodrama, with Matt Buckley and Carolyn Williams (Thomas Holcroft, James Robinson Planché, Douglas Jerrold; Case study: The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault)

Interlude: “How Victorianists (Might) Talk about Race,” A Two-day Symposium at Rutgers University on Feb. 17-18, 2022  (speakers to be announced soon)

Week 6 (Feb. 23) Discussion of the Symposium from last week

Then: Case Study: The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault with An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, with Carolyn Williams and Doug Jones (Duke University); parody and adaptation

Week 7 (March 2) Transatlanticism, with Meredith McGill (Allston, Halleck, Barbauld, Hemans, Landon, Sigourney and others)

Week 8 (March 9) Melodrama and the Novel, with Carolyn Williams (Eliot, Silas Marner, The Moonstone, excerpts from Eliot, Dickens, Trollope)

SPRING BREAK: March 12-20

Week 9 (March 23) British Cultural Studies, with David Kurnick (Raymond Williams, Catherine Hall, Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy; Collins, The Moonstone)

Week 10 (March 30) History of the Book, a demonstration with Leah Price

Week 11 (April 6) Sexuality and Queer Theory, with David Kurnick (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, D. A. Miller, Heather Love)

Week 12 (April 13) Energy and Extraction, with Liz Miller (Dickens, Hard Times)

Week 13 Global Victorian Studies II (April 20) with Lauren Goodlad (Global Victorian Aesthetic, back to The Moonstone and Hard Times)

Week 14 (April 27): TBD.

Requirements: reading, preparation, attendance. Two 10-12 pp. papers (one before spring break and one at the end of the semester in May), shorter written responses as requested.

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