Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

Fall 2022

Course No:  350:536
Index #: 14715
Distribution Requirement:  A2
Thursday - 3:50 p.m.
MU 207

Culture and Revolution: 1625-1688
Ann Baynes Coiro

Christopher Hill rightly calls the seventeenth century the “century of revolution.” A high-handed executive branch tries to operate alone. Ardent Protestants protest a mainstream culture they find ungodly. Black men and women become dehumanized items of exchange in the colonies. Women assume an increasingly central but controversial role across British society. Resistance grows to scientific advances that unsettle old ways of thinking. Man-made environmental damage becomes an ethical flashpoint. Credit and resulting debt enable an explosion of growth but also threaten economic disaster. War simmers and then breaks out on the border. An almost unimaginable series of civil wars erupts, opening a space to imagine a reorganization of economic and political hierarchy. A time of extraordinary cultural and political disruption, the seventeenth century is, as the 1619 Project has underscored, foundational in disturbing and still reverberating ways.

This course explores a range of poetry, prose and drama written from the beginning of Charles I’s reign (1625) through the English Civil Wars, the Interregnum, Restoration and the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. These years witness some of the most brilliant writing of the early modern period: work, for example, by John Donne, Ben Jonson, Anne Bradstreet, Andrew Marvell, Lucy Hutchinson, Margaret Cavendish, John Milton, Hester Pulter, John Dryden and Aphra Behn, as well as the Civil War Putney Debates and radical writers such as Gerard Winstanley and Abiezer Coppe.

Our central questions will be: One, what is literary culture’s complicated role in any revolutionary moment. To what extent does literary culture produce revolution? Or react to it? Two, to what extent do we as critics project our own political viewpoint on the past? And how does the convulsive rupture of any revolution shape, perhaps disrupt, our subsequent, often partisan, understanding? How do we negotiate the ethics of historical equivalence that appropriates the past to neatly explain the present? Three, what is the impact of trauma, particularly the trauma of slavery and civil war, on canonical literature? How has trauma refigured or erased the enemies/ causes of guilt? How has that trauma shaped the canonical literature that shapes us to this day?           

Over the course of the semester participants will write five three- to four-page memos that will be published to the class before seminar meetings. Students will then choose one of their memos to develop into a 12-page conference paper OR into an article draft.

Course No:  -----
Index # ------
Distribution Requirement:  -----
Monday - 5:00 p.m.
MU 302

Article Writing Workshop
Lauren Goodlad

What is a scholarly article in your field and what are some best practices for helping you to draft, edit, submit, and publish one? What are the key differences between a dissertation chapter and a manuscript submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal? How does one build from a successful conference paper into a publishable essay (or vice versa)?

This seminar approaches these questions in both theory and practice. Our main tasks entail active workshopping of student papers in preparation for submission to a particular journal, culminating in actual submission and advance preparation for potential next steps to come.

Assigned activities for all seminar members include: interviewing a professor in your field for advice as to target journals; sharing a “dream” article and identifying its key strengths; finding your argument via an “x-ray” of its skeleton; inhabiting the role of editor/peer-reviewer; formulating a comprehensive set of best practices (including drafting, editing, submitting, revising, communicating, and proofreading; learning to support peers through the editorial learning curve).

Course No:  350:507
Index #: 14713
Distribution Requirement:  B, D
Thursday - 12:10 p.m.
MU 207

Relational Aesthetics and 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 diverse fields 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 (maybe) 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:  350:595
Index #: 14720  
Distribution Requirement:  A5, B, C
Wednesday - 3:50 p.m.   
MU 207

Space, Place, and African Literature
Stéphane Robolin

This course offers an introduction to spatial theory as one lens (among others) for reading twentieth- and twenty-first-century African literatures.  It will feature foundational texts in geography and spatial theory and more recent analyses that account for race, gender, and colonialism.  We will also be taking up primary texts in African literatures from across the continent, with one subsection focused on South Africa.  Our work will involve thinking through these sets of readings in conjunction, with particular emphasis on how theoretical readings help us re-read the literature before us and, conversely, how literature invites us to re-think/revise some of the theory at hand. 

The course will begin by positioning colonial modernity as a fundamental crisis in social space and social power, and it then moves toward articulating the spatial dimensions of colonial and postcolonial African identities.  Much of the course will be organized around exploring how space, place, and race mutually constitute one another in African literatures.  Beyond considering how segregated spaces organize social and psychic life, we will explore questions relating to displacement, dislocation, alienation, the challenge of locating home, and the practice of place-making.  We will also attend to spatial dimensions of literary production, including the formal arrangement of words on the page and the geographical location of African writers.

Primary texts may include the following:

Yvette Christiansë’s Castaway, Fatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic, Assia Djebar’s Women of Algiers in Their Apartments, Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood, Abdulrazak Gurnah’s By the Sea, Bessie Head’s A Question of Power, Dambudzo Marechera’s The House of Hunger, Phaswane Mpe’s Welcome to Our Hillbrow, S.E.K. Mqhayi’s Don Jadu, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Petals of Blood, Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia, Sembène Ousmane’s Gods Bits of Wood,  Binyavanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place, and Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Light.

Critical readings may include selections from the following:

Avilez’s Black Queer Freedom, Baderoon’s Regarding Muslims, Glissant’s Poetics of Relation, Hofmeyr’s Reading Dockside, Krishnan’s Writing Spatiality in West Africa, Lefebvre’s The Production of Space, Doreen Massey’s Space, Place, and Gender, Mbembe’s Necropolitics, McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds, Philip’s A Genealogy of Resistance, Quayson’s Oxford Street, Accra, Smith’s Uneven Development, Tuan’s Space and Place, and Williams’s The Country and the City.

Evaluations will be based on consistent participation in discussions, in-class presentations, a midterm paper, an annotated bibliography, and a final paper.

Course No:  350:562
Index #: 14717
Distribution Requirement:  A4, B
Wednesday - 12:10 p.m.    
MU 207

Wordsworth, Austen, and the Everyday
William Galperin and Nancy Yousef (team-taught)

This seminar affords an opportunity for close study of the two most important British authors of the early nineteenth century, William Wordsworth and Jane Austen.  In addition to their centrality for the moment in which they wrote—the Romantic period—the novelist and the poet had even more significant afterlives, both in the development of the novel and concerning matters of subjectivity and being in the world.  Readings from George Eliot, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf will bring these continuities into focus, particularly the partnership of Romanticism and realism, which is generally overlooked in the standard divisions of literary history and knowledge.

Our examination of these writers will unfold alongside an engagement with theoretical and cultural studies of the "everyday" and the "ordinary"—keywords in Wordsworth's and Austen's aesthetic practice.  Wordsworth's aspiration to compose a poetry of "common life" (against the transcendental impulses of "high" romantic lyric) and Austen's attention to modest domestic dramas (against the exhilarations of the gothic and the fantastic) reflect a shared commitment to the "ordinary" and the "common" that is formal as well as thematic and ultimately far-reaching. We will therefore be exploring a relationship that is, on the one hand, contemporary and timebound regarding the region of the everyday (at a particular moment of literary and cultural production) and, on the other hand, transhistorical, involving anthropological, phenomenological, and philosophical accounts of the ordinary in the writings of such thinkers as Maurice Blanchot, Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, Stanley Cavell, Veena Das, and Jane Bennet.    

The seminar will be of particular value to students interested in Romanticism, in the nineteenth century, in the development of realism, in intersections between philosophy and literature, and in the relationship between two dominant currents of postwar cultural theory: phenomenology and philosophy of language.

Requirements: Weekly 1-page response paper; final seminar paper (20 pages).

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