Spring 2021

Spring 2021

350:540 - Shakespeare in the Moment

Course No:  350:540
Index # - 15986
Distribution Requirement:  A2
Monday - 1:10 p.m. 
MU 207

Shakespeare in the Moment

Emily Bartels

How can we situate Shakespearean drama within our cultural and critical moment? This course will examine a range of plays – Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Richard II, Richard III, The Tempest, Titus Andronicus, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale – looking to these iconic texts as markers of a past that, for better or worse, has shaped our present.  We will zero in on the ways the plays address – or avoid – issues of racial and gendered identity, “law and order”, authoritarian governance, systemic social and political inequities that are particularly pertinent now, dictating whose lives (and lies) matter and whose don’t. We’ll consider the ways Shakespeare’s representational strategies define and defy structural “norms” in their construction of plot, genre, space, bodies, dialog, soliloquy, asides, and other theatrical and dramatic devices, going as far as we can to imagine how/whether these speak to us now as conventions. We’ll put the plays in conversation with narrative “sources” (Hakluyt, Holinshed, Plutarch, Cinthio, Fiorentino, Rich, Strachey and others) as a way of thinking about what counts for us and for Shakespeare’s contemporaries as “story” and “history.” And we’ll look at the ways current critics  and actors are presenting Shakespeare, and Shakespeare’s relevance, now.

As we work our way through these texts and issues, we will also devote a substantial part of the course to writing, focusing on the process as well as the product. Everyone will launch a paper project early on and will present parts-in-progress, regularly, across the term.  We’ll use these projects as a springboard for discussion both of Shakespeare and of effective writing practices, giving everyone an opportunity to develop not only a compelling scholarly vision but also a compelling scholarly voice.

350:562 - The Everyday

Course No:  350:562
Index # - 15987
Distribution Requirement:  A4, B
Tuesday - 1:10 p.m. 
MU 207

The Everyday

William Galperin
Nancy Yousef  

Questions regarding the everyday and the ordinary have been central to discussions both in the humanities and the social sciences for some time. But they are especially and increasingly relevant to literary studies, partly because their methods all but shadow the discipline's evolution (and current formation) in uniting and juxtaposing two fundamental orientations that have shaped critical practice: the structural and the phenomenological. Maurice Blanchot puts this quite succinctly when he observes that "the everyday is never what we see a first time but only see again, having always already seen it by an illusion that is, as it happens, constitutive of the everyday." From the structural perspective, this discovery is recursive: "the everyday" proceeds from something that "escapes," something that, like ideology, is never quite seen, to something suddenly visible, but with no alteration apart from being retrieved and corralled as a condition of being understood and in many instances lamented. From the phenomenological (and in many ways the literary) perspective the situation is completely different: a parallel world of which we are unaware, or unmindful, becomes visible as if for the first time, but as a condition of remaining what Stanley Cavell terms "missable" and therefore discoverable in various forms. Our course will explore the everyday from both angles of vision.

Although largely theoretical, our exploration will engage two major literary figures-Jane Austen and William Wordsworth. These writers' redactions of the everyday, either in a poetry of "common life" (against the transcendental impulses of "high" romantic lyric) or in modest domestic dramas (against the exhilarations of the gothic and the fantastic), reflect a shared commitment to the "ordinary" and the "common" where attention and concept merge. These primary readings will be supplemented in turn by related contemporary theoretical accounts of the everyday (Cavell, Michael Fried, Michel de Certeau, and Jane Bennett among others) and tested by "everyday life studies," chiefly the writings of Henri Lefebvre and Guy Debord. In addition, we will take up theories of the ordinary/everyday that are more explicitly philosophical and where the writings of Cavell, in particular, provide a bridge: notably Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.

Requirements: Weekly 1-page response paper; final seminar paper (15-20 pages).

350:569 - Aesthetics and Social Critique

Course No:  350:569
Index # - 15988
Distribution Requirement:  A4, B
Thursday - 1:10 p.m.  
MU 207

Aesthetics and Social Critique 

Jonah Siegel

“No doubt this is the beauty inextricably shaped by ‘economic and human abomination.’ But the beauty coerced by this abomination is no less important a part of reality than this abomination itself.
Jacques Rancière, Aisthesis (2011)

“It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore . . . not even its right to exist.”
Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1970)

“What has this Beauty to do with the world? What has Beauty to do with Truth and Goodness—with the facts of the world and the right actions of men?”
W.E.B. Dubois, “Criteria of Negro Art” (1926)

“Alas! if read rightly, these perfectednesses are signs of a slavery in our England a thousand times more bitter and more degrading than that of the scourged African, or helot Greek.”
John Ruskin, “The Nature of Gothic” (1853)

Is a concern with beauty a distraction from serious political engagements or something that of necessity opens up to a liberatory politics? Is the project of the political or otherwise ethical analysis of culture dependent on getting beyond formal issues to the underlying social structures they cover up—or is it in the nature of those issues to offer unique insight into those deep structures?

Claims about the urgent nature of social critique have from their earliest days involved the question of what to do about art, or about beauty more broadly. And the period that saw those issues addressed with the greatest clarity and creativity was precisely the one in which the conditions that made it urgent were first recognized. The nineteenth-century saw an effloresce of writing devoted to the fine arts, much of it deeply involved in a project of social critique, all of it deeply responsive to contemporary crises and intellectual developments ranging from the French Revolution and other democratizing projects to the emergence of a mass public and modern global capitalism, to the development of philosophical concepts about beauty and history.

This class is designed equip students to enter the rich critical conversation about these topics in an informed way, while also introducing them to a set of authors of extraordinary subtlety and sophistication that are receiving renewed attention in the field.

We will read substantial sections of John Ruskin’s Modern Painters and Stones of Venice, as well as some of his directly political essays. We will spend two weeks on Walter Pater’s The Renaissance. We will also read essays by Oscar Wilde, and by the great socialist Pre-Raphaelite, William Morris. While these authors will be central to our reflections, we will also give serious attention to seminal essays by Friedrich Schiller, William Hazlitt, George Eliot, Charles Baudelaire, and Matthew Arnold. The class will conclude with a series of readings that respond to issues laid out in the earlier period, including works by Vernon Lee, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Virginia Woolf. Theorists we will read will include Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Pierre Bourdieu, and Jacques Rancière. Depending on their interests students will also be able to present and develop work in specific areas intersecting with the topics of the course, including the environment, gender, empire, iconoclasm (aka the toppling of statues), and race. Students will submit regular response papers, make two presentations, and write two essays.

350:589 - Race and Terror

Course No:  350:589
Index # - 15989
Distribution Requirement:  A5, B, C, D
Thursday - 9:50 a.m.  
MU 207

Race and Terror

Ericia Edwards  

This course approaches the relationship between race and terror through theoretical frameworks emerging in Black studies and critical ethnic studies, including Afropessimism, critical security studies, Middle eastern and Arab studies, Latinx studies, and Black feminism. Because the modern world has normalized terror as the very condition of black (non-)being, the study of race has, since its formalization in U.S. universities, been the study of terror. If this was the case before Toni Morrison’s world-shifting 1987 Beloved, or before Saidiya Hartman's groundbreaking 1997 Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, it is most certainly the case in the aftermath of those monumental literary and literary-critical inquiries into the black's capacity to endure torture and trauma and to create life and language in, or as, the performance of that endurance. At the same time, the race-making power of post-1945 discourses of terror and terrorism--and their attendant tropes of, say, the Arab/Muslim fanatic or the Latina immigrant--have “browned” the already-black nature of threat in the national imaginary. To consider how terror shapes blackness and brownness on both the ontological and discursive levels, we will read several contemporary works of fiction, poetry, performance and scholarship that cover the themes of antiblackness, terrorism, punishment, defense and self-defense, and surveillance. What is the relationship between racial (non-)being and terror? Between terror and creative capacity? Between surveillance and survivance?

This class will meet synchronously; we will use Canvas as our platform. Seminar participants will be encouraged to bring the themes of our study into conversation with their own fields of interest and expertise. Our primary texts will include Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Baldwin’s No Name in the Street, Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties, Alexie’s Indian Killer, Antoon’s The Corpse Washer, and Teju Cole’s seven tweeted short stories about drones. Critical readings will include texts by Maylei Blackwell, Christopher Freeburg, Mishuana Goeman, Avery Gordon, Sarah Haley, Saidiya Hartman, Ronak Kapadia, Laleh Khalili, Fred Moten, and Calvin Warren, and among others.

Writing requirements will be four 1000-word book reviews and one conference-length (8-10-page) paper.


350:654 - American Literature and Working Life

Course No:  350:654
Index # - 15991
Distribution Requirement:  A5, C, D
Monday - 9:50 a.m. 
MU 207

American Literature and Working Life

Kristin Grogan  

This course explores the relationship between American literature and labor. The course introduces students to literary representations of working life, to US proletarian literature, and to the revolutionary imagination. Beginning briefly in the 19th century, most of the course will concentrate on 20th century and contemporary literature, and while we will touch on many genres we will concentrate particularly on poetry and poetics. Our collective close readings will open onto larger questions about the status of the work of art and artmaking. Do literary work and work in general share a fate? What is the relation between the artwork and the commodity in industrial (and postindustrial) capitalism? And how have changes in labor shaped the way that literature is read and written? Is making art a refuge from the unfreedom of waged labor, or is it another kind of unfreedom? Can art illumine a pathway to a world beyond work?
A rich array of primary texts, from Walt Whitman to Anne Boyer, will be situated within historical developments in labor and labor politics—Taylorism and Fordism, American communism, immigration, the rise and decline of unions, the office, clerical work, housework and reproductive labor, clinical and care work, and precarity. This historical grounding will be enriched by our reading of key works in labor studies and conceptually driven seminar discussions. Throughout the course, students will be introduced to concepts including the labor theory of value, commodity fetishism, and the wage; immaterial, affective, productive and reproductive labor; anti-work and the refusal of work.

The course is appropriate for students with broad interests in American literature, Marxist theory and aesthetics, and a particular interest in poetry. No prior experience of labor history or theory is required, and all theoretical discussions will assume no existing knowledge.

Seminar participation: 10%
Informal writing (responses to readings; provocations for seminars): 10%
Presentation of preliminary work for final paper: 10%
Final paper: 70%

Primary texts may be drawn from: Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Lola Ridge, Agnes Smedley, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Lorine Niedecker, Tillie Olsen, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, John Ashbery, Timothy Donnelly, Anne Boyer, Sandra Simonds.

Critical and theoretical work by: Marx and Engels, Kathi Weeks, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Maurizio Lazzarato, Rosa Luxemburg, Silvia Federici, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Melinda Cooper, Barbara Foley, Jackie Wang, Sophie Lewis, Michael Denning, Cedric Robinson.