Spring 2016 Graduate Literature Course Descriptions

ENGL 515: Foucault, Biopolitics, Governmentality  

Leerom Medovoi
M   3:30pm – 6:00pm

In this course, we will focus on the critical theoretical legacies of the French thinker, Michel Foucault, paying special attention to his accounts of the modern techniques of knowledge, power, and pleasure that have come to manage human life since the end of the eighteenth century.  We will begin by reading two of his most famous studies, Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, Volume One. From there, we will turn to the recently published series of lectures he delivered at the College de France in that same period, wherein he develops in greater detail his notions of "biopolitics" and "governmentality" as they relate to liberalism as the pre-eminent strategy of modern government.  Along the way, we will situate his arguments in relationship to other contemporary theorists such as Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Roberto Esposito, Ann Laura Stoler, and David Halperin.  As Foucault is an eminently historical theorist of power and knowledge, we will also seek when possible to consider how his writings might reframe our perspectives on the formations of colonialism, capitalism, fascism, globalization, and neoliberalism.  We will also consider his contributions to such influential paradigms as queer theory, biopolitics, and critical race studies.

ENGL 566: The Fiction of The Harlem Renaissance

Charles Scruggs
W   3:30pm – 6:00pm

By focusing on the fiction of the period and not simply the novel, we can discuss the short story cycle as a Modernist innovation.  Moreover, fiction opens the door to discussing the history of ideas in depth--the impact of the Great War, gender issues, the rise of the New South and the modern city, especially Harlem as the new “Culture Capital.”  We will begin with Jean Toomer’s hybrid short story cycle Cane, and then compare seminal white and black texts: Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio with Toomer’s Cane, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with Nella Larsen’s Passing, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth with Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises with Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem.  Next we will compare Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain with either Richard Wright’s Native Son, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in terms of T.S. Eliot’s “mythical method.” We will end the course with a discussion of the Harlem Renaissance as either a separate literary period (having a beginning, middle, and end) or one whose themes and perspectives continue into the present day in such writers as Toni Morrison, Wanda Coleman, John Edgar Wideman and Edward P. Jones.

Students will write weekly or bi-weekly short papers on the texts under discussion and will be prepared to present those papers in class for class discussion.

ENGL 557A: Conrad and Modernism

Suresh Raval
Tu   12:30pm – 3:00pm      

This seminar will focus on Conrad’s major fiction, especially Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Nostromo, The Secret Agent, and Under Western Eyes with a view to exploring their significance for modernism. The course will discuss, among other things, several essays by Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and Virginia Woolf dealing with the emergence of various innovations that herald the era of modernism in early twentieth century fiction. Careful attention will be given to discussions of modernism by recent art historians as well as literary critics. Although the seminar will be oriented towards close readings of his works from the perspective of modernism, there will be occasional fuller discussions of the historical, social, and political implications that continue to make Conrad a formidable presence today. Almost unique among his contemporaries, Conrad provokes reflection on transnational, post-national, and international issues, and so this seminar will inevitably deal with these aspects of his fiction. Students signing up for this seminar will find it useful to have read Nostromo, arguably his most difficult and powerful novel, before the semester begins. Knowledge of some works by Ford, Joyce, and Virginia Woolf will be helpful in capturing the importance of Conrad as a modernist. Assignments will include in-class presentations, a term-paper, and an omnibus summary account of some recent scholarly studies.

ENGL 595A-1: Colloquium

Tenney Nathanson
W   12:00pm – 12:50pm

Available for two credit units (one each semester). Students may officially register for the units during the semesters they attend the colloquium or at a later time.

This colloquium is required for all first-year students in the literature program. (That is, attendance is required; official registration may be deferred.) Other students in the program are invited to attend sessions of interest to them. The colloquium provides an opportunity for graduate students in literature to talk with each other, the program director, and other faculty members about program structure and requirements (for the M.A. and the Ph.D.), professional opportunities (conferences, funding sources, preparation for the job market), and possibilities for improving the program.

ENGL 596G: Alfred Hitchcock

Homer Pettey
W   6:30pm – 9:00pm

This seminar will be devoted to the films of and theories concerning Alfred Hitchcock. Beginning with his silent film, The Lodger(1927), we will examine the distinctive aesthetic elements that characterize Hitchcock’s signature as an auteur.  To that end, we will situate Hitchcock within the history of American, British, and French film criticism, as well as in modernist artistic movements.  We will move to his early sound films, such as Blackmail (1929), and his 1930s British films, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), and The Lady Vanishes (1938).  Hitchcock’s move to Hollywood will dominate the seminar as we explore and critique feminist and psychoanalytical theories, material history and industry studies, and adaptation theory.  Films in this middle period of Hitchcock’s career will include Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), Suspicion (1941), Saboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Spellbound (1945), Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest(1959), Psycho (1960), and Marnie (1964). This seminar will conclude with his last British film, Frenzy (1972).

Particular attention will be given to detailed shot-by-shot analysis as a means of grounding theoretical approaches with close reading.  Graduate students will write several papers that require research into trade journals of the periods, critics’ assessments of Hitchcock’s films, and the changing theoretical views of his works.  In short, this seminar is not only about Hitchcock, but also his relationship to the development of critical film studies.

Theorists and film scholars may include François Truffaut, Laura Mulvey, Tania Modleski, Stanley Cavell, Robin Wood, Murray Pomerance, R. Barton Palmer, Lesley Brill, and Salvoj Zizek.

ENGL 596H: Lyric Poetry and Theory – Course Cancelled                                               

Jerrold Hogle & Joshua Wilson
M/W   2:00pm – 3:15pm

In this course, we will study the definition, history, and theory of the lyric as points of departure in an investigation of modern and current lyric poetry. The first course of its kind at the U of A, co-taught by literature and creative writing professors, will bridge the gap between theory and practice as we examine both contemporary poets in close readings of their work and a wide array of theories of and approaches to the lyric in general.  Drawing on poets ranging from Claudia Rankine to Fanny Howe and theoretical critics including Helen Vender and Jonathan Culler, among others, we will explore specific poems through the prism of theoretical questions to expand our understanding of what a lyric poem is and does, ranging across its current spectrum from the traditional to the avant-garde.   MFA, MA, and Ph.D. candidates are all welcome to this seminar.   Those graduate students who will have taken Professor John Mellilo’s 596L course on lyric theory during the Fall of 2015 will be especially well prepared for this seminar – which will also be quite different in emphasizing the poetry – but that class is not a prerequisite for this one and will not assume that every student has taken that other class.

ENGL 596K: Social Networks and Contemporary U.S. Fiction

Scott Selisker
Tu   3:30pm – 6:00pm

This graduate course examines the connections between social network analysis, digital humanities methods, and contemporary literary studies with a focus on the U.S. context. We’ll ask how fiction and other literary forms model and map the social world, and to what ends, with attention to a variety of claims about the political ramifications of peer-to-peer networks and social media. In addition to examining how texts model networks, we’ll also look at strategies for mapping the networks within which authors and their texts circulate. We’ll use these questions and a handful of novels as bases for relating some recent classics of literary and social theory to a broad subset of digital humanities methods and applications. Likely authors: Thomas Pynchon, David Simon, Jennifer Egan, Karen Tei Yamashita, Teju Cole; Marshall McLuhan, Alan Liu, Fredric Jameson, Thacker and Galloway, Patrick Jagoda, Michel Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Ronald Burt, Mohr and White, Albert-László Barabási, Manuel Castells, Heather Love, Best and Marcus, Long and So, Franco Moretti, Caroline Levine. Likely labs (for which programming experience is helpful but not required) include: basic social network modeling, elementary text processing and network generation, co-citation networks, and networks generated with social media APIs. Requirements: one in-class presentation, several short response posts on D2L forum, and a seminar paper that can either address a course text or apply course concepts to an object from student’s primary subfield or field. 

ENGL 596L: “The Literal Characters, The Vatic Lines”: Poetry and Prophecy

Johanna Skibsrud
Tu   9:30am – 12:00pm

…as he sat there reading, from out of the purple tabulae,

The outlines of being and its expressings, the syllables of its law:

Poesis, poesis, the literal characters, the vatic lines,

Which in those ears and in those thin, those spended hearts,

Took on color, took on shape and the size of things as they are

And spoke the feeling for them, which was what they had lacked.

- From Wallace Stevens, “Large Red Man Reading”

This course will look at the relationship between presence and prophecy, text and context (understood in its literal sense, as “the parts which immediately precede or follow any particular passage or ‘text’ and determine its meaning” [OED]) from across a broad spectrum of poetry, philosophy and criticism. We will ask: is there a temporality to poetic discourse? How does poetry bridge the gap between “the literal character” of the word and “the vatic lines” of meaning?  How does it figure the distance between ecstatic moments of being (the lyric “I,” the image, sound and non-sense) and becoming (linear narrative, sense, and signification)? In what ways can poetry be understood—through its expression of the present, and reflection upon the past—to invite, or even create the future?

Readings will include selections from several of the following: The Epic of Gilgamesh, The pre-Socratic philosophers, Homer’s TheIlead, Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things, The King James Bible, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Heidegger’s Poetry Language, Thought, Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, the poetry of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry, the poetry of Stephane Mallarmé, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein’s The World as I See it, Henri Bergson’s Time and Free Will,Gertrude Stein’s “Reflections on the Atomic Bomb,” William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All, the poetry of Wallace Stevens, Maurice Merleau Ponty’s Sense and Nonsense, Julia Kristeva’s Revolutions in Poetic Language, Alain Badiou’s Infinite Thought, Quentin Meillassoux’s The Number and the Siren, Mahmoud Darwish’s In the Presence of Absence, Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin’s The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, Christian Bok’s Xenotext, and the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska.

The class will be discussion based. Students will be asked to participate fully in class, prepare a twenty-minute conference-style presentation, and complete a 20-25 page research paper.