Spring 2017 Graduate Literature Course Descriptions

ENGL 543-001: Chicano/Chicana Literature

Daniel Cooper Alarcon
W   1:00pm – 3:30pm

This graduate seminar will approach the Mexican American literary tradition from several perspectives.  The course will be structured as a historical survey of important works in the tradition, to give you both a familiarity with key texts (from a variety of genres) and a clear sense  of how the tradition has evolved.  We will also consider how social movements and historical events like the Mexican-American War, the Mexican Revolution, the Chicano Movement and Chicana feminism have shaped Mexican American literary production.  And, of course, we will explore the issues raised by the texts themselves and by corresponding scholarly critiques, as well as different methods of interpreting the texts.

Primary texts will include works by Américo Paredes, Maria Ruíz de Burton, Maria Cristina Mena, Mario Suárez, José Antonio Villarreal, Corky Gonzales, Luis Valdez, Gloria Anzaldúa, Cecile Pineda, and Ana Castillo (and perhaps one or two others).  Some highlights: Ruíz de Burton’s Who Would Have Thought It?, a scathing satire of post-Civil War U.S. society that rivals the best of Mark Twain; Tucson native Mario Suárez’s wry depiction of working class Chicanos grappling with the social upheaval brought about by World War II; Luis Valdez’s engaging and inventive play “Zoot Suit”; and Cecile Pineda’s powerful, unforgettable novel, Face, which explores whether or not it is possible to retain one’s sense of self in a world that denies one’s humanity.

Course requirements: each week, we will read and discuss one primary text and one or two related, critical essays.  In addition, students will write a series of short (4-page) critical essays, responding to specific readings, as well as a longer, end of term paper.  Each student will also be asked to make one 20-minute presentation, introducing one week’s readings to the seminar.

ENGL 555A-001: Studies in Nineteenth-Century British Literature – Poetry: Blake to Yeats

Gerald Monsman
Tu   12:30pm – 3:00pm

An attempt will be made to place this poetry of the “long” (very long) nineteenth century in a coherent framework that will stress imagination as a vital epistemological answer to a dawning industrial materialism. Coverage takes the form of an introduction to the pivotal texts that consistently have generated a classic richness and diversity of interpretation. Attention will be directed to how one would handle such works and their themes of fragmentation and wholeness if one were assigned to teach them in an undergraduate classroom. Also we will consider how and why the Romantic canon has changed over the last century.  (We will discuss why this “classic canon” rests upon nothing stable or authoritative, why it is provisional and only “a” list, not “the” list, of representative works.) Students will prepare informal presentations for in-class presentation, demonstrating how interpretive techniques and critical methodologies could be applied to a specific work. One of these reports might well be expanded and polished to become your research paper for the end of term.

ENGL 557A-001: Modernism’s Philosophy

Manya Lempert
M   3:30pm – 6:00pm

We’ll begin, counterintuitively it might seem, with Greek tragedy, in order to pose inaugural questions for our seminar: how does literature communicate philosophy? How does tragedy represent “subject, object, and the nature of reality,” to borrow Virginia Woolf’s phrase? How might this ancient genre provide us with alternatives to “modern” conceptions of agency, as modernists themselves queried, and as contemporary critics investigate? We’ll consider the ways in which both genre and period – tragedy and modernism – contest modernity’s own narratives of self-sufficiency and social perfectibility, turning our attention to vulnerability and catastrophe, skepticism and loss. Studying British and European literature from the 1860s to 1960s, we’ll analyze characters beset by forces beyond their control, inscribed within storylines not of their choosing. Concurrently reading philosophy, psychology, and anthropology of the period, we’ll see embattled perspectives on personhood and the world – debates surrounding anthropocentrism and chance in evolution, the morality and rationality of natural and social history. At issue will be how our constellation of texts challenges notions of self-mastery (autonomy, invulnerability) and world-mastering (war, empire, revolution). We’ll consider works of art as delivery systems for ideas, connecting aesthetics to ethics in the Greek sense: the study of how to live well. We’ll see aesthetic and ethical architectures ranging from the redemptive, teleological narrative to the affectively charged, non-narrative moment, to the nihilistic erasure of form (as Nietzsche defines nihilism: over time our reigning values have become “devalued,” no longer seem credible, and must be determined anew). Literature: Euripides, Hardy, Lawrence, Lispector, Mansfield, Woolf, Joyce, Eliot, Pessoa, Zweig, Camus, Beckett, among others. Philosophy: Gorgias, Aristotle, Plato, the Stoics, Nietzsche, Bergson, Russell, Adorno, among others. 

ENGL 595A-001: First Year Colloquium (alternate with Job Workshop)

Tenney Nathanson
W   12:00pm – 1:00pm

The colloquium provides an exchange of information about professional studies, the Graduate Literature Program, and the English Department.  In a small group setting, first-year students discuss strategies for academic success, opportunities for professional development, engagement with learning communities in and beyond the university, and balancing myriad roles while earning an advanced degree in English.  Attendance is required of all first-year students; other interested graduate students are welcome to join us for any of the classes.  Instruction will include presentation by faculty, returning students in the Program, and other members of the university community.

ENGL 595A-003: Job Workshop (alternate with First Year Colloquium)

Tenney Nathanson
W   12:00pm – 1:00pm

This workshop is open to any PhD student who has completed the comprehensive exams and is planning to enter the academic job market. Ideally, students will take the workshop one year in advance of applying for jobs so that they can prepare and revise all materials required for the search. Each class will focus on a different aspect of the application process. Students will critique drafts of C.V.s, cover letters, dissertation abstracts, and teaching philosophies. We will also discuss letters of recommendation, preparing a dossier, unpacking job ads, teaching portfolios, writing samples, MLA interviews, phone interviews, campus visits, and negotiating an offer. Students who plan to attend the MLA convention may choose to participate in a mock interview with English Department faculty at the end of the semester.

Members of the workshop and anyone who is applying for an academic position will be subscribed to the Department's placement listserv. Participants may post questions, discuss ideas, and read information pertaining to the job search.

ENGL 596G-001: The Noir Tradition

Homer Pettey
W   6:30pm – 9:00pm   

This seminar will explore a fundamental American genre—film noir.  For each period of noir, both the literary works and their film adaptations will be studied.  Expressionist style and theory will begin this seminar with an analysis of Eugene O’Neill’s Emperor Jones and proto-noir cinema.  For the hard-boiled tradition, we will examine the new fictional styles of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, and Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, as well as their critiques of American society.  A unit devoted to the innovative techniques of film noir may include Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, 1947), Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947), He Walked By Night (Anthony Mann, 1948), Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950), In A Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950), and Odds Against Tomorrow (Robert Wise, 1959).  For the post-war period, we will discuss economic behavior and its relationship to urban class and racial issues in Lionel White’s The Killing and Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, as well as The Naked City (Jules Dassin, 1948) and Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955).  We will consider how noirinfluenced regional authors, as evidenced by Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood and Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men.  Noir experiments in the dramatic arts will include David Mamet’s House of Games and Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit.  The semester will conclude with examinations of neo- and post-noir elements in Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and the films L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997), The Big Lebowski (Coen Brothers, 1998), and Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2011).

Theorists and film scholars may include Janet Bergstrom, Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton, Elisabeth Bronfen, Joan Copjec, Edward Dimendberg, Nino Frank, Linda Hutcheon, Fredric Jameson, James Naremore, R. Barton Palmer, Vivian Sobchack, J. P. Telotte, and Salvoj Zizek.

Students will work progressively from abstract and annotated bibliography to a final essay devoted to adaptation theory and a specific film noir.  This essay may serve as the basis for a conference paper or an article for a journal.

Note: Many of these authors appear on the M.A. examination list.

ENGL 596G-002: The Subject of/in the Novel

Lynda Zwinger
Th   6:30pm – 9:00pm

We will examine the novel as it appears in English in the 18th and 19th centuries. Our particular lines of inquiry will be more or less anchored to questions of subjectivity in/of the genre; our tentative answers will be absolutely anchored in the texts. There will be two options for student work in this seminar: a term paper crafted as a draft article written for a specific peer-reviewed academic journal; the other, which will require a longer reading list, is to elect to take the seminar as a "reading course" in order to prepare more broadly for, say, Comps, a dissertation, or conceptualizing an article for a journal.  The latter option will require a reading journal.  Students choosing either option will be expected to make formal presentations to the seminar at least once during the semester. Possible novels: PamelaThe MonkTom JonesThe Mysteries of UdolphoTristram Shandy, EmmaWaverleyWuthering Heights, Middlemarch, Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl, and/or others. So-called secondary readings will also be required, tba.

ENGL 596L-001: Theories of Criticism – Close Reading: Poetry

Tenney Nathanson
M   6:30pm – 9:00pm

“The longer you look the more you see”

Back in the heyday of the (old) new criticism, the apocryphal story goes, a graduate student in Cleanth Brooks’ seminar at Yale who could endure no more lurched up out of his seat and huffed toward the door.  “Where are you going?” the professor asked.  “Away to read everything you’ve read, so I can come back here and pretend like you I haven’t read it.”

In this seminar we’ll also try to pretend: not to know what we know about the historical period or style to which the particular poem we are engaged with belongs; not to believe that there is no such thing as a purely “intrinsic” reading of a text; not to care too much when our own particular ignorance of the writer or school in question is leading us down one or another slippery slope as we propose a reading.

The course will try to bracket such questions in order to focus on the crucial skill of close reading.  Close analysis of single poems, detached from their multiple contexts, may have its drawbacks as a critical practice (or may in fact be strictly impossible to perform); but it may have important virtues as an exercise.

The wager of the course, that is, is that several of us could use (and might enjoy) a seminar in which we focus on the skills involved in close reading, temporarily blocking out, as best we can, all the Weighty Issues on which graduate seminars typically focus.  And also: that a semester spent on developing (or reviving) such skill and tact in our engagement with individual facets of individual texts will have a positive, nuancing effect on our individual critical practice, whatever critical school we set up shop in. While the course will focus exclusively on poetry, a few tools from the bag of tricks, several skills, and more broadly a habit of attention should all be transferable to work with prose as well.

There’s no escape from theory, of course.  And as we proceed through the semester, we may increasingly find a place for “theory of the lyric.”  We’ll try to refine our sense of how to deploy old new critical categories such as speaker, situation, and trope, and we’ll bring such more recently prized (or revived) notions as speech act, performative utterance, apostrophe, prosopopoeia, and kosmos to bear on our readings of individual texts and supplement the older formal vocabulary of “enjambment” and “caesura” with such more recently fashionable rhetorical notions as “metalepsis” and “catachresis.”  But while we’ll tackle some brief texts in theory of the lyric to accompany our reading of primary texts, we’ll treat them as useful tools, asking how they can help us to open up individual poems.

Since this is a methods course, students won’t write lengthy papers, or read an awful lot; reading will be intensive rather than extensive, and time spent writing will probably outweigh that spent reading.  Seminar participants will read a few (strategically selected) poems each week (and occasionally some theoretical texts of the kind mentioned above) and will write frequent, perhaps weekly, close readings of individual poems, explicating the whole but making particular use of the problem and “tool” currently under discussion. 

The early 3-D comics, from the fifties, used to have a little box-logo on the cover, reprinted as epigraph above.  While it may remind some older readers unhappily of the days in which professors used to remark, with only apparently self-deprecating irony, that they could explicate (at length) a shopping list (if pressed), it may also suggest that, in theoretically driven as well as so called “practical” criticism, a more nuanced habit of attention and a willingness to hover (obsessively) over difficult or puzzling moments in a text are rarely bad things.

ENGL 596L-002: Rhythm: Philosophy, History, and Prosody

John Melillo
Tu   3:30pm – 6:00pm

In this course, we will examine rhythm through a variety of critical approaches to literature, art, and music. What is rhythm? How is it defined and redefined in a variety of different cultural contexts? How can we develop a feeling for it? In class, we will examine how rhythm functions on multiple temporal scales, from the microcosmic concerns of prosody and grammar to vast theories of historical change. We will be reading work by a variety of philosophers, critics and literary historians, including Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Susan Stewart, Derek Attridge, Paul Fussell, DJ Spooky, Yopie Prins, Meredith McGill, and more. We will also read and listen to a variety of texts from English and American literary history as instances of rhythmic thought and feeling. This class is open to graduate students interested in any period, style, or genre, and will encourage a deeper understanding of the fundamental role of rhythm in a wide range of research programs.