Undergraduate Courses, Fall 2017
Lower Division (1000–2000) Special Content Courses
Note: Only course descriptions are listed below. For a comprehensive summary of course numbers, sections, times and locations, titles, and instructors, see the following web page:
Beyond the Story: Writing about Irregular Forms and Structures
House of Leaves has reached cult status mainly due to its form—a monster of a text in which certain pages contain a single word or are completely illegible, frustrating the way we read. Texts like this, which exploit irregular structure, challenge traditional ways of telling stories. This course will examine a variety of texts that are composed in irregular forms, asking students to pay particular attention to the way form and content interact.
Potential texts include As I Lay Dying (Faulkner), Cane (Toomer), Paterson (Williams), Pale Fire (Nabokov), Nox (Carson), The Selected Words of T.S. Spivet (Larson), Building Stories (Ware), as well as short stories from radically experimental authors such as Gertrude Stein. In addition, we will look at critical articles including excerpts of writing theory to situate our understanding.
Through writing assignments looking at structure, we will attempt to answer questions such as how does an author assemble a narrative? How do these texts destabilize the way we read? What story becomes unavailable if told through more traditional forms? How does form invite reader participation? The questions these texts elicit will begin to shed light on the way we (re)construct our identities in a post-modern society.
Writing about Representations of Family History
This course will focus on the inter-generational transmission of memory in American Literature, interrogating stories of individual and collective origin. Our discussions of texts concerning ancestry will question the way memories are transmitted through generations as well as how this process plays out in literature. It will also question how the individual relates to inherited collective and family histories which the individual was unable to witness—particularly those connected to a violent or traumatic past (including immigration, colonialism, and slavery). While the course will focus on texts that imagine a collective American story of origin, it also considers texts that present an individual’s engagement with an unlived family history. Finally, the course will examine how stories of American origin or ancestry are imagined, created, and disseminated, assessing their effects on a diverse and perpetually changing American population.
The assignments for this course will require students to read, analyze, and construct arguments concerning the assigned texts. Students will write three short essays throughout the semester as well as submit a series of short reading responses.
Texts may include:
Issues in American Literature and Culture: (De)Constructing Youth Cultures
Boy Scouts. Cotillions. Rebels and riots, consumers and creators. Young people have crafted (and been crafted by) social groups and rituals for decades. This course will examine the formation of different youth cultures in America, paying special attention to how the construction of social groups contributes to individual and collective identity. While some groups like the Scouts have shaped a cultural identity of the “model youth,” other youth cultures—from the 1950s rebel to the 1970s punk to the 1990s Riot Grrrl—have provided alternative spaces for young people, defining major movements in American history.
Our class will trace a trajectory of youth cultures in 20th- and 21st-century American literature and media. We will analyze nonfiction texts such as the Boy Scouts of America handbook and the documentary Consuming Kids, as well as a range of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Readings will include S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, John Lewis’s March, and selections from Grace Palladino’s Teenagers: An American History. We will also use archival materials such as yearbooks and magazines to examine visual representation of young people, considering how that representation conforms to or deviates from social norms. Our central questions will include: How have young people constructed and deconstructed American identity? In what ways have youth movements led to social change? Where does adult influence end and youth autonomy begin?
Assignments will include an in-class presentation, short reading responses, and three critical papers.
Bodies that Matter: Writing about Disability in American Literature
This course will acquaint students with Critical Disability Studies and the study of the body politic through key works in American literature. Through these texts, we shall attempt to understand how the disabled or diseased body complicates our understanding of physical and intellectual autonomy. Instead of understanding disabilities and disease(s) from the exclusive domain of medical discourse, we will also view them as cultural constructions. We will consider how the politics of race, gender and sexuality shape templates of physical and intellectual competency: including conceptions of hysteria and mental illness, vilifications of queer and/or trans people, and racialized conceptions of evolution. Alongside our primary texts, we shall also read short excerpts from critical works by Judith Butler, Susan Sontag, Michel Foucault and Sara Ahmed.
The writing exercises will include: (1) five short reflective papers which will ask students to write about how ableism shapes a specific phenomenon/practice from their everyday lives, (2) a close reading assignment on any one of the course texts, (3) a midterm paper based on thematic analysis, (4) A research paper which will ask students to apply the critical readings to an argument on the representations of disability and disease in a work of American literature.
Provisional list of primary texts:
Writing about Comics and Altered States
The comics medium largely relies on images and visual signifiers in order to tell a story, so how do comics creators represent states that are largely internal and non-visual? For example, comics that depict the difficulties of mental illness have become increasingly popular through the new webcomics distribution method. Works such as Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half and Clay Jonathan’s Depression Comix are able to depict mental illness to a wide range of readers via the Internet. However, with this subject matter comes a unique set of complications— specifically, how does a comics creator depict disorders that are largely internal, and of the mind, through visuals?
This course will examine how both fiction and non-fiction comics have approached visualizing altered internal states (including mental illness, dreams, and the unconscious) through the unique syntactical structure that comics provide. Students will first study the formal properties of the comics medium through theorists like Scott McCloud and Thierry Groensteen. Students will then use these tools to produce arguments that analyze how creators present various types of altered states through the medium of comics and what the impact of such visualizations might entail. Comics will include Ellen Forney’s Marbles, Joshua Hale Fialkov’s Echoes, Jeff Lemire’s Moon Knight, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy’s Joe the Barbarian.
Writing about Paranoia
Alternatively titled “WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!,” this course will focus on the roles that paranoia, propaganda, and pseudoscience have played (and continue to play) throughout American history, as well as methodologies for counteracting them. Paranoia has long been an inseparable part of American identity, especially through news and other forms of media.
We will examine historical examples of paranoia: witch hunts, cults and secret societies, and government conspiracies. Our literary examples will come from texts such as DeLillo’s White Noise and Danielewski’s House of Leaves. We will also explore contemporary examples such as holocaust denial, WikiLeaks, the NSA and Edward Snowden, “fake news,” and climate change skepticism. Students will administer skeptical inquiry, rhetorical analysis, and the scientific method in developing a praxis of suspicion that will aid in delineating fact from falsehood.
Drawing from classical rhetoric, critical theory, and contemporary psychology, we will create our own paranoid writings in the form of skeptical critiques, as well as diagnosing the unfounded skepticism (propaganda, pseudoscience, etc.) of others, in the hopes of finding a productive balance. Students will become interdisciplinary makers as they write skeptical inquiries and prolonged argumentative pieces that deal with contemporary paranoid topics, composing in digital modalities. In doing so, students will become more critically engaged with the world around them. Or, as David Foster Wallace writes in Infinite Jest: “YES, I’M PARANOID—BUT AM I PARANOID ENOUGH?”
Writing about Women and the Sea
From Odysseus’s journey home from Troy to the Pirates of the Caribbean films, seafaring adventure narratives have remained popular among a variety of audiences. Even with this wide-ranging popularity, however, nautical narratives tend to be largely male-centric, despite a long and colorful history of women and the sea. As such, this course will explore women’s roles in nautical history and literary traditions. We will also question how those traditions have been adapted to serve contemporary cultural production. This course will focus on several different types of seafaring women, from figures of mythology (such as mermaids and sirens), to Viking shield-maidens, and famous female pirates ranging from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century—both in fiction and recorded history (e.g. Grace O’Malley, Ching Shih, Anne Bonny, etc).
Possible texts include Homer’s The Odyssey, Judith Jesch’s Women in the Viking Age, excerpts from Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum (History of the Danes), and selected episodes from the History Channel’s show Vikings. Moving forward in time, we will also cover Maturin Murray Ballou’s 19th century novel Fanny Campbell, the Female Pirate Captain, L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack young adult series, selected scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and other readings on historical figures.
Assignments for assessment include two shorter essays, brief reading responses and reading quizzes, and a final longer length research paper reflecting the material of the course.
Writing about Death
Exploring the American scene, this course examines representations of death that occur on physical, psychological, social, ideological, and interpretive levels in literature and other cultural artifacts. We will explore genres such as captivity and slave narratives, elegies and consolations, sentimental novels, gothic fiction and the pastoral tradition to “hood films” and “gangsta rap.” We will also seek to understand the relationship between death and storytelling. For example, What are the ways in which Tupac Shakur rhetorically treats the subject of death in his song “Bury Me a G”? How do issues at the site of social conflicts involving race, class, gender and sex complicate American narratives on death?
Our focal writers may include: Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emily Dickinson, Jean Toomer, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, Leslie Marmon Silko, John Singleton, and Tupac Shakur. Additionally, we will read critical excerpts from: Jacques Derrida, Abdul R. JanMohamed, Sharon Patricia Holland, Maurice Blanchot, and Anissa Janine Wardi.
Writing assignments will include four reading responses and three essays.
Writing about Media Novels and Novel Media
Even though “novel” has come to mean long-form literary narrative, it originally means new. In both print codex format and digital media venues, novels have been establishing new narrative effects with both “old” and emerging technologies for some time. In this course, we will therefore read novels across media as “novel” media.
Our readings will include a variety of print and digital works of literature that uniquely engage their material platforms. Novels in book form will range from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee (1982) to Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper (2006). Furthermore, novels that experiment with the book’s “bookishness” will include works such as Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine (1991) and Anne Carson’s Nox (2010). And finally, new media novels that require digital technologies will include early hypertexts like Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl (1995) and cutting edge mobile apps like Danny Cannizzaro and Samantha Gorman’s Pry (2015). As we consider what these works do with and to the novel format, we will read relevant scholarship by N. Katherine Hayles, Jessica Pressman, Daniel Punday, and others.
Our assignments will include weekly discussion posts on specific topics, a group presentation project on a shorter work not assigned in class, a digital composition written through the hypertext editor Twine, and a final research paper engaging the critical conversations discussed throughout the semester.