ENG 132 Gender, Sexuality, Culture and Literature (General Education Course)
Spring 2019: “Representations of the Body in Literature and Culture”
Which comes first: the body or gender? Where does my body end and the social world begin? How do bodies, and cultural representations of them, change across time and space? How do these representations of our bodies in culture intertwine with our thinking about gender and sexuality? This course will introduce students to literature, popular culture, and critical theory centrally concerned with issues of gender and sexuality by exploring representations of the body in twentieth and twenty-first century literature and culture. Through careful reading, class discussion, and critical writing, students will interrogate cultural constructions of gender and sexuality, keeping in mind geographical, economic, racial, and national contexts as we explore literature and culture from various perspectives.
We’ll begin by building a foundation of shared vocabulary and critical frameworks for examining cultural representations. We’ll first explore short “texts”—including music videos, artwork, short stories, and poetry—before moving on to longer texts, including a feature film, in the second half of the term.
Artists and Writers include: Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Billie Holiday, Beyoncé, Kara Walker, Edwidge Danticat, Clarice Lispector, Chinua Achebe, Octavia Butler, Audre Lorde, Nella Larsen, Jean Rhys, James Baldwin
ENG 202 Major British Writers
Summer 2017: “Major British Writers and the Short Story”
This survey course will engage with “Major British Writers” from the 18th century to the present through the short fiction genre. From Jonathan Swift to Zadie Smith, British writers explore social, political, and economic issues while also experimenting with style via the short story. We’ll consider questions such as: how has the shorter narrative form developed over the centuries? What aspects of the short form might be particularly appealing or challenging for writers? How do these short works reflect—or comment on—the historical and cultural contexts from which they emerged?
Some additional questions we will explore through these texts and our discussions include: what do the terms “Major” and “British” signify? What are the relationships of British empire practices to developments in British literature? How can investigation of a specific genre (like short fiction) help define, challenge, illuminate, or shift thinking about a broad category like “Major British Writers”? By reading a selection of authors and texts—and keeping in mind the limitations of survey courses to adequately “represent” a subject—we will build critical understanding of key cultural and literary movements in British Literature since the 18th century.
Authors include: Jonathan Swift, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Sylvia Townsend Warner, George Orwell, Jean Rhys, Sam Selvon, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Zadie Smith
Courses in Development:
Cosmopolitanism and Global Modernism (200-300 level)
“As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” – Virginia Woolf
Cosmopolitanism, as a description of both character and space, has a long and ambivalent relationship with cultural modernism. The term can signal positive notions of diverse community or suspicion of affiliation and loyalty. These are key issues for a rapidly globalizing world. In Virginia Woolf’s statement above, for example, we can consider how her vision of cosmopolitanism reflects both connection and disconnection, and how these dynamics are routed through her identity as a woman. Since literary studies in modernism have taken a “global turn,” the traditional alliances and tensions between cosmopolitanism and modernism have taken on additional complexity: how do race, colonial positionality, and transnational mobility intersect with gender and social class to affect a sense of belonging to one’s community? How do changes in technology, landscapes, and populations affect definitions of “citizenship”? How might feelings towards the idea of “nation” change depending on historical perspective?
We will use the framework of cosmopolitanism to explore questions about citizenship with regard to identity formation, as well as to the affective dynamics of space, place, and movement. We will also navigate definitions of the terms “cosmopolitan” and “modern” to understand how changing social and environmental trends impact culture. As we consider how forms of cosmopolitan belonging (and unbelonging) have shaped the forms of modernist literature since the turn of the twentieth century, we will pay attention to what links texts together as well as how different geographical and historical contexts produce different ways of feeling “cosmopolitan.”
- Students will develop critical thinking and close-reading skills while practicing literary analysis that connects texts to contexts. By the end of the course, students will be able to articulate a definition of “cosmopolitanism” in the contexts of globalization and modern culture.
- Course texts might include works by: James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Mulk Raj Anand, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Claude McKay, Sam Selvon, Chinua Achebe, Ama Ata Aidoo, Hanif Kureishi, Jamaica Kincaid, Kiran Desai
- Critical Frameworks might include excerpts from: Kant, Benhabib, Appiah, Walkowitz, Mignolo, Ahmed
Modernism and Revolution (200-300 level)
Modernism has traditionally been seen as an aesthetic revolution that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century. Ezra Pound’s legendary call for modernists to “make it new” is an example of modernism’s association with literary revolution, considered as an autonomous artistic movement created by artists working against 19th century traditions. But how else does “revolution”—political, cultural, scientific, and technological—play an important role for the literature we associate with Modernism? Bolshevism, fascism, gender, sexuality, media and mass culture, theoretical physics, radio, telephone, cinema, nationalist movements in colonies and post-colonies: all of these were revolutions that shaped “modernism.” And, as such, how does the relationship of historical revolutions to modernism undermine the traditional definition of modernism as autonomous (art-for-art’s-sake)?
- Students will learn historical and comparative approaches to the study of modernism in a global context while interrogating traditional conceptions of modernism as an autonomous aesthetic movement limited to the first decades of the 20th century and to Anglo-European texts. Attention to the relationship of political and cultural upheaval to literary form will deepen students’ understanding of what modernism is while offering them frameworks to assess whether and how modernism persists as a cultural mode.
- We’ll begin by reading Russian Symbolist poetry from Alexander Blok before the Russian Revolution, then we’ll read his 1918 poem, “The Twelve,” for comparison; we’ll read Futurist poets as well as poetry by H.D. and Kamau Brathwaite’s “Soweto”; We’ll read (and look at) Manifestoes by Futurists, Feminists, and Claude McKay’s “If we must die”; We’ll read fiction that either directly or obliquely deals with revolutions such as: Bowen’s The Last September, Carpentier’s The Kingdom of This World, Achebe’s “Girls at War,” and so on.
- To avoid hierarchal or progress-oriented presumptions of regions and time periods, we’ll arrange content by genre: Poetry, Manifestoes, and Fiction (with visual media interspersed – including looking at the material production of the literature).
- Besides weekly online writing, close-reading essays, and discussion leadership, course assignments will include a final project to research and consider the relationship between a text not covered and a revolutionary context. Students will be provided with a list of options, but they can also propose a topic. Emphasis will be on making the case for a text’s modernist characteristics as a response to an historical context of upheaval.
Transnational Feminism and Global Literature (advanced undergrad/graduate course); cross-posted with Women’s and Gender Studies
This course will consider the intersection of two key areas in cultural studies: gender and postcolonialism. We will center literature by women from the Caribbean, South America, Africa, South Asia, and Indigenous/Colonized North America to consider the relationship of gendered forms of intimacy (marriage, sexuality, reproduction, domesticity) to forms of power and sovereign control. We will consider, especially, the construction of borders—metaphorical, discursive, and material—which define womanhood and nationhood. We will draw on transnational feminist and postcolonial social and literary theories while situating texts in their historical contexts. In doing so, we will be navigating questions about the relationships between gender, race, nation, empire, narrative, embodiment, and affects.
- Students will gain foundations in transnational feminist theories while practicing historical and comparative approaches to global literature.
- Readings might include novels, short fiction, and essays by: Jean Rhys, Jamaica Kincaid, Shani Mootoo, Nadine Gordimer, Tsitsi Dangaremba, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Louise Erdrich, Sharron Proulx-Turner, Toni Morrison, Gayatri Spivak, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Chadwick Allen, Sara Ahmed.
- In addition to weekly writing, a short presentation, and two short close-reading essays, assignments will include a final research project consisting of an annotated bibliography and short argument or “position paper” (in medium of choice) connecting a text not included on the syllabus to course themes and questions.
Surplus Women, Trafficked Women, and Transatlantic Anglophone Literature (advanced undergrad/graduate course); cross-posted with Women’s and Gender Studies; Digital Humanities component
This course can be tailored to meet specific regional and period needs: it can be focused on British literature, or expanded to include American and other Anglophone literatures. It can be focused on 19th and 20th centuries, or extend to contemporary texts.
“Surplus Women”—a term circulated in newspaper editorials and magazine essays—described white, middle-class women in British, European, and North American societies who outnumbered white middle-class men, especially in metropolitan centers, according to demographic data. “Trafficked Women” became the focus of women’s groups and the League of Nations at the turn of the twentieth-century when an international study tracked the conditions that sustained transnational prostitution. Both figures helped shape the transatlantic imaginary of sexual and racial panic. Especially in the wake of war, disease, refugee and migration surges, and revolutionary agitation in Europe and colonies around the globe, paranoia about mortality and sovereign control fueled cultural rhetoric and official policies that targeted gender, sexuality, and race for policing. This class will trace the Surplus/Trafficked Women tropes in literature and culture, and, in doing so, we will consider how the construction and representations of these figures participate in the preservation of racial, heteronormative, and class hierarchies through rhetorics of not only panic and pathology, but also liberalism and humor.
- Students will use digital humanities research methods to document references to “surplus women,” “trafficked women,” and related terms in newspapers, magazines, documents, and other media. Students will also develop projects that visualize and map representations of these figures over time and geographical/national regions.
- We will pair this historical and sociological context with literary and popular culture, from Jane Eyre to the 1980s British television series Girls on Top.
- Critical Readings may also include: Martha Vicinus, Independent Women; Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather; Nancy M. Forestell and Maureen Moynagh, Documenting First Wave Feminisms, Gayatri Spivak, “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism”; Laura E. Donaldson, Decolonizing Feminisms