Spring 2019 English Program Course Offerings
For all registration dates and deadlines, see the GC academic calendar.
To view detailed course descriptions click here or click on the faculty name in the grid below.
Course listings and room numbers subject to change.
ENGL 86800. Siraj Ahmed. Politics/Violence/Terrorism. Tuesdays 6:30PM-8:30PM. 2/4 credits.
One of liberalism’s founding tenets is that the political sphere and physical violence are categorically distinct. From this tenet follows the understanding of non-state violence (in other words, ‘terrorism’) that pervades popular discourse today: it enters history either ab nihilo or from religion’s—particularly Islam’s—propensity for fanaticism.
In diametric opposition to this line of thought, postcolonial scholars—Talal Asad above all—have argued that terrorism was birthed by liberalism itself. From this perspective, contemporary non-state violence is scarcely distinguishable from the early modern civil and international conflict that originated the liberal order—the lawless violence at the roots of ‘liberty.’ Violence outside law was necessary not only to found this order but also, of course, to preserve it. Max Weber feared that if liberal states could no longer exploit other lands, they would import the illiberalism they practiced there back home. The economic and environmental crises of the last forty years—and the erosion of democracy and civil liberties that have accompanied these crises—might demonstrate how well-founded Weber’s fears were.
Liberalism turns on an internal contradiction: politics and violence are supposed, on one hand, to be mutually exclusive; yet states must not only monopolize violence but also, on the other hand, continuously exercise it. Liberalism conceals this contradiction by distinguishing between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ violence. The former term refers to any violence, however extreme, that preserves liberal societies, the latter to practically any act, movement, or event that threatens them. But if violence is justified only when it defends liberal societies, the war on terror serves an essential function: like the militarization of police forces, it implies that those societies remain in constant danger and hence have little choice but to use exceptional violence both within their borders and beyond.
This course will test such hypotheses by studying the continuity between colonial war; ‘low-intensity conflict’ after decolonization; and the war on terror over the last two decades. It hopes, as well, to provide a genealogy of terrorism much older than our own political era—as old, indeed, as the belief, common to the Abrahamic religions, that homicidal and even suicidal violence becomes sacred when it founds a new social dispensation, preserves collective identity, or reproduces one’s own way of life. Perhaps this genealogy will shed light on a pervasive, but nonetheless paradoxical, characteristic of academic as well as popular debate in the West: whereas the endangerment of certain lives here precipitates widespread horror, the mass killing of innocents elsewhere generates almost none.
Theoretical texts may include Asad, On Suicide Bombing; Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror; Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity; Hobbes, Leviathian; Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit; Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle; Walter Benjamin, ‘Critique of Violence’; Georges Bataille, The Tears of Eros; Hannah Arendt, On Violence; Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth; Malcolm X, ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’; René Girard, Violence and the Sacred; Pierre Clastres, The Archeology of Violence; and Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism.
Fictional texts may include Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent; W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz; J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians; Yasmina Khadra, The Swallows of Kabul; Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist; and Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire.
ENGL 80600. Kandice Chuh. What is (a) body? Mondays 2:00PM-4:00PM. 2/4 credits.
In this course, we will study a variety of ways in which "body" is made meaningful as a philosophical, political, social, cultural, and economic concept and entity. How (by what mechanisms, through what procedures) does "body" signify humanness? What are the limits of such signification? How do such meanings index political economic and socio-cultural conditions? Our readings will draw from fields and discourses that have taken up "body" as object and analytic, including performance studies, disability studies, transgender studies, Black and ethnic studies, and feminist and queer of color critique.
Students taking the course for 2 credits should expect to post short responses on a bi-weekly basis to our course blog. Students taking the course for 4 credits should expect to produce a seminar project (essay or equivalent) at the end of the semester, in addition to the bi-weekly blog posts.
ENGL 86800. Ashley Dawson. Petrofiction. Fridays 2:00PM-4:00PM. 2/4 credits.
We know that we must cease using fossil fuels with all due haste if the planet is to avert a climate catastrophe, and yet the odds of making this transition seem long. This is not simply due to the undeniable political and economic power of Big Oil, but also to the ways in which oil inserts itself into every aspect of everyday life, from the clothes we wear to the food we eat. A fundamental element of modernity, oil even shapes our aspirations and emotions. Yet neither the dazzling benefits nor the dramatic damages of this ubiquitous petroculture are evenly distributed.
Surveying literature, film, and the visual arts, this course renders the material and social circuits of petroculture visible that they might better challenged and transformed. What were the cultural orientations that preceded the age of oil, when coal was the driving force of industrial production? What triggered the transition to oil, and what were the material, social and political implications of the new petroculture? If oil is largely taken for granted in the US, how does production shape the fortunes of other countries around the globe? At a time when the struggle for renewable energy is more pressing than ever, how can we make the many impacts of petroculture more visible? Finally, what happens when we try to imagine a world beyond oil? Petroculture will engage with these burning questions using the explicitly interdisciplinary approach of the environmental humanities, offering students critical lenses through which to examine some of the most pressing ethical and political issues of today.
We are likely to consider texts by the following authors, artists, and critics: Paul Thomas Anderson, Edward Burtynsky, Steve Duin, Josh Fox, Amitav Ghosh, Helon Habila, Jennifer Haigh, Matthew Huber, Stephanie LeMenager, Richard Misrach, Timothy Mitchell, Abdelrahman Munif, H.G. Wells.
ENGL 86800. Lyn Di Iorio. The Gothic and Otherness: From Late 18th Century England to the Caribbean, Latin America, and the U.S. Wednesdays 11:45AM-1:45PM. 2/4 credits.
Contemporary culture is characterized by, among other tendencies, a reawakened interest in “Gothic”—the aesthetic discourse of horror and terror that arose following the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otrantoin 1764. This seminar weaves together most of the primary critical strands that constitute the main approaches to the Gothic: early British Gothic, American Gothic, Female Gothic, Queer Gothic, the sublime, the uncanny, the abject and trauma theory. The course also proposes that the contemporary Gothic aesthetic in our Americas—the terrain of the U.S. in a dialectic with its minority groups and the populations in the Caribbean and Latin America—uncovers important issues of race, ethnicity and border politics on which there has been scant commentary.
We will consider the following questions among others. How do Gothic tropes function to elicit issues of race and identity politics in works by writers from the most populous—African American, Asian American and Latinx— U.S. minority groups? What is the relationship, if any, between the trope of the Haitian “zombi,” as the soulless shell of the slave in the Caribbean, and the George Romero zombie figure, which highlights an embattled and post-apocalyptic humanity? From U.S. writer Shirley Jackson to Argentinian Mariana Enríquez, from Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to its revision in Mary Reilly, why are we so drawn to the Gothic? Do horror, mutilation, melancholia, and loss constitute a new aesthetic structuring of the contemporary human psyche, connecting the Freudian vision of the human mind to the dynamics of Gothic villainy and victimization?
ENGL 86800. Duncan Faherty and Lisa Rhody. Archival Encounters. Tuesdays 4:15PM-6:15PM. 2/4 credits.
In “Archival Encounters” we will take an interdisciplinary and participatory approach to archival research, scholarly editing, and the praxis of recovery. Part seminar, part individualized research tutorial, part laboratory, part skills workshop, this course will be an admixture of traditional scholarly practices and emergent ones, fundamentally both analog and digital, and varyingly held at and outside the Graduate Center. The course aims to provide students an introduction to the knowledge and tools necessary to create new access (for both scholarly and public audiences) to archival materials held within collections around the New York City area. The end goal of the course is for each student (or possibly several small groups of collaborating students) to produce an “edition” of a currently neglected archival artifact (which might be anything from an eighteenth century serialized short story, to a transcription of a Medieval fragment, to an unpublished letter by an early twentieth century poet to her editor). In order to produce these editions, students will be exposed to both practical methodologies and theoretical debates concerning archival work and the politics of recovery, as well as receive training in textual editing, book history, text encoding and annotation, markup strategies, and basic web design.
The course will have four main units, including an introduction to current scholarly debates about the politics of textual recovery and archival work (readings may include work by Lisa Lowe, Jennifer Morgan, Britt Russert, and David Kazanjian), field visits to area collections (crafted in response to the interests of the enrolled students), training in textual editing and book history (readings may include Greetham’s Textual Scholarship, McGann’s Radiant Textuality, Hayles and Pressman’s Comparative Textual Media), and training in digital research methods, platforms, annotation and encoding, and design. While anchored in issues of recovery and public engagement, the course will also enable students to actively pursue their own individual research agendas and gain valuable experiences in collaborating both with external partners (in terms of their archival projects) and with GC colleagues in the construction of the class platform (on the CUNY Academic Commons) for the display of the projects. More importantly they will receive this training not simply from the instructors themselves, but from the curators and archivists working at the various New York City repositories and special collections with which we aim to partner (including such possibilities as the New York Public Library, The Morgan Library, The New-York Historical Society, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The Library for the Performing Arts, the Herstory Archives, and the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives).
The course will provide PhD students the opportunity to advance (or experiment with) their own research agendas by pursuing further study in archival research, book history, and scholarly editing. For students in the MA in Digital Humanities program, projects could be expanded to form a digital capstone project--a requirement for completion of the degree.
Course Requirements: Active and engaged participation, a brief oral presentation, weekly reflections, a project outline, a brief mid-semester progress report, and the creation of the final textual edition. NOTE: At least four class sessions will take place at local archives within a 25-minute public transportation radius.
[Canceled] ENGL 89500. Matthew Gold. Critical Infrastructure Studies. Tuesdays 4:15PM-6:15PM. 2/4 credits.
ENGL 85800. Jonathan Gray and Joy Sanchez-Taylor. Afrofuturism: Race and Science Fiction. Wednesdays 11:45AM-1:45PM. (cross-listed with IDS 81640). 2/4 credits.
In 1994 Mark Dery defined Afrofuturism as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the contexts of twentieth-century technoculture,” locating its origins in the early work of Samuel Delany (and O. Butler? and Sun Ra?). Our seminar takes Dery’s definition as a point of departure to examine the fiction, films, graphic narratives and music videos produced in the sub-genre of Afrofuturism. Because Afrofuturist expression runs the gamut from literary (science) fiction to popular music, it is incumbent for graduate students interested in African American and Africana literature and culture, American Studies, popular culture studies, and science fiction and fantasy to engage in the necessarily interdisciplinary inquiry that Afrofuturism demands. Indeed, the question of Afro-futurity informs recent creative work (Junot Diaz’s “Monstro,” HBO’s Westworld) and technical innovation (Black Twitter) that would seem to fall outside of an Afrofuturist paradigm. Thus, our exploration of this topic will problematize our understandings of speculative fiction (also known as science fiction or sci-fi), question how the imbrication of technology into our lives transforms human subjectivity, and survey literary theory to arrive at an understanding of how Afrofuturism has developed since the mid-20th century and how it promises to propagate itself into the future.
This course is grounded in student participation. Students in the course will thoroughly investigate primary and secondary sources on Afrofuturism and will play an active role in the course by taking turns as facilitators of class discussions and through the completion of a class project with a digital humanities component.
ENGL 76000. Nico Israel. Literature’s Wake. Wednesdays 4:15PM-6:15PM. 2/4 credits.
James Joyce reportedly quipped that it took him seventeen years to write his final novel, Finnegans Wake, so he didn’t see why the book shouldn’t take seventeen years to read. In this seminar we will read his 672-page, self-styled “book of the night”--Ulysses was the “book of the day”--in a mere thirteen weeks. We will explore a few of the hundreds of source texts that gave the hilariously difficult novel shape—among them Tristan et Isolde, Vico’s New Science, Dante’s Commedia, and various Irish legends—and engage a number of critical approaches to the text, from Samuel Beckett, Derek Attridge, Christine Froula, Jean-Michel Rabaté, Vincent Chang, Jacques Derrida and others. Of particular interest will be questions of gender, postcoloniality, and the kinds of globality envisioned in the novel. The Wake by turns encourages interpretation and mocks the notion of expertise and authority, so while we will explore the contents of the Joyce digital library, we will also encounter various internet tools set up by the novel’s non-academic admirers to facilitate understanding and invite distraction. As is often the case with a funereal wake, Joyce’s 1939 novel is both terminal and germinal; it puts something (what used to be called the “Western Literary Tradition”) to rest and marks an awakening of something radically new. Our seminar will focus on this pivot point.
ENGL 86200. Wayne Koestenbaum. Playing with Ashbery. Tuesdays 2:00PM-4:00PM. 2/4 credits.
To honor the memory of John Ashbery, and to participate in the continuing abundance of his works, we will spend careful and sonorous time reading his poetry, from Some Trees onward. Our aims will be to grasp his writing’s innuendos, to bask in its polyphonic behavior, to appreciate its rambunctious diction, to plumb its allusive micro-dramas, to undergo its semantic dissidence, and to gain energy from its contagious, idea-rich playfulness, its career-long devotion to experiment, pleasure, whimsy, variousness, and ambivalence. In lieu of a final essay, students will write each week a two-page composition, in response to specific assignments; these exercises will encourage the practitioner—the player—to convert some of Ashbery’s élan vital into gestures and habits of aesthetic adventure that can become, for life, your own. No auditors.
ENGL 87500. Nancy K. Miller. Memoir/Illness/Graphic/Grief. Thursdays 4:15PM-6:15PM. 2/4 credits.
Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship,” Susan Sontag famously wrote in Illness as Metaphor. “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later, each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” Illness occupies a prominent place in contemporary life writing, and the seminar will explore the accounts of what happens when “the lights of health go down,” as Virginia Woolf writes in On Being Ill. We will read a wide range of first-person literary and visual representations of bodily and mental suffering, including AIDS, cancer, depression, and mourning. Among the writers and artists: Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, Lucy Grealy, Audre Lorde, Oliver Sacks, Eve Sedgwick, Susan Sontag and Virginia Woolf; graphic narratives by Bobby Baker, David B., Julie Delporte, Miriam Engelberg, David Small, and Nicola Streeten.
The work of the course: weekly responses, one oral presentation, a final paper.
[Canceled] ENGL 81500. Tanya Pollard. Sympathetic Ecologies on the Early Modern Stage. Thursdays 11:45AM-1:45PM. 2/4 credits.
This course will explore early modern ecosystemic thought, with attention to the period’s theories about microcosms, analogies, natural and supernatural environments, and sympathies between human, animal, botanical, and mineral bodies. We will explore these imagined relationships through attention to their intellectual origins and development, and will examine the possibilities they modeled in early modern plays for generating animation and eliciting audience sympathies. Readings will include selections from Thomas Elyot, The Castel of Helth (1539); Thomas Wright, The Passions of the Mind in General (1604), John Davies, Microcosmos (1605); and Helkiah Crooke, Microcosmographia (1615); as well as plays including Arden of Faversham (1592); William Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream (c.1595), The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597), and Macbeth (ca 1606); Francis Beaumont, Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607); Ben Jonson, The Alchemist (1610); John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi (1612-13); and Thomas Middleton, The Changeling (1622); Assignments will include three short close readings and one term paper.
ENGL 84300. Caroline Reitz. Dickens Matters. Fridays 11:45AM-1:45PM. 2/4 credits
As the course title suggests, we will be looking into all sorts of Dickens matters. In addition to reading a representative selection of the major novels, we will consider his early start as a parliamentary reporter, his role as a social journalist and activist, his lifelong commitment to the theater, and his 20-year hands-on editorship of two weekly journals. We will take advantage of our location to access the Dickens archive at both the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection and the Morgan library. We will also look at the long history of Dickens Studies (he became a world-wide celebrity early in his career). From psychoanalysis to social science, urban studies to queer theory, Great Books to object studies, Dickens has mattered. As the course title then also suggests, we will explore whether in 2018 Dickens still matters (to the field, to you and your dissertation, to planet Earth). Is single-author scholarly work (monographs, journals, conferences, professional organizations) endangered? Should it be?
While the class will contain a hearty dose of Charles Dickens and the Victorian novel, the questions explored about the relationship of the novel to other literary and cultural forms (journalism, sketches, theater, political representation, public transportation, exhibitions, film), about the rise of genre fiction in/alongside the realist novel, and about international celebrity and intellectual property will be relevant to those students working in other fields. Dream outcomes for this class might include the makings of a dissertation chapter on Dickens, a panel for an upcoming Research Society for Victorian Periodicals conference, or a submission to Dickens Studies Annual. Interested but wary students are encouraged to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ENGL 75000. David Reynolds. American Renaissance. Wednesdays 2:00PM-4:00PM. 2/4 credits.
The literary flowering that occurred in the United States between 1835 and 1865 constituted one of the richest periods in cultural history. Known as the American Renaissance, this period saw innovations in philosophy and social criticism brought about by Emerson and Thoreau; the metaphysical depth and cultural breadth represented by the novels of Melville and Hawthorne; the poetic experimentation of Whitman and Dickinson; and the psychological and artistic achievement of Edgar Allan Poe. The issues of race and chattel slavery were powerfully depicted by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The nation’s central political themes were expressed in Lincoln’s speeches, class conflict in novels by George Lippard and George Thompson, and women’s issues in the fiction of Sara Parton and others. In addition to reading central works of the American Renaissance—among them Moby-Dick, “Bartleby,” The Scarlet Letter, Leaves of Grass, Walden, Poe’s tales, Emerson’s essays, Dickinson’s poems, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Sara Parton’s Ruth Hall--we shall discuss key theoretical and critical approaches to the period, including cultural-historical, trans/circumatlanticist, ecocritical, and gender-related. Writing assignments are customizable to your scholarly interests and/or to your doctoral Portfolio.
ENGL 91000. Joan Richardson. Dissertation Workshop. Thursdays 2:00PM-4:00PM. 0 credits.
This seminar will give participants the opportunity to develop and complete their dissertation prospectus and/or draft dissertation chapters. It will be conducted as a workshop with members reading and commenting on one another’s work under the professor’s guidance. We will discuss the dissertation as an always-evolving genre as well as practical issues of writing and revision, research and research methods, documentation, presentation, and more. We will also talk about professionalizing matters including engagement with current scholarly conversations and theoretical discourses, creating conference presentations and scholarly articles as part of the dissertation writing process, and thinking about the dissertation as a draft of a first monograph.
ENGL 84200. Alexander Schlutz. Romantic Concepts of Nature. Mondays 4:15PM-6:15PM. 2/4 credits.
Since the rise of ecocriticism and green Romanticism it has become commonplace to present Romantic writers as anticipating contemporary environmentalist concerns and to (re)mobilize for contemporary ecological debates the Romantic critique of nascent processes of industrialization and a Cartesian, mechanical, view of the natural world. At the same time, ecologists and environmental writers perceive the “romanticization” of nature – the projection of imaginary, aesthetic and cultural constructs onto a material world fundamentally alien to them – as one of the main obstacles to a fruitful understanding of our relationship to the environment. Hence, in the contemporary discussion, one can see the Romantics both being lauded for writing against the objectification of nature, and being critiqued for neglecting the difference between the products of the writer’s consciousness and affect, and the material Other he or she confronts.
To find answers to such conflicting assessments, we will interrogate the concepts of nature of several writers and philosophers in the Romantic period. We will examine central philosophical texts of Spinoza and Kant and discuss the writings and philosophical positions of Mary Wollstonecraft, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and John Clare. One of our goals will be to examine the answers these writers give to questions about the place of human beings in the natural world and the relationship of mind and matter, and human and natural history, central philosophical questions they indeed share with contemporary environmentalist thinkers.
Course requirements: 4 short position papers, including a “conference abstract”; 15-minute conference presentation, to be delivered at the in-class, end-of-semester course conference; final 15-20 page research paper.
Spinoza. Ethics. Ed. And Trans. G.H.R. Parkinson. Oxford: OUP, 2000. ISBN: 9780198752141
Kant. Critique of the Power of Judgment. Ed. and Trans. Paul Guyer. Cambridge: CUP, 2001. ISBN: 9780521348928
Mary Wollstonecraft: Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Ed.
Ingrid Horrocks. Peterborough: Broadview, 2013. ISBN: 9781551118086
Coleridge's Poetry and Prose. Ed. Nicholas Halmi, Paul Magnuson, and Raimonda Modiano. New York: Norton, 2004. ISBN: 0393979040
William Wordsworth The Major Works. Ed. Stephen Gill. Oxford: OUP, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-19-953686-3.
Dorothy Wordsworth. The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals. Ed. Pamela Woof. New York: OUP, 2002. ISBN: 978-0-19-953687-0
John Clare. Major Works. Ed. Eric Robinson and David Powell. Oxford: OUP, 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-954979-5
The Clare Oxford edition is required. All other editions are recommended, alternatives will be fine. Additional primary and secondary readings will be available via the course e-reserve page.
ENGL 80700. Karl Steel. Irrational Animals from the Middle Ages to the Present. Tuesdays 11:45AM-1:45PM. 2/4 credits.
Medieval Latin tended to refer to nonhuman animals as “irrationalibus animalibus,” irrational animals. We will explore the limits of reason, from a posthuman and critical animal studies perspective, with attention to gender, disability, and racialization. Topics will include the problems of madness, consent, responsibility, and guilt, as well as, especially, love and desire, those supposedly authentic expressions of the self, irreducible to rational decisions. We might also explore ideas of altruism, friendship, and a bit of medieval economic theory. Apart from readings in contemporary theory, primary texts will include medieval literary works from Chaucer and Hoccleve, some saints’ lives (Christina the Astonishing), Pearl, the Book of Margery Kempe, and the Cloud of Unknowing. No prior knowledge of medieval languages or texts required for the course.
ENGL 79010. Jessica Yood. When Literature and Composition Meet: Critical Pedagogy and the Contemporary Novel. Mondays 6:30PM-8:30PM. 2/4 credits.
Satisfying scenes of teaching and learning are hard to come by. The campus novel as microcosm often domesticates the geopolitics of academia. The teaching memoir tends to lean on tropes—rarely do professor or student follow the familiar arc of the hero’s journey.
Classroom life is more murky and, sometimes, more magical than allowed by these genres. This course explores depictions of classroom life in its complexity and inequities, longings and limitations. Using approaches from narratology, we will examine novels, memoirs, ethnographies and essays focused on the humanities classroom. Our goal will be to categorize and analyze examples of “novel pedagogy.” In the process we will examine the relationship between literary criticism and pedagogy and between cultural studies and critical university studies. We will also write and workshop our own novel pedagogies.
The syllabus will include writing from Gloria Anzaldúa, Elizabeth Chin, Susan Choi, Jacques Derrida, Shirley Brice Heath, Rebekah Nathan, Ishmael Reed, Philip Roth, Leslie Marmon Silko, Zadie Smith, Michael Thomas, and John Williams. We will also read essays in The Atlantic, Radical Teacher, Present Tense, and Pedagogy, as well as academic blogs.