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Spring 2020

 M.A. Program in Biography and Memoir
Spring 2020 courses



BAM 70300 - Approaches to Life-Writing
Mondays, 6:30-8:30 pm, Room 4419, 3 credits,
 Annalyn Swan  
Ever since Plutarch brought Alexander the Great blazingly to life in his seminal Lives (2nd century CE), people have loved to read—and write—biographies. Approaches to Life Writing will be an exploration of the art and craft of the genre. What do great biographies have in common—and how do they differ? How are scenes set, facts organized, context provided? How novelistic can a biography be? And is there, finally, such a thing as “truth” in biography or autobiography, or a “definitive” account?  From biography as gossipy inside edition (Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson), to biography as irreverent debunking (Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians), to contemporary biography and memoir, we will explore the many ways a writer can tease out the “figure under the carpet,” as Leon Edel, the great biographer of Henry James, put it.
For those who wish to do so, this is also a course about practicing the art ourselves. For the final paper, in lieu of a more conventional essay, students will have the opportunity to write an autobiographical chapter, or else research and write a chapter of a biography.
BAM 70400 - Ethical Problems in Biography and Memoir
Thursdays, 6:30-8:30 pm, Room 6421, 3 credits, Sarah Covington  
This course will explore the ethical problems that attend life writing or other forms such as oral history, studying how practitioners have dealt with these matters. Utilizing texts which may include case studies, students will discuss and write about such issues as truth and falsehood; withholding or exposing information; respecting the confidentiality or privacy of others; or writing about marginal or vulnerable populations. Students will also be exposed to the other ethics-related issues, such as plagiarism, libel, copyright infringement, the requirements of the Institutional Review Board, fair-use quotation and the consent of vulnerable subjects.

BAM 70500 - Race, Gender, and the Art of Memoir
Tuesdays, 4:15-6:15 pm, Room 3307, 3 credits, Tanisha Ford 
In recent years, there has been resurgent interest in the genre of memoir. Many of these contemporary texts are written by young(er), people of color. In this course we will read classic memoirs in conversation with more recent publications to explore the intersections of gender and race and the unique ways that writers of creative non-fiction use the genre to explore identity politics, trauma, pleasure, the (recent) past, and worldmaking. Learning how to write in this style is a useful skill for all students—regardless of field, discipline or career path. To that end, students will write and revise several autobiographical essays, with attention to developing voice and tone, pacing, and social/cultural/political texture.
This course is NOT open to non-degree students.
Registration open only to M.A. Program in Biography and Memoir and PhD Program in History students.


ENGL 87500 - Modernism and Memoir
Thursdays 4:15PM-6:15PM. Room TBA, 4 credits, Prof. Marc Dolan
Based in an exploration of the consciousness of individual experience, transatlantic Modernism both sprang from autobiography and in turn transformed it, in its own formally fragmented image.  Contemporaneous and current theories of autobiography and memoir will be assigned in tandem with our primary texts, which may include: Andre Gide, If I Die (Si le grain ne meurt) [1926]; Djuna Barnes, Ladies’ Almanack (1928); Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933); Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography (1937); Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse (1938); Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (1940); Federico Garcia Lorca, Poet in New York (Poeta en Nueva York) (1940); The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams  (1951); H. D., Tribute to Freud (1956); Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (1964; 2009); Edward Dahlberg, Because I Was Flesh (1964); and Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio: From the Thirties (1974)
ENGL 75000. David Reynolds. American Renaissance. Wednesdays 2:00PM-4:00PM. 2/4 credits.
Known as the American Renaissance, the decades leading up to the Civil War are generally regarded not only as the peak moment in American cultural expression but also as a watershed of themes reaching back to ancient and early-modern periods and looking forward to modernism.  The American Renaissance saw the innovations in philosophy, ecological awareness, and style on the part of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; the metaphysical depth and cultural breadth represented by the fiction of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne; the poetic experimentation of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; the psychological probing and ground-breaking aesthetics of Edgar Allan Poe; and landmark portraits of race and slavery by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass. Urban life and class conflict were dramatized in fiction by George Lippard, and gender issues were vivified in writings by Margaret Fuller and Sara Parton. Lincoln’s speeches crystalized the nation’s enduring political themes. In addition to reading central works of American literature—among them Moby-Dick, “Bartleby,” Incidents in the Life of a Slave GirlThe Scarlet Letter,  Leaves of GrassWalden, Poe’s tales, Emerson’s essays, and Dickinson’s poems--we discuss current approaches to American Studies, criticism, and cultural history    

Comp Lit 78200 – Fictions of the Psyche
GC: TUES, 4:15PM-6:15PM, 4 Credits, Prof. André Aciman
With its intricate and beguiling analysis of human motivation, psychological fiction has a long history and is known for its penetrating focus on desire, deceit and tangled web of human emotions.  The course seeks to examine how literature has portrayed the psyche, how it narrates interiority, and how language seeks to unravel the paradoxes implicit to any treatment of love. The course will also establish a typology of the genre and a vocabulary with which to investigate what the French call the roman d'analyse. Readings will include Ovid, Tristan, Boccaccio, Marguerite de Navarre, LaFayette, Cervantes, Sterne, Austen, Stendhal, Wharton, Svevo, and Proust.

Hist. 79200- Jews and the Left
GC: Tuesdays, 4:15-6:15 pm, 3 credits, Prof. Elissa Bemporad
This course will explore the historical involvement of Jewish men and women in the political left from the French Revolution to the contemporary world, in Europe, America and Palestine/Israel. By discussing the political and ideological factors that attracted Jews to leftist political movements over time and in different geopolitical contexts, the course will study the ambivalent relationship between universalism and particularism that lied at the heart of these movements. Through a diverse selection of readings, which include memoirs, letters, fiction, press articles, and monographs, students will also be asked to disentangle facts from myth, as they ponder the reality and the limits of the Jewish alliance with the Left. This course will also explore the ways in which, at different times and in different places, the association between Jews and the Left have become a common thread in antisemitic thinking.

French 87000 - On Passions, Emotions, Affects: In Theory, History, Texts
Tuesdays, 4:15PM-6:15PM, Room TBA, 4 Credits, Prof. Domna Stanton 
      How are passions and emotions different from affects? How do bodies perform passions, sensibility, feelings, emotions and affects? What do affects do and how do they do it? How are they shaped by their contexts?  What is the meaning and significance of the “affective turn”?  Does it mark a rejection of the idea(l) of rational self-control? How is this turn connected to studies of women (and the feminine) and to work on gender and racial embodiments and sexualities? This course will be structured around three areas:
First, theories of affect and in tandem, a study of the cultural politics and ethics of specific affects, including anger, disgust, shame, compassion and happiness. Which emotions mobilize spectators/readers into collectives/communities. Are passions both a source and an obstacle to struggles for freedom and justice? How do they include and exclude? Among the theorists: Ahmed, Artaud, Berlant, Clough,  Cvetkovich, Deleuze and Guattari, Ghandi, M. Hardt, A. Lorde, Massumi, Scheer, Sedgwick, Stewart, M. Warner.
Second, we will grapple with the treatment of passions and emotions through history, especially in philosophy: from Aristotle and Cicero, Descartes, Pascal, Lebrun, Spinoza, and Kant to Darwin, W. James, Freud, Klein, and R. Williams.
And third, in conjunction with this philosophical and historical work, we will read texts (verbal, visual and musical) to see how they inscribe emotional content and how they generate affective responses from readers even when their semantics and narratives do not depict strong emotions. Is feeling as a response to cultural forms different from a human emotion? We will consider the cultural politics of emotion in the work of  Margerie of Kempe, Montaigne,  Gentileschi (Portraits of Judith) , Racine (Phedre),  Goethe (Sorrows of Young Werther), Wagner (“Leibestod”) , H. Jacobs (Life of a Slave Girl), H. James (Beast in the Jungle),  Woolf  (Mrs. Dalloway) , A. Nin (“Incest” Diary),  Lanzman (Shoah),  Beckett (Happy Days), C. Churchill  (Far Away) , Irigaray (“When our Lips Speak Together”), Morrison (Beloved),  Darwish (Poems),  Labaki (Capernaum), Moore (Watchman, 2019).
MALS 73200 - American Social Institutions
Thursdays, 4:15 – 6:15 pm, Room TBA, 3 Credits, Prof. David Humphries 
In this course, we will examine how American Studies approaches social institutions and is in turned shaped by its own institutional settings. In order to present a broad range of questions, keywords, and topics for further inquiry, the course is organized around different units, each of which includes one or more prominent books as well as recent articles from American Quarterly and other contemporary journals that present a variety of methodologies and theoretical frameworks. We will begin by examining the relationship between nationalism and national borders, using Daniel Immerwahr’s recent book How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States as our starting point. Following Cornell West’s lead, we will read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness as a means of reexamining other efforts to shed light on institutionalized racism and promote racial justice. Following a similar approach, we will revisit Michael Harrington’s classic The Other America: Poverty in the United States as a way of reading J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, responses to it, and the continued media interest in “middle America” and those “left behind” following the 2016 elections. We will then consider how genre and questions of form often can be seen as being grounded in social institutions. After reviewing how popular musical genres grew out of conceptions of race and geography and considering how recent artists like k.d. lang, Janelle Monáe, and Lil Nas X have reimagined these genres through their music and performances, we will turn our attention to two spy novels by Asian American writers, Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker and Leonard Chang’s Over the Shoulder. Finally, we will look at how universities function as social institutions in relation to other cultural and economic trends, using John Marx and Mark Garrett Cooper’s Media U: How the Need to Win Audiences Has Shaped Higher Education and Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy. Writing for the course will take place throughout the term in a workshop setting and will include a book review, a conference proposal, an annotated bibliography, and a final paper and reflection piece; students more advanced in their research will have the opportunity to structure their writing in ways that contribute to their work on their thesis.