Instructor: Derek Miller Tuesday & Thursday, 10:30-11:45 am | Location: TBA
To many of its fans, Hamilton poses a problem. How can a show that presents so many talented artists of color represent a white-washed American history? And how should we evaluate the show’s impact when sky-high ticket prices make it accessible primarily to a wealthy (read: white) audience? In its aspirational embrace of a multi-ethnic America and its failure fully to realize that promise, Hamiltonembodies the paradox of Broadway. This course examines that paradox since World War II, particularly as it pertains to multiple aspects of identity including race, gender, sexuality, and disability. We will examine how shows such as South Pacific, with its famous anti-racist anthem, or M. Butterfly, which explored the intersections of Orientalism, gender, and sex, temper their inclusive representations to appeal to wide commercial audience. Broadway is a particularly fertile ground for exploring these issues because theatrical performances always call attention to the performative nature of subjectivity: that is, who you are is a product of what you do. As we shall see, though, theatrical performatives risk being “infelicitous,” in the words of philosopher J.L. Austin: instead of affirming the subjects they represent, the performances can turn those subjects into mere theater. Our starting assumption is that many Broadway stake-holders genuinely desire broader representation in and for their work, but that the structure of the industry constrains how these shows challenge the status quo. To understand those constraints we will ask what stories Broadway tells, who sees them, and how they are marketed—while always attuned to “who tells your story.”
African American poets have long embraced the private freedoms of the lyric poem—freedom to claim the authority of an uncontested first person “I”; freedom to wrangle language into new and startling forms; freedom to depart as needed from the strictures of linear reality. And yet, from its earliest iterations, African American poetry has also concerned itself with correcting and complicating the official narrative of Black life and Black subjectivity in America. This course will explore the means by which Black poets have innovated upon the lyric tradition to accommodate a sense of allegiance to a collective. In this tradition, the lyric poem has become a powerful tool with which to ponder the dynamics of self and other, intimate and political—and justice and injustice. Course readings will include work by seminal 20th Century American figures such as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden and Lucille Clifton, as well as contemporary voices like Jericho Brown, Tyehimba Jess, Morgan Parker, Eve L. Ewing and others. We will also devote attention to lyric corollaries in film, music, visual art and performance. Students will be encouraged to respond to course themes and texts in both critical and creative form.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Poets" requirement for the Class of 2022.
Instructor: Philip Fisher Monday & Wednesday, 10:30-11:45am | Location: TBA
A survey of the 20th-century novel, its forms, patterns of ideas, techniques, cultural context, rivalry with film and radio, short story, and fact. Wharton, Age of Innocence; Cather, My Antonia; Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms and stories; Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury and stories; Ellison, Invisible Man; Nabokov, Lolita; Robinson, Housekeeping; Salinger, Catcher in the Rye and stories; Ha Jin, Waiting; Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station. Stories by James, London, Anderson, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gaitskill, Wallace, Beattie, Lahiri, and Ford.
Instructor: Jesse McCarthy Monday, 9:45-11:45am | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
At first glance Henry James and James Baldwin may seem worlds apart. Yet these two enormously influential writers share much in common. Both are New Yorkers; both spent a good deal of their lives as expatriates; both are celebrated for their queerness, a feature of their style as much as their sexuality. Both were serious, moralizing, and passionate observers of the ‘American Scene’; both writers are deeply committed to investigating and exploring the privacy of consciousness and the currency of experience. Henry James was James Baldwin’s favorite writer. Colm Tóibín has called Baldwin, “the Henry James of Harlem.” What attracted Baldwin to James across their vast racial and class differences? What lessons about the art of fiction can we learn by reading each in the light of the other? Not only the Jamesian influence on Baldwin—but what Baldwin allows us to see might be missing or muted in James. We will think very closely about the subject that deeply occupied both of them: America. And what America means from perspectives acquired from outside of America, looking back in. We will also investigate the expression and communication of sexuality, gender, race, class, money, politics and taste alongside assorted criticism, reviews, and other essays of interest.
An exploration of the emergence and development of the African American literary “tradition” from the 18th to the 20th century. Close reading of the canonical texts in the tradition, and their structural relationships are stressed.
This course is a survey of the work of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison from 1970 to 2012, including most of her novels, a few nonfiction essays, a short story, and a play. We will consider her literary antecedents; follow her influence on contemporaries and future writers; trace the social, historical, and political contexts and implications of her work; and explore the critical interventions she made in historiography and literary criticism. Throughout, we will focus on Morrison’s rich and complex aesthetic project: how it came into being; how it resonates with a great range of philosophical questions from epistemology to ethics; and how it changed over time.
This course introduces the genre of the “Harvard novel,” from W.E.B. Du Bois's notes toward his fictional work "A Fellow of Harvard" to Elif Batuman’s The Idiot and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, in order to examine Harvard’s cultural meaning and significance. It brings together novels (and films) where Harvard offers the narrative setting, supplies a character’s backstory, or even serves as a character in its own right. We will address themes of tradition, access, privilege, race, anxiety, competition, and canonicity.
Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (1974) was one of the earliest attempts to collect writings that were, to quote the editors, “exclusively Asian-American.” Yet as their lengthy—and controversial—explanation of the selection process makes clear, Asian American literature defies neat categorization. This course is both a survey of Asian American literature and an introduction to ongoing debates about what constitutes Asian American literature. We will study a variety of literary genres and ask how formal and stylistic conventions, as well as shifting sociohistorical circumstances, have shaped conceptions of Asian American literature.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Migrations" requirement for the Class of 2022.
Margaret Atwood is often asked if the The Handmaid’s Tale is a “feminist” novel. Her response: “If you mean an ideological tract in which all women are angels and/or so victimized they are incapable of moral choice, no. If you mean a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies — and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure and plot of the book, then yes. In that sense, many books are ‘feminist.’” This course focuses on such feminist books. It explores issues of perspective: what happens when an author writes from the perspective of a woman? Since taking this perspective does not depend on biology, we will explore authors from a variety of backgrounds, especially those whose class, race, and/or ethnicity add another dimension. We’ll focus on contemporary Anglophone novels and drama.
Written a century apart, the poems of Seamus Heaney and Thomas Hardy create an urgent call and response between earth and under-earth. The poets share metrical virtuosity, compressed lyric forms, the unfolding of personal history within public crisis and transformation, and the recognition that the acuity of sentience - the daily practice of exquisitely precise perceptual acts - is the ethical center of our brief stay above ground.
Instructor: Ju Yon Kim Tuesday & Thursday, 12-1:15pm | Location: TBA
This course will examine horror—defined expansively to include the uncanny, the abject, the monstrous, and the ghostly—in American literature, considering its formal and aesthetic implications and its relationship to major cultural and social issues. What are the methods and theories that critics have used to study horror in literature? How and to what effect have works of American literature used horror to reflect on contemporary social concerns or to depict historical events? We will explore a range of literary works from the nineteenth century to the present next to critical and theoretical studies of horror and the Gothic.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Migrations" requirement for the Class of 2022 and was formerly offered as English 60a. Migrations: American Horrors.
Instructor: Peter Sacks Wednesday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: Online Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
Please note that this course will be offered on Zoom and will meet remotely for the Spring 2022 semester.
This course will study selected poems of Marianne Moore, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Bishop, Lorine Neidecker, Robyn Schiff, Natalie Diaz, Tracy K. Smith, Cathy Park Hong, Layli Long Soldier, and others.