Instructor: Alan Niles Tuesday & Thursday, 9:00-10:15am | Location: TBA
This class is an introduction to Shakespeare’s writings and their representations of sex, gender, romance, love, and queerness. We will study poems about erotic and queer desire, plays that stage ideas about gender and gender fluidity, and film adaptations that bring modern perspectives to race and sexuality. Readings will include such plays as Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, and Measure for Measure; Shakespeare’s Sonnets; and films by Derek Jarman, Baz Luhrmann, and Julie Taymor. Throughout our course, we will ask: how are the forms of gender identity and sexual expression we encounter in Shakespeare’s works familiar, or different? How might they challenge, inspire, or disturb us today?
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Shakespeare" requirement for the Class of 2022.
Instructor: Russ Rymer Time: TBA | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
This is a short-story writing workshop that uses other creative genres – music, poetry, painting, film and photography – to advance students' fiction-writing abilities. Students will consider techniques and principles essential to other arts and apply them to their writing, enhancing in the process their comprehension of literary forms. Readings will include such modern short story masters as Helen Oyeyemi, Mavis Gallant, Angela Carter, and Edward P. Jones. Students will take some photographs, but the aim of the course isn't to improve graphic skills or art criticism abilities (no prior experience with photography or music or movies is required). The aim is to write great short fiction, using other mediums as muse and guide for inspiring, analyzing, and improving original prose. Final product is a publishable short story.
Consent will be studied in four domains: Part I-the relation of consent and the body in marriage, in medicine, and in state citizenship; Part II – the act of consent and dissent in war (beginning with the dissent of Achilles in the Iliad and including readings up to the present); Part III – freedom of movement, freedom of entry and exit in citizenship (including contexts where right of movement has been denied); Part IV – consent as the basis of cultural creation. The nature of individual and collective deliberation is at the center of the course throughout. Readings include: philosophic accounts of consent (Plato, Locke, Rousseau), case law (Plessy v. Ferguson, Pratt v. Davis, Schloendorff v. Society of New York Hospital), constitutional writings (Federalist Papers 4, 7, 8, 23, 25, 27-29, 41; Madison’s Record of Federal Assembly; Ratification Debates ), plays (Euripides’ Hecabe, Sophocles’ Philoctetes, five U.S. suffrage plays), poetry (Iliad), films (Philadelphia Story, It Happened One Night), novels (Tale of Two Cities), and historical narratives (Thucydides selections, Underground Railroad narratives).
Note: This course fulfills the "Ethics and Civics" General Education requirement.
Old English poems love to recycle age-old wisdom in what are called “gnomic” verses. Usually expressed in laconic language and embedded in various genres of poems, the meaning of these passages can be unclear: Soð bið swicolost could be translated as “Truth is complicated.” Their prevalence, however, suggests that the wisdom they conveyed was held in universal esteem. This course will examine the structure, content, and context of gnomic verses from multiple angles. In addition to our daily translations, we will pursue questions such as: What are the sources of these passages? What ideological/religious beliefs do they reflect? How do they function within the various literary genres where they occur? What is the importance of these passages in Beowulf? We will also compare Old Norse/Icelandic and Old Irish wisdom literature (in translation) as we attempt to understand this fascinating and challenging aspect of Old English literature. Prerequisite: one term of Old English or the equivalent.
Instructor: Marc Shell Thursday, 12:45-2:45pm | Location: TBA
Islands, both a part of and apart from the main, offer ready-made laboratories for linguistic, biological and political investigation. Islandness as such encourages national literature, philosophy, and vacation. Our seminar, with its ecological and philosophical focus, centers on fictional an factual islands as well as Canadian ice floes, the always changing marine coastlines of tidal islands, and Planet Earth itself, Critical readings include: Peter Sloterdijk’s Foams, Judith Shalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands, Sigmund Freud’s writings on his own world as “a little island of pain swimming in a sea of indifference,” Immanuel Kant’s “History of Lands and Islands,” and Shell’s Islandology. Literary and filmic works include Shakespeare’s Hamlet, John Donne’s argument that “No man is an island,” Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, More’s Utopia, Hae-Jun Lee’s “Castaway on the Moon,” Joseph Newman’s “This Island Earth,” and island travel (and vacation) literature chosen by us as a group. Requirements: one short paper and one term paper.... Read more about Comparative Literature 123. Isolation and Islands
Instructor: Tracy K. Smith Time: TBA | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
In their quest for clarity, revelation and consolation, poets engage with, reflect upon and speak back to the world in a range of ways. In pursuit of these very same aims, poets also listen closely to what has already been said by others at registers spanning intimate exchange, public discourse and sacred utterance. In this poetry workshop, we’ll engage in an exploration of found materials—letters, news articles, historical texts, police reports, instruction manuals and more—to see what new forms of dialogue they might invite, and what light they might shed upon the questions, concerns and apprehensions of our current time. With readings by Muriel Rukeyser, Robin Coste Lewis, Nicole Sealey, Michael Kleber-Diggs and others.
Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a writing sample of 5-10 poems and an application letter explaining your interest in this course.
All literature was contemporary at some point, but the literature that is contemporary now provides special opportunities for enjoying, questioning, and understanding the world. Literature Today focuses on works written since 2000—since most of you were born. It explores how writers from around the world speak to and from their personal and cultural situations, addressing current problems of economic inequality, technological change, structural prejudice, and divisive politics. We will encounter a range of genres, media, and histories to study contemporary literature as a living, evolving system. The course uniquely blends literary study and creative writing—students will analyze literature and make literature. The conviction that these practices are complementary will inform our approach to readings and course assignments.
Note: English 10 is one of the required Common Courses for the English concentrators in the Classes of 2023, 2024, and 2025. The course is designed as a “gateway” course for first and second year students, but it is open to all undergraduates.
This course, taught in small groups and required for concentrators, introduces theories, interpretive frameworks, and central questions about literature and literary media. What do we do when we read? What is an author? What do we mean by “literature” itself? How might we compare and evaluate interpretations? How do the historical, social, cultural, and legal frameworks around a text shape its meanings and its effects? Combining major critical and theoretical writings with primary works, the course investigates how literary production and interpretation are informed by philosophical and aesthetic traditions, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, national and post-colonial identities, and the material forms in which literature circulates, from parchment books to the internet. Students will also practice fundamental literary research methods through close engagement with Harvard libraries.
Note: English 97 is one of the required Common Courses for English concentrators in the Classes of 2023, 2024, and 2025 and is open to sophomores and first-years planning to concentrate in English. Enrollment priority exceptions may be made for people changing concentrations or presenting other notable reasons.
How did people inhabit and view their physical environment in early medieval England? Was it life-sustaining or threatening? What was the balance between managing resources and exploiting them? How did poets and farmers, kings and saints invoke images of land and sea as meaningful symbols? The Old English literature on such questions, which is diverse and engaging, will form the basis of our in-class translations. Other assigned readings will survey environmental criticism and allow us to compare today’s perceptions with those from a distant past.
This course combines language study with the investigation of a critical theme. The narratives set for translation provide a thematic coherence as we dig into the language of Old English, which is the vernacular used in England from the sixth century until about 1100. Although some of its features remain recognizable today, Old English needs to be learned as a foreign language with its own spelling, pronunciation, syntax, and so on. The term begins with an emphasis on grammar, which will be covered in graduated steps until midterm, after which the readings and translation will take up more of our class time.
The promise of this course: you will gain the skills to translate any text in Old English; you will learn a great deal about contemporary English including weird facts your inner word-geek will love; you will expand your knowledge of environmental criticism as we examine its deep history.
This course is an introduction to the different voices, cultures, and traditions that made the first 1000 years of English literature, from Beowulf to Aphra Behn. We will study major and influential writings alongside lesser-known interlocutors—works by Marie de France, Geoffrey Chaucer, Margery Kempe, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Mary Sidney, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and more. We will engage with the (often contested) social, political, and religious contexts that gave rise to creative work. We will pay particular attention to the historical transformations of romance, epic, drama, fable, and lyric, and the ways these forms were embedded in the social worlds of their time.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Arrivals" requirement for the Class of 2022.
Our thoughts and feelings about identity, self-expression, and the power of the imagination draw on the British Romantic poetry of the Long Eighteenth Century--whether we've read any or not. Focusing on John Keats (his key poems, and his key ideas, about 'negative capability', the 'camelion poet', and so on), this course makes unconventional connections into the twentieth, and twenty-first century. Tracking issues of race, class, gender and sexuality, we'll bounce from Keats into war verse; African-American poetries; world/postcolonial writing; the literature of social class; feminist experimentalism; and constructions of masculinity. Concentrators will learn how to analyze poetry in both closed and open forms.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Poets" requirement for the Class of 2022; formerly offered as English 58: Poets.
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.
Matthew Arnold famously said that poetry is, at bottom, “a criticism of life.” But if any literary form is truly a criticism of life, it is the essay. And yet despite the fact that all students write essays, most students rarely study them; bookshops and libraries categorize such work only negatively, by what it is not: “non-fiction.” At the same time, the essay is at present one of the most productive and fertile of literary forms. It is practiced as memoir, reportage, diary, criticism, and sometimes all four at once. Novels are becoming more essayistic, while essays are borrowing conventions and prestige from fiction. This class will disinter the essay from its comparative academic neglect, and examine the vibrant contemporary borderland between the reported and the invented. We will study the history of the essay, from Montaigne to the present day. Rather than study that history purely chronologically, each class will group several essays from different decades and centuries around common themes: death, detail, sentiment, race, gender, photography, the city, witness, and so on. In addition to writing about essays – writing critical essays about essays – students will also be encouraged to write their own creative essays: we will study the history of the form, and practice the form itself. Essayists likely to be studied: Plutarch, Montaigne, Hazlitt, De Quincey, Woolf, Benjamin, Orwell, Camus, Primo Levi, Barthes, Baldwin, Sontag, Dyer, Didion, Leslie Jamison, Knausgaard, Ta-Nehisi Coates.
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.
The novels of Conrad, Naipaul, and Coetzee have a particular value to contemporary discourses on global culture. Writing from specific historical and cultural contexts, all three writers are profoundly concerned with the ethical and aesthetic projects connected to economic and political forms of governance. Our study will focus on the problematic nature of intercultural relations as they are constituted in global networks. The meticulous reading of primary texts is an essential requirement of the seminar, which will focus on figurative language and fictional forms as they are used to imagine community and communication on a global scale. Critical and theoretical writings will be introduced to further the discussion of questions and topics raised by seminar participants.
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.
This course will explore the complex relationship between literature and law, focusing on how each represents and responds to violence and its aftermath. As we survey a series of twentieth-century juridical paradigms (trials, rights, reparations, and reconciliation), our goal will not be to judge the efficacy of literary and legal projects, but rather to study how they imagine issues of guilt, responsibility, testimony, commemoration, apology and forgiveness. Our readings will include novels, short stories, poetry, legal theory, documentaries, and key documents of international law: authors will most likely include Hannah Arendt, J.M. Coetzee, Jacques Derrida, Franz Kafka, Michael Ondaatje, Julie Otsuka, and M. NourbeSe Philip.
The course serves as an introduction to world literature and aims to ask big-picture questions: when and under what circumstances did written stories first emerge? How were they stored? And how will they be transmitted to the future?
The first part is exploratory and is based on working with the Norton Anthology of World Literature. We’ll read widely across 4000 years of literature, and, using the Norton introductions and headnotes for guidance, assemble the big picture of literary evolution. Topics of discussion will include the dynamics of writing technologies from Mesopotamian clay tablet to the internet; the emergence of new genres; the increasing differentiation of literature into religious, historical, political, and fictional stories; and the changing marketplace of world literature. Readings include the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Analects of Confucius, the Arabian Nights, The Tale of Genji, the Popol Vuh, and the Epic of Sunjata.
The second part is a laboratory. Working individually and in groups, we’ll devise strategies for preserving literature for the future. Which texts and types of literature should we select? How should we store them to assure their survival? And how can we communicate the significance of these texts to humans living in the distant future? This laboratory workshop will give us a chance to challenge existing canons and to envision the literature of the future. Readings and selections for the second part to be chosen by students.... Read more about English 90wl. The Future of World Literature