This foundational course for English concentrators examines literary form and genre. We explore some of the many kinds of literature as they have changed over time, along with the shapes and forms that writers create, critics describe, and readers learn to recognize. The body of the course looks to the great literary types, or modes, such as epic, tragedy, and lyric, as well as to the workings of literary style in moments of historical change, producing the transformation, recycling, and sometimes the mocking of past forms. While each version of English 20 includes a different array of genres and texts from multiple periods, those texts will always include five major works from across literary history: Beowulf (epic), King Lear (tragedy), Persuasion (comic novel), The Souls of Black Folk (essays; expository prose), and Elizabeth Bishop’s poems (lyric). The course integrates creative writing with critical attention: assignments will take creative as well as expository and analytical forms.
Note: English 20 is one of the required Common Courses for the Classes of 2023 and 2024 and is a limited enrollment course which will prioritize sophomores and first-years; juniors and seniors who want to take it as an elective will be considered for any remaining spots. Enrollment priority exceptions may be made for people changing concentrations or presenting other notable reasons.
What deepens your grasp of Old English grammar, improves your translation skills, and ends with a creative project? At times child’s play, at times deadly earnest (think of Oedipus and the Sphinx), enigmatic puzzles have fascinated us for many centuries. They were particularly prolific in the earliest literature in English, including over ninety poetic riddles in the Exeter Book. We will translate a number of such riddles, read many more in translation, and speculate on the philosophical questions they raise about language and meaning. The semester will end with a creative project. Prerequisite: one term of Old English.
This course focuses on Milton’s most famous work, Paradise Lost, the greatest long poem in English and the only successful classical epic in the modern world. Milton went totally blind in his forties and composed Paradise Lost by reciting verses to anyone available to take them down, like the blind prophets and poets of legend. Yet the questions he raised are surprisingly enduring and modern. We will consider how he generates the sublime and how he builds great scenes and characters, especially his most famous one, Satan.
Virginia Woolf, novelist, essayist, feminist and critic, was at the center of a remarkable group of creative intellectuals who changed the course of the 20th century—and the present day. Her sister was the artist Vanessa Bell, her husband the political writer and publisher Leonard Woolf, her lifelong friends included the biographer Lytton Strachey, the economist John Maynard Keynes, the painter Duncan Grant, and the art historians Roger Fry and Clive Bell. Together with G.E. Moore, E.M. Forster, Bertrand Russell, Desmond MacCarthy, Vita Sackville-West, and Lydia Lopokova, the members of this powerful coterie were innovators — not only pioneers in their fields but also witty commentators and skilled critics across the disciplines. Not content to change merely the arts and letters of the 20th century, these intimate friends were also social pioneers: some were openly queer, some openly polyamorous, most outrageously iconoclastic, and all radically insistent on the equality of the sexes. They have come to be known as The Bloomsbury Group, named after the area in London where many of them lived and worked. This course will look at the works these people created across the spectrum of the arts, as well as the friendships that sustained this work of nearly half a century, as the vital context that allowed for the major novels and essays of Virginia Woolf.
Speaking of James Joyce’s Ulysses, T.S. Eliot confessed: “I wish, for my own sake, that I had not read it.” How does one write literature after Joyce’s revolutionary prose? This course explores different authors’ responses to that challenge. You will be introduced to one of the most influential authors of the 20th century through selected readings from Joyce’s key works: Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake (excerpts). After immersing ourselves in Joyce’s oeuvre, we will track its afterlife in literature (Virginia Woolf, Zadie Smith), graphic narrative (Chris Ware, Alison Bechdel), and popular culture.
In this class, we will examine novels and short stories published since 1945 in Britain and the United States. Though certain themes naturally emerge -- belonging and not belonging; immigration and emigration; estrangement, race and post-colonial politics; liberalism and the importance of "noticing" others; the role of realism and the various postmodern movements in reaction to realism -- the primary emphasis is on learning how to read slowly, and learning how to enjoy, appreciate and properly judge a living, contemporary literature.
What does is it mean to be, or feel as, a woman? This course will survey major female authors from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries who ask these questions in their novels, plays, and essays. In our lectures, we will move through literary explorations of womanhood in Modernism, to Expressionism, the Feminist movements, and on to contemporary questions of trauma, reproductive rights, love, activism, sexuality and gender identity, race, sexual exploitation and abuse, camaraderie, unity, and comedy. Authors include Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Djuna Barnes, Sally Rooney, Alice Birch, Elena Ferrante, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Final assignment will be a creative project of your own design based on course themes and materials.
This course considers the relationships between systems of human injustice and environmental issues—including industrial disasters, ocean acidification, and resource extraction. We examine environmental justice writing and artwork with a transnational, interconnected approach. For example, we ask how the Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa’s writing on oil pipelines in the Niger Delta anticipates Native American protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. We draw connections between a poem documenting silicosis in the lungs of West Virginian coal miners and a novel portraying the aftermath of the Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal. We compare a nonfiction account of Kenyan women resisting deforestation and an iPhone app reclaiming public access along the Malibu coast. We explore questions of voice, genre, and narrative, cataloguing the strategies writers and artists use to reach a global audience.
“Constellations” is an attempt at putting key literary works in conversation with significant texts from other disciplines and discourses --- philosophy, politics, history, law, and the social sciences. The conversations initiated between these texts might converge on conceptual or historical issues; on other occasions, they may conflict on matters of aesthetic form or cultural belief. What gives these ‘coupled” conversations a thematic or curricular coherence is their sustained interest in the life-worlds of minorities as they struggle to gain the recognition and protection of human rights. One of the key questions running through the course will be what it means to make a claim to human dignity from a position of inequality and injustice.
I have chosen landmark texts that describe a wide arc of historical experience from colonization and segregation to migration and the predicament of refugees. These conditions of life and literature will be framed by questions of national sovereignty and international cosmopolitanism. Discourses of race, gender and identity will intersect with conceptual issues of cultural representation and literary form. The conversations initiated by this course will be polyphonic and plural.
Close readings of major 20th-century writers in the context of cultural history. (I) From the Harlem Renaissance to the Federal Writers' Project: Alain Locke, Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, Jessie Fauset, George Schuyler, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright. (II) From World War II to the present: Ralph Ellison, Ann Petry, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, Charles Johnson, Rita Dove, Colson Whitehead, Paul Beatty.
Most of us were taught that the Civil War between the Confederacy and the Union was fought on battlefields chiefly in the American South between the years of 1861-1865. In this narrative, the North won and the South lost. But what if the issues that resulted in such devastating bloodshed were never resolved? What if the war never ended? This course demonstrates the ways in which the United States is still fighting the Civil War, arguably THE defining event in U.S. history. In each class, we connect current events to readings and themes in the course, highlighting how and why the war is still being fought. From Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831 to the recent riot (or battle) in Charlottesville, we trace how and why the South was in certain respects the victor, even though the Confederacy was destroyed and the Constitution amended. We explore the different kinds of war—ideological, political, cultural, military, and para-military—that placed the unfreedom of blacks—as slaves, serfs, and prisoners—at the center of larger conflicts over federal versus state and local rule, welfare, globalization, and free trade. We analyze the Civil War in literature, art, politics, photography, prints, film, music, poetry, speeches, and history, while also discovering how these cultural forms worked to shape our memory of the event itself. By the end of the course, we will be able to show how and why contemporary U.S. debates are rooted in this defining narrative, and we will better understand the dilemmas the nation faces today.
Rhetorical theory, originating with Aristotle, in contemporary applications. The nature of rhetoric in modern culture; practical examples drawn from American history and literature 1765 to the present; written exercises and attention to public speaking; the history and educational importance of rhetoric in the West; stresses theory and practice as inseparable.
2,500 years of essential works, taught by six professors. Humanities 10b is open only to students who completed Humanities 10a in Fall 2018. Humanities 10b includes works by Joyce, Nietzsche, Mary Shelley, Austen, Pascal, Marguerite de Navarre, Dante, Augustine, Sophocles, and Homer, as well as the Arabian Nights. One 75-minute lecture plus a 75-minute discussion seminar led by the professors every week. Students continue to receive instruction in critical writing one hour a week, in writing labs and individual conferences. Students also have opportunities to visit cultural venues and attend musical and theatrical events in Cambridge or Boston.
Note: The course is open only to freshmen. Students who complete Humanities 10a meet the General Education distribution requirement for Arts & Humanities. Students who take both Humanities 10a and Humanities 10b fulfill the College Writing requirement. This is the only course outside of Expository Writing that satisfies the College Writing requirement. No auditors. The course may not be taken Pass/Fail.
Only students who have satisfactorily completed the Fall 2020 term of Hum 10A are eligible to enroll in Hum 10B.
What difference does language make? This class begins with Goethe’s Faust, a work that translates the Bible (“In the beginning was the Word”) and teases out the idealist philosophical theorization of translation (Helen of Troy speaking German words in Greek syntax). Seminar participants will then engage collaboratively in comparative readings: the particular language expertise of every one of us will benefit the group as a whole: the final reading list will thus arise from group discussion of the languages we know. The first half of the course considers issues of literalness and literariness along with rhythm and rhyme in both poetry and prose. At the same time we will discuss simultaneous translation, dubbing, and general ineffability along with American literature written in languages other than English. The second half focuses on the relationships of language translation to economic transfer and to literary metaphor and also considers the roles of inter-linguistic translation in various arts and media: movies, plays, music, and variably 'bilingual’ paintings.
Instructor: David Levine
Day & Time: Wednesdays 3-5:45pm
What if the classics offer us nothing? What if catharsis is BS? What if the "power of stories" is just marketing, and theater is inherently reactionary, elitist, out-of-date, and steeped in white supremacy? What then?
This studio class takes these positions as givens, and tries to create something faster, slyer, less prone to institutional capture. Students will create new works, rip apart old ones, and process the structural conditions of "American Theater".
What is the status of memory in contemporary Asian American literature? We explore how remembrance and forgetting, both individual and collective, help constitute panethnic Asian America as an imagined community. What conflicts of memory are inherited from legacies of war, exclusion, and migration? How does memory inform responses to present injustices and the ways people narrate the past and imagine the future? Other topics: form; affect and racialization; multimedia memory; memory as work; mourning and history; memorialization and monuments. Novels, nonfiction, theory and criticism, case histories, short stories, graphic narratives, and poetry may include works by: Cathy Park Hong, Aimee Phan, Ocean Vuong, Mira Jacob, Mohsin Hamid, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ling Ma, among others.
How has literature influenced the rhetoric and philosophy of disability? This seminar considers literary and cinematic works that focus on the body (deafness, blindness, and paralysis), the mind (madness and trauma), and language (muteness, stuttering, and dyslexia). Special attention to the disabling and enabling aftermaths of pandemics and to the effects of modern prostheses. Readings include chapters from the King James Bible and works by Brecht, Hitchcock, Keller, Martineau, Milton, Morrison, Shakespeare, Shaw, and Trumbo.
When Aldwyn Roberts, famed Trinidadian calypsonian “Lord Kitchener,” landed in England, he commemorated the event by singing “London Is the Place for Me,” a song celebrating the beauty and hospitality of his “Mother Country.” Roberts was a passenger on the ship Empire Windrush, whose 1948 arrival from the West Indies signaled a new era of migration to the UK from its colonies, many of which would gain independence over the next fifty years. But was Britain the place for them? As many discovered, making a home there was a fraught process, fueled by long-existing structures of racial prejudice that continue and evolve to this day.
This course explores the cultural politics of British identity after 1945: a period whose social and political upheavals both radically redefine and conservatively re-entrench “British” as a category of analysis. From the 1958 Notting Hill race riots to current-day Brexit, national belonging has always been a complex and contested process, one that fuels myriad forms of desire and alienation. During our time together, we will ask: how do artists and theorists engage with problems of inequality, histories of empire and migration, politics of race, sexuality, and class, and practices of community-building? How do they respond to these aspects of modern social life, as well as re-imagine what that sociality might look like? We will approach these questions by focusing on Black and Asian British literatures—including works by authors Buchi Emecheta, Bernadine Evaristo, Jackie Kay, Hanif Kureishi, Andrea Levy, Daljit Nagra, Caryl Phillips, Salman Rushdie, Sam Selvon, Kamila Shamsie, Warsan Shire, and Zadie Smith—as well as selections from the fields of postcolonial, feminist, and cultural studies.
This course introduces students to the poetry, literary prose, and artful correspondence of one of the major poets of the twentieth century, considering her innovations in all these genres. We will look at her writing in multiple genres alongside the mid-century shift from ‘closed’ to ‘open’ verse forms, and relate stylistic issues to the intellectual and social changes, and political and historical developments of the period. Bishop’s critique of received ideas about nationality, race, power, gender, sexual orientation, and the overlap between culture and nature, is connected with her status as a cosmopolitan poet with links to Canada, the U.S. and Brazil. ‘Others’ refers both to how her writing comes to terms with the (sociopolitical) reality of other people, and to the comparisons we’ll draw between her writing and that of other poets.
This seminar looks at the expanding range of genres, forms and strategies pursued by modern and contemporary authors who want to represent LGBTQ+- lives, communities, bodies and selves; poems and performances, novels and stories, YA (young adult) fiction and science fiction, memoirs and graphic novels, will all be represented, along with a light frame of what's usually called queer theory and some points of comparison, or contrast, from earlier centuries. Bechdel, Audre Lorde, O'Hara, Whitman, Walden, and many others.
A wide-ranging close reading of poetry and song from four continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Poetry not in English will be translated but students with competence in Asian and African languages, ancient languages (Greek, Latin, Hebrew), modern European languages--French, Italian, German, Spanish, et al.--are welcome to work in those languages. The course is partly a survey of lyrical poetry and partly an opportunity to work on individual projects.
This course focuses on representations of race, religion, and cross-cultural contact in literature written in western Europe between approximately 800 and 1450 CE, before colonial contact with the Americas. During this period, diplomats, pilgrims, and merchants crisscrossed Europe and Asia, generating fascination with far-away lands and a booming trade in exotic goods; Christian kingdoms of western Europe formed uneasy alliances under the banner of a shared religion to invade Muslim territories and sack Jewish communities in the Crusades; and a global pandemic spread via fleas on ship rats, killing hundreds of thousands and fomenting xenophobic violence. We will read texts from a variety of genres, including religious plays, romances about inter-faith marriage, chansons de geste (poems celebrating deeds in war, often grotesquely violent), and ‘armchair travel’ guides. We will trace the emergence of modern concepts of race and ethnicity in the way medieval Christian writers represented religious difference in/as bodily difference; develop a critical, historically-situated toolkit for analysing medieval concepts and terms around race, ethnicity, and nation; and analyse the role of the middle ages in current conversations about race in America.
This seminar will explore the history and philosophy of prison with particular reference to the role of literature and art in rehabilitation and decarceration. We will study plays, poetry, and performances that depict incarceration, as well as works written and developed by incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals. We will discuss the efficacy of prison arts programming and explore themes of justice, racism, and identity as they relate to incarceration across a diverse set of texts from sociology, performance studies, autobiography, and psychology. Authors include Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, Anna Deavere Smith, Michel Foucault, Suzan-Lori Parks, Samuel Beckett, Rena Fraden, Naomi Wallace, George Jackson, and others.
Like any other plays, those by William Shakespeare pose serious challenges for actors, directors, designers, and audiences, problems they must solve in performance. Because Shakespeare’s plays have such a long history in the theater, they offer a unique window into ever-evolving performance aesthetics. In staging Shakespeare, artists always attempt to capture what they perceive as Shakespeare’s universal achievements and to amplify his work’s resonance for a contemporary audience. This seminar examines a history of Shakespeare in the English-speaking theater to illuminate how Shakespeare helps to shape theater and how the theater helps to make Shakespeare. We will read a number of Shakespeare’s works, but will attend not to literary interpretations of the texts, but rather to (a) the problems those texts create in performance and (b) how artists have solved those challenges over the past four centuries. In other words, we will explore both prior approaches to staging Shakespeare and what in Shakespeare’s plays makes them particularly difficult—and exciting—to stage.
Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.
Juliet, Rosalind, Portia, Ophelia, Isabella, Cressida, Cleopatra, Cordelia, Imogen, Volumnia, Lady Macbeth—the women of Shakespeare’s plays have become iconic figures, cited, admired, critiqued, and invoked in every generation. But in the English public theater of Shakespeare’s time no women were permitted to appear onstage. All these famous roles were played by boy actors; Shakespeare wrote their words and their stories—parts so often celebrated for their truth to nature-- knowing they would be performed by young men. In the cross-dressing plays, in which the heroine disguised herself as a boy, the boy actor would then be playing a girl playing the part of a boy. When actresses began to perform in Shakespeare’s plays, at the end of the seventeenth century, they immediately began to make the roles their own, and productions of Shakespeare were dominated, over the years, by female stars. In the mid-twentieth century feminist critics and theorists drew renewed attention to women and gender in Shakespeare, producing a rich and diverse set of books and articles, many now regarded as classic. And in what might have been anticipated as a telling reversal, contemporary directors and performers have staged productions in which major male roles, like King Lear and Prospero, are played by women.
The seminar will read and discuss a number of Shakespeare’s plays, together with criticism, theory, and stage history, to see how women—characters, actors, critics, audiences—have shaped our understanding of Shakespeare, and how Shakespeare has influenced ideas about women, both over the years and in the present day.
Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union, both campaigned against toxic exposures in the mid-20th-century United States and yet are rarely considered in tandem. This course puts the writings and activism of these two women in conversation, ranging through feminist, queer, and Latinx environmental writing to build connections between environmentalism and labor rights. Our study focuses on the craft of environmental nonfiction writing, examining contemporary practitioners working in the vein of Carson and Huerta. Students will also compose environmental nonfiction, employing the literary techniques analyzed in this course to craft a narrative addressing exposure, toxins, or the state of public health.
Common Ground Courses
In this course we will read some of the most significant works of literature written in the British Isles before 1700, whose influence continues to be felt in present-day writers. We will trace the early evolution of different genres - romance, epic, drama, lyric - and the emergence of English from an underdog position to a fully realized literary language. We will read some of the classics alongside some of their lesser known interlocutors, while exploring how these texts respond to and shape issues of their time, including war, shifting political regimes, national, racial, and religious identities, and changing attitudes to gender and sexuality. Come for the grounding in the great works of early British literature, stay for the dragons, genderfluid knights, dark comedies about selling your soul, and surprisingly racy sonnets.
This seminar will examine the intersections of individual identity and national identity with a unifying course theme of immigrant displacement as a lived experience. Accordingly, we will examine American immigrant experiences through nonfiction from different periods and voices. The texts we’ll read and discuss will challenge what we think we know about ourselves, about others, and about the idea of where we belong. Through our readings, class discussions, and writing requirements, we will develop a more nuanced and critical understanding of the constructed nature of displacement and what it means to belong.
Creative Writing Workshops
For students who have a reading knowledge of Old English, this seminar will build upon that competence and offer new directions to pursue. How do we define a riddle? What’s the difference between it and other kinds of enigmatic discourse? The genre of riddles opens up questions concerning the relation between language and reality, human perception, and the construction of meaning.
The material of this course consists of the following exceptionally rich late medieval and early modern Trojan materials: Chaucer’s House of Fame; Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde; Lydgate’s Troy Book (Book 2); Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid; and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. We will be guided into these materials by the inter-related topics listed in the course title. Wherever possible and appropriate, we will absorb the publication conditions and media of these texts and/or performances.
What challenges and opportunities arise for artists and writers working under dire conditions—martial, political, medical, and natural states of emergency? To what extent are such exceptional conditions the rule (as Walter Benjamin proposed)? Co-taught by Stephen Greenblatt (English) and Joseph Leo Koerner (History of Art), this course considers art and literature in states of siege against the backdrop of juridical theories of such states. This class is is also offered as HAA 253k.
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.
Major poets and poems from T.S. Eliot and Marianne Moore almost to the present day: we may also read, among others, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Lorine Niedecker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bernadette Mayer, J F Herrera, James Merrill, C. D. Wright, and Terrance Hayes. Appropriate both for students who know some of these poets well, and for those relatively new to the study of poems.
Humanists of the 21st century are looking at a changed professional landscape. Major shifts in higher education, and in the college and university job market for humanists, predate the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic has brought these shifts into starker relief--even as it has revealed new opportunities for humanists in the fields of digital learning and educational media production, K-12 education, higher education administration, education policy, and more.
Teaching the Humanities with New Media: A Poetry in America Practicum will enable students to experience some of these newer career opportunities by “embedding” as Research and Pedagogy Associates in Poetry in America: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop, a for-credit course being offered to high-school students--most of them from Title I and Title I-eligible schools--across the US and around the world. This semester’s practicum will provide students an opportunity to gain exposure to, and to build skills in, the world of online education, broadly defined. Poetry of the City (POTC) is offered in partnership with the National Education Equity Lab and with Arizona State University. The course will be offered under auspices of ASU’s online high school, ASU Prep Digital.
Students enrolled in the practicum will have official titled roles within the ASU course that may provide them useful credentials for the future. Visit poetryinamerica.org to learn more about Poetry in America and its programs.
Instructor: Homi Bhabha
Day & Time: Thursdays 3-5pm
By focusing on literary narratives, cultural representations, and critical theories, this course explores ways in which issues related to migration create rich and complex interdisciplinary conversations. How do humanistic disciplines address these issues—human rights, cultural translation, global justice, security, citizenship, social discrimination, biopolitics—and what contributions do they make to the “home” disciplines of migration studies such as law, political science, and sociology? How do migration narratives compel us to revise our concepts of culture, polity, neighborliness, and community? We will explore diverse aspects of migration from existential, ethical, and philosophical perspectives while engaging with specific regional and political histories.
Public humanities are becoming increasingly central for careers both inside and outside of academia. This workshop, which is open to beginning and advanced graduate students, introduces participants to the tools they need to address audiences other than specialists in their own field. These tools range from writing op-eds based on dissertation research to writing general interest books, and also include book reviews, podcasts, social media strategies and more. While we will discuss some historical context, the emphasis is on practice and skills. Our work will be supplemented by visits from editors and literary agents. Because the course is a workshop, enrollment is limited to 12.
This second-year proseminar has a two-part focus: it introduces students to the craft of scholarly publishing by helping them revise a research paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal by the end of the course. It thus gives students the tools to begin publishing early in their career. It also introduces students to the growing array of alternative careers in the humanities by exposing them to the work of scholars who are leaders in fields such as editing, curating, and digital humanities.
Note: Open to English graduate students only. Prerequisite: For G2+ students