Recent Courses in American Literature

Recent Americanist Graduate Courses

Explore these course descriptions to get a sense of the readings and research undertaken in graduate Americanist courses in the English department.

(Re)Forming the United States: America in the 1850s

Everything seemed to be falling apart in the United States in the 1850s. In fact, many wondered if “united” was a word that could be in any way used to characterize a nation torn apart by regional, political, racial, economic and religious differences. The United States was a country built on a diversity which came from massive immigration, an indigenous Native American population, and the “peculiar” and vexed institution of slavery. Agreements on the definition of the nation and its trajectory were disintegrating in the 1850s, and just how varied the views were would find their most vivid expression in the bloodbath of the Civil War.

This course will offer the all-too-rare luxury of intensively studying a brief period of time using a diverse array of source material (art, music, scientific treatises, reform tracts, autobiography, religious doctrine, cartography, literature, fashion, etiquette manuals, architecture, landscape design, etc.) in an attempt to appreciate and begin to unravel the complexity and confluence of various cultural expressions that forced a nation apart and would ultimately mark how it was forced to come back together.

Students will be expected to participate in, and help lead, class discussions. Two shorter papers and one longer research paper will be required along with the reading in this course.

Suggestions are welcome, but authors and texts might include the following: Herman Melville, Horace Bushnell, Timothy Shay Arthur, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, P.T. Barnum, Fanny Fern, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frederick Douglass, Catharine Beecher, Anna Mowatt, Thomas Cole, Henry Longfellow, Godey’s Lady’s Book, Red Cloud, Ik Marvel. We may well also be looking at various painters, sculptors, entertainers, and newspapers.

The first class session will have a reading assignment, so if you sign up for this course, please contact the professor before the beginning of the semester to find out the exact nature of the assignment.

The Black Arts Movement and Contemporary African American Literature

The literature and visual culture of the Black Arts Movement (the artistic counterpart of the Black Power Movement) revolved around a bold rejection of a white gaze and the bold attempt to privilege a black gaze that was often described, during this movement, as “Black is Beautiful” and “natural black beauty.” Black Arts participants fetishized blackness in an incredibly subversive and incredibly reactionary manner. We will study the nexus of skin color fetishism, gendered nationalism, and subversive primitivism at the core of this movement.

Our questions about this nexus will lead to our immersion in the emergent field of “race and psychoanalysis.” Both the one drop rule (the American rule that “one drop” of “black blood” makes a person black) and the fetishism of skin color gradations (“shades” of blackness) deeply affect the African American gaze. The relation between the disavowal of difference (the one drop rule, the legal “fiction” with very real consequences) and the recognition of difference (the fetishism of skin color gradations) is a striking example of the definition, in Freudian psychoanalytic theory, of the fetish.

The fetish, in psychoanalysis, is the disavowal of difference that overcompensates for the recognition of difference. The co-existence of the one drop rule and the imagined difference between “shades” of blackness shapes African American skin color fetishism into the peculiar simultaneous recognition of difference and the disavowal of difference. As the field of “race and psychoanalysis” continues to emerge, we need to think about the relation between the psychoanalytic idea of “having” the phallus (the male body) versus “being” the phallus (the female body) and the tension, cemented by the American idea of the “one drop rule,” between “having” visual signs of whiteness and “being” black.

As we think critically about both the usefulness and limitations of “race and psychoanalysis,” we’ll interrogate particular layers in Black Skin, White Masks, Soul on Ice, Racial Castration, Desiring Whiteness, and Existentia Africana. We’ll then explore the impact of Black Arts Movement literature and visual culture on contemporary African American literature. Images of racial and sexual fetishism in post-Black Arts Movement literature will be compared to the Black Arts ethos.

Our work in contemporary African American literature will revolve around Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and John Edgar Wideman. Tar Baby (1981), Sent for You Yesterday (1981), Temple of My Familiar (1989), Philadelphia Fire (1990), and Paradise (1997) are quintessential post-Black Arts Movement novels in that “Black is Beautiful” is taken for granted to the extent that the novelists can critique belief in the embodiment of “blackness” even as they celebrate an elusive cultural and historical quality that is presented as specifically African-American, notwithstanding its hybrid forms.

Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and John Edgar Wideman begin their literary careers as the Black Arts Movement is emerging. The body politics of the Black Arts Movement is reflected and deflected in their early novels and the more recent ones. The attempt to separate race and culture and the attempt to separate cultural hybridity and racial hybridity are at the heart of the post-Black Arts Movement point of view that shapes Paradise, Sent for You Yesterday, Philadelphia Fire, and Temple of My Familiar. We will connect the relation between “race” and “culture” and the ongoing questioning of the differences between “sex” and “gender.”

The course will include a five-page essay that will be read by your peers and used as a springboard for class discussion, a prospectus of the final essay, and the final twenty-five page essay.

Primitivism in American Modernism and the Post-Modern Landscape

This course will be an exploration of modernist primitivism and responses to this primitivism in 1960s and more contemporary American literature. Our study of modernist primitivism will focus on issues of gender, race, and sexuality. The work of Stein, Toomer, Carl Van Vechten, Sherwood Anderson, Nella Larsen, and Faulkner will be our focal points as we explore primitivism and reactions to primitivism in modernist literature.

As we move to the post-modern landscape, we will focus on African American literature. The reiterations and rewritings of modernist primitivism in post-modern African American literature will shape the second half of the course. In this second tier, we may read John Edgar Wideman, Suzan-Lori Parks, Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Harryette Mullen. Our readings on modernist primitivism will include key chapters in Primitivist Modernism, Negrophilia, and Gone Primitive. Animated contradictions shape modernist primitivism.

The seduction and the risks of primitivism will be examined through a focus on the binaries that it both attacks and, often, reconstructs. We will historicize some of the racial elements of modernist primitivism by remembering the teleologies that shaped scientific racism. As we remember Freud’s reference to the “dark continent” of female sexuality, we’ll interrogate the gender and sexuality performances that shape modernist primitivism. As we move to post-modern African American literature, we’ll examine images of “Africa” in the African American imagination, the rewriting of modernist images of “blackness,” primitivism and homoerotism, the seduction by and critique of racialized primitivism, and the possibility of subversive primitivism.

In order to crystallize our larger questions about representations of “blackness” in modernist primitivism, we will analyze films that include Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson. Our study of a wide range of visual images of Josephine Baker will be particularly helpful as we explore the imagined resolutions of imagined contradictions in the primitivist script.

Weekly reading responses will be assigned. A ten-page essay, submitted at the midterm point, will be reshaped into the final twenty-page essay.

New Life, New Civilizations

Under the aegis of postmodernism we have abandoned the idea of progress and its supporting myth of the transcendent individual. So we claim. However, our theories of human nature and history might leave us vulnerable to its unquiet ghost. This is particularly true in the scientific disciplines that play at the border of the known and unknown, seeking to extend the reach of our knowledge. In this seminar we will follow the literary and cultural trace of evolutionary narratives emerging from the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

Through writing that presents speculation, argument and evidence (thought experiment and adventure) we will trace the tension between our desire to fulfill the human potential of the scientific enlightenment and our desire to escape its oppressions. At issue is the tension between our critique of modernity and its persistent re-articulation in new configurations of the human subject. We will examine the work of artists (in and outside of science fiction) who care about the impact of contemporary science on everyday life; we will consider the prose of scientists who desire cultural visibility for their work, their beliefs and themselves; and we will explore popular responses to the utopian ambitions of pure science.

Although we will range widely over literature from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this seminar will focus on American science, technology, and literature following World War II. Readings likely will include the work of Greg Bear, Don De Lillo, Raymond Kurzweil, H. G. Wells, Katherine Hayles, Hans Moravec, Carl Sagan, Jill Tarter, James Gunn, Seth Shostak, Donna Haraway, Mary W. Shelley, Frank Drake, Isaac Asimov, Richard Powers and Marge Piercy. Assignments will include class presentations and a major research essay.

Intimacy and Alienation in Modern American Drama, 1900-1950

This seminar on modern American drama in the first half of the twentieth century will be focused by an inquiry into the interrelated experiences of intimacy and alienation in the modern world. In the last several years, intimacy has emerged as an important heuristic and problematic within many interdisciplinary schools of critical thought: queer theory, feminist theory, performance studies, and affect theory—to name a few that will concern us in this seminar.

We will put pressure on this turn to intimacy—asking about its possibilities as well as its limitations; historicizing and tracing alternative genealogies of the concept in modern thought—through a reading of modern American dramatic texts and performance practices in the first half of the twentieth century. In doing so, we will temper the often celebratory and utopic potential of public intimacy and intimate relations (a celebration and utopic impulse I believe in) with the ways in which intimacy allows for many varieties of alienation, violence, hostility, and surveillance.

This movement between intimacy and alienation constitutes an affective polarity that spans a range of feelings and connotations from identification, empathy, attachment, subject-hood, desire, exchange, participation, contact, closeness, and inwardness to estrangement, reification, object-hood, difference, distance, shock, isolation, and disavowal. How do we, as modern subjects, emerge from the negotiation of these affective registers, on the one hand, and how do we respond to and rework the conditions of modernity that produce these relations, on the other?

We will approach the plays in this class by considering the ways in which modern social identities and relations have been represented, elaborated, challenged, and (mis)recognized on the American stage. The questions that will guide our approach to this material include: How has modern drama responded to the rapid and sometimes violent changes that define modern life? What is intimacy and how is it staged? How are social relations imagined and reimagined on the American stage? How does modern American drama draw from and define itself against modern European drama? What is the relationship between intimacy and nation? What are the spatial and temporal coordinates of intimacy and alienation? How does the theatre itself structure feelings of intimacy and alienation? How did playwrights and theatre directors use developments in theatrical innovation and experimentation to address and redress the conditions of social relations under modernity? How have artists and playwrights, audiences and actors, sought to act as subjects rather than objects of these changes? To what extent is hostility/intimacy constitutive of the spectatorial relationship to performance itself?

The syllabus is still very provisional and I welcome your suggestions and opinions. Readings will probably include work by Eugene O’Neill (particularly his less canonical work), Susan Glaspell, Langston Hughes, Marita Bonner, Elmer Rice, Sophie Treadwell, Georgia Douglass Johnson, Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder, Lillian Hellman, Angela Weld Grimke, Zora Neale Hurston, and Djuna Barnes.

Among the many locations within which we will situate these plays are American theatrical institutions and collectives, including the Little Theatre Movement (especially the Provincetown Playhouse, the Theatre Guild, and the Group) and the Federal Theatre Project. We will supplement this work with Western theories of performance, modernity, social organization, and subject formation—reading them specifically for their contributions to understandings of intimacy and alienation—possibly including William James, Du Bois, Hegel, Marx, Wagner, Stanislavski, Simmel, Adorno and Horkheimer, Benjamin, Raymond Williams, Freud, and Sartre.

Coursework will include short writing assignments and response papers culminating in a final research project (20-25 pages). At the end of the semester, students will present their work in a class conference.

Race and Sovereignty in the Anglophone Atlantic World, 1688-1891

We’ll begin from the hypothesis that sovereignty, legitimacy, and relations between individual bodies and bodies politic underwent crucial transformations specific to the New World scene. To some extent, this had to do with the New World’s status as an “extra-legal” zone when viewed from the vantage of relations between sovereigns in Europe; the relative dominance of economic requirements over and against state security, which shows up in new ideas about individual property rights, theories of natural law and the law of nations, and treaty protocols; and, not least important, the development of racial identities as a prism through which to understand, and legitimize, asymmetrical sovereignties.

It’s a pretty huge topic, which is good and bad: good, because it will hopefully leave plenty of room for individuals to “colonize” his or her own area of research and interest. (Call the seminar a settler society, if you like); bad, because I have to try to plan an itinerary through it. My thinking right now is that we’ll divide our time between 1) political theory, both past (Hobbes, Grotius, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Vattel, Ferguson, e.g.) and present, emphasizing particularly the resurgence of interest in theories of sovereignty and empire (Schmitt, Agamben, Žižek, Derrida, Hardt and Negri, Rancière, Deleuze and Guattari, Balibar, Keene, e.g.); and 2) literary works and traditions that bring to visibility, in figuratively dense ways, the contradictions of this race and sovereignty in the Atlantic world: I anticipate reading works by Behn, Addison, writers of the eighteenth century black Atlantic (Gronniosaw, Cugoano, Equiano), Jefferson, Godwin, Brockden Brown.

I would like to spend some time in the 1820s looking at the topos of the “last man”—Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, James Fenimore Cooper, John Neal—as well as the uptick of interest in “King Philip” in America, visible in sketches, plays, and histories. Finally, I would like to conclude by looking at the ways in which Melville transforms this tradition in his focus on sovereign authority on shipboard, with special attention to “Benito Cereno” and Billy Budd. Clearly, we will not read all of these authors or works, but only a selection.

I am happy to speak with prospective students this fall, to answer questions or receive suggestions. I want the class both to have a real center of gravity in our shared reading and thinking, but also allow for individuals to do individual research and report back. Tricky, yes; demanding, no doubt; but not impossible.

Class responsibility will consist of the aforesaid reading and research, participation (occasionally formalized as presentations on secondary materials), and a seminar paper of 25 pages or so. I would very much like students to read Edward Keene’s Beyond the Anarchical Society in advance of our first meeting.

American Fiction

The 1950s have been read by many cultural historians and critics as a decade steeped in conservativism and a growing corporatism. The Red Scare and the growth of the military-industrial complex, the emergence of the “affluent society,” as well as the rise of the Civil Rights Movement are credited as being the most significant events of the period. This seminar will be geared towards viewing these events as imbricated in important ways, but will also look at them as inadequate for understanding the decade and its importance in prefiguring the countercultural movement-era 1960s.

In particular, we will question the effects of the growing public role of women, an encroaching suburbia, Mexican American immigration, Black Civil Rights Movement had on the “national” culture. Rather than assuming that there is a clear opposition between conservative and “liberal” forces during the period, we will see that these “poles” actually react in very similar ways to perceived threats to American individualism. The seminar will seek to complicate our notion of the ‘50s as the age of conformity.

Although the seminar is intended to look at the issues of race, gender, and class in the making of a 1950s ethos, I am most interested in looking at the interplay of these elements as they shape, as I see them, the central issues of the postwar period: the relation of the individual to the mass, the role of the citizen within the civic sphere, the making of a hegemonic American identity that signified racialized, gendered, and class positions. Too often the ideology of left vs. right obscured (and continues to obscure) the politics that transcended these poles. Thus we will work to reconstruct what the “Scares” of the 50s signified for that generation in the popular realm, and what the reaction to the Scares suggested in a much broader context than the “communist” threat. How did the fear of de-individuation bridge the Right and the Left against “communalism”? What was its gender, racial, and class components? Most importantly, in regards to the formation of a widespread 1960s counterculture that followed, how did the social dissent recreate the corporatist, decisionist models it seemed to critique?

Ultimately, I wish to juxtapose a number of cultural, political, and literary elements under the rubric of “movement discourse” as a way of viewing disparate issues which read simultaneously reveal an astoundingly complex recreation of the ideas of “individual” and “community” in postwar America.

Interracial Literature and American Culture

This course will focus on the ways in which “multiracial” or “interracial” identity has functioned in American literature from the early years of the republic to the present, but mainly with reference to the post-Civil War period. The focus will be on texts concerning “black-white” interracial couples and the offspring of same, with attention to the role of gender and sexuality in racial ideology. We will consider the uses of representations of interracial couples and their offspring to both sustain and challenge the social-political uses of race in the U.S.

Central to the course will be questions not only of how the color line functions in American literature, but of how it functions in literary criticism and theory as well. How the issues relate to recent debates in critical race theory and other discussions of “identity” will be taken up. We will consider both classic literary texts and those less well known, as well as non-literary sources from law (e.g., Plessy v. Ferguson) and popular culture.

Primary texts will include works by Lydia Maria Child, Harriet Wilson, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Frances Harper, Jean Toomer, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes, William Faulkner, possibly Rita Dove, and others. Secondary reading will include some history as “context” and more theoretical texts by bell hooks, Werner Sollors, Patricia Williams, Michael Omi & Howard Winant, Lucius Outlaw, possibly Frantz Fanon, Laura Mulvey, and others. Student interests may help determine some readings for the course, so I welcome student inquiries and expressions of particular interests.

Requirements will probably include one oral report, a short paper/prospectus of 3-4 pages with preliminary bibliography, and a substantial research paper of 15-20 pages. At the end of the course, near-to-final drafts of papers will be exchanged and discussed in class.

The Harlem Renaissance

This seminar will explore the phenomenon of the Negro Renaissance, more popularly known as the Harlem Renaissance, a movement that helped establish the varied institutional, ideological, and aesthetic trajectories of most African American creative writing of the twentieth century.

From past experience, I assume that some students will not have a strong grounding in the history of African American literature, so the skeleton of the course will have a literary-historical emphasis. However, since much of the basic literary history remains a focus of debate and source of energy in the field, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Within the literary-historical framework there will be many opportunities for other conversations, methods, and projects—about the historicity of race, theories of race and culture, the meaning of “modernism,” the relationship between nationalism and racial identity in the U. S., the commodification of black culture, the relationship between post-colonialism and domestic struggle against racial domination, the queering of racial identity, and whatever else you find compelling.

Primary texts will include work by W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Eric Walrond, George Schuyler, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Wallace Thurman.

Requirements: one 15-20 page paper, a weekly page-length informal reflection on the work under discussion (to aid discussion), and one oral report, which should provide a background for discussion by outlining the nature of recent scholarly conversation around a given author or text.

African American Literature and Culture in Transnational Perspective

This course is organized around what might be termed the “diasporic turn” in African American studies, the movement away from considering cultural productions in a strictly nationalist framework and the increasing focus on social, political and artistic movements that continue to defy the boundaries of the nation-state.

From the violent dislocations of the transatlantic slave trade to the cosmopolitan wanderings of 20th century artists and intellectuals, both forced and voluntary transnational migrations have been central to the formulation and reproduction of a multiplicity of African American social, political and cultural identities. Through literary, theoretical and visual texts, we will investigate the relationship between diaspora and culture, as well as interrogate the way the concept of diaspora has come to inform the field of African American studies and contemporary cultural criticism.

Readings from Erna Brodber, Aimé Césaire, Michelle Cliff, Frantz Fanon, Paul Gilroy, Edouard Glissant, Wilson Harris, Zora Neale Hurston, C.L.R. James, Claude McKay, Richard Wright and others.

American Literature and Culture 1900-1945

This course will focus on different notions and practices of “modernism” in the United States, with special attention to the role of race in the development of what might be called “American modernism.” The complexity of interracial exchange and/or exploitation in the development of modernism in the United States has become the central—not to mention the most hotly contested—issue in many recent studies of the period, so we will be reading some of these studies along with the primary texts.

Of course, the concern with racial issues necessarily involves formations of gender, sexuality, and nationality as well as class. Since jazz was an extremely important aspect of and inspiration to literary modernism, we will also pay some attention to the music and its contexts of performance. Time and student interest permitting, we may also make a foray into the visual arts, including film. Rather than basing the course on a particular theoretical orientation, my hope is to put several different orientations into play, mainly historicist of one sort or another. The course will be primarily discussion-oriented. Requirements will include probably two 8-10 page critical essays and one or two exams.

Primary texts will include works by Hughes, Larsen, Faulkner, Stein, Pound, Hemingway, Williams, Toomer, Hurston, Van Vechten, Du Bois, O’Neill, Taggard, Wright. Secondary texts will probably include Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic; Michael North, The Dialect of Modernism; essays and chapters of books by Susan Gubar, Carla Kaplan, Houston Baker, Ross Posnock, Linda Williams, Toni Morrison, and others. Student suggestions are welcome.

Asian American Literature and Culture

This course will provide an overview of the central works of literature, criticism and related interdisciplinary texts that constitute the field “Asian American.” We will pay close attention to the social, historical, political and economic conditions under which Asian American literature has been produced—for instance, as ethnic-specific productions, as part of a pan-Asian American category, within national and/or global contexts—and as such come to be gathered under this rubric.

We will read these texts within situational benchmarks such as the Chinese Exclusion Era, early 20 th century labor recruitment, the Japanese American internment, the Korean War, the 1965 immigrant reforms, the Vietnam War, the Asian American literature publishing boom of the 1980s and 90s, the 1992 L.A. uprisings, the liberalization of international trade and labor policies, and September 11, 2001, among others. The literary readings will consist of fiction, autobiography, essays, drama, poetry, testimony, film and other forms, read in conjunction with relevant texts from history, sociology, ethnography, political-economic theory, and political activism.

The literary and theoretical readings will draw from Asian American Studies as well as intersecting fields such as post-colonialism, cultural studies, globalization and diaspora studies, and other ethnic studies fields. By placing these various texts and traditions in interrelation, this course aims to press on the concept of “Asian American” as a discipline formed in contestation as well as one that contests other disciplines. Literature and film may include but are not limited to Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings, America is in the Heart, Nisei Daughter, Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple, Who Killed Vincent Chin, Walls, Daughter of Danang, Dictee, Native Speaker, The Interpreter of Maladies, and American Woman.

Criticism and related interdisciplinary texts (excerpted or in entirety) may include Asian Americans: The Movement and the Moment, Asian American Dreams, Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance, Immigrant Acts, Race and Resistance, The Melancholy of Race, The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, Global/Local, Asian/America: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier and Imagine Otherwise.

Recommended preliminary reading: Asian Americans: An Interpretive History, Racial Formation in the United States, and Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writing and the Writings and their Social Context.

Requirements: two 10 page research papers and one research presentation. The presentation will ask that you research and select a critical work to be read in conjunction with a literary text. You will provide advance copies of the critical work to the class and the subsequent session will be structured around your presentation of this material.

Conceptualizing Culture After Auschwitz

Although, as many scholars have demonstrated, the Holocaust is a singular catastrophe in western culture, its significance has shaped our understanding of other horrific calamities: the genocidal destruction of Armenians, Gypsies, Native Americans, African-Americans, Bosnians, and Biafrans. In poetry, fiction, drama, and film, post-1945 artists have consistently addressed issues of racial hatred and of epidemic illnesses as well as potentially destructive cures in terms of the Shoah.

The syllabus of this course will focus on several of these approaches, although students will be encouraged to frame their independent projects on the aesthetic consequences of any trauma, be it personal or public in nature.

We will begin by considering contemporary theory by such thinkers as Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Blanchot, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Cathy Caruth, Shoshana Felman, and Dori Laub in the context of first- and second-generation verse responses to the Holocaust by poets from Paul Celan, Dan Pagis, Anthony Hecht, and Gerald Stern to Jorie Graham, Marilyn Hacker, and Jacqueline Osherow. Then we will turn to contemporary novelists of the Holocaust probably through The Prince of West End Avenue by Alan Isler and Baumgartner’s Bombay by Anita Desai.

The third section of the class will look at theoretical and creative responses to the Atlantic Slave Trade and the Shoah through the analytical writings of Seymour Dresher and Paul Gilroy and through the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks and Rita Dove, as well as the films of Spike Lee, whose Bamboozled revises Mel Brooks’ The Producers.

Next, to consider sexuality after Auschwitz as well as the AIDS epidemic, we will read Martin Sherman’s play Bent, Aryeh Lev Stollman’s novel The Far Euphrates, and view the recent CNN version of Toni Kushner’s Angels in America. If there is time, we will also look through the lens of Nazi iconography at the erotics of sadomasochism from Sylvia Plath to Mapplethorpe.

The last section of the syllabus will consider scientific as well as artistic approaches to human genomics in terms of the transnational eugenics and racial hygiene movements that supported Nazism in Germany, segregation in America. To what extent do sterilization, euthanasia, and extermination policies during the war frame present approaches to the bioengineering involved in Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis, the creation of transgenic organisms, and cloning? Along with readings on eugenics and genetics, we will study contemporary visual artists bringing these issues into their paintings, photography, and computerized museum installations.

Students who wish to focus their independent research on a writer dealing with a personal trauma or on the cultural repercussions of another public catastrophe will be able to do so in the two papers that are required in this seminar; however, the two brief response statements written to spark discussion will have to grapple with the readings on the syllabus.

Utopian Practices: Reformers and Utopians in Twentieth-Century American Literature and Culture

The influence of the trope of the United States as an experiment, a new world offering an escape from the repressive relations of the old, is evident in a history littered with the remains of utopian fictions, perfectionist schemes and communitarian adventures. This seminar will focus on how the utopian impulse has manifested itself in American literature and culture, with our historical investigations informing our attention to developments in the last half of the twentieth-century.

A central theme will be how contemporary writers, paraphrasing Kim Stanley Robinson, recapture a utopian tradition often dismissed as dead or irrelevant, and use it to intervene in contemporary political discourses around race, gender, capitalism, and the environment. The course will cover topics such as the foundation of contemporary utopianism in the work of Bellamy and Wells, the effect of utopian literature on politics and aesthetics, and the persistent resurgence of political hope generated by new sciences and expressed in the creation of technological utopias, and the connections between literary utopias and developments in architecture and environmental science.

A substantial secondary literature of historical and critical work will provide context and perspective for our reading, research and discussion during the seminar. Writers such as Callenbach, Delany, Piercy, and Le Guin will provide the fuel for our work.

American Drama Since World War II

American drama since World War II seems to have made a virtue of adversity, ceding mass entertainment to the smaller than life screens of tv sitcoms and soaps, and leaving facile moralizing to the larger-than-life screens of Hollywood motion pictures. Using live actors physically present before a live audience, American drama has taken up the dangerous, subversive and experimental topics that movie and television studios, with their corporate and mass-market agendas, usually will not touch.

The American drama of the last several decades, therefore, has been an unusually important, often bold vanguard force in the presentation of moral and ethical issues in our land of plenty, the agendas of the civil rights movement and afterwards the reclamation of African-American history, the contemporary confrontation with death and dying, the sober rather than sentimental contemplation of what the Holocaust meant to modern society, the concerns of the feminist revolution, gay and lesbian issues including those surrounding the AIDS epidemic, and the issues of Latino and Asian-American communities.

The decades after the war likewise saw the emergence of important playwrights like Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Lorraine Hansberry, David Mamet, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Sam Shepard, Sherman, Wendy Wasserstein, Tony Kushner, August Wilson, David Henry Hwang, Luis Valdez, and Susan-Lori Parks, to name but a few. L672 will not cover all those topics or all those playwrights but will attempt to provide a panorama of American drama, its writers and its issues during the last 55 years.

We shall focus on the plays of Miller and Williams, African-American playwriting, American drama’s role in the presentation of gender and sexual orientation issues, and recent plays written by Latino and Asian-American playwrights.

In order to obtain an overview of major plays, playwrights and issues, we shall often read two plays a week. The term paper (8-10 pages), and the essay format of the midterm and final examinations will offer students the opportunity to look reflectively and comparatively at works we have read and at others they may wish to consider. We shall supplement the readings on the syllabus by attending pertinent local and regional performances and with videotaped performances.

Melville and Criticism

As the title suggests, the class has a double agenda. On the one hand, we will read extensively in the work of Herman Melville, including early Polynesian and seafaring fictions, selected letters, Moby Dick, the great series of tales, some of the late poetry, as well as a few of his most peculiar productions: Pierre, The Confidence-Man, maybe even Mardi. Such an overview of Melville’s odd trajectory will help us address the mystery of what motivated him to write such stuff.

The other half of our attention will be taken up with a question about ourselves: what motivates, could motivate, should motivate, our own critical writing? Melville is a great figure to stage this question around, since many superb and original critics have written on him, critics both academic and non-academic (and we’ll try our best to think beyond that particular division as well). We’ll range around quite a lot, but will certainly look at many of the following: D.H. Lawrence, Charles Olson, C. L. R. James (whose book on Melville was largely written when he was incarcerated at Ellis Island), H. Bruce Franklin, F. O. Matthiessen, Charles Feidelson, Michael Rogin, Wai-Chee Dimock, Donald Pease.

We’ll pay attention to Melville’s critique of civilization, and those who comment on it. We’ll also spend some time looking at the queer Melville, and the criticism of Harold Beaver, Robert K. Martin, James Creech, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. And I would also like to take another look at a “formalist” or “deconstructionist” Melville, and the work of Barbara Johnson, Peggy Kamuf, Ann Smock, and several remarkable essays by Gilles Deleuze.

Students will be presenting at each meeting their findings, summaries, reactions to some selected critical work, and will be asked to prepare the seminar for their discussion, with an advance e-message. A final article-length essay will be the central requirement, the topic and approach of which is entirely open.

I have not set the reading list in stone, nor have I thought what might be useful to have read by the first meeting, and would be glad to meet with any prospective students over the next few weeks.

Readings in American Literature 1609-1800

This course will introduce students to a wide range of writings accompanying European expansion into the North American continent, from early exploration and colonization to the period of early national consolidation, about 1800. Our approach will be topical, rather than merely chronological.

Topics to be considered: texts of exploration, colonization, and intercultural contact; captivity narrative; relations between theocratic and democratic concepts of covenant and contract; religious affect from Salem witch trials through the Great Awakening and the Revolution; autobiographical and novelistic forms; changing concepts and realities of slavery and emancipation.

Although many readings will be found in an anthology and separate volumes, students should be forewarned that there will be a large amount of material (especially including contemporary criticism, for which reproduction costs are prohibitive) which will be on reserve and/or in xerox form for self-service copying.

The primary focus of student work will be on reading, but students will be expected to present to the entire class, at least once in the semester, a written summary or assessment of one of our critical readings. Students will also write two 10- to 12- page essays on texts/topics of their choosing.

The American Print Marketplace: From Pamphlets to Ph.D. Dissertations

This course is designed to engage Americanists and anyone else who is interested in the intersections between literary studies, literacy and cultural history. The class is designed with three goals in mind: first, to acquaint students with the history and place of publishing in the United States; second, to expose students to a range of scholarship which engages issues of the nation’s print culture; third, to make students more thoughtful about the place of printed material in their own teaching and research.

To accomplish this final goal, the class will have a terribly practical bent. For example, we will spend the last portion of the course looking at dissertations which have been turned into books. In the course of these examinations, we will discuss a host of issues surrounding the dissertation process from choosing a host of issues surrounding the dissertation process from choosing a topic to attracting the interest of publishers.

There will be a five-page and a fifteen-page paper due in the course of the class, along with short papers attached to class presentations. Final selection of course texts has not yet been made, but readings might include: Robert Darnton, “What is a History of Books?”, David Cressy, “Books as Totems,” Philip Gaskell, New Introduction to Bibliography, Ronald Zboray, A Fictive People, Janice Radway, Reading the Romance, Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, Alexander Lawson, Anatomy of a Typeface, Michael Warner, The Letters of the Republic, Kenneth Cmiel, Democratic Eloquence, Eric Cummins, The Rise and Fall of California’s Radical Prison Movement, Susannah Rowson, Charlotte Temple, and Art Spiegelman, Maus. Students with reading ideas are more than welcome to mention them to the instructor in advance.

American Literature and Culture, 1900-1945: “American” Modernisms

This course will focus on different notions and practices of “modernism” in the United States, with special attention to the role of race in the development of what might be called “American modernism.” The complexity of interracial exchange and/or exploitation in the development of modernism in the United States has become the central—not to mention the most hotly contested—issue in many recent studies of the period, so we will be reading some of these studies along with the primary texts.

Of course, the concern with racial issues necessarily involves formations of gender, sexuality, and nationality as well as class. Since jazz was an extremely important aspect of and inspiration to literary modernism, we will also pay some attention to the music and its contexts of performance. Time and student interest permitting, we may also make a foray into the visual arts, including film. Rather than basing the course on a particular theoretical orientation, my hope is to put several different orientations into play, mainly historicist of one sort or another. The course will be primarily discussion-oriented. Requirements will include probably two 8-10 page critical essays and one or two exams.

Primary texts will include works by Hughes, Larsen, Faulkner, Stein, Pound, Hemingway, Williams, Toomer, Hurston, Van Vechten, Du Bois, O’Neill, Taggard, Wright. Secondary texts will probably include Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic; Houston Baker, Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance; Chip Rhodes, Structures of the Jazz Age; Michael North, The Dialect of Modernism; essays and chapters of books by Susan Gubar, Carla Kaplan, Houston Baker, Ross Posnock, Gerald Early, Morrison, and others. Student suggestions are welcome.

Readings in American Literature, 1800-1900

This course will make its way through a great amount of reading in essential texts representing literary production in America in the 19th century. It will be organized not by strict chronology or by anthology emphasis but by a limited number of crucial (if over-simplified) themes and tropes either explicitly asserted in or implicitly arising out of the confluence o social, political, moral, and economic issues. I am inclined at the moment toward “innocence and experience,” “voyages outward and inward,” and “male=voice/female=silence,” and I imagine these possibilities and others as useful points of correspondence rather than absolute values.

Organizing the course around them makes possible an examination of texts in ideological and symbolic conversation with each other, and encourages a sense of the complex dynamic of a rapidly developing and often very self-conscious and self-referential culture. It also diminishes the influence of canonical hierarchies of our study. I have my own predispositions toward the specific choices for reading—Cooper’s The Pioneers, Child’s Hobomok, Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, James’s The Portrait of a Lady, Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson, and Stephen Crane’s Maggie (1893 edition) would be my primary choices for novels, for instance, but the full list is not yet established. I would welcome suggestions from participants in the course.

The purpose of this structure is to see the lively interrelationships of writers and their ideas in an equally lively American environment. The purpose of the course overall is not mastery but acquaintance—with authors, texts, and cultural issues as well as scholarly resources and skills. In addition to primary works, we will read selections of representative recent criticism. Each participant will lead a classroom discussion of a primary work in conjunction with several critical essays relevant to it, and will provide polished synopses of those essays as background.

Each student will also undertake the preparation of a catalog entry on a Lilly Library artifact appropriate to the course; this project requires historical and bibliographical research, and culminates in a finished group catalog and a public display of the artifacts at the Lilly. And each will write two short essays (10-12 pages) exploring at some depth the relationship of a selected work and a selected issue. No examinations. I don’t require an entrance interview, but I will be happy to discuss the course and the reading with anyone who is interested.