English Courses - Fall 2022

Literature - Undergraduate

two people looking at a book

Ann Emmons   3 credits    Attributes: Lit & Artistic Studies (L), Writing Course-Intermediate

 LIT 110 is an introduction to the discipline of literary studies. We will consider the core (and complex) questions: what is literature? Who determines "great" literature? What is the relationship between author and reader? What is the relationship between an author and her moment in time? Why is "Introduction to Literature" a general-education requirement?  We will attempt answers within the framework of the University's pledge to train "tomorrow-proof" citizens, able to “think critically," "explore creatively," and "live ethically."

By the end of the semester you will be a more perceptive reader of literature in the genres of poetry, the personal essay, and the novel; will have a clearer understanding of the tools that writers use to convey meaning; and will have been introduced to a range of interpretive approaches that literary scholars typically employ.

However, I am aware that most of you are not and do not intend to become English majors. Much of our discussion will therefore focus on the translation of literary “close-reading” techniques and interpretive strategies to all efforts at careful reading and interpretation (and, more generally, to all efforts toward critical thinking, creative exploration, and ethical living).  

3 couples in dramatic poses

Sam McPhee   3 credits   Attributes: Lit & Artistic Studies (L), Writing Course-Intermediate

Scenes from Childhood

“We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.” —Louise Gluck. 

Is childhood (as we understand it today) the invention of an enlightened society, or have we (in every culture, every year) always recognized a fundamental distinction between childhood and adulthood? In his fascinating book, Centuries of Childhood, historian Philippe Ariés argues that our understanding of childhood is, indeed, a modern development, that children in the Middle Ages were, for example, thought of by their parents as “little adults.” In this course, we’ll read short selections from Ariès’s work alongside selections from Nicholas Orme’s Medieval Children, the book that has been said to refute Arie’s thesis. But mostly we’ll read novelists and poets, essays and memoirs; we’ll look at a great variety of depictions of childhood in literature, ancient, medieval, and modern, and across cultures. And we’ll discuss Louise Glück’s strange and lovely thesis, that we all of us look at the world just once, in childhood—what does she mean by that? We’ll talk about the relationship between imagination and memory, language and memory, writing and memory. You can expect to read short selections from a diverse cast of writers;  and to read novels or memoirs by William Maxwell, Junot Diaz, Kazuo Ishiguro, Marilynne Robinson, and UM’s own Judy Blunt. In addition to reading, you’ll write two formal essays and the first of these you’ll revise for a final portfolio. 

Sam McPhee   3 credits     Attributes: Lit & Artistic Studies (L), Writing Course-Intermediate

This class will be an exploration of the world’s oldest form of literature. The place to start, I think—the only real place to start—is to look for poems to love. To genuinely love, the way we might love a particular song or film or novel, or place. To what extent can a poem teach us to love more fully a place that we love? We’ll read a great variety of poems and poets in this class—poets ancient and modern, and from many cultures. You can expect to write two formal essays and the first of these you’ll revise for a final portfolio.

Quan Ha  3 credits  Attributes: Lit & Artistic Studies (L), Writing Course-Intermediate, satisfies areas A, C

This course introduces you to American literature between the Civil War and WWI in relation to the literary movements known as American realism and naturalism. You will read and discuss several canonical texts that best represent the literary ideology, socio-historical context, and political climate of America between 1865 and 1914. You will study the major differences between realism and naturalism, as well as the controversies over the complexities of these literary movements. 

Textbooks: 

  • Robert S. Levine, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1865-1914. 9th edition. 
  • William Dean Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham 
  • Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie 
  • E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

Waterloo station poster

Eric Reimer (online course)  3 credits   Attributes: Lit & Artistic Studies (L), Writing Course-Intermediate

An introduction to British literature, this fully online/asynchronous course will survey a broad range of poets, novelists, dramatists, and essayists; as it does so, you will become acquainted with the major literary-historical periods (Romantic, Victorian, Modern, Contemporary). In addition to practicing close reading on individual texts, we will discuss the social and political contexts of the authors and their works, as well as attend to matters of genre, form, and literary tradition. There is no thematic organization for the course, but we will throughout the semester by considering the changing notions of self, language, and nation, especially as they are pressured by Nature, religion, science, and historical trauma. You will post (in most cases) twice-weekly reading responses to the Moodle forums, write short critical essays, work closely with poetic form, and sharpen your research skills. Everything will begin with (and depend upon), though, your committed and energetic reading of the assigned texts. The majority of the required texts will be available via the course Moodle site, although we will also read two novels: Samuel Selvon's The Lonely Londoners and Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse.

Quan Ha   3 credits    Attributes: Writing Course-Advanced, satisfies areas A, D

The birth of postcolonial theory has given rise to the study of race and ethnicity in literature. Since the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, the American literary canon has been redefined and expanded to include underrepresented voices from US multiethnic literature. The readings selected for this course will help you gain a better understanding of these major critical issues: US imperialism and diaspora/migration, ethnic identity, race, gender and sexuality, hybridity, borderlands, and transnationalism. Through comparative analysis that emphasizes the roles historically played by people of color in the development of American culture, you will learn about the social, political, and economic interrelationships between cultures and worldviews. In this course, we will read selected texts written by Asian American, African American, Native American, and Latinx authors. 

Textbooks:

  • James Welch, Fools Crow (Native American novel)
  • Ocean Vuong, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (Asian American novel)
  • Tayari Jones, An American Marriage (African American novel)
  • Octavio Solis, Retablos (Mexican American fiction)

globe theater

Rob Browning   T/R 12:30-1:50   3 credits    Attributes: Lit & Artistic Studies (L), Writing Course-Advanced

As we read a selection of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, tragedies, and romances, we will attend to both what is strange and what’s familiar as we strive to make sense of these works within the cultural context of the playwright’s own time four centuries ago as well as in our own. The aim of this course is to provide students with a working knowledge of what makes Shakespeare’s dramatic texts interesting, meaningful, challenging, and, to generations of playgoers and readers, perennially inspiring.

Tentative list of plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Henry V; Hamlet; Twelfth Night; Othello; The Tempest.

Rob Browning  T/R 3:30-4:50    3 credits   Attributes: Honors course,  satisfies area B with supplementary course work

This class focuses on the fiction of created worlds and the overarching question of how such imaginative constructions can enrich our engagement with the world in which we live. We’ll begin by surveying the early modern history of created worlds following Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius (“The Starry Messenger”) (1610), in which Galileo promotes the idea that the Moon is a world not radically unlike Earth, thereby initiating a flurry of lunar fiction. After considering some significant pre-20th-century examples of the genre—including Milton’s Paradise Lost, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and Abbott’s Flatland—we’ll be in position to study three ground-breaking works of modern world-building: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home, and N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. This course serves as a foundation for the world-building creative writing workshop Professor Erin Saldin will offer the following semester (spring 2023).

cover of "weeds" by edith summers kelley

Ann Emmons     3 credits   Attributes:  satisfies areas A, D

The course title implies women’s distinct voices in twentieth-century America’s distinct society or, implies that gender can be identified in and is significant to nation story and to literary content and form. Consideration of this complicated (often fraught) implication forms the theoretical framework of the course. We will begin with Miriam Toew’s Women Talking -  our theoretical abstractions made manifest - before turning to 20th-century American Women Writers Edith Wharton (Summer), Willa Cather (Death Comes For the Archbishop), Edith Summers Kelley (Weeds), Toni Morrison (Beloved), and Marilynne Robinson (Housekeeping). In each of these texts, women’s work, women’s distinct national experience, and women’s relationship to domestic space and place are of central concern. In most of these texts, our writers and their characters are in indirect conversation with American Men Writers and their iconic nation-building characters; Rip, Ishmael, Huck Finn, and Natty Bumppo all haunt the syllabus. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, a capacious reimagining of gender and identity, concludes the course. You will write and revise a short reflection paper on each text. Please note that this is a discussion course and participation - and timely completion of the reading - will be a significant component of your grade.

Two trees cut to look like human heads

Louise Economides   3 credits

During the 1990s, "ecocriticism" emerged as a new field of theory with the general goal of analyzing literary representations of nature, animals and humanity's relationship to the more-than-human world.  Scholarship within British and American Romanticism was particularly important to first-wave ecocriticism.  Since then, a variety of new approaches have emerged to challenge the ideological investments of first-wave critique.  In this survey of the current field of green literary studies, we will cover first, second and third-wave ecocriticism, including deep ecology, ecofeminism, social ecology, queer, postmodern and Anthropocene ecologies.  Along the way, we will consider links between ecocriticism and earlier theory (such as feminism, marxism and deconstructionism), as well as debates between different schools of eco-critique.  We'll also explore whether ecocriticism is a coherent theoretical school, and will use ecocritical frameworks to interpret literary texts. 

A holistic issue we’ll investigate throughout the course is the role that the arts can play in heightening our awareness of the ecological challenges we face today and in promoting environmental advocacy.  Some of the questions we’ll address include the root causes of our environmental crisis, whether anthropocentric and/or humanist subjectivity is adequate (or increasingly problematic) in the face of contemporary ecological problems, the viability (and risks) of new concepts of subjectivity issuing from post-humanist theory, the extent to which identity politics (including concepts of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and species) mediate our understanding of environmental debates, and the issue of technology’s impact on how we think about “nature” today.

Literature - Graduate Courses

pile of books.

Robert Baker    R 3:00 – 5:50   3 credits

It’s not possible in a fifteen-week survey to do justice to the range of poetic practices and ideologies at work in the United States over the last seventy-five years. We will nevertheless try. This long period includes formalist poetries, confessional poetries, neo-romantic poetries, “scenic mode” poetries, New York School poetries, politically engaged poetries, prose poetries, collagist poetries, and many other curious and searching things. We will concentrate on particular books by seventeen or eighteen well-known poets—always bearing in mind the manifold identities and concerns of any single poet, pausing to look at a school here and a movement there, tracing affinities and crossings—but to give some shape to our journey, the course will be divided into four parts: one, the poetry debates of the 50s and 60s; two, the question of history and identity in poetry, from the new social movements of the early postwar decades through the identity politics (or politics of difference) of our time; three, the question of history and nature in poetry, from the revived romantic bearings of the counterculture years through the search for an eco-poetry in our context of planetary ecological crisis; and four, a coda, a week or two to recollect where we have been and to reflect on the fortunate waywardness of lyric invention. 

Katie Kane       3 credits

This course engages with one of the last great schools of literary theory to emerge out of the theory-rich end of the twentieth century: Cultural Studies. Radically inter-disciplinary, Cultural Studies combines literary studies, media theory, political economy, cultural anthropology, philosophy, museum studies and art history/criticism, among other things.  Insisting, as one of its founders, Raymond Williams, does, that “culture is ordinary” Cultural Studies considers the objects of high and low culture in order to understand them on their own terms but also to comprehend their relatedness to issues of ideology and identity.

Objects of inquiry will involve textual, street, and digital narratives and filmic texts, subcultures and subcultural practices (such as drag practice and trans subcultures as theorized by Halberstam) the politics of space; the emergence of “The New Jim Crow/Mass Incarceration” the politics and practice of building resistance/uprisings, and early twenty-first-century consumer culture.  Practical highlights involve the following: a visit from the National Lawyers Guild who will provide a workshop on what to do if you are arrested; and a visit from a local make-up artist (Megan Toenyes) during the week we discuss radical femme politics. 

 More about Cultural Studies:   https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/stuart-hall-and-the-rise-of-cultural-studies

Required Texts (partial list):

  • Agamben, Georgio.  Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.
  • Alexander, Michelle.  The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
  • Benjamin, Walter, selections from both Illuminations and The Arcades Project
  • Bennet, Jane.  Vibrant Matter: Toward a Political Ecology of Things.
  • *Butler, Judith.  Precarious Life.
  • *Engler and Engler.  This is an Uprising: How Non-Violent Revolt is Reshaping the 21rst Century.
  • Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure.
  • Long Soldier, Layli.  Whereas.
  • Ngai, Sianne, Our Aesthetic Categories.
  • Simpson, Audra, Mohawk Interruptus.
  • Tommy Orange, There, There. 

mining landscape

Louise Economides       3 credits

How has literature responded to what Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz refer to as the “shock of the Anthropocene”?  If we have entered an historically unprecedented phase in human history wherein our species’ collective impact on planet Earth is analogous to what Michel Serres (and others) have described as a “geological” force (both in its scope and duration), how does this impact our inherited ideas regarding humanism, technology, sustainability and the future of the arts?  What representational challenges does “dreaming” the Anthropocene pose for literature, and why are apocalyptic (rather than adaptive) visions of our ecological future so common?  This course will examine contemporary literary responses to material and political dislocations associated with the Anthropocene, including global climate change, loss of biodiversity, exponential human population growth, the “great acceleration” of technology (including bio- and geoengineering) and the hegemony of capitalist petromodernity.

We’ll be looking at definitions of the “Anthropocene” by theorists such as Bonneuil and Fressoz, Purdy, Chakrabarty, Haraway, Moore, Morton, Clark,Tsing, Kolbert and others.  We’ll also examine debates about when to locate the Anthropocene’s historical origins and objections to Anthropocene theory from critics who charge that it is universalist, technocratic and/or arrogantly reinforces (rather than challenges) anthropocentric subjectivity.  A final overarching goal of the course will be to explore how literary responses to the Anthropocene overlap with but also differ significantly from earlier attempts to respond to our “postmodern” ecological condition.