Fall 2020 Course Offerings

ENG 500: Modern Critical Theory

Professor: Susan Koshy
Meets: Wednesday 3-5:50pm, English Building 119 

This course will survey some of the major theoretical developments and debates that have shaped the study of literature and culture from the eighteenth century to the present. We begin by examining the emergence of key modern concepts of critique in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Kant and Marx). We then consider the evolution of new forms and sites of critique in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in response to the problems of capitalism, fascism, colonialism, racism, and globalization. Our readings in contemporary theory will include some of the foundational texts in critical race theory, feminist and queer theory, postcolonial theory, indigenous studies, and ecocriticism. Throughout, we will pay attention to how theoretical approaches overlap and diverge and consider their influence in shaping the goals and methods of humanistic inquiry. Finally, we will think about how to effectively engage theory in our own research and writing. By the end, you will be equipped to critically assess the premises, categories, and discourses that underpin contemporary scholarship in the humanities and interpretive social sciences. Through an introduction to critical theories and methodologies central to a variety of fields, the course aims to provide the basis for interdisciplinary conversation and intellectual community across the university.

This course combines the seminar format with lectures and workshops run through the Modern Critical Theory Lecture Series. We will meet twice a week: once a week, in a joint session with graduate students from theory seminars in other departments, along with a larger audience of faculty and students with interests in theory, for public talks connected to the Modern Critical Theory Lecture Series (Tuesdays, 5:15-6:45 pm, via Zoom). In addition, we will meet on Wednesdays, 3:00-4:50 pm, in a closed session limited to students enrolled in Engl 500 (Engl Bldg 119). This format will enable us to participate in and reflect on the interdisciplinary frames of theoretical inquiry central to this course.

CWL 501: Theory of Literature

Professor: Lilya Kaganovsky
Meets: Wednesday, 3-4:50pm, 3024 Foreign Languages Building

Also meets with the Unit's Modern Critical Theory Public Lecture Series on Tuesdays.

GER 570/CWL 570: Modern Critical Theory

Professor: Laurie Johnson
Meets: Tuesday, 3-4:50pm, 1046, Foreign Languages Building

Comprehensive introduction to the foundational thinkers, texts, and schools that orient contemporary work in the humanities, from German Idealism to Cultural Studies, Queer Theory, and Postcolonial Theory, among others. The course is intended primarily for beginning graduate students, but also for those who feel they have not covered the development of critical theory in a systematic way. The course will include significant discussion of figures including: Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Adorno, Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, Said, Spivak. Among the topics we will address are: history, the subject, aesthetics, value, power, language, ideology, materiality, gender, sexuality, race, and technology/media studies.

This course combines the seminar format with lectures and workshops run through the Modern Critical Theory Lecture Series. We will meet twice a week: once a week, in a joint session with graduate students from theory seminars in other departments, along with a larger audience of faculty and students with interests in theory, for public talks connected to the Modern Critical Theory Lecture Series (Tuesdays, 5:15-6:45 pm, via Zoom). In addition, we will meet on Tuesdays, 3:00-4:50 pm, in a closed session limited to students enrolled in Ger 570/CWL 570 (Engl Bldg 119). This format will enable us to participate in and reflect on the interdisciplinary frames of theoretical inquiry central to this course.

SPAN 572: Theory and Literary Criticism: "Philosophical Conversations with Hispanism Between Colonialism and Postcolonialism"

Professor: Vincent Cervantes
Meets: Monday, 3-5:50pm, Room 133, 1207 W. Oregon 

Meets with LLS 596

On one level, this seminar functions as a presentational overview of major critical theories and schools of thought for the analysis of literary and cultural texts since the mid-20th century. Yet, on another level, the goal of this seminar is to bring these theoretical texts into conversation with Spanish, Latin American, Luso-Brazilian, and U.S. Latinx critical theories. That is, this seminar seeks to bring together seemingly disparate or contradictory texts in ways that challenge, redefine, and reconceptualize what is “theory.” While each week is structured around a theoretical text by canonical thinkers—or what this seminar will describe as “high theory”—over the course of the semester, we will examine how these theories can be problematized and extended by the critics who engage their works. We will be asked to read these theories against the grain, in search of new possibilities that might emerge or make themselves knowable through our critical inquiries. This seminar centralizes hemispheric Latin American thinkers, their writing and philosophies, necessarily including the Caribbean and U.S. Latinx contexts. By the end of the semester, we will examine texts that seemingly do not present themselves as theory, because they cannot be wholly classified as “high theory”—or perhaps, as we might see, they resist those taxonomies. From these areas of alternative approaches to theory, we might be able to rethink what is a text, what is theory, and how knowledge production is structured and designed by the canon in which these writers and thinkers reject. As such, we will sit with the themes of colonialism and postcolonialism, critical race studies, border theory, queerness, and the body as its own source of writing philosophy. While texts are assigned in English and the instructor will facilitate close readings of the philosophical contexts in English, students are welcome to contribute to seminar discussions and debates in their respective English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

ARTH 593: Theory and Methods

Professor: Erin Reitz
Meets: Wednesday, 1-2:50pm, 404 Flagg Hall 

Investigation of the theory and practice of art history as a discipline. Discussions address historiographical and methodological issues and include both traditional and recent approaches to the discipline. Also meets with the Unit's Modern Critical Theory Public Lecture Series on Tuesdays. 

MACS/CWL/WNG 503: Historiography of Cinema and Media: Researching Moving Images

Professor: Julie Turnock
Meets: Tuesday 1-4:40pm, 336 Gregory Hall 

While the title of this course is “Historiography of Cinema,” it is designed to incorporate issues of moving image culture more broadly.  Cinema studies provides the longest and most thorough discourse on moving image culture, and therefore this course introduces methodology and theory beneficial to students working on topics in television, video art, advertising, and digital media-making, and more.  The aim of this class is to introduce and train students in research methods and approaches in moving image studies, and discuss how the long tradition of cinematic scholarly discourse can impact research in other areas of media and various periods of technological emergence. Course session includes a weekly screening.


SOC 596/GWS 590: Gender, Race, and Sexuality

Professor: Ghassan Moussawi
Meets: Thursday, 3:30 - 6:20pm, 156 English Building 

This graduate seminar explores contemporary sociological and interdisciplinary debates in studies of gender, race, and sexuality, with a particular focus on power. Even though we will go over multiple theories, we will pay particular attention to black feminist thought, intersectionality, transnational feminisms, critical race theory, and queer of color critique. 

We will consider various questions, including: What is the role of social and sociological theory in understanding gender, race, and sexuality? What diverse methodological approaches/considerations are employed in studies of gender, race, and sexualities? What are the various genealogies of these fields of study? We will read and discuss both theoretical and empirical studies on topics including: political economy of gender and sexuality, migration and transnational mobilities, affect, racial capitalism, racisms, urban inequalities and gentrification, nation and nationalism, masculinities and femininities, and social movements and organizing. We will also think about knowledge production processes, and consider the importance of theories of/from the global south. This course is open to students from all discipline

AAS 501: Theory and Methods in Asian American Studies

Professor: Junaid Rana
Meets: Tuesday or Wednesday TBD, 2-4:50pm AAS Conference Room

Foundational gateway course for graduate study in Asian American Studies, examining the political, historical, epistemological, and cultural bases of the field through an intensive reading of canonical works and study of core concepts in the field. Also highlights the problems of interdisciplinary research and scholarship and adopts an intersectional and coalitional approach to Asian American Studies as it assumes the necessary linkages between other areas in ethic/racial and gender/sexuality studies.


PS 579: Biopolitics 

Professor: Samantha Frost
Meets: Thursday, 1-3:20pm, TBD

This course will examine how life has been mobilized, targeted, and transformed by political regimes, governmental agencies, and social, cultural, and economic forces. Thinking through questions of race, gender, sexuality, and nation, we will engage texts by Foucault, Agamben, and Esposito, as well as the work of a range of other thinkers of empire, biotechnology, and subject formation. Our work will also include coming to terms with arguments about negative and affirmative forms of biopolitics.  

ANTH 515: Ethnographies of the More-Than-Human World

Professor: Jane Desmond
Meets: Tuesday, 1-4pm, 136 Davenport Hall 

We all live in more-than-human worlds, but how, as scholars, can we approach the researching and analytical analysis of those worlds in light of the post-humanist turn in the humanities and social sciences? For anthropology, with its deep commitment to engaging with communities, how do we do fieldwork in multi-species communities? How do we write multi-species ethnographies? How, as John Hartigan asks, do we interview a plant?! How does “vibrant matter” matter to us? Taking these provocations as a starting place, we will probe the boundaries of conducting research and writing in the Anthropocene, drawing on works by Jane Bennett, Michelle Bastian, Agustin Fuentes, Radhika Govindrajan, Tim Ingold, Eduardo Kohn, Anna Tsing, Eben Kirksey, Stefan Helmreich., and others. Lab exercises and mini-field trips will complement seminar readings and discussion. Open to graduate students across the disciplines

SPAN 528: Scenes of Refusal and the Politics of Literature 

Professor: Luisa-Elena Delgado 
Meets: Wednesday, 3-6pm, 1118 Foreign Languages Building

According to Jacques Rancière art, like politics, is not by nature consensual, but rather “dissensual.” This is because of art's capacity to create not only identifications that are different from those which are given to us, but also identifications that at one point are believed to be unviable. This seminar will take that premise as point of departure to examine how certain literary works articulate and disrupt notions of place, belonging and departure, at the level of the individual and the collective. We will study texts that explore what can be called “the scene of disagreement”: what happens when subjects refuse to know their place; or when they stray from themselves, and their imagination enables a recalcitrance that, “when pursued systematically, enters the subject into insurrection” (Tanke). Those insurrections affect bodies, minds and communities, and are therefore, inevitably, political.

Theoretical texts will include: The Politics of Literature (Jacques Rancière), The Dialogic Imagination (Bakhtin), Enigmas of Identity (P. Brooks), Antinomies of Realism (Jameson), States of Fantasy (Jaqueline Rose), Dissensual Subjects (A. Rajca).

List of primary texts will be adapted to the class’ composition and student’s interests (including contemporary works from other literary traditions). No fluency in Spanish required.

ENGL 553/AFRO 597: Speculative Pessimisms

Professor: Candice M. Jenkins 
Meets: Monday, 2-4:50pm, 135 English Building

This course will engage with the literary and cultural movement called Afrofuturism, as well as black speculative fiction more broadly, alongside theories of Afro-Pessimism. Our project will be to consider how these two movements might have both a similarly pessimistic and a similarly imaginative provenance. The Afro-Pessimist position insists that the violent exclusion of black non-being creates the conditions for the existence of the Human, and indeed that civil society’s structuring around anti-blackness, and the position of the black subject vis-a-vis that society, is one of irreconcilable antagonism. How might we understand this analysis as a speculative one—in Jared Sexton’s words, how might we unpack “the rhetorical dimensions of the discourse of Afro-Pessimism [. . .] and the productive theoretical effects of the fiction it creates”? Conversely, how might we consider the increasingly wide reach of the speculative, writ broadly, in 21st century black literature and culture, concomitantly with the evident pessimism about the world, as it exists, that would elicit such imaginative projects? Throughout this semester, we will unpack not only what possibilities thinking Afro-Pessimism and Afrofuturism/the black speculative together might open up for the analysis of 21st century African American literature and culture, but also what we might learn from this juxtaposition about both the potential and the pitfalls of each mode of theorizing contemporary black life. Primary texts and other media will include work by, among others, Jesmyn Ward, Ryan Coogler, N.K. Jemisin, Victor LaValle, Colson Whitehead, and Jordan Peele; secondary readings will include work by scholars including Frank Wilderson, Christina Sharpe, Saidiya Hartman, Calvin Warren, Fred Moten, Terrion Williamson, Hortense Spillers, Kara Keeling, and Jared Sexton. Attendance/participation, short papers, presentation, final seminar paper.


ENGL 581: The Nature and Value of the Literary 

Professor: Vicki Mahaffey
Meets: Thursday, 1-3:50pm, 307 English Building

This course is structured around two main questions: 1) what is literature (and what is the value of literary study), and 2) what is happening to literary criticism in the information age? We will begin with the assumption that literature is true, although not factually true. How then can we best describe its truth: is it true to experience, or the meaning of experience? Is it true to value? What is the relation between literature and scripture? We will begin by reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1947 What is Literature? Mark Turner’s The Literary Mind: Origins of Thought and Language (written from a neuroscientific perspective) will be next on our list. Other texts we will examine include Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination, Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a BookThe Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, and Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading between the Lines. We will conclude this section of the course by asking what other cultural demarcations might actually be approached as if they were stories: race and gender. If assumptions about race and gender are socially constructed, widely accepted stories, what (and whose) purposes did they serve? And if they are stories rather than facts, the dominant narratives about race and gender are capable of being revised as social experience changes or needs to change.

The second half of the course asks whether the academic study of literature is being reconfigured by the ready accessibility of information on the internet. Has the audience for those seeking to understand or appreciate literature broadened, and can this help to explain the increasing value being placed on the “public” humanities? The main audience for literary criticism used to be other professors and students; has this changed? And if the audience is indeed changing, what implications might this have for the way literary criticism is conceived? We will look at some different methods of conveying the complexity and value of literature, including more popular ones. Texts include Tim Federle, Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist, Steven J. Venturino, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, and Michael Groden, The Necessary Fiction: Life with James Joyce’s Ulysses, with a nod to older books in the same vein such as Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot and Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change your Life. We will also look at YouTube segments that “market” literature, such as Sam Slote ‘s Ted talk, “Why should you Read James Joyce’s Ulysses?”

AIS 503: Decolonial Love and Indigenous Literature

Professor: Deena Marie Rymhs
Meets: Wednesday, 12-2:00pm, 316N Mumford Hall

In an interview with Jamaias DaCosta, Leanne Simpson attributed the title of her collection Islands of Decolonial Love to Junot Diaz, whose writing, Simpson summarized, explores the struggle to “find love and intimacy” amidst the “damage of colonialism, rape culture, and gendered violence.” “I started to see Anishinaabe women— whether it’s their love of land, culture, Elders, or partners—as little islands of hope, little islands of love,” followed Simpson. “Maybe we don’t always get it right, but we get glimpses of love.”

The focus of this seminar will be twofold. A central consideration will be figurations of decolonial love in Indigenous writing, an archive that will include the work of Leanne Simpson, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Gwen Benaway, annie ross, Tanaya Winder, Richard Van Camp, and Tanya Tagaq. Within this body of writing, decolonial love may describe intimate bonds between people; it may involve, for instance, the embracing of two-spirit or indigiqueer identity, or the claiming of kinship connections that defy the privatization of intimacy and forms of social reproduction characterizing modern life. In the archive assembled for this seminar, decolonial love not only describes love between people but also love of place, lands, and other-than-human worlds. These expansions to Diaz’s original iteration of decolonial love will serve as a centerpiece of the course.

A second consideration for this seminar will be the affective world of criticism and the self-reflexive engagement of the scholar-critic within the relations and re-imaginings figured under the sign of decolonial love. What kind of reparative relationships is academic dialogue capable of building? Drawing on the critical contributions of Margaret Kovach, Eve Tuck, Kim Tall-Bear, Sara Ahmed, Christina Sharpe, Lauren Berlant, Kathleen Stewart, Donna Haraway and Deirdre Lynch (as well as others), this seminar will foreground the affective dimensions of artistic and academic labor while also considering what is at stake in moving from shame to love for the author and critic alike.