Fall 2021 Course Offerings

ENGL 500: Modern Critical Theory

Professor: Susan Koshy
Meets: Wednesday, 3-5:30pm, in person

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 century (Kant, Hegel, and Marx). We then consider the evolution of new forms and sites of critique in the twentieth and twenty-first century, 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, and Indigenous studies. 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). In addition, we will meet on Wednesdays, 3:00-5:30 pm, in a closed session limited to students enrolled in Engl 500. This pedagogical format will enable us to both participate in and reflect on the interdisciplinary frames of theoretical inquiry central to this course.


LA 587: Special Topics Environmental Materialism

Professor: D. Fairchild Ruggles
Meets: Monday/Wednesday, 11- 12:20pm

The seminar will engage with the following questions about the humans, plants, animals, and material things that make the environment. What are the distinctions and motivations that determine how we categorize living and non-living objects? Does the human body belong to the material world, and if so in what capacity? Is the human body an autonomous entity or is it a community? Are trees autonomous entities or members of communities? We recognize that humans have shaped the environment, but to what extent do nonhuman objects shape human society? If rivers and trees have material presence and impact, do they have agency? Do they or should they have rights? Exploring the new materialism, posthumanism, actor-network theory, and deep ecology, the seminar begins with the model of nature vs. culture and proceeds to ask how the human body and the environment—the world from which we are apart and of which we are a part—are simultaneously material and social. Finally, it asks what is at stake in such a perspective.   credits.  Class meets Mondays and Wednesdays, 11:00-12:20. Readings must be completed before the Monday class each week.   


ENGL 586: Topics in Digital Studies

Professor: Ted Underwood
Meets: Monday, 3-5:20pm

It may not be news, in 2021, that the risks and opportunities of computing have become a central topic for cultural theory. Correcting naïve models of culture associated with Silicon Valley is now a prominent public function of the humanities; meanwhile, other humanists try to understand culture using computational models. Sparks are certainly flying, but where is this conversation headed? This course will propose that the role of computing in cultural theory is a bigger question, with more accumulated momentum, than we can grasp purely through recent debates about the internet and digital humanities. Our twenty-first century conflicts are just the latest twist in a story running back to the 1950s, when structuralist anthropologists and Annales-school historians developed a love-hate relationship with the new field of information theory—at once resisting and imitating the ambitious generality of its mathematical models. To understand how those divided impulses guided the subsequent development of cultural theory, we will read Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Fernand Braudel, Michel Foucault, N. Katherine Hayles, Donna Haraway, Andrew Abbott, Bernard Geoghegan, Anita Chan, Andrew Piper, and Safiya U. Noble. We will also read several recent papers in computer science, because developments in the field of deep learning suggest that this story has more twists coming.


CWL 581/MDIA 590: Women's Cinema

Professor: Lilya Kaganovsky and Julie Turnock
Meets: Thursday, 2-4:50

This graduate course examines women’s cinema from the silent to the contemporary era, across international perspectives. We define women and women cinema broadly and inclusively, examining works made by women filmmakers and for women spectators. This course will ask the following questions: Does women’s cinema display any stylistic or narrative consistencies? What, if anything, unites the work of women directors? Can men direct women’s cinema? What is women’s cinema relation to feminism? Does attention to women’s cinema need to focus on the director? How does an investigation of women’s cinema change our conception of film history? How does feminist film criticism help us to interpret films made by women? What are the ways historical, cultural, and industrial factors shape the work of women’s cinema? 


ANTH 515: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Evidence 

Professor: Virginia R. Dominguez
Meets: Thursday, 5 - 8pm, Online


ENGL 559: Thinking Blackness in the Long Contemporary

Professor: Candice Jenkins
Meets: Wednesdays, 12-2:20pm 

This course is an experiment in Black thought. Through readings of (primarily) 21st century literary and cultural criticism, as well as a sampling of recent fiction and film, we will consider how African American creatives and scholars have theorized Black existence. Our inquiry, while centered in the now, will attend in part to temporal and political shifts in the “contemporary moment” from the disorderly post-Civil Rights past to the “post-racial” fantasies of the Obama era to today’s restive and insurgent Black Lives Matter present. The critical path to and through Blackness that we follow, led by the works under study, will be intersectional, dynamic, and polymorphous; it will push us into encounters with the queer, the melancholy, the satirical, and the surreal. Reading widely, yet deliberating with care and in depth, we will hold space for Blackness as struggle and refusal, as pleasure and joy, as collective grief, as power, and, most crucially, as possibility.  Primary texts may include work from, among others: Danzy Senna, Claudia Rankine, Kiese Laymon, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Paul Beatty, Robert Jones, Jr., Barry Jenkins, and Jesmyn Ward; critical readings may include work from, among others: Hortense Spillers, Darieck Scott, Elizabeth Alexander, Kevin Quashie, C. Riley Snorton, Fred Moten, Frank Wilderson, Margo Crawford, Therí Pickens, Saidiya Hartman, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Robert Reid-Pharr, Jayna Brown, Christina Sharpe, and Erica Edwards. Attendance and participation; two mini-essays and a presentation; final seminar paper.


GER 575: Sites of Grief: The Politics of Mourning and Forgiveness

Professor: Anna Hunt
Meets: Thursday, 3-5:50pm

Americans are stubbornly unmoved by death,” so ran a Washington Post opinion piece on March 23, 2021. Between the pandemic, mass shootings, and the systemic racism highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, the US has ample cause for mass mourning. Accordingly, on April 12, 2021, the NYT published the opinion that “The Grief Crisis is Coming.” But what if it doesn’t? The nation seems to be trapped in melancholic stasis. What if this unmourning persists? What if – instead of a coming grief crisis – the crisis is the unmourning that grips us already? Since the turn of the millennium, mourning and melancholia’s potential political power has attracted increasing scholarly attention. To probe critical theory’s interest in the political potential of mourning and melancholia, this class will turn from Freud and Benjamin to Eng and Kazanjian and to Butler and Moten. Central to these conversations will be the problem of reconciling a community torn asunder by unmourning – or paving the way for the community to come. Antigone will be an important figure in our discussions on state-imposed unmourning. We will read Sophocles, Hölderlin, Brecht, and Fugard’s adaptations and watch Antigone in Ferguson.


CWL 571: Global Conrad and the Discontents of Autobiography

Professor: George Gasyna

Meets: Tuesdays, 3-5

The main objective of this course is to examine the ways in which the fictions in Joseph Conrad’s autobiographical texts work to complicate the reading experience, offering glimpses into the dynamics of the autobiographic genre as a constant struggle between strategies of self-concealment and self-revelation. Conrad, who famously wrote that the job of an author is to “make you see… the truth” was a spectacular confabulator of his own life story, frequently interpolating glamorous or tragic elements into his biography. While some of these adjustments were relatively minor (gunrunning), others were fundamental (a faked suicide attempt); yet none in any way diminish his importance as a public intellectual who sought to make readers “see the truth,” his two decades sailing under the British Ensign, the dynamics of his assimilation in adoptive England, or his complex and sometimes tumultuous relationship with the reading public. Once we have examined critical writings that elaborate a theory of autobiography, our second engagement will be with the logics and forces of late 19 th and early 20 th century global empire. As a Polish-born, country-less émigré whose homeland had been ripped apart by imperial powers, and who then spent two decades serving British globe-wide imperial interests as a merchant mariner and eventually shipmaster, perhaps Conrad needed to tell a few tall tales to himself to get through the day (one imperfect solution: dubbing himself homo duplex early on in his writing career). As we scrutinize various letters, prefaces and postscripts, and other documents/marginalia from the vast Conradian archive, in addition to several short tales and a novel, we will search to establish a concrete portrait of the man (in all his multivalence) and his times (in all their turbulence).


SOC 564: Global Religion and Politics

Professor Asef Bayat                                                         

Meets: Mondays, 3:00pm – 6:20pm / In-Person

It is by now a cliché to state that ‘9/11 changed the world’. This event certainly altered global politics, both international relations as well as the political dynamics within many individual countries in the global South and North. But the rise of recent wave of religious ‘fundamentalism’ goes back at least to the 1970s, a decade marked by a seeming crisis of modernity in the West as well as the post-colonial states in the global South as they tried to manage the changes that modernity had instigated. This seminar aims to explore the modalities behind the rise of religion as a key player in the public sphere in different traditions in the contemporary world. The course goes beyond focusing on certain ‘mind-sets’, ‘traditionalism’ or ‘non-modern cultures’ as causes for religious revival. We consider revivalism and the politicization of region as part of the workings of our modern societies. Was the secularization thesis a scientific myth? If it really happened, is it over historically? What role does globalization play in instigating religious revival? How do we account for the relationship between neoliberal political economy and religious resurgence? The course addresses such questions with respect to the major religious traditions, paying particular attention to such themes as “fundamentalism”, Islamist politics, liberation theology, global Pentecostalism, and ideas of a post-secular society and a post-Islamist turn.


PHIL 511: Seminar in Ethical Theory: Freedom, Violence, and Oppression

Professor: Helga Varden

Meets: Tuesdays, 3:30-6:20 (in-person), FLB G46

One of the philosophically most exciting, so-called “ideal” theories of justice as freedom is found in Immanuel Kant’s “Doctrine of Right,” and this course starts by exploring this theory.  It is equally uncontroversial to say that Kant himself failed and the Kantian philosophical tradition has yet to deliver an equally rich “non-ideal theory,” meaning a theory that explains how to apply the principles of justice as freedom to our ever so earthly human condition and historical societies. For example, a plausible theory of justice as freedom must give us philosophical tools with which to understand our temptations to do bad things to one another. Such a theory must also be able to capture the related, historical patterns of violence and oppression against certain social groups—behavior that is often condoned or even carried out by public institutions. In the second part of this course, we therefore bring Kant’s theory of rightful freedom into dialogue with some of the most complex accounts of violence and oppression available, namely those found in the writings of Karl Marx (on economic relations), W.E.B. Du Bois (on racial relations), Hannah Arendt (on modern totalitarian forces), Simone de Beauvoir (on gender relations), and Eva Kittay (on care relations).