Diaspora is an ancient term that has gained new currency in our contemporary moment. Why has diaspora become ubiquitous across the disciplines, emerging as a central category of analysis for scholars in both the humanities and the social sciences? How does diaspora theory intersect with the study of transnationalism, globalization, and postcolonialism? What is the relationship between “classic” diasporas such as the Jewish and Armenian diasporas and other traumatic histories of dislocation that are increasingly being interpreted through the lens of diaspora theory? What do we stand to gain from the broader application of the term? What risks does the proliferation of the term entail?
This course traces the emergence of diaspora theory from the early 1990s through to the present. Beginning with seminal articulations by James Clifford, Paul Gilroy and others, the course then surveys a series of new directions in diaspora thought. Taking Jewish and Black historical experiences of displacement as our starting points, we will consider a variety of approaches (comparative diasporas, postcolonial diasporas, queer diasporas) as well as modalities (time and memory, space and place, indigeneity and diaspora). Drawn from a range of disciplines, our readings will illustrate how and why diaspora has become a significant focus within area studies, postcolonial studies, cultural studies and ethnic studies. Alongside the theoretical readings, we will also consider memoirs, poetry, film, and visual art that perform their own theoretical work. Examining tensions between positivistic and cultural approaches as well as between high theory and creative genres, our particular focus will be on the expressive forms and aesthetic modes that have been inspired by the lived experience of diaspora.
In the course’s final weeks, students will have the opportunity to explore the implications of diaspora theory for the particular genres, media, and ethnic histories that drive their own research interests.
Topic: Professing “English”: Disciplinary Debates, Practices, Horizons
What does it mean, these days, to study “English”? What are the stakes involved in teaching it? And what, in fact, are we to study and teach, exactly? How—in practical terms—might graduate students most effectively navigate their own research and teaching at a time when disciplinary boundaries seem more porous than ever, and when the assumptions about what constitutes sound scholarship or even effective pedagogy are by no means self-evident or mutually agreed upon by members of the profession? This course provides MA students with a primer on the tumultuous history of English Studies and a roadmap to the current state of the discipline in several key areas: disciplinary boundaries and interdisciplinarity; methodological debates; and pedagogy. In addition to considering theoretical questions raised by these issues, the course will assist students with a range of practical concerns including: developing graduate research strategies, learning bibliographic tools (print and electronic), grading essays, leading seminars, crafting grant proposals, and understanding employment and academic opportunities available to graduates, both inside and outside the profession. Required Text: David H. Richter’s Falling Into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature, 2nd Edition.
Although it may seem surprising today, in the later Middle Ages writings about religion and religious difference were some of the most innovative and revolutionary literary texts produced. These texts unflinchingly examine debates about race, group identity, political corruption, gender relations and constructs, war, censorship, cross-cultural connections and conflicts, and the force of institutional structures. This course introduces students to a range of texts from late medieval England and explores the ways in which writings about various religions and religious issues engage some of the hot-button topics of their, and our, day. Specifically, we will study the depictions of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in these texts as we seek to understand the ways in which religious identity and cross-cultural interactions were envisioned by medieval authors as they worked to imagine new social structures and new world orders while offering some thought- (and action-) provoking reflections on the status quo. We will also study the ways in which constructs of masculinity and femininity, and of race and religion, are held up for examination and used for social reflection and reform in these texts.
- Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, ed. Jill Mann. Penguin Classics. Toronto: Penguin Books, 2005. (Paperback) ISBN: 0-140-42234-X or 9-780140-422344
- Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Lynn Staley. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University—TEAMS, 1996. (Paperback) ISBN: 1-879288-72-9
- The King of Tars, ed. John H. Chandler. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University––TEAMS, 2015. (Paperback). ISBN 9-781580-442046
- William Langland, Piers Plowman, ed. Elizabeth Robertson and Stephen H.A. Shepherd. Trans. E. Talbot Donaldson. Norton Critical Editions. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. (Paperback). ISBN 978-0-393-97559-8
- Richard Coer de Lyon, ed. Peter Larkin. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University––TEAMS, 2015. (Paperback). ISBN 978-1-58044-201-5
- Siege of Jerusalem, ed. Michael Livingston. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University––TEAMS, 2004. (Paperback). ISBN 1-58044-090-8
ENGL 5303F/ ENGL 4301A: Studies in Early Modern Literature I
Prof. Grant Williams
Topic: Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Between Recollection and the Imagination
This course is devoted to the study of one of the most famous texts in all of English literature—a sonnet sequence that in many ways needs no introduction. What sets this course apart from other Shakespeare courses is that it has been designed with two particular objectives in mind—the first being methodological and the second being conceptual and thematic.
First, it will introduce students to research materials and research activities integral for studying Shakespeare’s poetry but also transferable to other fields in English literature and the humanities disciplines. Because Shakespeare’s corpus has been edited, annotated, commented upon, and contextualized for centuries, the vast amount of scholarly tools, reference works, and critical materials devoted to it and its period allows students the opportunity to foster and sharpen their research skills at the graduate level. Thanks to our cyber age, many exciting digital resources will also help us to explore the Sonnets, enabling discussions to drill down into their historical, political, and ethical assumptions and back-stories. Thus the course will demystify graduate-level research methods and strive to assist students in developing and enhancing their own skills of critical inquiry and investigation.
The course’s second objective will be to study the ways in which Shakespeare’s sonnets contribute to and are informed by the cultural, philosophical, and psychological construction of the image during the early modern period. Mental images were sites of interior struggle, guilt, and sin that could involve all the cognitive faculties, particularly the memory and its subordinate, the imagination. This course will accordingly tease out the implications that the Shakespearean image of the lover and the beloved has for interiority and the related issues of identity, desire, fantasizing, and recollection. As such the course’s thematic objective will introduce students to the vibrant and growing field of Renaissance memory studies as well as to questions relevant to cognitive philosophy and cultural studies.
Everyone loves a good story, and the Elizabethans certainly had their own—engaging tales in multiple modes fully worth our knowing. Many a playwright pillaged them for the theatres, and their contemporary popularity is evinced by the lamentable conditions of the few surviving early editions. More precisely, the reading list proposes a sampling of the earliest English fiction in prose, originating in both native and humanist forms of story-telling. Among the sub-genres are Euphuistic morality tales, travel satire, pastoral romance, the Italian novella, contemporary working class relations, and charactery. The artifice and stylistic self-consciousness brought to this genre of writing raise questions concerning Renaissance tastes and the uses of fiction. There were class differences in the readerships as well, and contemporary circumstances that accounted for the diversity of voices. There is a book production tilt, as well, given the concern with publishers, markets and readerships. But there will be room for other critical concerns, such as the social uses of fiction, sources, emerging styles, and the conventions of genres. All of these issues and more will form the bases of discussions and seminar presentations. It is a course of discovery because this literature has been little attended to before the advent of the Carleton-based Publications of the Barnabe Riche Society, founded in the 1980s. By making many of these texts available again after 400 years in fully edited and modernized editions, this early mode of imaginative writing can now be studied, in effect, for the first time. Authors include Robert Greene, Thomas Deloney, Barnabe Riche, John Dickenson, Thomas Nashe, Sir Thomas Overbury, and Thomas Lodge.
In this course we will read Victorian and contemporary examples of urban documentary produced by “embedded” journalist/researchers who were motivated by a mix of curiosity and ethical responsibility towards the urban poor. Victorian London witnessed rapid growth, industrialization, large-scale public works projects, immigration, homelessness, and the building of the first suburbs amid the constant flow of “human capital” in and out of the city. Accompanying these changes was the development of popular genres that documented and often sensationalized the “hidden worlds” of slum neighbourhoods, temporary lodging houses, street markets, homeless shelters, and penny theatres where the poor “congregated.” Precarious forms of employment and ingenious survival tactics fascinated middle-class observers, who ventured into the streets and sometimes right into the homes of the poor in order to collect and publish their stories for readers variously figured as oblivious, curious, and frightened.
Our key text will be a mid-Victorian social survey compiled by Henry Mayhew entitled London Labour and the London Poor, an illustrated, encyclopedic collection of marginalized urban voices, labour practices, and “vanishing” ways of life. Mayhew’s vast and influential collection, from which we will read a representative sample, bears a strong resemblance to the fiction and journalism of Charles Dickens, who was born the same year as Mayhew. We will begin by examining the work of these two writers before moving on to lesser-known works by other Victorian investigators and novelists, some of whom went undercover, disguising themselves as vagrants in order to arrive at a more “authentic” account of the lives of the poor. The course will conclude with a discussion of a recent example of “slum journalism”: Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (2012). A major assignment includes hands-on experience in scholarly editing, research, and annotation.
ENGL 5601F Studies in Contemporary Literature I
Prof. Percy Walton
Topic: Playing the Game of Thrones: Governmentality, Politics, and Viewership
This course will focus on G.R.R. Martin’s series, The Song of Ice and Fire, and read it alongside episodes of the TV show. Questions that may arise from discussions could include the problematics of authorship, different forms of governmentality, how the series (books or TV series) respond to contemporary problems and/or conditions.
Topic: The Giller Prize in Context
In 2019 the Giller Prize will be 25-years old. In this course we will become deft analysts of the whole industry of media spectacle, speculation, and debate that makes the Giller Prize what it is. We will survey the history of literary prize culture in Canada, but also elsewhere, with case studies of the Man Booker Prize, the Caine Prize for African Writing, and the Nobel Prize in Literature. How are prizes funded? Why are banks and other corporations backing literature in this way? What social, political, and economic considerations come into play when decisions are made? We will also read some prizewinning prose (by Alice Munro, Andre Alexis, and NoViolet Bulawayo among others), with an eye to figuring out what makes a writer worthy of acclaim.
Topic: Research, Pedagogy, Profession
The general goal of this year-long course for second-year PhD candidates is to hone the pragmatic skills and knowledge necessary for succeeding as a teacher and researcher at the doctoral level. In the Fall Term, while students are preparing for their comprehensive exams, the seminar schedule will be divided into four broad areas of concern: applying for scholarly grants and fellowships, doctoral and post-doctoral; comprehensive examination study strategies; the development of advanced bibliographical techniques, including an examination of the functionality of bibliographic software; philosophies of education, teaching dossiers, and the practical challenges relating to university teaching in lecture and seminar environments. In the Winter Term, while students are working on their doctoral research project, the course will focus on the scholarly practices integral to writing a doctoral research project and a dissertation; this will include discussions of how to write an article geared for publication in a scholarly journal, how to write a conference paper, and how to submit and present papers to these scholarly venues. As we explore these and other practical matters related to conducting and disseminating research, the Winter Term will operate as a fortnightly workshop for the doctoral research project, providing a space where students will share and provide feedback on each other’s work-in-progress. Throughout both terms, under the broad category of professional matters, an examination of the history of the university English department will be a springboard to an investigation of current issues and trends within academia. Required Texts: Donald E. Hall’s The Academic Self and The Academic Community, Wendy Laura Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. Meets fortnightly.
This course is a survey of foundational theoretical texts from the fields of book history, manuscript and print culture studies, media studies, and cultural theory.
Topic: The Instant of My Death
How might we read the (non)representational practices that surround death today? Aesthetic or anaesthetic, ours is a time when death is quietly cultivated and calculated by neoliberal biopolitics – deaths dismissed (or justified) as collateral damage, opportunity costs, negative externalities. This differential power is summed up by Foucault as the power to “make live and let die.” Crucially, those we “let die” stand in relation to the lives that we “make live”; dying is the bloody secret of life, even as “letting die” is disavowed, refused, silenced. Whether it is “slow death” (Berlant) wrought by austerity, fast death in the digital mediascape, or more coordinated ways of “letting die,” including war and ethnic/racialized violence, these deaths nevertheless speak to belie our “culture of life.”
This is not a course on memory studies or memorialization or trauma and witnessing. And this is for two reasons. First, and practically, our texts are more diverse and less disciplinary. We will read from high theory and literature to YouTube and SoundCloud – an eclectic selection from philosophy, political theory, black studies, and cultural studies, among others, alongside select works of literature, a graphic narrative (a “comic” with no comedy), music, social media metastases, and not least, the in-joke that is on us. Second, and more ideologically, this course will argue that the study of (non)representational practices in the relationship between death and speech/writing will permit an oblique but trenchant critique of identity politics, liberalism (including its “human rights” guises), and the hypostatizations of possessive individualism, ego, self, interiority. To what extent are these forms of subjectivity false idols and tools of subordination, all the while packaged as freedom and rational choice? Moreover, to what extent do they foster profound complicity with the differential violence that “makes live and lets die”?
A more speculative question emerges: what is the possibility for community that is not tied to identity categories and to its rituals of representation, be they memory, memorialization, witnessing, or confession? Is there community post-identity? Or, said another way, is there a form of speech/writing that is not tethered to – sanctioned, policed, and in some cases prohibited by – our great idol, our political theology: identity?
Course Readings include:
Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida, The Instant of My Death / Demeure (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000)
Nick Drnaso, Sabrina (Drawn & Quarterly, 2018)
Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You (New York: Penguin, 2015)
Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing (New York: Scribner, 2017)
Other readings TBD
Topic: Anglo-Saxon Egypt: Old English versus White Supremacy
This course teaches students to read Old English, the earliest form of the English language. This term we will focus on texts representing non-white people known to the Anglo-Saxons. We will also discuss the uses and abuses of the term Anglo-Saxon and the mythologizing of the Middle Ages in the construction of whiteness.
Topic: The Nature and Uses of 18th century Book Subscription Lists
This course aims to provide students with the context and nature of subscription lists and give students the opportunity for original research in this field. Initially students will be given a theoretical background to subscription lists and lessons on how the 18th century book trade worked: how was paper made, how was type set, how were books printed and bound, what was the role of bookseller, of publishing congers, etc. The hope is that they will then have an understanding of the trade sufficient to deal with book subscriptions. Then each shall pick a subscription list to work on. This kind of work could not have been done at Carleton in the past because the library’s holdings in antiquarian books was inadequate. Now, however, we can access almost all the books published in the 18th century by subscription (some 3,000). Students may choose any list. For example, if they are interested in female poets they might chose Mary Leapor whose work was published posthumously by subscription. In the seminar, they will report on what they have learned and what has evaded them. As each student reports we will discuss how each may progress. There are so many things which we can learn from subscription lists and very little has been done in this field in the past. Some of the topics which may be examined might include the number of female subscribers, the number of people from the mercantile class, the number of members of the aristocracy, or from academia, or the clergy, or other sub groups. How did this subscription list fit into the publishing industry in the eighteenth century?
Topic: Culture in Crisis: War, Migration, Climate
In this course, we will consider writers, photographers, and filmmakers who have responded to the urgent and interrelated contemporary crises of war, poverty, forced migration, and climate change. What role does literary and visual culture play in making disruptive change real, and helping us to comprehend conditions that are still in the process of unfolding? How do artists address the political and ethical dimensions of new social realities? The figures that we will study innovate, developing immersive creative practices in an effort to capture the extreme experiences of their subjects. At the same time, they often question and subvert the very rhetoric of emergency that characterizes our mediascape as well as a great deal of scholarship on socially-engaged contemporary culture.
Texts may include:
Lynsey Addario, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (2015)
Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012)
Teju Cole, Known and Strange Things (2016)
Ben Lerner, 10:04 (2014)
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003)
– Visual (film, video, photography)
Tim Hetherington, Sleeping Soldiers (2008) and Diary (2010)
Spike Lee, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts (Act I, 2006)
Richard Mosse, The Enclave (2013)
Renzo Martens, Enjoy Poverty (2009)
Jehane Noujaim, Control Room (2004)
Jeff Wall, “Dead Troops Talk” (1992)
Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2004)
James Dawes, That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity (2007)
Susie Linfield, The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence (2012)
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003)
Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (2011)
T.J. Demos, The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary During Global Crisis (2013)
We will look at the conjunction of queer theory, sexual history, and literary modernism by focusing on clusters of representative texts and moments. “Queerness” will be considered from many angles, including sexual and gendered subject matter and identity categories, intimate and social relations, and literary style. We’ll also explore the relation of queer modernism at the turn of the twentieth century to both queer theory and contemporary literature at the turn of the twenty-first century.
Topics might include:
– Crises of Sexual Definition: Henry James, Oscar Wilde, and the Making of Queer Inversion, Obscenity and the Women of 1928: Radclyffe Hall, Virginia Woolf, and others
– Queer Bloomsbury
– Queer Modernism and Contemporary Literature: authors might include Monique Truong (The Book of Salt); Alison Bechdel (Fun Home); Zadie Smith, or Alan Hollinghurst
ENGL 5900W: A Cultural History of Procrastination 1800-2015
Prof. Barbara Leckie
This course will explore the aesthetic, psychological, and political factors that have a bearing on procrastination, in particular, and “unfinishedness,” in general, from 1800 to present. The course will first address works by John Ruskin, Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Samuel Smiles, George Eliot, George Gissing, and others in the nineteenth century. It will then turn to procrastination in relation to the self-help industry of the last twenty-five years or so. We will consider procrastination and unfinishedness in print and visual culture, interpersonal relationships, and the built environment. This course may be the only course students take in their university careers in which experience with procrastination will be an asset.
Topic: Melodrama and Repetition: Soaps, Superheroes, and Seriality
Melodramatic narratives are driven by the experience of one crisis after another, crises involving severed family ties, separation and loss, misrecognition of one’s place, person, and propriety. Seduction, betrayal, abandonment, extortion, murder, suicide, revenge, jealousy, incurable illness, obsession, and compulsion—these are part of the familiar terrain of melodrama. —Marcia Landry
This course examines the poetics and politics of melodrama as a mode of excess, with an emphasis on the ways that seriality intensifies and complicates melodramatic narratives. In the opening weeks of the course, we will orient ourselves to the history of melodrama and to the critical debates that this complex, often contradictory, mode has occasioned. Subsequently, the course turns to interpenetrating case studies of serial melodrama in two distinct media: television and comics. The narrative preoccupations and emotional effulgence of both superhero comics and tv soap operas owe a common debt to melodrama, and among the tasks of the seminar will be to explore (1) how each genre has appropriated melodrama in the interest of manufacturing pleasure for specific audiences at historically specific moments, (2) how each medium articulates seriality differently at the level form, (3) how serial melodramas in these media elicit different modes of reception, and (4) how these two types of serial melodrama–superhero comics and soap operas–interact with each other historically. Although we will draw examples of melodrama from many different eras, the focus of our work in the class will be on serial melodramas of the 1980s. Likely texts include: Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, selected episodes of Dallas, Dynasty, and Knots Landing, current episodes of Days of Our Lives, Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s The New Teen Titans series, and a wide range of theoretical writing on genre and media theory.
Topic: A “Dumpster Fire”?: Diversity Debates in the Contemporary Canadian Literary Field
The English-Canadian literary field experienced a particularly controversy-filled year in 2017, especially in relation to issues of ethnicity and cultural identity. The debates provoked by Joseph Boyden’s identity and the so-called “Appropriation Prize” are only the most prominent instances of more general discussions in the nation’s many literary communities regarding what writer Jen Sookfong Lee called, in a widely circulated 2017 essay, the “racism and entitlement at the heart of CanLit.” This course will explore these debates, paying particular attention to: the ways that these debates render the CanLit industry (publishers, teachers of creative writing, writers, literary agents, literary prizes) more visible; what this new popular attention to literary institutions reveals about the changing signification of “literature” and the “literary author”; and the longer history of debates regarding cultural identity that have shaped the nation’s literary field.
We will read literary texts by Joseph Boyden, Dionne Brand, David Chariandy, Joy Kogawa, Lee Maracle, Michael Ondaatje, and Fred Wah, as well as criticism by Himani Bannerji, Dionne Brand, Alicia Elliott, Smaro Kamboureli, Lenore Keeshig-Tobias, Larissa Lai, Ashok Mathur, Roy Miki, and Gillian Roberts.
This seminar will consider approaches to the production of literature in the Marxist tradition. The Marxist tradition will be broadly conceived, to include work by avowed Marxists or communists (e.g. Walter Benjamin, Raymond Williams, and Jodi Melamed), and work that is not expressly Marxist but that is compatible with a Marxist purview (e.g. Richard Altick, Barbara Hernnstein Smith, John Guillory, and Jane Tompkins). Our core topic will as a result be how the production of literature is affected be – and can in certain circumstances affect – capitalism’s racializing and gendering tendencies, and the realities of class, class struggle, and working life.
Topic: Social Justice and the Graphic Narrative in Contemporary South Asia
The graphic narrative turn, in South Asian nations, has brought contemporary histories of violence, the global south megacity, precarious lives of the dispossessed, inter-regional politics, gender discrimination and violence, and more into prominence in the sizeable market of South Asian popular culture. There are limitations that form part of this story: publishers routinely market titles exclusively in South Asia, making it difficult to access these titles globally; English language production of graphic narratives dominate the market; and India dominates the scene, in terms of numbers of titles, in English, and circulation. The graphic narratives we will examine in this course have been chosen in large part because they are available in Canada (judging by Amazon Canada). They are, in the main, published by small, independent presses in India, and show the influence of local and global at every level—from the focus on social justice issues, that are a blot on the nation’s ambitions, and a de-normalizing of social and cultural norms to the ways in which the global south city is visualized and social, economic, and political facts are treated, these texts offer readers an opportunity to grapple with the specific ways in which global influences and approaches on the one hand and local traditions, cultural and social logic inform the leading works of the genre. Finally, it is worth noting what the texts have in common, other than the capacious genre of the graphic narrative: they are performative in the sense that they do what they demand of the civil and political spheres of South Asian nations—a historicizing of forms of violence.
While the course will focus on the titles listed below, other titles not available in Canada will be made available in class and will, I hope, offset some of the limitations described earlier. Some seminal critical works—on the graphic narrative in India—will also be made available for consultation and will form part of the required reading. Evaluation will be based on: (i) 5 one-page responses (on different texts; details to be provided later); (ii) 2 essays; and (iii) a seminar presentation (on a topic common to one or more of the assigned texts).
Kurian, Priya, Larissa Bertonasco & Ludmilla Bartscht. Eds. Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back. New Delhi: Zubaan Books, 2015.
Ghosh, Vishwajyoti. Delhi Calm. Deli: HarperCollins, 2010.
Guibert, Emmanuel, Didier Lefevre & Frederic Lemercier. The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. Trans. Alexis Siegel. New York & London: First Second, 2009 (fifth edition).
Sajad, Malik. Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir. Great Britain: Fourth Estate, 2015.
Anand, S., Srividya Natarajan, Durgabai Vyam, Subhash Vyam. Bhimayana: Incidents in the Life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. New Delhi: Navayana Publishing Ltd., 2011.
These texts are available on Amazon Canada. Other graphic works will be made available in class for the purposes of consultation.
Topic: Making Settler Colonial Modernity
By moving back and forth between 19th century and 21st century literature, this course provides background for understanding the settler-Indigenous relationship in Canada today and for thinking about the role of discourse, narrative, and metaphor in projects of (re)conciliation and Indigenous resurgence. We look at some of the narrative genres through which settler colonialism naturalized itself, including the 19th century emigrant’s tale, travel literature, the historical novel, captivity narrative, and sensation fiction. Alongside those, we read Indigenous auto-ethnography, petition, and short stories from the period. Our focus is on a trans-Atlantic and continental space of discourse within which ideas of liberal progress, capitalist political economy, civility, property and ‘propriety,’ and racial difference circulate, but also on Turtle Island as a contact zone in which transplanted and deeply rooted epistemologies meet. In the last third of the course, we turn to current writing reflecting on the inheritances of this past and on the time-space of unsettlement and Indigenous resurgence. We read an experimental novel by the Montreal writer, Gail Scott, and songs and stories by the Nishnaabeg writer and theorist, Leanne Simpson. Literary texts will be supplemented by theory and criticism.
ENGL 5900S/ ENGL 4115A: Selected Topic in English Studies I
Prof. Patricia Whiting
Topic: Culture and the Text: History, Oppression, and the Literary Imagination
In this course, we will read novels written between 1900 and 1950, each dealing with historical situations of oppression, specifically, worker exploitation, revolution, imperialism, racism, and political imprisonment. Because all were authored by someone personally involved in these events and situations, the novels present an insider perspective that is ideologically inflected. Nevertheless (and this is the interesting part), they set out a view of history that is in some ways extraordinarily balanced, rejecting the reductive tendency to situate people and events on either one side or the other of an assumed binary situation. Though the settings and contexts differ widely in time and place, the novels all conclude that oppression is bad for everyone. They are unanimous in teasing out the implications of terms such as “dehumanization,” and they are consistent in relentlessly interrogating the implications of being human, for better and worse. The governing questions of the course focus broadly on the contribution literature makes to the study of history. More specifically, what advantages does the novel offer those who want to chronicle historical events based on personal experience? What happens when the literary imagination meets historical truths? Why, when each of these authors is known to have a distinct political agenda, are they so uniform in highlighting contradiction and complicity in ways that deny readers the easy answers we desire from troubling books and situations? Finally, can we postulate a unique and important role for the novel in current discourses of human rights, one not limited to bearing witness, truth-telling, or confessing guilt? In keeping with the aims of each author, we will undertake to understand as fully as is possible in a seminar the historical and political contexts of each novel, the author’s relationship to events, and the author’s aims in writing the novel, and to examine the books within these contexts. Research will involve arguments primarily based on grounds other than theory and literary criticism, using evidence from not only history, but law, biography, letters, newspapers, and other contemporary sources.
Below are the required texts from last summer’s class. These are for information only and are likely to change. Much will depend on the number of students enrolled in the seminar and on the availability of texts.
Azuela, Mariano. The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution (Penguin Classics)
Kogawa, Joy. Obasan (Penguin Canada)
Sembène, Ousmane. God’s Bits of Wood (Longman)
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle (Penguin Classics)
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Signet Classics)