ENGL 5606S/4609A: Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature
Prof. Brenda Vellino
Topic: Bordercrossings on the Contemporary Stage: Conflict Transformation, Environmental Justice, and Refugee Theatre
In this seminar, we will consider how contemporary theatre engages bordercrossing encounters between diverse historical and contemporary contexts, cultures, and audiences, and performance contexts. We will explore interconnections between communities, nations, hemispheres, and continents from the perspective of multiple forms of transnational bordercrossing. Organized into three thematic clusters—eco- justice, conflict transformation, and migrant theatre—this course seeks to engage theatrical responses to historical and contemporary moments of crisis and transition across multiple global contexts. The course is informed by decolonial, Indigenous, diaspora, gender, environmental humanities, and human rights humanities theories and methodologies. We will engage playwrights from Indigenous, African-American, South African, Lebanese, Syrian, British, and Canadian contexts. Along with reading one play per week, we will also engage supporting theoretical, critical, or performance focused essays to contextualize the discussion.
Topic: United States Culture, 1945-1989
This course explores the culture and politics of the US during the Cold War era. The decades following World War Two witnessed the development of new kinds of warfare; transformative movements for gender and racial equality; the advent of live television; the widespread use of hallucinogenic drugs and other techniques for altering consciousness. In the realm of culture, innovation was afoot as writers, painters, filmmakers, and musicians explored an aesthetic of spontaneity, intensity, and interiority that might adequately represent the strange conditions of modern life. We will consider significant trends in the culture of the era—including abstract expressionism, new journalism, and direct cinema—as well as the social conditions that generated these new forms of cultural expression.
Topic: The Future of Literary Culture
The purpose of this seminar is to study literary forms, sites, and practices that emerge in conditions where support for cultivation of the traditional literary sphere is waning. Indebted, prolonged austerity governments are busy managing the fallout from decades of economic decline and are disinclined to back the social programs they once did, including higher education and library and other arts and culture funding. For readers, contemporary conditions include rising tuition, stagnant wages, fear of joblessness, underemployment, and insecure work, and a reordering of leisure time and mental energy that shapes how people are inclined to spend shrinking entertainment budgets. The golden age of retail literary fiction – and the traditional English department – may thus be behind us. With the rise of digital platforms, we’ve seen falling book prices and diminishing possibilities for making one’s living by writing. Yet, though making it as a professional writer is becoming more difficult, the ease of digital self-publishing has led to a rapid increase in sheer numbers of published, if seldom read, fiction. With new social conditions come new forms of literary expression and experience. What are these forms? What will they be?
Topic: Leaves of Leaves: Plant Literacy and Literature
Plants have been important throughout human history for both reasons of survival and culture. Plants have been fundamental to mythologies around the globe, but today plant literacy is at an all-time low. This class has multiple intersecting goals: to explore plants in literature; to increase students’ plant literacy; to explore the concept of literacy; and to re-evaluate how plants, literacy, and plant literacy influence our understanding of literary texts. An abiding question will be the distinction between nature and the garden. Students will conduct group and individual field work to develop plant literacy. COVID permitting, examples of excursions may include the Dominion Arboretum across the canal from campus; Archives and Special Collections at MacOdrum Library, which has a number of herbals; and the Canadian Museum of Nature. Assignments will be designed to bolster the experiential learning aspects of the course and may include a personal literacy narrative, a photo journal, and reflections on the course texts. Students will have both opportunities for conversations about core texts and options to conduct focused reading on their interests. Course texts may include Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, the video series Onkwanónhkwa ‘Our Medicines’ by Ra’nikonhrí:io Lazare and Katsenhaién:ton Lazare, the work of Alexis Nikole Nelson @blackforager, Days by Moonlight by Andre Alexis, Catherine Parr Traill’s Studies of Plant Life in Canada, the Garden of Eden in Paradise Lost, Old English runestaves, and Circe by Madeline Miller, as well as a range of poetry and articles/chapters from the sciences.