2022-23 Fall and Winter 400 Level Courses

Fall 2022

ENGL 407 A1: Studies in Texts and Cultures:
The Literature of Human Rights
T. Tomsky

This course examines the forms and genres of human rights narratives today that open readers up to the plight of others. Focusing on human rights and literature following the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we will investigate how literary and other kinds of cultural narratives (essays, comics, horror movies, etc.,) influence human rights feelings and accountability, navigate the representational challenges of communicating violence, and explore the idea of empathy in relation to asymmetric relations of power.

Winter 2023 

ENGL 401 B1: Studies in Authors:
Literature and the Possibility of Justice
C. Bracken

This course will revolve around the three novels that comprise Louise Erdrich's Justice Trilogy: The Round House, The Plague of Doves, and LaRose. In this remarkably philosophical trilogy, Erdrich explores the boundary between law and literature and between the common law tradition expressed in cases and authorities and Indigenous legal traditions expressed in traditional stories and practices. The discussion of the novels will be framed by readings on justice by authorities from both traditions. The inspiration for the course is the narrator’s melancholy lament, in The Round House, that “justice is applied so sketchily on earth.” Erdrich’s trilogy poses a whole series of compelling questions for contemporary readers. Is justice possible, especially for crimes of colonialism? Where is the boundary between justice and vengeance? Can the courts provide justice, or do they impede it? Perhaps the most troubling question, though, is whether punishment counts as justice.

ENGL 409 B1: Literary Movements and Cultural Periods: Between World and Toy: Literature, Philosophy, Writing
E. Harris

Yet were, when playing by ourselves, enchanted
with what alone endures; and we would stand there
in the infinite, blissful space between world and toy,
at a point which, from the earliest beginning,
had been established for a pure event.

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Duino Elegies,” The Fourth Elegy
Tr. Stephen Mitchell

In “The Philosophy of Toys,” poet Charles Baudelaire observes that: “The toy is the child’s earliest initiation into art, or rather it is the first concrete example of art; and when maturity intervenes, the most rarefied example will not satisfy his mind with the same enthusiasm, nor the same fervent conviction.”

Moreover, in studies of the phenomenon of “play,” Performance Studies Scholar Victor Turner reports that playfulness is “double-edged, ambiguous… a volatile, sometimes dangerously explosive essence which cultural institutions seek to bottle or contain in the vials of games of competition, chance and strength, in modes of simulation such as theatre, and in controlled disorientation;” however, he also insists that play itself is a potent force through which we may critique and subvert personal goals, and re-structure “what our culture states to be reality.” Along these lines of thinking, psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott claims that play originates as a trust-based condition between infant and mother/caretaker, therein founding “the conceptual arena in which human culture originates,” including the most elemental meaning-making operations such as “art and religion.”

In this Laboratory-style class, we will immerse ourselves in beautiful works of literature (one novel, short stories, fairy tales in translation, possibly one work of “children’s literature,” one book of poetry and several individual poems) all of which meaningfully engage the theme of toys, particularly: puppets, dolls, marionettes, and soldiers. We will watch one film (with subtitles), and will study the work of several visual artists, including contemporary Indigenous artists’ re-takes on the Haudenosaunee corn husk doll and the related “Doll with No Face” legend.

We will be exploring these texts/media through critical theoretical frameworks looking-glasses such as: Performance Studies, Queer Theory/Gender Studies, Disability Theory, Post-Colonial Theory, feminist theory, psychoanalysis (Freud’s “Uncanny,” “The Double” via Otto Rank, “abjection” via Julia Kristeva, and various conceptions of identity-development/Subjectivity Studies). We may also incorporate study of “traditional philosophers” (this may include philosophers of “play” such as Friedrich Nietzsche and “The Dog,” Diogenes of Sinope).

This course is designed to furnish students with the opportunity to incorporate your own inquiries and current skill-building goals, including giving you the chance to engage with critical theory (regardless of your level of experience), and to practice seminar and “elucidation” skills. You will get the chance to try out some grad school “moves” – at a reduced workload.

Each student will propose, design and complete a final project (to be discussed with the instructor) – this may include creative writing or the development of a course-related essay for the purpose of graduate school applications for scholarly/creative writing. Students are welcome to incorporate research materials from your own disciplines into the development of the final project (to be discussed with the instructor).

Texts - Under Construction - but so far, these are on the list, for certain:

Novel: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
Fairy tale: Pinocchio, the original, ungentrified version by Carlo Collodi
Tr. Geoffrey Brock

Poetry: Deaf Republic, Ilya Kaminsky
(You will not believe how beautiful this book is.)

(all other texts – short stories, essays etc. will be furnished by the instructor).

English 430 B1: Studies in Theory
After Humanism
M. Litwack

But who, we?
–Jacques Derrida, “The Ends of Man”

…after Humanism, what?
–Sylvia Wynter, “The Ceremony Found”

What is a human? Who is a human? What does it mean to fight for or on behalf of humanity, to take up “the human” as your defining political constituency? How have formations of slavery, colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and racial capitalism variously defined and troubled universal conceptions of humanity? Are humans really so different from other animals? What do the humanities—including the kind of aesthetic education you undertake in a major like English—have to do with humanity? In our age of permanent war and ecological catastrophe, is humanism still a useful project for imagining and enacting visions of collective freedom and emancipation?

In this advanced seminar, we will trace competing responses to these questions to consider why the meaning of “the human” has figured a persistent site of intellectual and political contestation. We will begin with an inquiry into the historical and philosophical emergence of modern western humanism and the seeming contradiction between humanism’s ideals of universal freedom and self-determination, on the one hand, and the non-application of these ideals to the majority of the earth’s inhabitants, on the other. We will then turn to examine how a range of cultural workers have answered or challenged the question “what does it mean to be human?” through engagements with racial and sexual difference, violence and sovereignty, property and community, animality and non-human life. Throughout our collective study, we will cull from a range of intellectual traditions all concerned—albeit often in quite distinct ways—with the ethics, politics, aesthetics, and limits of the human. In so doing, we will examine and assess how, across a diverse set of critical projects, energies have been directed toward excavating what the human has historically meant; tracking what or who it has been defined against; and re-imagining what it still yet might mean, as well as what alternative modes of existence and social life may be possible outside, beyond, or after humanism.

In lieu of a final exam, participants will complete either a research paper or a research-based creative project based upon their interests within the framework of our seminar.

Required texts
Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal
Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection

Course packet with readings in Aimé Césaire, Lucille Clifton, Claire Colebrook, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, Elizabeth Povinelli, Friedrich Schiller, Noenoe Silva, Hortense Spillers, Neferti Tadiar, Françoise Vergès, Sylvia Wynter.

Media will include Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland), The Family of Man (Edward Steichen), The Intruder (dir. Claire Denis), Pumzi (dir. Wanuri Kahiu)

ENGL 465 B1: Studies in Gender & Sexualities
From Earth to Sky: Reimaging Sex and Gender
D. Woodman

This course engages contemporary non-binary writers and characters who disrupt hegemonic binaries of sex and gender. We’ll focus on a variety of story-telling forms such as comics, personal essays, novels, a play, poetry, short stories, Tik Tok, etc. Collectively, in both characters and the genres, they expose and disrupt the surveillance of individual performances of gender and the disciplinary work of social scripts. These texts highlight how realism, surrealism, drawings, and magical realism open narrative spaces for navigating intersecting sites of discrimination and imagining worlds of possibility.

Our primary readings are as follows:

  • G. Willow Wilson’s Marvel comic Ms. Marvel: No Normal (2014); challenges superhero conventions in her story of a Jersey City Muslim teen transforming into Ms. Marvel.
  • Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon was Ours (2016); a Young Adult work of magical realism about trans love.
  • Kai Cheng Thom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir (2016); a surreal biomythography written primarily for transgender readers.
  • Lara Rae’s Dragonfly (2020); a play of a trans woman’s inner dialogue
  • Kacen Callender’s Felix Ever After (2020); a Young Adult novel following a Black trans teen’s self-discovery and search for love.
  • Jericho Brown, The Tradition (2019); winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
  • Short selections from works such as: Joshua Whitehead’s collection Making Love with the Land (2022), Moonshot graphic literature volumes (various years), and Carmen Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties (2017).
  • “Form Matters: Tik Tok”: Special guest speaker (via Zoom).

We will read a variety of theoretical works on gender and sexuality to enable our critical engagements and explorations.

ENGL 465 B2: Studies in Gender & Sexualities
Performing Masculinities in Caribbean Literature and Culture
M. Bucknor

Affirming gender as a social construction, this seminar mines Judith Butler’s concept of performance to examine an array of masculinities staged in Caribbean literature and culture. We will survey a range of creative output—short stories, novels, films, reggae and dance hall, calypso song-texts/music, and visual media — from the Bahamas, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago (among other countries) and the Caribbean diaspora. Additionally, we will examine various forms of masculinities (hegemonic, hypersexual, heteronormative, homosexual, vulnerable, toxic, queer, and female) and their “structural relationships [to] the class system, political and economic inequalities, racism, colonialism, homophobia, and other systems of oppression and exclusion” (Ramirez). This course emphasizes the importance of an intersectional analysis in recognizing how oppressive structures, competing politics, and power dynamics inform performances of masculinities in the Caribbean and its diaspora. Our reading and discussions will consider varied lines of inquiry, namely: What does it mean be a Caribbean man?; What are the expectations of manhood?; How does the notion of a “real man” disavow a range of masculinities performed in the Caribbean?; and How does sexual identity, preference and desire complicate normative notions of masculinity in the Caribbean?

Readings may include selections from the following:

Primary Reading:
Channer, Colin. Waiting in Vain. The Ballantine P Group, 1998. (reggae romance)
Chariandy, David. Soucouyant. Arsenal Pulp P, 2007. (novel)
Clarke, Austin. The Origin of Waves. McClelland and Stewart, 1997. (novel)
Andújar, Rey. Saturnalia. 7Vientos P, 2019. (short stories)
Laferrière, Dany. How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired. Douglas and McIntyre, (1987) 2010. (novel)
Lovelace, Earl. The Wine of Astonishment. Hodder Education, (1982) 2021. (novel)
Mortimer, Kareem. Children of God (2010). (film)
Powell, Patricia. A Small Gathering of Bones. Beacon P, (1994) 2003. (novel)
Thomas, H. Nigel. Spirits in the Dark. House of Anansi P, 1993. (novel)
Silvera, Cess. Shottas (2002). (film)
Selected Queer Caribbean Short Stories (e-class anthology)
Selection of reggae, dancehall and calypso song-texts/videos (e-class anthology)

Secondary Readings:
Bethell-Bennett, Ian and Michael A. Bucknor, “Caribbean Masculinities” Special Issue of the Journal of West Indian Literature 21. 1&2, November 2012/April 2013
Bucknor, Michael A. and Conrad James, “Masculinities in Caribbean Literature and Culture” Special Issue of Caribbean Quarterly 60.4 (2014).
Donnell, Alison. “Queering Caribbean Homophobia” in Creolized Sexualities: Undoing Heteronormativity in the Literary Imagination of the Anglo-Caribbean, Rutgers UP, 2022. 77-99.
Fanon, Franz. Black Skin, White Masks. Grove P, (1986), 2008.
Hope, Donna. Man Vibes: Masculinities in the Jamaican Dancehall. Ian Randle P, 2010.
King, Rosamond S. “El Secreto Abierto: Visibility, Confirmation and Caribbean Men Who Desire Men” in Island Bodies: Transgressive Sexualities In the Caribbean Imagination. UP of Florida, 2014. 63-92.
Lewis, Linden. The Culture of Gender and Sexuality in the Caribbean. UP of Florida, 2003.
Reddock, Rhoda E (ed). Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities: Theoretical and Empirical Analyses. U of West Indies P, 2004.

ENGL 483 B1: Studies in Popular Culture
J. Rak

This course introduces students to the world of comics in Canada, from the history of Canadian and Alberta censorship of comics and the flourishing of comics during the Second World War when American comics were banned, to famous underground comics figures like Julie Doucet, Seth and Chester Brown, to the advent of Instagram and web comics in Canada, and the politics of Indigenous comics, Black comics and autobiographical comics. Want to know more about Nelvana the world’s first female superhero, Haida manga or Snore Comics? Take this course and find out.