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Spring 2021 English Graduate Courses and Descriptions


ENG 612: Postcolonial Dissensus and Literary Form
Professor David Babcock
Online synchronous (with possible in-person activities) - Wednesday 5:00-8:00 PM
This course explores literary, critical, and theoretical approaches to dissensus in postcolonial contexts. British imperialism was known for its “divide and rule” strategy as it sought to maintain control over its overseas colonies. This meant cultivating division and conflict between different groups within these colonies, in order to play them off of one another. As a consequence, after independence the new postcolonial nations found themselves facing extraordinary challenges as they sought to move beyond the ethnic, socioeconomic, and political rifts that were left behind by the colonial governments—many of which have resulted in ethnic persecution, civil wars, and genocides.

“Dissensus” describes the situation when different parts of a society are incomprehensible to one another—as fellow citizens, as rational agents, sometimes even as fully human beings. Dissensus raises a number of essential questions in a democracy: How can excluded, disenfranchised, invisible peoples make themselves heard on the political stage, and have their voices make a difference? What do we actually talk about when we talk about “the people”? How important is the work of artists and writers in maintaining a functioning democracy? Taking up recent aesthetic theories that take up art’s relationship to political dissensus and social visibility, we will examine the formal strategies postcolonial literatures have used to make different fragments of society visible and comprehensible to one another.


ENG 620: Studies in Renaissance and Early Modern Literature: Edmund Spenser and the Politics and Aesthetics of Literary Production in the English Renaissance
Dr. Mark Rankin
Online – Thursday – 5:00-8:00 PM
This course focuses on Edmund Spenser (1552/3-99), the most important poet of the early English Renaissance. Spenser's brilliant achievement derives from his masterful fusion of native and continental verse forms and poetic modes, his re-fashioning of numerous medieval and Renaissance literary genres, and his mastery of classical, medieval, and Renaissance theories of poetics. Spenser has long been known as "the poet's poet," the author English poets would read to gain mastery of their craft. By describing him as "a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas,"  John Milton preferred Spenser over prominent medieval authors. The second poet to be buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey (after Geoffrey Chaucer), Spenser embarked upon a self-conscious career to become England's great epic poet. In doing so, he responded to critics who doubted the language's capacity to sustain a serious literature. Spenser modeled his career on the achievement of classical and continental poets: by moving from pastoral verse to epic, his Faerie Queene (1590-96) glorifies Queen Elizabeth I, the celebrated Virgin Queen of England (and the work's dedicatee), while also criticizing the excesses and abuses of her age. And yet his total output draws on an even wider set of concerns, which he expressed in religious complaints and satires (grounded in contemporary religious controversy) while simultaneously participating in the reassessment of the classical literary heritage which was well underway in the Renaissance. During and immediately following his lifetime, his stature eclipsed even that of Shakespeare; and if Shakespeare's star has waxed brighter than Spenser's in the popular imagination over the course of time, this is due to Shakespeare's imbalanced posthumous reception more than any fair comparative assessment of the two. Were such a comparison to be made, Spenser would come out ahead. His achievement is complicated yet further by the fact that he spent much of his career as a colonialist administrator in Ireland, and participated in the Tudor enterprise to subjugate the native Irish population. 

We shall focus upon Spenser's political and aesthetic choices with reference to the self-conscious framing of his poetic career. Topics will include genre theory, medievalism (e.g., his emulation of Chaucer), patronage, reception history, gender, symbolic representation of Queen Elizabeth I, the history of the book, and related issues. The core readings will be the whole of The Shepheardes CalenderThe Faerie QueeneAmoretti and EpithalamionA View of the Present State of Ireland, and Colin Clouts Come Home Againe. As time permits, we may consider select examples of Spenser's minor poetry and relevant readings in both his classical and continental sources (Ovid, Tasso, Mantuan,  Virgil) and in those contemporary poets who wrote about English poetics (Sidney, Puttenham, Gascoigne, and others). This course should be of interest to anyone seeking knowledge of the history of English poetics, those interested in honing their own poetic craft, or anyone who desires understanding of the nature of English Renaissance literary production. 


ENG 666: Film and Media Theory
Dr. Dennis Lo
Online – Monday 3:55-6:25 PM
Cultural pundits have recently caricaturized the blurring between fact and fiction in political discourse as a symptom of our “post-truth” zeitgeist, where media no longer fulfills its role as an objective communicator of truth, but rather reduces civil discourse into hyperrealist spectacle. While the nature by which new media is transforming civil discourse may be unprecedented, dystopian sentiments about how mass media erodes our moral compass originated much earlier at the turn of the 20th century with the rise of cinema, a medium no less popular and controversial than social and digital medias today.

This seminar examines major theories, positions, and issues related to how cinema shapes and is shaped by individual and collective perceptions of reality. As the most influential mass medium of modernity and the “template” for 21st century new media (streaming media, virtual reality, augmented reality, and interactive stories), cinema is naturally a hotbed for critical theorizing regarding the effects – both dystopian and utopian – of media on our experience of modernity. Thus, since the first film audiences flocked to nickelodeon theaters, scholars have perennially asked questions of what cinema is, how it signifies, documents, or transforms reality, while simultaneously mirroring and distorting the spectator’s perception.

We will explore the development of film and media theories roughly chronologically, engaging in close readings of primary writings by the most influential thinkers in the field, including Sergei Eisenstein, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Christian Metz, Louis Althusser, Laura Mulvey, Fredric Jameson, Homi Bhaba, Henri Lefebvre, Gilles Deleuze, Lev Manovich, and David Rodowick, just to name a few. Foundational schools of thought will be explored in terms of how they contributed to intellectual understandings of the relationship between media and modernity, ranging from classical film theory, political modernism, (post)-structuralism, psychoanalysis, apparatus theory, feminist and queer film theory, postcolonial theory, cultural geography, and postmodernism, to new media studies. Viewings of key film and media texts from a variety of formats, historical periods, genres, and nations will help to ground our theoretical examinations. Students will also have the opportunity to enter into a reflexive dialogue with critical theories of new media by examining scholarly video essays and deconstructing aesthetically groundbreaking virtual reality films.

Ultimately, our investigations will lead us to interrogate both the complex nature of the cinema and the realities it molds, raising questions such as: is cinema a language or a philosophy? How are issues of ontology, epistemology, phenomenology, agency, and embodiment refracted through the cinematic experience? Is the “reality effect” of cinema so total that it casts an ideological veil over unsuspecting viewers, or does it depend on how the spectator is positioned in terms of gender, sexuality, race, nationality, and class? Most importantly, how are our varied experiences of modernity – its spaces, places, and temporalities – being fundamentally transformed by cinematic modes of perception?

Course modality: online over Zoom and Canvas, with all classes meeting synchronously, assignments asynchronous


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