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ENG 620: Studies in Renaissance and Early Modern Literature (Spenser’s Faerie Queene in Early Modern literature)
Dr. Mark Rankin
Thursday, 5:00-8:00 pm
Keezell Hall 0308
This is a course in Spenserian poetics and the history of reading. We begin with Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590/96), one of the most important poems ever written in the language, and will seek to clarify its artistic, political, and social contexts. Spenser’s 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.

The Faerie Queene is in many ways a poem about the act of reading itself. To what extent have the poem’s actual readers wrestled with, and reflected upon, the verse as being to some degree about reading? Milton is in many ways Spenser’s great early reader. By describing him as “a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas” in his Areopagitica (1644), he preferred Spenser over prominent medieval authors. During the second half of the semester, we will read Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667/74) as a sustained engagement with the Faerie Queene. The language of Milton’s poem, its rich use of allusions, its narrative strategies, its revisions of the Bible, its experimentation with genre, and its radical political and religious implications may factor in our investigation. Above all, however, we will ask how Milton and other early readers encountered Spenser, in order to understand the ways in which they framed—used—Spenser’s poetry in new literary, social, and political contexts, and for sometimes competing purposes. Their conclusions have not always been auspicious. In 1712, for example, an anonymous reader remarked, “I am now in the country, and reading Spencer’s fairy-queen. Pray what is the matter with me?”

Both The Faerie Queene and Paradise Lost have long occupied central places in what used to be called the English literary canon, that agreed-upon body of creative writing considered “essential” and of superior achievement. The talent of both poets has never been in doubt, but both now reside within a more crowded field. The editor of the leading scholarly edition of Faerie Queene has written, in 2007, that “[i]f Spenser is to continue as a classic, criticism must continue to recreate the poem by holding it up as a mirror that first of all reflects our own anxieties and concerns.” Is he correct? What can we learn about the value of literary study through examining the history of how Spenser, and, to a lesser extent Milton, have been read—or left unread? The essayist Charles Lamb (1775-1834) first described Spenser as “the poet's poet,” the author English poets should read to gain mastery of their craft. And yet readers have consistently resisted the text, or grappled with the exhaustion which follows any attempt to understand it. (Spenser’s own narrator frequently tells readers of his own exhaustion.) The story of readers struggling to assimilate, evade, or transform Spenser’s poetic legacy sheds considerable light upon the nature and purpose of literary study, past and present.

During the Victorian era, the educator Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) described “[t]he adventures of Una and her tardy, finally victorious knight” as “fine culture of the poetic sense.” According to Mason, Milton “gets out of reach, into regions of scholarship and fancy” but nevertheless “must be duly read” because “the effort to follow his ‘high themes’ is culture in itself.” The shift in sensibility from the Victorian Mason to the modern editor of Spenser can be explained partly by the twentieth-century advent in literary studies of poststructuralism, and the simultaneous fracturing of a unitary “canon” of “cultural literacy.” Nevertheless, this course will assess the extent to which The Faerie Queene has, as it were, always been at risk of slipping away. Discussions will range from marginalia in copies of Faerie Queene, to written responses to the poem in prose and verse, to an evolving scholarly tradition which has long placed both works near the center of the field of early modern literary study. This course should be of interest to anyone seeking knowledge of the history of English poetics, the history of literary criticism, and the nature of literary production during the English Renaissance. 


ENG 666: Film and Media Theory
Dr. Dennis Lo
Monday, 5-8:00 PM
Keezell 307
Online (Zoom)
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? 

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ENG 672: Black Studies, Black Archives, and the Black Digital Humanities
Dr. Mollie Godfrey
Wednesday, 5:00-8:00 pm
Keezell 0307
As an academic discipline, Black Studies has its roots in the 1960s, the era that also heightened the modern civil rights movement, African nationalism, and the Black Arts Movement, among others. In this course, we will read recent scholarship not only in the field of Black Studies, but also in the emerging fields of Black Archival Studies and the Black Digital Humanities—fields that use the methodologies of Black Studies to reveal the racialized systems of power at work in how we understand archival studies and the digital humanities. Our goals will be to uncover the intersections, gaps, and possibilities that emerge at the overlap of these three fields, and to learn to both critically examine and develop skills in using a range of archival and DH tools in support of Black Studies projects. By the end of the semester, we will be able to use our reading, discussions, and experiments with these tools to theorize, design, and describe our own Black Studies DH project.

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