Extended Descriptions for Undergraduate Courses
English 495: The Literature of Twain and James (Dennis Cutchins)
Sam Clemens was born in 1835 and died in 1910. Henry James was born in 1843 and died in 1916. Despite the fact that they were contemporaries, were both realists, published their work in the same magazines, shared many of the same friends, and at least occasionally concerned themselves with the same subject matter, Henry James and Mark Twain are about as opposite as two writers can be. Stylistically, thematically, and even in terms of their world-views these two writers were very different men. James seemed to feel, for instance, that poor people, people who were really struggling to put the next meal on the table, were not good subjects for his brand of psychological realism because they did not have the kind of complex inner life that he felt was important. They simply didn’t have the capacity or the time to develop any real sensitivity. Rich folks, for him, with all their faults, were not worried about their next meal. They had time to become educated. They had time to travel and to appreciate art. They could attend concerts and lectures. They could, in short, enlarge their capacity for everything. If a well-educated and intelligent person of refinement was in love then that love was likely to be a more intense and more sophisticated kind of love. It would not be just lust, any animal (or poor person) could feel that. Rather this would probably be a higher, more delicate, more rare kind of feeling. The same would be true for any other kind of emotion.
Twain’s subject matter suggests that he felt very differently. The pages of his works are filled with scoundrels, rogues and working class poor. Twain considered these folks worthy of being portrayed in literature, and the reading public responded by lionizing Twain. His lectures were regularly standing room only, and his novels always sold well. In virtually every public move Twain spurned the kind of elitism that James wholeheartedly embraced. Despite the fact that he earned and lost several fortunes in his lifetime, Twain always considered himself a writer both of the people and for the people.
Differences aside, these two men actually had a few things in common. Their individual use of point of view, for instance, is surprisingly similar. Both Twain and James often used central narrators through whom ideas and opinions are both filtered and conveyed. Both men were ostensibly realists and worked to create what they considered objective truths in their novels and short stories, but both men were also intrigued by the supernatural. Both men wrote about the American experience in Europe, though their opinions about that experience were very different. And both men were critical of American materialism.
English 495: The Contemporary Memoir (Joey Franklin)
Thomas Larson, author of The Memoir and the Memoirist, wrote that in the 1980s “memoir burst forth sui generis from the castle of autobiography and the wilds of the personal essay.” He calls memoir “an American form” and suggests a study of the genre requires a mix of “criticism, psychology, reflection, essay, [and] historical and cultural contexts.” Using Larson’s book as a starting point, and supplementing it with additional significant writing on the genre, we will explore the memoir as both a literary genre and cultural artifact. We will read 4 memoirs that mark important moments in the contemporary development of the genre and we will write critically and creatively about the role of memoir in literature, popular culture, and our own self-discovery.
English 495: The Rhetoric of Literature (Greg Clark)
This course will focus on the ways that literature is rhetorical — that is, the ways that a literary text affects ideas, feelings, aspirations, and values held by those who read it. In other words, it’s a study of how literature inﬂuences people using resources from rhetorical and literary theory.
We become who and what our stories teach us to be. “Literature” is the term a culture uses to describe the stories it considers essential for its members to internalize. Readers should be careful about that, about whether they want to accept the beliefs, values, and identity they are being taught through literature. But they should also celebrate the opportunity to embrace those that ring true.
The course will begin with a reading of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, a powerful American novel about that kind of choice. That will be followed by Plato’s Phaedrus – his meditation about what is at stake in making such choices. Then we will read Brian Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction to understand with considerable detail how literature can affect us, and we’ll conclude our study with Paul Woodruff’s book, Reverence, that reminds us that in exchanging stories we are dealing with something like the sacred. The course will include several short papers and a longer, researched essay on some aspect of the influence and effects inherent in literature.
English 495: Literature and the Theory of Spiritual Experience (Matt Wickman)
This class explores spiritual experience as a subject of academic inquiry. Our objective is not to identify spiritual experience in works of literature as much as to undertake a generative inquiry into what a concept of spiritual experience might mean relative to literature, or perhaps through it. This means that spiritual experience – conceived not only in religious terms but also, and more ecumenically, as pertaining to matters of ultimate concern – may appear by way of content, form, or reception (or, more broadly, use – that is, how readers, societies, departments, and fields either interpret literature or put it to work). What we will strive to elucidate in our inquiry, then, is not a theology of spiritual experience, but rather a literary theory of it. How do texts conceive of, lend form to, and communicate spirituality? And how does spirituality figure in relation to other kinds of literary effects (like beauty, desire, etc.)? In formulating such a theory, we will read a variety of poems, novels, stories, scholarly studies of spiritual experience (from philosophy and the sciences), and religious texts. Our discussions will center on questions like these: What is spiritual experience? What does it bring to our self-understanding as well as our understanding of literature? And how can literature enhance our understanding and appreciation of spiritual experience?
English 495: Poe on Film (Dennis Perry)
This course will study film adaptations of Poe’s writings, including La Chute de Maison Usher (Epstein 1926), The House of Usher (Corman 1960), Psycho (Hitchcock 1960), Vertigo (Hitchcock 1957), The Pit, the Pendulum and the Hope (Svankmajer 1983), and The Fall of the House of Usher (Svankmajer 1980).
English 495: African-American Literature and the Politics of “Home” (Kristin Matthews)
America has been called “home of the brave” and “land of the free .” “Home” invites ideas of inclusion, community, and safety. At the same time, “home” also communicates a sense of “belongingness” that, while including some, necessarily excludes “others” from particular spaces, places, and orders. Understood in these ways, “home” becomes a concept that is at once philosophical, psychological, and political. Our class this semester will focus on the ideas, performance, and complexities of “home” in modern African American literature. These texts pose key questions about “home” and its relationship to geography, ancestry, language, history, displacement , class, and gender. Ultimately, the texts selected for this course examine what it means and what it takes to feel “at home” in one’s community and one’s own skin.
English 495: Odd Angles of Heaven: A Contemporary Poetry of Belief (Lance Larsen)
After reviewing devotional verse from the Renaissance forward and sampling a few of the greats, we’ll consider several key contemporary poets and read collections by nine of them, including two Pulitzer-prize winners, Louise Gluck and Charles Wright. What will you gain from such a class? One, an in-depth reading of an often ignored genre. Two, crucial links to devotional poetry, modernism, and postmodernism. Three, a greater understanding of prosody, form, and the evolution of genre. Four, a distilled report of our present cultural moment. Five, a sense of how contemporary poets grapple with issues of belief against a secular backdrop.
English 495: Adaptation Theory (Dennis Cutchins)
This course is a result of my own frustration over the lack of a workable theory to deal with what I have loosely termed “adaptations.” Within that term, I include films which have been adapted from literary (or non-literary) texts, literary texts which have been adapted from films, films which have been adapted from other films, literary texts which have been adapted from other literary texts (including translations) and other permutations of these relationships.
Though some may consider my use of the term too broad, I have found it to be a useful grouping, and it fits well with the ways other scholars have approached adaptation. My own goal for the class is simple: I want to work through adaptation theory, particularly that which has been published in the last ten years. This course will offer a good overview of theory in general, and will help them see the process of theoretical thinking in action.
English 495: Literacy Studies (David Stock)
In this class, students will explore what literacy means beyond reading and writing, focusing on answering the following questions: What is literacy? How is it learned? How has it changed over time? The first half of the course will focus on intensive readings that will allow students entry into scholarly conversations about literacy, while completing writing assignments that allow them to process and apply what they’re learning about literacy. The second half of the course will focus on students developing original research projects that have meaning for a professional audience and for their personal lives.
English 495: The Literary World of Jorge Luis Borges (Emron Esplin)
This world literature class will be an introduction to and an in-depth study of the literary world of one of the most important authors of the 20th century, and, unfortunately, one that many English-speaking readers have not read—Argentine writer and thinker Jorge Luis Borges. Borges’s work reveals the influence of European philosophical and literary traditions, but it also demonstrates his fascinations with Islam, Asia, Judaism, and Argentina itself. Borges’s work was instrumental for the eventual “Latin American Boom,” and his literature foretells several of the poststructuralist concerns with language and reality that took center stage in the latter half of the 20th century.
English 495: Shakespeare and Film (Brandie Siegfried)
This section of English 495 will focus on a variety of theatrical, socio-historical, political, and literary issues in relation to several film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. The course includes a historical overview of the evolution of Shakespeare’s plays from stage to page, to illustration, to painting, and to moving pictures. The class also requires you to learn special terms in film criticism, introduces you to the stages of movie making, invites you to explore the similarities and differences between stage and screen productions, and encourages you to develop some ability in the craft of film criticism by way of close readings of Shakespeare. Remember that Shakespeare wrote the plays to be enjoyed, and enjoyment will be our first order of business as serious critics.
English 495: Unholy Satire: Lampooning Religion in the Long Eighteenth Century (Brett McInelly)
The eighteenth century is recognized as a great age of satire. From gentle and lighthearted rebukes to candid and cutting attacks, satirists mocked individuals, ideas, and institutions as well as a myriad of social practices and attitudes. Even sacred subjects like religion did not escape the satirists’ view; in fact, a number of religious groups, teachings, and practices proved fertile ground for satiric critique, from Catholics and Quakers, to revivalist enthusiasm and the stoic preaching of uninspired ministers. And such critiques materialized in verse, prose fiction, drama, and graphic prints. This section of 495 will examine the satiric treatment of religion in the Long Eighteenth Century, examining poems, novels, plays, and even graphic art that set out to mock religious belief and practice. We will situate our study by looking at prevailing attitudes toward satire during the period, its means, ends, and justifications, particularly as those means, ends, and justifications relate to a critique of something as personal as spiritual experience and as sacred, at least to many individuals, as religious belief and practice. We will consider how and why certain religious groups and practices invited public scrutiny and try to determine what effect such satire has on religion, both in its public perception and its private performance.
English 495: Literature in the Anthropocene (Jamin Rowan)
As we settle in to life in the Anthropocene, a wide variety of writers and culture makers have responded to the emerging conditions of this new climactic period. Through course readings and independent research, we will have the opportunity to identify and analyze the narrative and formal patterns through which writers and other artists are making sense of the Anthropocene. We will also address the challenges that climate change poses to our conventional understandings of literary history and our traditional analytical approaches to literary study.