Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of English
Fall 2018
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ENG 813: Literature in English before 1800
Dr. Jyotsna. Singh, “Shakespeare, Race, and Empire”

Thursday, 4:10-7pm 

Why did Shakespeare choose Othello, a Moor, a racialized “other,” as the protagonist of one of his classic tragedies? What led the playwright, who had portrayed the conventional negative stereotype of the Moor in Aaron (in Titus Andronicus), to mark a departure from the earlier image in his later play, Othello?  Did Shakespeare and his contemporaries have any direct contact with peoples from Africa, with New World “Indians,” with Jews, and with Asian east Indians? Did Prospero’s relationship with Caliban in The Tempest invoke a colonial allegory of Western “discoveries” and dominance over the New World?  Why did Shakespeare insert the figures of the “Indian boy” and the Indian “votaress” with evocative associations of “India” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?” Cumulatively, these questions lead us to consider whether the Shakespearean era was a period of an emergent, western global colonialism and imperialism (which some define as proto-colonialism). Such questions and issues have only increased in relevance and urgency in our contemporary global era, given the growing ideological fault lines of struggles for racial, gender, and social equality.
            Mapping this historical terrain, we will explore a wide cross-section of Shakespeare’s works, in conjunction with early modern primary texts such as travel writing, and selected criticism and performance histories, while working within the theoretical frameworks of critical race studies and postcolonial theory. Our aim in this course is to understand more fully how Shakespeare staged race and ethnicity, as well as sexual and social relations. In doing so, we will participate in the continuing discussions about whether his works challenged dramatic, cultural, and social conventions of race or participated in the “race thinking” of the early modern period.  Finally, with this critical practice, I hope that we can begin to disarticulate associations between the playwright’s works and “whiteness” -- a term encompassing the universalizing idea of a timeless Shakespearean canon itself.  What can we learn about race and attitudes towards race, in Shakespeare’s time and our own?

SELECTED REQUIRED TEXTS: (This is not a comprehensive list). We will read the primary texts in their original editions on-line (or in special collections).

Shakespeare’s Works

The Tempest
The Merchant of Venice
Henry V
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Antony and Cleopatra
Complete Poems (selections) 

Historical/Cultural Contexts

  1. Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation (1580-1609.)
  2. Samuel Purchas, Purchas Pilgrims (1613).
  3. Leo Africanus, Description of Africa (1550).
  4. William Harrison, A Description of Elizabethan England (1577).
  5. Richard Knolles. The General History of the Turks (1603).

Selected Critical Texts (selections):

  1. Kim Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England.
  2. Ian Smith, Race and Rhetoric in the Renaissance: Barbarian Errors.
  3. Catherine Alexander and Stanley Wells, Eds. Shakespeare and Race.
  4. Claire Norton ed. Conversion and Islam in the Early Modern Mediterranean
  5. Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker, Eds.  Women, “Race,” and Writing in the Early Modern Period.
  6. Ayanna Thompson. Ed. Colorblind Shakespeares: New Perspectives on Race and Performance.
  7. Imtiaz Habib. Black Lives in the English Archives – 1500-1677.
  8. Craig Dionne and Parmita Kapadia. Eds. Native Shakespeares

ENG 814: Literature in English after 1800
Dr. Kristin Mahoney, “Transnational Decadence and Modernism”

Tuesday, 5:00-7:50     

In his 1893 essay “The Decadent Movement in Literature,” Arthur Symons referred to the literature of Decadence as “a new and beautiful and interesting disease,” linking the late nineteenth-century movement to “perversity,” artificiality, and excess. In this course, we will begin by focusing on this Decadent literature of the fin de siècle, paying particular attention to the works of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, and examine the manner in which this “diseased” literature constituted itself in opposition to Victorian ideals of moral health, responsibility, and progress.  We will think about Decadence’s foundational role in the establishment of a queer literary tradition, and we will consider Decadence’s vexed relationship to empire, focusing on works by writers from colonized nations, such as W. B. Yeats and the Caribbean writer M. P. Shiel, who implemented Decadent style in a critique of the imperial project. Some of the most exciting recent work within the field of Decadent studies has foregrounded the manner in which Decadence engenders what Dennis Denisoff refers to as a “queer way of envisioning—or, more precisely, of enacting—a subject’s relationship to the environment.” This work has highlighted the movement’s investment in eco-paganism and the rethinking of the bonds between human and nonhuman animals. With this in mind, we will also play close attention to the Decadent treatment of the natural world and the manner in which this element of the movement might be understood in relationship to its sexual dissidence and its interest in occultism. In the second half of the semester, we will turn to a consideration of the rich afterlife of Decadence during the modernist moment, focusing in particular on camp modernist writers, such as Ronald Firbank, who leaned on Decadence to generate a queer antidote to modernism’s high seriousness, and on Harlem Renaissance writers, such as Richard Bruce Nugent, who turned back to Wilde in order to imagine a queer, black future. We will think about the manner in which Decadent’s global afterlife can be detected in the work of South African illustrators, such as Beresford Egan, and Sri Lankan photographers, such as Lionel Wendt. In the final section of the course, we will consider modernist and avant-garde cinema’s engagement with Decadence and position the films of Alla Nazimova and Kenneth Anger as an extension of the Decadent tradition. 

Readings may include:
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
Oscar Wilde, Salome (1893)
Selected poems and short stories by W. B. Yeats
Clemence Housman, The Were-Wolf (1896)
M. P. Shiel, The Purple Cloud (1901)
Ronald Firbank, The Princess Zoubaroff (1920)
Richard Bruce Nugent, “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” (1926)
Wallace Thurman, Infants of the Spring (1932)
Ivy Compton-Burnett, A House and Its Head (1935)
Christopher Isherwood, The Berlin Stories (1945) 

Films may include:
Salome (1923)
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) 

ENG 818/FLM 400: Studies in Genre and Media
Dr. Kaveh Askari, “Iranian Cinema”

Tuesday, 9:10am-noon, Thursday, 9:10am-11am

Iranian cinema has been recognized globally, since the 1990s, as one of the preeminent national cinemas of the world. This course will examine that global recognition and the celebrated art-house filmmakers who helped to achieve it. It will also explore vital traditions of Iranian filmmaking and film-going often overshadowed by this reputation including the New Wave cinema before the 1979 revolution, midcentury thrillers and musicals, documentary movements, and films of the diaspora. Recurring themes of the course will include the role of cinemas in the modern city, the relation between film and the other arts, the influence of Hollywood and Indian cinema, and the formations of gender identity in different periods in Iranian cinema history. Students with interests in world cinema, postcolonial studies, feminist theory, the relation between media and Islamic religious values, or questions of modernity in the Global South will have opportunities to build upon their knowledge of these topics in their research papers.   

ENG 819: Special Topics in Language and Literature
Dr. Lamar Johnson, “Critical Race English Education”

Monday, 4:10-7pm 

This course illuminates the heightened increase in the racial violence against Black lives and bodies that continues to sweep across the country.  In this course, Critical Race English Education: Revolutionizing English classrooms and Literary Studies, we will analyze the interconnection between the physical and symbolic violence that unfolds in Black communities (e.g., churches, neighborhoods, parks, playgrounds, gas stations, etc.) to the physical and symbolic violence that erupts in preK-12 classrooms and higher education courses.  As a community of learners, we will examine how English courses and classrooms are dominated by Eurocentric language and literacy practices and ideologies which are acts of violence that constantly remind Black people that their lives, language, culture, race, ethnicity and humanity don’t matter.  As such, this course aims to counteract the racial violence that erupts in English classes and within language and literacy studies by providing humanizing pedagogical and curricula practices that reject anti-black racism ideologies pertaining to Black life. In addition, in this course, special emphasis is placed on understanding the ways in which race and racism are situated in the field of English and literary studies and language and literacy studies while simultaneously thinking about transformative ways to make the field of English and literary studies sites for racial justice.  In closing, we will explore and unpack readings from language and literacy scholars and activists (e.g., Derrick Bell, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Marcelle Haddix, David Kirkland, Carter G. Woodson, and Angela Davis).

ENG 826: Special Topics Seminar
Dr.  Ellen McCallum, “The Nature of Representing Nature”

Wednesday, 4:10-7pm

This course will investigate how scholars frame nature as locus of humanistic or posthumanistic inquiry. What are the lessons we learn from how nature is represented in sundry discourses, or that nature itself, for instance via scientific inquiry, presses upon our understanding? If science has become the dominant discourse in which nature is understood (perhaps even in contrast to humanities' dominating culture), how has that epistemic configuration been challenged or capitalized on in recent work? Our consideration will be anchored around Karen Barad's Meeting the Universe Halfway (quantum physicist bringing the insights of Niels Bohr's ontology to thinking through deconstruction, feminist and queer theory) with a view towards other feminist/queer thinking on nature • ecology • matter:  for example, Catriona McLeod's Queer Ecologies, Nicole Seymour's Strange Natures, Mel Y. Chen's Animacies; Jane Bennet's Vibrant Matter; Elizabeth Povinelli's Geontologies, Vicky Kirby's Quantum Anthropologies. To contextualize this conversation, we will put these texts in conversation with more historical ecology and spatial texts like Aldo Leopold's Sand County Diaries, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, as well as more recent ecological reconsiderations like Timothy Morton's Ecology without Nature, Eduardo Kohn's How Forests Think, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's Mushroom at the End of the World. We will triangulate these two strands by bringing in some systems theory (such as Anthony Wilden's System and Structure) and/or Bruno Latour's Actor Network theory or other nonrepresentational theories to contextualize how systems thinking relates to a reconsideration of subjects, and objects, agents and matter.