Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of English
Fall 2017
Home > Graduate > Courses > Fall 2017

ENG 818.001. Studies in Genres and Media: “Genre and Narrative Theory in Popular Fiction”
Professor Gary Hoppenstand

Monday, 4:10 – 7:00 pm

This class offers a popular culture studies perspective of the various theories and methods of examining literary genre and popular fiction, focusing specifically on the horror, fantasy, gothic romance, and science fiction genres. In addition, we expand our examination of popular genre in American and Western European society to narrative, or story-based, entertainments. Entertainment, technically, could potentially cover a much, much wider field (including board games, contemporary popular music, the internet and video games, to list but a few examples) but, again, including all examples and dimensions of entertainment would extend well beyond the scope of a 15-week course of study. Thus, we will focus on popular fiction, graphic novels, film, and television, theorizing how various categories of stories have entertained us, again focusing specifically on the horror, fantasy, gothic romance, and science fiction genres.

The culture of entertainment in American Society has a long history. Beginning with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the types and variety of entertainment are significant in understanding both American and Western European society and the mindset of its citizens. Entertainment culture can correctly be classified as popular culture. In the field of popular culture studies, two distinct theories exist that explain American popular culture and its function. One theory of popular culture, as suggested by Ray Browne, views popular culture as “the culture of everyday life.” Browne contends that popular culture has existed as long as has the distant origins of human civilization, and he believes that it includes virtually every aspect of a person’s daily life, from what one eats, to what one wears, to how one lives and, of course, to how one entertains himself or herself. As Browne puts it, “popular culture is like water to a fish”; it is entirely pervasive.

In contrast to Ray Browne, Russel Nye argues that popular culture (and entertainment culture) grew out of the Industrial Revolution in America and Europe. He believes that popular culture did not exist before the advent of mass production and mass consumption. He further states that several conditions needed to exist to establish popular culture, such as urban population centers and advancing technology. Our approach in this course follows Russel Nye’s understanding of popular culture.

Another important early scholar of popular culture is John Cawelti, who was one of the first academic to define the role of narrative formula in popular stories, such as the detective story or the western. Cawelti argues that formula is a predictable story. Formula contains equal parts of convention (or predictable narrative elements) and invention (new narrative elements). He believes that for a formula to become popular, it must contain equivalent measures of convention and invention. Otherwise, with too much convention, a story becomes too predictable, and with too much invention, a story is not comprehensible.

Thus it is with John Cawelti that we begin our examination of popular narrative media in this class, discussing genre-based primary fiction texts, graphic novels, film, and television, analyzing the function of popular narrative genre both as entertainment culture and as social/cultural reflection. We, then, will examine the horror genre, specifically looking at the zombie apocalypse story, such as seen in Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel The Walking Dead and M.R. Carey’s novel The Girl with all the Gifts. Next, will discuss urban fantasy, such as found in the works of Neil Gaiman, William Hjorstberg, and in the Hellblazer graphic novels. We will discuss two science fiction categories, specifically the dystopian story, such as seen in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta, and the space opera story, as seen in Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers and the film The Edge of Tomorrow. Lastly, we will discuss the gothic romance, as seen in Daphne Du Maurier’s novel Rebecca and in the film Crimson Peak.

ENG 819.001. Special Topics in Language and Literature: "Literature, Neuroscience, and the History of Mind"
Professor Natalie Phillips

Thursday, 4:10 – 7:00 pm

This course interweaves four interdisciplinary fields in literary studies: cognitive approaches to literature, digital humanities, and the literary history of mind. Discussing literary works from the 13th-century romance of female cross-dressing, Silence, to Mark Haddon’s A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the course explores pivotal topics in the literary and scientific history of the brain. We consider, for example, how Descartes’ attempt to locate the soul in the pineal gland influenced depictions of thought in Tristram Shandy; Jane Austen’s use of contemporary theories of head injury in Persuasion; and non-western depictions of PTSD in Persepolis. Throughout, we will read key works in cognitive approaches to fiction, the history of cognition, and disability studies, exploring the advantages—and profound challenges—of integrating cognitive science with literary history, and working to re-theorize interdisciplinary studies of mind. We begin the course with a focus on disability studies and DH, reframing reading as an inherently multi-sensory and multi-media engagement (including braille, ASL, audiobooks, digital renderings, etc.). Early on, students will engage in a creative project on multi-sensory literary engagement that will be developed and included in a public day-long art-installation, Sense of Self: Disability Studies and Accessible Art, at the Eli Broad Museum, an event calling attention to alternate modes of engaging art and museum accessibility across the disability spectrum. The seminar will conclude its coverage of key themes across cognitive science and literature by exploring recent work in the neuroscience of reading, DH, and virtual reality studies. Students will learn to use scientific databases, such as PubMed, to find the latest work in neurobiology, developmental psychology, cognitive linguistics, and neuroaesthetics. Alongside their final research paper, students will work collaboratively to brainstorm an interdisciplinary experiment in groups, imagining how we could use technologies from cognitive science—such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), EEG, or eye-tracking—to explore a central question about literary reading. 

ENG 826. Special Topics Seminar: “Reading • Feminist • Reading • Queer • Reading”
Professor Ellen McCallum
Wednesday, 4:10 – 7:00 pm

Starting from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s influential consideration of paranoid vs. reparative reading, we will turn to other modes of reading queerly, along the way questioning whether feminist and queer approaches to interpretation diverge, converge, or how they might be allied. Sources may include Hortense Spillers, Black White and in Color; Naomi Schor, Reading in Detail; Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique; Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text & How to Live Together; Barbara Johnson reader The Surprise of Otherness; Jose Munoz, Cruising Utopia; Dareick Scott, Extravagant Abjection; DA Miller, Jane Austen or the Secret of Style; Kevin Ohi, James and the Queerness of Style; Lee Edelman, Homographesis; Leo Bersani, Culture of Redemption; Sandra Sotos, Reading Chican@ like a Queer;  Val Rohy, Anachronism and Its Others; Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway.

FLM 400.  Seminar in Film History: "Interwar Modernism in Film and Media"
Professor Joshua Yumibe 
Tuesday 9:10–12:00, Thursday 9:10–11:00

Between the two world wars, modern culture flourished globally, and we will look at the repercussions and reactions of cultural, aesthetic, and political change on the cinema of the interwar period of the 1920s and 1930s. We will track closely the emergence of various modernist and avant-garde movements in Europe and North America that engaged with the new mass medium of cinema, including Expressionism and Absolut Film in Germany, cinéma pur and impressionism in France, Soviet montage culture, and pictorialist art cinema in Hollywood. We will also pay particular attention to how modernist film styles circulated globally and were adapted and transformed by filmmakers in Japan, China, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

ENG 441/813. Literatures in English before 1800: “Race Shifting”
Professor Ned Watts
Tuesday, 7:10 – 10:00 pm

Following recent work by Katy Chiles, Nancy Shoemaker, and others, we will read a number of texts from pre-1800 North America that engage and intervene in the emergent categories of race in the TransAtlantic literary sphere.

ENG 460/819.002. Special Topics in Language and Literature: "Ecocriticism and PetroFictions: Middle East, Africa and Beyond"
Professor Salah Hassan
Monday and Wednesday, 12:40 – 2:00 pm

Literature and the environment courses in English Departments tend still to be exceedingly focused on US literature, and rarely include postcolonial literature. That said, there have been significant developments in the field of eco-criticism over the last 15 years with increasing emphasis on narrative literatures and films that represent the changing landscapes of world, especially in what is some times referred to as the Global South. In the context of globalization, especially with the impact of the industries of resource extraction, most notably oil and gas, Africa and the Middle East have been immediately and intensely subject to what Rob Nixon has referred to as the “slow violence” of environmental change. While North American and European environmental activists lobby for clean energy and more recycling, Africans and Arabs, like their Native American counterparts struggling against the incursions of big oil through tribal lands, are directly subject to the dire consequences of deforestation, desertification, oil spills, water shortages/contamination, and the toxic aftermath of wars. The precarious conditions of life in the Middle East and Africa have become a central preoccupation of contemporary African and Arab writers, whose works complicate simplistic views of nature and pose serious questions about the devastation of the environment and society as a consequence of the world’s reliance on oil. While course readings will include a range of ecocritical writings and emphasize Arab and African petrofictions, also included on the syllabus is selection of British and American texts that are located within the broader field of petroculture.