Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of English
Fall 2011
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ENG 801:  Introduction to Graduate Studies

Professors Arch, Contreras, Pratt, Rachman, and Watts

Wednesday, 7:10 – 10:00 PM

This team-taught course introduces students to graduate work in English Literature. It provides students with basic disciplinary and interdisciplinary backgrounds, acquainting them with current theoretical debates and concerns that have shaped the field over the last half-century. It introduces students to the central methodological approaches that have influenced the interdisciplinary study of literature, history, and culture, allowing them to develop the terminological, bibliographic, and analytical skills fundamental to any graduate-level research. The first third of the course focuses on English Literature as a discipline, exploring past works and recent developments. The rest of the course will explore the discipline through a variety of methods and approaches, in particular, material culture; literary cultural studies; and popular culture. Additionally, students will develop a bibliography germane to their own scholarly projects in English. The written assignments required in the course—two papers, a book review, and an annotated bibliography—are designed to integrate theory and practice, as each participant puts her own developing understanding of English Literature to practical scholarly use. Various faculty will lead sections addressing these issues through the lens of their own respective areas of expertise.

ENG 813:  Conceptions of Labor in Early English Literature and Culture

Professor Logan

Thursday, 4:10 - 7:00 PM

During the Peasant Revolt of 1381, rebels demanding fair wages, shorter working hours, and more equitable treatment  rallied behind John Ball’s aphoristic demand, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’.  This medieval rebellion was driven, in part, by an insufficiency of laborers following famines and the Black Death of 1348-50; by the late sixteenth century, social changes had led to a general increase in population and to a shift from a strongly agriculture-based economy to one that included significant manufacture and trade elements, and thus to a demand for greater productivity that was difficult to meet and that placed a differently motivated but nevertheless powerful emphasis on labor.  The rhetoric of productivity also grounded arguments for England’s self-sufficiency as a nation, and were thus linked to both domestic and proto-colonial pursuits of resources and the labor to transform them into sustenance commodities and manufactured goods.  At the same time, the doctrines of Protestantism established new perceptions about vocation, about the place of labor, and about the threats of idleness in the lives of all of the ‘godly’, leading to the reconception of labor as comprising mental or spiritual work as well as manual work – head as well as hand.  We therefore find a burgeoning field of concepts and conceptions of labor, including implicit and explicit distinctions between action, work, labor, negotium, productivity, cultivation, and others, in the literature of these periods, which invite the consideration of both early and contemporary perceptions about work.   This seminar begins with medieval interests in the tension between idleness and the sense of vocation and labor evident in the Peasant’s Revolt, depictions of the Land of Cockaigne, and other medieval meditations on labor and leisure.  From these early perceptions and representations, we’ll move on to Reformation contexts and consider a range of representations of labor in the 16th and 17th centuries, exploring religious, dramatic, and poetic texts, as well as the experimental and empirical turns of the new science that also promoted new modes of intellectual labor and new divisions of labor.  We’ll carry our inquiry through the English civil war, ending with Milton’s Paradise Lost and selected Restoration plays, the former returning us to the originary Edenic moment of human labor, and the latter offering wildly varied representations and commentaries on the places of labor and leisure in ‘modern’ society.  Participants will write weekly reading responses and a seminar paper of 20 pages for PhD students, 15 for MA students, as well as leading discussion in two different weeks of the seminar.

ENG 814: Literature in English after 1800

Professor Larabee

Wednesday, 4:10 - 7:00 PM

This course features social, cultural, political and economic approaches to the literature of the United States. We will examine the notions of "cultural formations" and "cultural politics" using Michael Denning's study of the popular front during the Great Depression. Within this context, we will examine cultural texts such as John Dos Passos's U. S. A. Trilogy, Richard Wright'sNative Son,Tillie Olsen'sYonnondio: From the Thirties,Orson Welles'sCitizen Kane, and Meridel Le Sueur's journalism. We will look at other cultural formations, including the poetry and fiction connected to the anarchist wave of the late 19th and early 20th century, the anti-war movement in the 1960s, and the anti-globalization movement of recent times. We will take up Marxist criticism and its descendants, including the new economic criticism, pairing novels and short stories with critical works, especially those focused on labor, revolution, capitalism, and commodity. Finally, we will address the question of whether the study of literature can and should be justified for its contributions to moral vision, political struggle and social change, using Martha Nussbaum'sPoetic Justice, Jean Paul Sartre'sWhat is Literature?,and Jacques Ranciére'sThe Politics of Literature.  This course will be of special interest to students pursuing projects in the study of popular culture, the relationship between culture and social movements, class as a lens of analysis, and/or the interplay between national contexts and global radicalisms.

ENG 819:  Cosmopolitan Modernism

Professors Nieland and O’Donnell

Tuesday,  7:00 – 9:50 PM

Justus Nieland and Patrick O’Donnell propose a team-taught graduate seminar on “Cosmopolitan Modernism.”  We take for our understanding of “cosmopolitanism” Rebecca Walkowitz’s statement that cosmopolitanism is “a cultural paradigm that values contact with strangers and their ways of life . . . [as well as] individualism, artistic experimentation, social deviance, and urban mobility” and that has an ethical dimension “inseparable from its cultural and aesthetic dimensions.”  We wish to explore cosmopolitanism in a range of literary works, films, and visual media extending across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. 

The first part of the course will explore how the “transnational turn” of the so-called “new modernist studies” has provided new conceptual resources for rethinking old arguments about high modernism as an inherently cosmopolitan phenomenon, hatched in the polyglot crucibles of the European metropoles (Raymond Williams); or of modernist form as a response to the geopolitical fractures of imperial decline (Fredric Jameson).  We will consider cosmopolitanism as both a mode of affiliation and a political aesthetic of particular interest to artists and intellectuals confronted with the early twentieth-century rise of fascism and a mass politics predicated on strident nationalism, cultural autarchy, and racial purity. We will explore the cosmopolitical imagination of canonical novelists like Joyce, Conrad, Woolf, Dos Passos, and Musil;  the complex internationalism of interwar avant-gardes (for example, the cult of Taylorist “Americanism” in Soviet montage cinema, or the anti-colonial politics of surrealism in both the metropole and the colonies); the relationship between modernism’s dreams of internationalism and promise of new media like film; the encounters between continental modernism and American mass culture fueled by the presence of European émigrés and exiles (e.g., Murnau, Lang, Siodmak, Brecht, Eisler) in Hollywood; and the extent to which the new cartography of “geo-modernisms” from across the globe (Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Indian, and more) displaces Western modernism’s claims to cultural authority or reifies the category of the “national” that so many modernists longed to escape.  We will also reckon with modernism’s turns to forms of local, regional, and organic national culture as reactions to cosmopolitanism.

The second part of the course will explore the increasingly prevalent discourse of “globalization” as it relates to evolving forms of cosmopolitanism in the second half of the twentieth century and early years of the twenty first.  The works selected for the course (examples might include William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, A.R. Ammons’ Corson’s Inlet, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, Michelle Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven, Evan Dora’s The Lost Scrapbook, Michael’s Haneke’s film Caché, the artwork of Judy Chicago) will focus precisely on the issues of artistic experimentation and urban mobility as these inform the changing network of relationships between regional and metropolitan, national and global, colonial and postcolonial cultures.  Questions to be considered will include:  how has the cosmopolitan ethos changed, aesthetically, politically, historically, in the transition from modernity to postmodernity, particularly in the “age of the internet”?  To what extent have the changes affected the relation between the global and the local as these sites are enacted in literary, cinematic, and visual texts?  What continuities and ruptures exist between modernist visions of internationalism and postmodernist visions of globalism, or countercurrent detolizations of the global?  These questions will motivate an engagement in late twentieth century literary and visual cultures with what Derrida terms “the New International,” or “an untimely link, without status . . . without coordination, without party, without country, without national community, without co-citizenship, without common belonging to a class. The name of New International is given here to what calls to the friendship of an alliance without institution.”