Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of English
Spring 2016
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Spring 2016

ENG 802. Literary Criticism and Theory
Professor Ellen McCallum
Thursday, 4:10 – 7:00 pm

This course is a reading course in foundational texts of semiotic, literary, and critical theory. Our focus will be on the operations of language and signification, as well as how various theorists have charted these operations in relation to human thought and relationality. Our approach is neither comprehensive nor a survey of semiotic and literary theory; rather we work in depth in a select number of key texts, strategically chosen not only for their influence in the development of what we know as literary theory, but also for how they exemplify the methodology of close reading, as well as how they respond to, expand upon, or dialectically engage critical theoretical questions about thought and language across different decades, texts, and contexts. The texts for the course will likely include works by Nietzsche, Freud, Derrida, Foucault, Vygotsky, Saussure, Benveniste, Kristeva, Felman, Heller-Roazen.

A core objective of the course will be to develop skills in close reading—as a process of reading, writing, and analysis. Close reading undertakes a demonstration of how the text works, by attending to such formal elements as the actual words on the page, their order within a sentence, their valence as figures of speech, the patterns that emerge from their repetition, and the sets of associations generated around them. The aim is not simply to master the content of the text (although certainly that will not be incidental), but to employ this interpretive method in order to change how we understand the text and elucidate the questions that arise out of the text's concerns. Because close reading attends to detail, anyone who can read French or German is strongly exhorted to have a go at the translated texts in their original, regardless of your level of fluency.

ENG 455/813. Literatures in English before 1800: Early Modern Literature and Culture
Professor Jyotsna Singh
Tuesday, 4:10 – 7:00 pm

What are some distinctive features of (English) early modern literature? Why do sixteenth and seventeenth-century writers frequently use the language of desire to explore gender roles, political power, and national identity? How do early representations of love, desire, sexuality, gender, and racial difference intersect with emerging (early modern) ideas of self and subjectivity? How are the dominant literary and social codes shaped by the culture’s preoccupation with “self-fashioning”? To explore these and other questions, we will examine a range of genres, drama, poetry, and (some) prose from the 16th and 17th.centuries -- and focus on the inter-textual interplay of thematic and formal connections between the different works. Selected literary texts include works by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Sidney, Mary Wroth, and Spenser. In this process, we will chart a rich dialogue between the different texts of the period, including some early modern travel narratives and Renaissance translations of classical works by Ovid and Virgil.

ENG 458/814, Section 002. Literatures in English after 1800: Victorian Representations of Empire
Professor Zarena Aslami
TuTh 12:40 – 2:00 pm

In this course, we shall explore a range of ways that Victorians represented the British Empire. In particular, we will focus on representations of foreign power. To do this, we will compare and contrast how Victorians imagined and experienced power at home and abroad. We will ask the following questions: How did Victorian writers and artists navigate a culture dominated both by the discourse of liberalism and justifications for empire? How did notions of the past and anxieties about the present at home influence how they viewed foreign rulers and modes of political authority? We will also examine how gendered or sexual difference produced meaning in these representations and how class identity impacted representations of empire and vice versa. We will read Victorian nonfiction (such as political theory and travel writing), novels, short stories, poetry, and visual texts (such as paintings, illustrations, and photography).

ENG 818, Section 001. Studies in Genres and Media: The Nexus of Twentieth-Century “Weird” Literature
Professor Scott Michaelsen
Monday, 4:10 – 7:00 pm       

For “the true weird tale,” “a certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain--a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.” (H.P. Lovecraft, “Supernatural Horror in Literature” [1927])

“The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.” (H.P. Lovecraft, “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction” [1937])

It seems like we’re just beginning to learn to talk about “weird literature”—its reasons and trajectories (recently, for instance, it has been suggested that the “weird” begins at the moment that nineteenth century materialism finds itself in crisis).  And we have yet to assemble a recognized canon of works appropriate to inclusion under such a rubric. Perhaps this is the strange strength of weird. We might try to contain the life and times of “weird fiction” by reading it as a brief phenomenon birthed in the late Gilded Age, amid the rise of state capitalism and at the height of U.S. imperialism, and culminating in the 1920s and 30s: the important pulp magazine Weird Tales began publication in 1923, and Lovecraft in this period belatedly assembled a first sense of the genre and its genealogy in his letters and journal articles. In this course, however, we’re going to expand the borders of the weird in a number of ways, both tracking and extending work done by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer in their massive collection, The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories (2012). From this new vantage point we might begin to assess a century and a quarter’s worth of an expanding sense of weird work from African American and African writers, and from Latin American, U.S., and European writers (both East and West, including Soviet Union authors). We’ll begin with this observation: something strange and nearly unaccountable begins to happen in the late 1940s when it becomes possible to read, side-by-side, the works of Kafka, Lovecraft and Borges. I provisionally (and with some reservations), designate this moment as “the nexus of the modern weird,” and a determinative moment for “weird literature” as it manifests, blossoms, and obliquely cross-pollinates in the post-World War II era to the present.

Every work listed below as “weird literature” can be categorized as really belonging to another genre: psychogeography, magical realism, metafiction, fantasy, horror, science or supernatural fiction, the late gothic, the surrealist or decadent tale.  But we know that genre is always impure, contaminated at its origins, and pre-mixed with other genres. In our semester on the “weird,” we will witness its invisible tentacles insinuating themselves into every corner of literature. I propose that we read backward and forward from the nexus of the weird, and that we start in the 1890s, with three of Ambrose Bierce’s typically brief texts, “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” (1886), The Suitable Surroundings” (1889) and “The Damned Thing” (1893).  After that, a number of different configurations of this course are possible, as we move toward our present moment. Please write me if you see something on the list below that you want to remain on the final lists of works. I’ll cut this list down to size once I’ve seen what you have to say. (smichael@msu.edu)

The course is a seminar, and that means that you will read a lot, and then you will talk a lot. Each student will make a thoughtful, researched presentation on at least one of our works; and will write a final, 15-20-page paper on a topic related to our investigations.


Robert W. Chambers, King in Yellow cycle (1895)
M.P. Shiel, The Purple Cloud (1901/11)
Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood (1903)
Lord Dunsay, The Gods of Pegana (1905)
Arthur Machen, “The Hill of Dreams” (1907)
William Hope Hodgson, The House on the Borderland (1908)
Alfred Kubin, The Other Side (1908)
Stefan Grabinski, The Dark Domain (1910s-20s)
Franz Kafka, “Metamorphosis” (1915), The Trial (1925/written 1915)
Gustav Meyrink, The Green Face (1916)
H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu Mythos cycle (1926-1936)
Clark Ashton Smith, from the Hyperborea, Poseidonis, Averoigne, and Zothique cycles (1929-37)
Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths (1944 and 1949)
Boris Vian. Autumn in Peking (1946/56)
Alejo Carpentier. The Lost Steps (1953)
Dion Fortune, Moon Magic (1956/written early 1940s)
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
Amos Tutuola, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954)
Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (1961)
Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo (1969)
Julio Cortazar, 62: A Model Kit (1972)
Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman (1972)
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic (1972)
Thomas Ligotti, Teatro Grottesco (1986-2006)
Ben Okri, Stars of the New Curfew (1989)
M. John Harrison, The Course of the Heart (1991)
Kathe Koja, The Cipher (1991)
Kojo Laing, Major Gentl and the Achimota Wars (1992)
Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist (1999)
Michael Cisco, The Divinity Student (1999)
Mark Z. Dianielewski. The House of Leaves (2000)
China Mieville, The City and the City (2009)
Jeff VanderMeer, The “Southern Reach” trilogy (2014)

FLM 460/ENG 820, Section 001. Seminar in Digital Film and Emergent Media: Visuality and Data
Professor David Bering-Porter
MW 12:40 – 3:30/2:30 pm
Room TBD

An unprecedented number of images surround us today through media ranging from print to cinema to the digital. This network of screens and images surround and entice us at various scales, from the smartphone to the IMAX theater. Drawing on the idea of the “visual archive” as it is understood in media archaeology to define the vast array of images circulating across locations and media platforms, this course will explore the intersections of visual studies and the tools and techniques of information studies and “big data", specifically the visualization of data. In this course, we will explore the history, theory, and practice of generating, understanding, and using visual data within the context of film and media studies. Students will acquire a working knowledge and hands-on training with data visualization technologies including ImagePlot, and use this practical knowledge in scholarly and creative assignments in the class. This course blends theoretical and practice-based approaches to data visualization and film studies. Navigating this visual archive means fostering new kinds of visual and informational literacy within the context of film studies as the boundaries between media and data become increasingly difficult to discern. This class asks how does data visualization fit into the field of film studies and visual culture both as an analytical tool and an object of study on its own? Drawing on historical and theoretical texts from film studies, new media theory, and the digital humanities, this course helps foster an important critical understanding and engagement with the flow of images and information that circulate around us 24/7.


ENG 820, Section 002. Concepts of the World: The Earth, the Global, the Planetary
Professors Kenneth Harrow and Salah Hassan
Tuesday, 7:10 – 10:00 pm

Do the concepts of the world, the globe, the planetary, and the earth operate as synonyms? How do theorizations of the world overlap with and/or challenge the thinking about globalization? Do recent critiques of "world cinema" and "world literature" encourage us to reconsider world-making and global imaginings and planetary utopias? How do the contexts of globalization, transnationalism, internationalism, and cosmopolitanism convey different political or ideological values? This course examines theoretical writings that question the discursive and geo-political mappings of the world and also the cultural, literary, and cinematic paradigms that have relied on the idea of the world as an organizing principle. To this end, the course may include readings by the following theorists and critics, among others: Wallerstein on World Systems, Said on worldliness, Moretti on world literature models, and Spivak on other worldings, and also Appadurai on global cultures, Appiah on cosmopolitanisms, Cheah and Robbins on "cosmopolitics," and Jameson on "cognitive mapping." In addition, we will consider the various qualified uses of the concept of the world, for example in fractures such as the Arab World, the Third World, and the Fourth World, and also East/West, North/South. For literature, cinema and media we will consider the framework of "world cinema" and Third Cinema. The course will also engage with redemptive paradigms of transnationalism that figure fragmented and hybrid experience as the harbinger of a post-national and stateless utopia.