Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of English
Spring 2018
Home > Graduate > Courses > Spring 2018

ENG 802. Literary Criticism and Theory
Professor Salah Hassan
Monday, 4:10 – 7:00 pm

ENG 458/814 (section to be added soon). Literatures in English after 1800: "Victorian Race"
Professor Zarena Aslami
Tuesday, Thursday 3:00-4:20 pm
A316 Wells Hall

Globalization, capitalism, class politics, anti-racism, feminism, liberalism, and the spread of democracy are typically associated with contemporary political moments. But they all have their roots in the nineteenth century. Working together with students at Macalester College taking the co-developed parallel course, students will interrogate notions of race as they were being invented—exploring how they were popularized and used to dominate, how they failed, and how they were resisted in 19th-century Britain. We will read canonical and non-canonical texts, including works by writers of color, visual images, scientific theories, fiction, and non-fiction. Considering locations throughout the empire, we will explore intersections of race with the history of British slavery, colonial settlement, gender politics, enfranchisement, war, and religion. For the final project, students collaborate to develop a full digital scholarly edition of a nineteenth-century memoir written by a person of color.

ENG 818.001. Studies in Genres and Media: “As if the Apocalypse has Already Happened: Ecology and Humanity at the End of the World (as We Know it)”
Professor Scott Michaelsen
Tuesday, 7:10 – 10:00 pm

The writing of the disaster already has happened.  Our first texts describing the great flood are written beginning in approximately 2100 B.C.E. (the epics of ZiusudraGilgamesh, and Atrahasis).  The apocalypse already has happened.  The first texts of apocalyptic literature are dated roughly at 200 B.C.E. (the Books of Daniel and Enoch).  The traditions of apocalypse and disaster accelerated and multiplied in the twentieth century, and especially in the domain of science fiction.

As is well known, the Biblical flood cleansed the earth and opened onto new possibilities; and the apocalyptic genre always been a literature of revolutionary renewal.  So let’s find out what new chances and options are opened by the promise of the apocalypse: forms of strange rebirth; the nourishing of the death drive; a confrontation with extinction; a new relationship to “nature”; a recasting of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery as ecological through and through; a renegotiation of sex and gender; the rethinking of our relationship(s) to animals, plants, worms, and stones.  Indeed, everything potentially will be turned upside down in our readings this semester.

Our reading list is heavy, no doubt about it.  In addition, each seminar member will be responsible for a presentation on one or more of our key texts, and will write a final, 20-page paper on matters related to our themes.  

Reading List:

S. Fowler Wright.  Deluge (1928)
John Wyndham.  The Day of the Triffids (1951)
Brian W. Aldiss.  Non-Stop (1958)
J.G. Ballard.  The Drowned World (1962)
Harry Harrison.  Deathworld (1966)
Thomas M. Disch.  The Genocides (1965)
Frank Herbert.  Dune (1965)
Ursula K. LeGuin.  Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
John Brunner.  The Sheep Look Up (1972)
Robert Silverberg.  Downward to the Earth (1970)
Christopher Priest.  The Inverted World (1974)
Samuel Delany.  Dhalgren (1975)
Mary Jane Engh. Arslan (1976)
Octavia Butler. Dawn (1987)
Ian McDonald. Chaga (1995)
Ken MacLeod.  The Star Fraction (1995)
Adam Roberts.  Bete (2014)
Kim Stanley Robinson.  New York 2140 (2017) 

ENG 818. 002. Studies in Genres and Media: “Substrates of the Present: Infrastructure, Media, Logistics”

Professor Justus Nieland
Tuesday, 4:10 – 7:00 pm

This seminar explores what anthropologist and media historian Brian Larkin calls the “poetics and politics of infrastructure” through a range of films, videos, art practices, and literary works from the late nineteenth century to the present. Both omnipresent and unseen, infrastructure has a way of receding from view until it fails, often catastrophically. Think of the BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, the Dakota Access Pipeline stand-off, or even closer to home, the ongoing Flint water crisis. Globally, contemporary debates about the Anthropocene have brought into geological visibility the vast infrastructural project of modernity, one whose disastrous ecological implications, one would think, can no longer be refuted. But we now live in the Trump Era, where anything can be denied, and in the early days of an administration that came to power on the promise of linking a restrictive nationalist vision to promises of infrastructural renewal. Infrastructure, for ever-more-urgent reasons, continues to structure and demand our attention, our energies, and our resources, in every sense.

Infrastructure’s current return to visibility in political and civic life has produced a discernible infrastructural turn in arts and humanities scholarship over the last decade. “To be modern,” as historian of technology Paul Edwards once insisted, “is to live by means of infrastructures”—systems that link the various scales of time, space, and social organization, and thus form the socio-technical foundations of modernity itself. This renewed attention to the substrates of modernities past and present is apparent in a range of disciplines and interdisciplinary formations, from film and media studies and theory, to art and architectural history, cultural studies, literary studies, urban studies, environmental studies, postcolonial studies, science and technology studies, the digital humanities, and their various intersections and overlaps.

This seminar aims to provide a broad introduction to the infrastructural turn in media studies, making visible the buried networks and systems that bring modern communities into being, inspire political activity and imagination, and organize bodies, labor, and commodities. Infrastructure has long been at the heart of debates about citizenship, democracy, and visions of a just public life. In this course, then, we will pay particular attention to the infrastructural dimensions of modern media, which function not just to transmit messages, but as what John Durham Peters calls “the fundamental constituents for organization.” This is what Peters and others have identified as the logistical dimension of media. World-enabling infrastructures,” media track and orient us in time and space, manage data and world, distribute and manage bodies and populations, and shift the basic conditions of culture and being.

This is a film and media studies seminar, and so primary texts will be largely films, although some literary texts (say, Don DeLillo’s Underworld) may be inescapable. Students interesting in modern and contemporary literature, ecocriticism, issues of mediation, and materialist approaches to cultural studies, will find much to grab on to in this class. Students taking Dr. Hasson’s “eco-criticism and petro-fictions” seminar in the fall will see clear connections between these seminars, and will be encouraged to pursue productive overlaps. Like film, literary works will be approached not just for their infrastructural imagination, but as media that organize worlds and publics. Our goal will be to discuss how and why infrastructure has returned as a crucial critical problem for humanities scholars, for a range of artistic practices, and for contemporary civic and political life. We will attempt to foster an infrastructural attentiveness to how and where media come from, what resources they consume and distribute, and how, elementally, they came to be what they are. Primary texts will be chosen for the range of infrastructural imaginaries and objects they take up. Secondary readings will be drawn from film and media history, art and architectural history, anthropology, science and technology studies, literary studies, systems theory, political economy, and environmental studies.

ENG 826. Special Topics Seminar: “Our Power to Do This”: The Activist Work of Black Women’s Storytelling

Professor Tamara Butler
Wednesday, 4:10 – 7:00 pm

Students enrolled in “’Our Power to Do This’: The Activist Work of Black Women’s Storytelling” will read Black women’s autobiographies, memoirs and other non-fiction texts to explore how women’s writings served, and continue to serve, as social justice texts across sociopolitical movements.  The course title alludes to Alice Walker’s (1983) reflection on the role of writers in her publication, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.  In the course, we will focus on Black women’s sustainable writing practices, which emerge as archiving, preserving, and documenting to save their lives and the lives of others.  In addition, students will discuss, develop and offer pedagogical implications for teaching Black women’s non-fiction writing. Course will include readings from literacy and literary scholars, historians and Black women activists (e.g., Margo Perkins, Gholnescar Muhammad, Chana Kai Lee, Danielle McGuire, Assata Shakur).


ENG 481/819.002. Special Topics in Language and Literature: “Translatio: Translation Theory and Workshop”
Professor Tamar Boyadjian
Tuesday, 12:40 – 3:30 pm

In his seminal work The Experience of the Foreign, Antoine Berman describes the aim of translation as “fertilizing what is one’s own through the mediation of what is foreign.” We can then consider translation as a window that allows us to travel through the intricacies of a literary culture, which the original language cannot grant us access to. As Schlegel puts it, an aim that makes the “mother tongue” play.

Drawing on theories pertaining to literary translation, the critical objective of this class is to introduce students to the larger dialogues and recent trends in the interdisciplinary field of Translation Studies by exploring questions pertaining to translation, translating, and translatability of "foreign" language texts. This course will also develop and train students in the act of translating literary texts (such as poetry and prose) from another language into English.