Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of English
Spring 2020
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SPRING 2019 Graduate Seminars (provisional)

MSU Department of English 


ENG 802 | Literary Criticism and Theory

Dr. Yomaira Figueroa (yomairaf@msu.edu)

Wednesdays, 5-7:50pm


This seminar will offer an overview on disciplinary formations in the humanities and will focus on three distinct and intersecting areas of study: theories of the human, diaspora studies, and decolonial thought. This course should be of interest to students engaging in transdisciplinary approaches to literary and cultural studies, critical approaches to the study of race, gender, and sexuality, and those interested in epistemologies from below.


ENG 818 | Studies in Genre and Media

Dr. Scott Michaelsen (smichael@msu.edu)

Topic: Climate Change Knowing (and Unknowing)

Monday, 4:10-7pm


The anticipated coming of anthropogenic climate change is turning our world upside down, and it can be hard to get our bearings.  We seem to know so little regarding how we got here.  The term “anthropocene” entered public discourse less than twenty years ago, but this is not the beginning of the story of our modern relationship to climate.  Key geological-climatic works were published in the nineteenth century by figures such as Charles Lyell (Principles of Geology, 1830-33), Louis Agassiz (Studies on Glaciers, 1840), and James Croll (Climate and Time in Their Geological Relations: A Theory of Secular Changes of the Earth’s Climate, 1875), and geological fictions began appearing, such as The Last Man (1805) by Jean-Baptiste Francois Xavier Cousin de Grainville, and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) by Jules Verne.  There are literally hundreds of works of climate fiction written between 1805 and our present moment.


This seminar is designed as an introduction to two worlds: first, the burgeoning field of climate change theorizing, and, second, a few of the key works of climate fiction.  Key topics include climate change in relation to questions of geology, ecology, race, class, colonialism, religion, politics, psychology, sex, gender, and sexuality.  We will read our literary and theoretical materials in pairs, searching for thematic and historical connections at every turn.  Our pairs include:


Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864)

Amitav Ghosh. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016)

J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World (1962)

Bruno Latour. Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime (2017)

Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

Katherine Keller. Political Theology of the Earth: Our Planetary Emergency and the Struggle for a New Public (2018)

Thomas M. Disch.  The Genocides (1965)

Matthias Fritsch, Philippe Lynns, and David Wood, eds.  Ecodeconstruction: Derrida and Environmental Philosophy (2018)


Ian McDonald.  Chaga (1995) or Butler, Dawn

Donna J. Haraway. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016)

N.K. Jemisin.  The Fifth Season (2015)

Kathryn Yusoff. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (2018)

Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140 (2017)

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (2014)



FLM 800 | Methods in Film Studies

Dr. Kaveh Askari (askarik1@msu.edu)

Mondays, 7-10:00pm


This course offers an introduction to methods of interpreting, writing on, and teaching film. It is designed to help graduate students to develop a research or teaching trajectory in cinema and media studies for their work at MSU and beyond. Students will begin by engaging with tools of close analysis and basic concepts of film form. They will move from there to categories of genre, authorship and other critical traditions, central to the formation of the discipline of cinema studies, that discuss aspects of the medium as a social institution, psycho-sexual apparatus, and cultural practice. The course will introduce students to subfields of film historiography, industry studies, and of studies of media infrastructures as they pertain to cinema as a medium in global circulation. Screenings will include work by Deren, Hondo, Hitchcock, Julien, Lang, Neshat, and Stephan. 


ENG 826 | Special Topics Seminar

Dr. Kinitra Brooks (kdbrooks@msu.edu)

Topic: Conjure Feminism

Tuesdays, 4:10-7:00pm


Conjure feminism is a course that will examine conjure and rootwork as intellectual traditions of black women. This course will be an ambitious hybrid of combining multiple elements of theory and praxis. We will theorize the importance of spirit work in the cosmologies of Black Women across the diaspora with particular focus on Womanist Theologies and Traditional African Religious Practices. We will also examine the construct of the Conjure Woman and how it has developed over time. Simultaneously, I would like us to begin to get our hands dirty…in the garden and discovering the practices of the rootworker as much as possible. Finally, I hope all of our work to be presented at BSAM Santiago in Cuba the second week of April as there is a planned travel portion to this course that is possible but has yet to be finalized.


Possible Texts Include:



Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

Stigmata by Phyllis Alesia Perry

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Destroyer by Victor LaValle

Harrow County by Cullen Bunn



Wake by Bree Newsome

Lemonade by Beyoncé

The Skeleton Key by Iain Softley



Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition by Yvonne P. Chireau

Conjuring Culture: Biblical Formations of Black America

Mojo Workin’: The Old African American Hoodoo System

Secret Cures of Slaves by Londa Schiebinger

Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations

Conjure in African American Society by Jeffrey E. Anderson

Rituals of Resistance by Jason R. Young


FLM 820 (cross-listed with FLM 400)

Dr.  Robert Burgoyne

Topic: War and Cinema

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


War and Cinema

In this seminar, we will explore the war film -- the first great genre of cinema -- with a view to better understanding the critical relationship between film and the cultural imaginaries that have taken shape around the history of collective violence.  Films of war have played a central role in both fortifying images of an ascendant nation, united in an aggressive communal cause, and in contesting narratives of nation and historical purpose that have resulted in disasters such as the Vietnam War.  In several of the films we will study, the imagery and themes of earlier war films are placed in immediate dialogue with more contemporary ideas and techniques, a case in which the genre memory of past representations is called up and explicitly revised.  One such example is the recent remediation of World War I documentary footage by Peter Jackson, They Shall Not Grow Old (2018), in which silent, black and white, scratched and darkened films from the Imperial War Museum collection are renovated through advanced digital tools and techniques.  By grafting in color, brightness, and the sounds of the actual past, the meaning of WWI, as it has been widely understood, is effectively changed. 

The seminar will center on films that have played a consequential historical and cultural role, that have become defining cultural touchpoints, and that have provoked controversy and in some cases, a rethinking of the past. Among the films we will study are All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Apocalypse Now (1979), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Dunkirk (2017), and Letters From Iwo Jima (2006).  As the seminar progresses, we will consider how the language of genre has changed with the "new wars" of the 21st century, marked by the erosion of the distinction between civilians and combatants, by the erasure of the spatial boundaries of the battlezone, and by the emergence of new types of protagonists whose consummate warfare skills are matched by their pathological tendencies. 

The reading for the seminar will be drawn from major works on war and the representation of violence, including Fredric Jameson's "War and Representation;" Yuval Noah Harari's The Ultimate Experience; Sarah Cole's, At The Violet Hour; Derek Gregory's "The Natures of War;" and Hermann Kappelhoff's, The Front Lines of Community. 


The screenings may include:

 Edison War "Actualities" (1897), Thomas Edison

 All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Lewis Milestone

 They Shall Not Grow Old (2018), Peter Jackson

 Saving Private Ryan (1998), Steven Spielberg

 Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Clint Eastwood

 Dunkirk (2017), Christopher Nolan

 Apocalypse Now (1979), Francis Coppola

 Paradise Now (2005), Hany Abu-Assad

 Waltz With Bashir (2008), Ari Folman 

The Hurt Locker (2008), Kathryn Bigelow

 Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Kathryn Bigelow

 Eye in the Sky (2016), Gavin Hood

 A Private War (2018) Matthew Heineman