Seminar Topics

Seminar Courses

The content of these seminars changes from semester to semester.

Fall Semester 2014

ENG 604 (3cr)  Seminar in American Lit:  Revolting Bodies (Herndon)

This class will focus on representations of “revolting” bodies in contemporary American literature, with the understanding that bodies often constructed as “revolting” by our society are experienced as normal and even used as a means of social revolt by those who live with and through them. In other words, the class will examine “revolting bodies” as a layered concept and one that takes a particular shape in American society because of its focus on ideas such as corporeal autonomy.  In many cases, individual bodies are represented via literature in ways that are meant to symbolize or take up anxieties about larger cultural issues. In short, the individual body is often constructed as a microcosm of the larger society.  By examining how various authors have represented “revolting bodies” through characters who are disabled, transgendered, and racialized, students will deepen their understanding of both the literature being studied and how that literature is in dialogue with cultural understandings and constructions of bodies in ways that reflect cultural values and anxieties.    

Fall Semester 2012

ENG 570 (3 cr)  Seminar in American Lit: Literature and Landscape (Cumberland)
In this course we will focus on works by three major American writers of the 20th century: Willa Cather, John Steinbeck and William Faulkner. We will be looking at the ways that these writers turned their own regions and hometowns---(Red Cloud, Nebraska, Salinas, California, and Oxford, Mississippi)--into fictional worlds. Drawing on contemporary theories of both regionalism and ecocriticism, we will examine how a legacy of domination shapes a wide array of literary landscapes evoked by these writers, ranging from wilderness to cities.

ENG 605 (3 cr)  James Joyce’s Ulysses (Buttram)
Focusing on James Joyce’s splendid work Ulysses (1922), this graduate seminar will begin with readings from his short-story collection, Dubliners; his autobiographical Kunstlerroman, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; and his mythical-method antecedent, Homer’s Odyssey. The course will end with readings from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, one of the most challenging pieces of literature in English and one of those texts often adduced to mark the shift to what some call Postmodernism. Subjects likely to be addressed in the course include the genres of novel, epic, and comedy; the literary-historical period of Modernism; the colonial/postcolonial dimensions of Irish literature; and critical-theoretical approaches of various sorts, including such interpretive angles as those related to authorial intention and biographical elements, as well as to language, power, socioeconomic class, race, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality, humor, human corporeality, and reader reception. Amid the academic demands and conceptual rigors of the seminar, the professor will not neglect how students, personally, might take pleasure in their experiences of Ulysses. After all, it is through aesthetic delight that literature tends to edify.  What does Joyce have to teach us about living? What ethical questions might Joyce be posing to readers willing to think about forms that morality may take within a rich, relativistic void? 

Spring Semester 2013

ENG 571 (3 cr)   Seminar in British Literature: The Marriage Plot (Dunbar)
This course will explore the marriage plot in nineteenth-century British novels and poetry, focusing on works by Jane Austen, George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Henry James, and Thomas Hardy. One question we will explore, in particular, is the role of the marriage plot in the realist novel’s consolidation of its cultural status over the course of the century. In addition to our primary texts, we will also consider historical and legal developments that shaped writers’ representation of marriage, as well as recent critical and theoretical discussions related to these issues.

ENG 603 (3 cr) Narrative in Film and Fiction: Theories and Practices of Adaptation (Johnson)
This seminar addresses major issues of adapting narrative fiction to the cinema.  As the primary (but by no means only) method of engaging in the study of adaptation, we focus on the formal and structural qualities of narratives: narrators and narratees, “cardinal” and character functions, plot and story, structural oppositions.  The reading will consist primarily of a series of canonical works (by Austen, Dickens, James, Conrad, Joyce, Wright). Yet we also attend to narrative issues in other works, ranging from popular and pulp fiction to more contemporary cult and classic fictions. From the reading, viewing, discussion, and research, students should gain a clearer understanding of the structure of narrative; the material differences between the two media of literature and film; the question of fidelity in adaptation; the symbiotic relationship of twentieth-century novel and film; the functions of author and auteur; and the means by which narrative approaches can inform the study of both literary fiction and film.  

ENG 607 (3 cr) Shakespeare’s Problem Plays (Carducci)
In this course we will focus on some of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” a term that was coined by F.S. Boas in 1896. Boas referred specifically to uneasy generic classifications and/or specific moral dilemmas in All’s Well That Ends Well, Troilus and Cressida, and Measure for Measure. We will add other plays that represent a wide range of problematic concerns. For example, we will explore the uncomfortably violent Titus Andronicus as one of Shakespeare’s early experimental plays. Other problem plays include the ambiguous dark comedies in which Shakespeare explores issues of anti-Semitism in Merchant of Venice, anti-feminism in Taming of the Shrew, and gender confusion in Twelfth Night. Further, we will consider the issue of race thinking in Othello, and gender roles in Macbeth and Coriolanus. Through our readings, weekly/ term writing projects, and discussions we will discover how Shakespeare interrogated some of the relevant contextual issues in early modern England, encoding these cultural dilemmas in his works.