Readings in a variety of pre-Conquest vernacular genres, varying regularly, with supplementary reading in current scholarship. Current topic: late antique romance in Anglo-Saxon England, with readings including Apollonius of Tyre, Legend of the Seven Sleepers, and Andreas.
A study of Piers Plowman, William Langland’s restless and wide-ranging poem, produced in three versions between the 1360s and about 1390. We will read the C-text, slowly and carefully, and a number of critical and interpretative essays as well.
Also ENGL 402
At some point during an international flight to the United States, the flight attendants issue all passengers with printed customs declaration forms. This is followed by the usual scramble to find a working pen, to recall what the flight number is, to retrieve your passport so as to fill in its number and the place where issued, to recall whether or not you’ve been on or near a farm, to remember that you’ve forgotten to buy all those gifts for your friends that you now won’t need to declare, and finally, anxious and exhausted, to put your seat in the upright position, make sure that your seat belt is securely fastened, and prepare for landing. Among the many things that a flight to the US may be, it is certainly an exercise in compulsory literacy. The nation-state demands that you read and write or (today humiliatingly, unless you are very young or don’t read or write English) find someone who will fill in your form for you. The work of the nation-state is done through a printed form that elicits writing by hand.
For many of us, filling in printed forms by hand, despite it imminent demise, has been so naturalized that it simply appears as the universal condition of things. If a flight to the United States entails it, so does writing out a check or adding a tip and a signature to a restaurant bill to pay for lunch by Visa. But when we move from our daily activities in which printing and writing constantly interact to teaching courses about “printing” and “manuscript,” something very strange occurs. We’re suddenly confronted by what look like two radically different and even incompatible technologies. Indeed, in English, the opposition between the two is conceptualized through the very concept of “manuscript”—which postdates printing by well over a century. Most of the early uses of the word self-consciously define it in opposition to printing:
A. “Written by hand, not printed” (from 1597)
B. 1. A book, document, or the like, written by hand; a writing of any kind, as distinguished from printed matter
1a. A book, document etc. written before the general adoption of printing in a country (from 1600)
1b: A written document that has not been printed. Often, an author’s written (or typed) copy as distinguished from the print of the same (from 1607)
The concept of “manuscript” is a back formation, dependent upon the prior concept of printing. But if the separation of print from manuscript is embedded in the history of the concept, it is later paralleled by a separation on library shelves.
This course will use the Beinecke’s collections to explore how, from Gutenberg to the signatures on credit cards, printing has revolutionized writing by hand. We will explore this both by looking at the significance of printed forms from indulgences to passports and by analyzing how printing stimulated “life writing” through interleaved almanacs and printed diaries. We will then turn to the problem of the belated fetishizing of literary manuscripts. For it was only in the eighteenth century that significant numbers of these manuscripts began to be collected. To what extent did the literary archives that began to preserve these manuscripts transform authorship and the very concept of “literature”? And how does printing stimulate our desire for the manuscript traces of the hands of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson?
Finally, we will look at how an obsession with literary manuscripts has effaced the reality of how the great majority of printed texts are actually edited—namely, by taking a printed copy of an earlier edition and marking it up by hand (again, the printed text preceding the manuscript one). For this last topic, we will first take Benjamin Franklin’s “autobiography” as a test case, since his holograph manuscript has had quite remarkably little to do with hundreds of editions from 1791, when it was first printed in French, until 1981, when Leo Lemay and P. M. Zall published their brilliant but unreadable “genetic text.” We will then explore how a fantasy of the “lost” manuscripts of Shakespeare has structured how he is now edited and read, despite the fact that no one seems to have been in the least bit interested in his manuscripts in the seventeenth century.
This course is about how various understandings of religion (and religions) circulate through Shakespeare’s plays, as they were written, performed, and read, and as they have continued to be sometimes rewritten, performed, and read. We are not much interested in biography (there isn’t much biography to be interested in), and the course is not much interested in Shakespeare’s own religious beliefs (which seem to us unknowable). What is clear however is that religion is central in the plays; it haunts them (think Hamlet) and was in so many ways inescapable in Shakespeare’s England. Sometimes the plays register this fact in fundamental encounters of characters and ideas and sometimes in the sheer ordinariness in the dialogue (for example, the reflexive “God b’wi’ you” in leave taking). We read a number of plays (including Hamlet, Measure for Measure, and Othello), various historical sources, and theological and philosophical texts, as we try to understand how religion functions in these plays as an essential, but often perplexing dimension of early modern identity (and perhaps of our own).
This course explores the protean expressions of religious belief, satire, and polemic in the literary cultures of early modern Britain by attending to the contested political and physical cultures in which they flourished. Through engagement with prose, theater, and music, students explore the diverse interrelationships of texts, images, and sacred architecture. On our visits to significant sites, we consider the ways in which literary and religious imaginations were woven together. We engage with and learn from some of the most creative and thoughtful literary, historical, and cultural scholars working on early modern Britain, who will help us to think in expansive and interdisciplinary ways about language, faith, and authority.
Also REL 725
This course requires an application by November 30; see DETAILS HERE.
This course studies Milton’s poetry and some of his controversial prose. We investigate the relation of the poetry to its historical contexts, focusing on the literary, religious, social, and political forces that shaped Milton’s verse. We survey and assess some of the dominant issues in contemporary Milton studies, examining the types of readings that psychoanalytic, feminist, Marxist, and historicist critics have produced. A brief oral report and a term paper (as well as a prospectus and preliminary bibliography for the term paper) required.
Also CPLT 672
Close study of selected novels by Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf, with particular attention to the representation of consciousness and the development of the free indirect style. Our reading of fiction is supplemented by narrative theory drawn from James, Wayne Booth, Käte Hamburger, Ann Banfield, Gérard Genette, Dorrit Cohn, and others.
Also CPLT 554
Although the concept of the Anthropocene can be dated in various ways, two of the most important benchmarks seem to be the beginning of industrial production in the late eighteenth century and the uptick in carbon dioxide emissions from the mid-nineteenth century (petroleum came into use during the Civil War). The period between these two moments is also that in which the modern language of the environment took shape, from Cuvier’s discovery of extinction and Humboldt’s holistic earth science to the transformative work of Thoreau and George P. Marsh. This course shuttles between the contemporary debate about the significance and consequences of the Anthropocene and a reexamination of that environmental legacy. We look at the complexity of “nature,” beginning with the Bartrams, Jefferson, Cuvier, and the transatlantic literatures of natural history; georgics and other genres of nature writing; natural theology; ambiguities of pastoral in American romantic writing (Bryant, mainly); the impact of Humboldt (Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman); westward expansion and Native American writing about land; Hudson School painting and landscape architecture. We also think about the country/city polarity and the development of “grid” consciousness in places like New York City. One aim is to assess the formation and legacy of key ideas in environmentalism, some of which may now be a hindrance as much as a foundation. Secondary readings from Leo Marx, Henry Nash Smith, and William Cronon, as well as more recent attempts to reconceive environmental history (Joachim Radkau), ecocriticism (Lawrence Buell), and related fields, as well as science journalism (Elizabeth Kolbert). Students are invited to explore a wide range of research projects; and one assignment is to devise a teaching unit for an undergraduate class on the same topic.
Also AMST 848
An experiment in intensive author-centered reading, this course will study the life, writing, and visual art of Elizabeth Bishop using tools from biography, gender studies, queer theory, object relations psychoanalysis, and phenomenology. Topics for discussion include the shape of a woman poet’s career in the mid-twentieth-century US; the relations between poetry and painting, verse and prose, and private and public writing; the idea of minor literature, and the figure of the minor; Bishop as a hemispheric poet; epistolarity; the role of objects and the senses in subject formation; the ordinary, perverse, and fantastic; tourism, cosmopolitanism, and the local; the place of literature in the postwar world order; the poetics of description. In addition to Bishop, readings will include, among others, Svetlana Alpers, Christopher Bollas, Judith Butler, Lee Edelman, Melanie Klein, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Marion Milner, and D. W. Winnicott.
A study of autobiographical writings from Mary Rowlandson’s Indian captivity narrative (1682) to the present. Classic forms such as immigrant, education, and cause narratives; prevailing autobiographical strategies involving place, work, and photographs. Authors include Franklin, Douglass, Jacobs, Antin, Kingston, Uchida, Balakian, Rodriguez, and Bechdel.
Also AFAM 406, AFAM 588, AMST 405, AMST 710, ENGL 405
Using Baldwin’s years in the theater as a timeline, we read black and queer playwrights who came out of the postwar naturalistic tradition that the author upheld in his scripts, while moving on to various traditions—the Black Arts Movement, Queer Theater, Black Surrealism, and so on—that Baldwin did not embrace but that served to enrich the scene. In addition to reading Baldwin’s essays and published thoughts about the theater and film, we analyze his plays, including his unpublished stage adaptation of his 1955 novel Giovanni’s Room. Also subject to discussion are his brilliant contemporaries, whom we read for context, including Langston Hughes, Tennessee Williams, Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Childress, Ed Bullins, Adrienne Kennedy, Derek Walcott, Wole Soyinka, Charles Gordone, Hanif Kureishi, Caryl Phillips, Ntozake Shange. The class concludes with plays written by Baldwin’s former student Suzan-Lori Parks.
Also AFAM 612, DRAM 646
Seminar for humanities doctoral students who have theoretical interests and who are seeking to explore and strengthen the philosophical dimension of their work. Part I of the course is reading and discussion, including philosophical works and works of recent scholarship across disciplines which have something to teach scholars in literary studies, cultural studies, religious studies, and science studies about how to link, for example, the ethnographic and ontological, history and theory of mind, close reading and phenomenology, affect and aesthetics. Part II centers on students’ own research projects. Collaborative development, discussion, critique.
Also RLST 892
The confession is a paradoxical speech act. Confessors are supposed to reveal the inmost secrets of themselves, but at the same time they are known to be performing, according to an established script, for an audience endowed with the capacity to judge and punish them. This seminar takes up the genre of the public confession. We sketch its genealogy from ancient religious styles of truth-telling (The Confessions of St. Augustine) to modern forms of evidence in criminal justice (The Confessions of Nat Turner) while giving special attention to its literary adaptations (The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater). We then explore the transformation of the confession during the nineteenth century under the pressures of secularization, the slavery crisis, and the emerging science of sexuality. Readings may include works by Augustine, Rousseau, De Quincey, Hogg, Poe, Jacobs, Douglass, Plath, Lorde, and Nabokov. Critical and theoretical sources include Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, Butler, Brooks, Hartman, and Felski. We pursue some of the themes introduced during the annual conference of the English Institute at Yale in 2018, on the theme of “truth-telling.”
An introduction to the teaching of literature and of writing with attention to the history of the profession and to current issues in higher education such as the corporatization of the university, the role of the state in higher education, and the precarity of the humanities at the present time. Weekly seminars address a series of issues about teaching: guiding classroom discussion; introducing students to various literary genres; addressing race, class, and gender in the teaching of literature; formulating aims and assignments; grading and commenting on written work; lecturing and serving as a teaching assistant; preparing syllabuses and lesson plans.
Designed to help fill gaps in students programs when there are corresponding gaps in the department’s offerings. By arrangement with faculty and with the approval of the DGS.
Open to current students in the English graduate programs. Submit a completed Directed Reading Proposal Form to the department registrar by the end of the first week of classes.