Fall 2022 Sections
01. The Anatomy of Ghosts. MW 2.30-3.45
The idea of ghosts has existed for as long as people have lived and died. But what exactly is a ghost? Living in a secular age in which we dismiss the paranormal as fantasy, does the ghost exist for us and, if so, how? What can the idea of the ghost teach us about the lives we live, the hopes and fears that animate those lives, and the way that we write about life and death? In this class, we will read a wide range of essays that all have something to do with ghosts. Some of our essays will deal with the literal notion of the ghost: the spirit of a deceased person come back to haunt the living. But many of them will deal with ghosts in other fashions: ghosts as literary devices, ghosts as a political metaphor, ghosts as an anthropological phenomenon, and so on. Students can expect to learn about a broad range of thinking from critical Marxism to cultural history to poetics and literary criticism. As we read about, discuss, and write about the idea of ghosts, we will continually return to the question of what death means in the context of life and how it shapes our perspectives on the world. Having investigated ghosts from every angle, the class will culminate in a reading of Henry James’s novel, The Turn of the Screw, a classic ghost story that delves into murky questions of sexuality, childhood, and mortality.
02. Writing and Rebellion. MW 11.35-12.50
What motivates rebellion? Is resistance always revolutionary? In this course, we will seek to understand the ideologies that energize dissenting discourses and acts of rebellion across a wide range of contexts and histories. As we study resistance to British colonialism and American imperialism, religious non-conformity in the Middle Ages, ongoing struggles for independence and reparative justice, and education reform, we will explore how these various performances disrupt master narratives, subvert political and religious orthodoxies, and enable freedom. Challenging ourselves to think about rebellion beyond political protests, we will ask ourselves how resistance might be enacted in the everyday— in language use, in community building, and in creative projects. How might discourses of rebellion legitimate marginalized identities, and how— as bell hooks suggests— might the margins be a space of “radical openness and possibility,” a place from which to “envision new, alternative, oppositional aesthetic acts?” To what extent can these practices heal deep wounds? What new knowledges and selves emerge in these acts of resistance? What are their limits? These questions will guide our discussion of topics such as civil rights, Indigenous land recuperation, and contemporary movements such as Black Lives Matter and Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate. As we examine rebellion in its written, spoken, and embodied modes and across various platforms and technologies, we will reflect deeply on how different forms of writing shape meaning and how meaning gives shape to form. Each of you will think about how you can use your own voice to theorize, improvise, and invent new possibilities for meaning.
03. Home. MW 2.30-3.45
Where do you call home? Is your sense of home fixed to specific places, persons, languages, or memories? Must the idea of home always suggest rootedness ? What does it mean to feel at home? In this course, we examine the affective responses elicited by various notions of home, from feelings of nostalgia and familiarity to estrangement, and we consider the ways in which generic and particular spaces enable or constrain individual agency and constitute our relation to others. Unsettling the easy boundary between the private and the public, we will seek to understand what various imaginings of home reveal about our collective and individual desires and anxieties, and we will examine the social and political forces at play in the making of home. Drawing from multiple disciplines and different modes of argument including essays, poetry, song, and film, we will study how home overlaps with spirituality, language politics, hierarchies of gender and labor, and educational opportunities, and how climate crises, pandemics, global economies, and immigration policies impact home. As we examine the debates and contests over space, we will think about who has the right to belong where and what it means—for instance—to belong at Yale. Informed by various theories and poetics of home, at the end of the course, we will revisit the places that make us.
04. Troubling Translation. TTh 1.00-2.15
Translation is all around us—at any given time, we are consuming some form of translated media. In some ways, translation has become so omnipresent that we forget to consider it critically, despite it having a large impact on our global intellectual, political, and interpersonal community. This class will be an attempt to truly look and see how translation affects our world, asking questions such as: what is translation, and what purpose does it serve? How does translation work? What is the role of the translator? And perhaps most importantly: how do political, social, cultural, and economic issues affect what is translated and which books we have access to? One of the guiding questions of translation studies is whether a translation exists to bring a “foreign” text closer (i.e., more palatable) to a new audience, or whether its purpose is to bring the new audience out of their comfort zone and lead them to engage with a different culture and context. We’ll begin and end our course by considering this framework and positing possible answers. My hope is that this class will teach you to see translations all around you and learn to consider their intellectual and interpersonal implications.
6. Awe. MW 2.30-3.45
What do an Olympic athlete setting a new world record, an orchestra performing Beethoven’s fifth symphony, and a total solar eclipse have in common? Each can inspire awe: an intermingling of respect, wonder, and sometimes even fear. In this multidisciplinary seminar we will explore awe as a defining part of our shared humanity, a phenomenon that blends the physical, spiritual, emotional, and ineffable. We will delve into scientific and social scientific literature to learn more about what provokes awe and how experiencing it affects us physically and mentally. We will turn to the work of writers who have chronicled their own tales of awe in its many dimensions. Along the way, we will consider our own personal sources of awe—what they say about us; what they do for us; and how, through written, spoken, and visual communication, we can convey their inspiration to those around us.
7. Brains. TTh 2.30-3.45
We live in a moment of great excitement and concern about the brain. This very special organ is thought to have an enormous amount of influence over our experiences and inner lives—indeed, it’s often considered to be the seat or center of consciousness, a part of ourselves without which we could not be ourselves. This class will critically examine The Brain as it is discussed and represented in literature, media, philosophy, memes, popular science, and in everyday speech. Together we will think about when and how this organ is invoked, asking what kinds of experiences and phenomena it is used to explain, including experiences of disability, emotion, drug use, and experience itself. We’ll find and discuss examples of how The Brain as a singular and normative concept can both illuminate and limit our understanding of human experience, and think about the rhetorical and political implications of how we talk about our brains—or how brains are used to talk about us.
8. The Empire Writes Back. TTh 4.00-5.15
The injuries inflicted by centuries of European colonialism are all around us, impossible to overlook. This course considers some of the major articulations of postcolonial thought, exploring texts that have been accused of being insufficiently and overly radical at once, too difficult and (by scholars wary of transnational generalizations) not difficult enough. We’ll examine how colonial subjects are constructed, both rhetorically and interpersonally, as well as the violence undergirding empire’s romanticized representations. We’ll consider tensions between specific instances and broader patterns of colonial entanglement. Our enquiry into the nature and structures of imperial domination will position us to understand and appreciate essays that critique, resist, and unravel imperialist forms of thought and imagination—essays by Bhabha, Said, Fanon, Spivak, Wa Thiong’o, among others. What would a decolonized society look like? And what challenges stand in the way of realizing such a society? These are some of the questions we will consider in this course. We’ll also consider some of the critiques that have been made of postcolonial theory. While the majority of assigned readings will be argumentative texts, we will also explore literary texts, films, and works of visual art that engage the theme of decolonization.
9. Other Futures. MW 4.00-5.15
What is “the future”? Whose future is it? Often, how people envision “the future” is based on what the dominant culture hopes and fears, which is why in the U.S. it often appears as retro Americana or a post-apocalyptic wild west. But how does one envision the future when “the future” doesn’t include you? When one isn’t part of the mainstream, when one is too brown or queer or Other to be part of the dominant culture’s visions of tomorrow?
In this class we will explore the future as it emerges from the “Other”—the marginalized, the disempowered, the erased. We recognize that these efforts aren’t simply escapism or fantasy—they are important ways of thinking into and out of the problems of the present. We start with Afrofuturism and its legacies, from Sun Ra, Octavia Butler, and Parliament/Funkadelic to Janelle Monáe, Doja Cat, and Black Panther. We touch on queer utopias, cyborg feminism, Black feminist post-apocalypses, future-oriented politics and policy, Asian-American futurisms, Latinx/e futurism, as well as music, visuals, video, and immersive art/games made by marginalized creators. We are ultimately asking the question: how do I envision a future for myself—and what needs to change for that future to be realized?
10. On Being Trendy. TTh 9.00-10.15
What does it mean to be trendy? How does a subculture become part of a collective style? Can being trendy be political? In this course, we approach these questions by studying trendiness and its broader connections to consumerism, class, and politics. Throughout the semester, we’ll ask what trends might bear on race, gender, sexuality, and class, tracing these questions through a range of cultural moments–from Grunge, to Hip Hop, to the emerging popularity of “van-life”. We’ll begin by thinking about the phenomenon of digital trends and the influential role of technology and social media, pressing on the way that trends become a form of communication that is advertised, circulated, and embodied. In discussing online communities such as Tik Tok and Instagram, we’ll question how trends affect what we wear, what we eat, and what social causes we support. As a class, we’ll spend some time asking how those relationships turn political, taking up the concept of political consumerism and the notion of “boycotting vs. buycotting” in relation to sustainable fashion, veganism, and Queer Pride. Together, we’ll think deeply about the complex cultural formation of trends and learn how to engage with their contradictions through critical writing.
11. Rebel Writing. MW 1.00-2.15
Social movements, uprisings, revolutions—for more than a decade, these terms been cropping up with increasing frequency in news media and everyday life, as the global political situation is racked by successive crises. How do rebels talk and think? How do they write? What techniques are most effective and accomplishing their ultimate goal—and how does it relate to language? This course will explore various modes of writing which issue from or reflect upon specific moments of social rupture. This means pamphlets, manifestos, and propaganda, as well as fiction, poetry, and memoir. Central to our task will be the relation of word to political act. For the sake of focus, readings will be from the 20th century and the class will be largely—but not entirely—devoted to the US. Authors will include C. L. R. James, Amiri Baraka, Shulamith Firestone, Randolph Bourne, Martin Luther King, Jr., Toni Cade Bambara, and Margo Jefferson.
12. Who Needs Gender? TTh 11.35-12.50
Are deeply ingrained expectations about “male” and “female” behavior inherently confining, or can they be salvaged and revalued? What new possibilities might accompany the popularization of nonbinary gender categories and pronouns? Public conversations about gender identity have expanded rapidly in recent years, but feminist, queer, and transgender interrogations of the man/woman binary long predate today’s anxieties about bathrooms, hormones, and high school sports. Taking our title question seriously, we will consider the role of binary gender categories in struggles for gender justice. As we read across disciplines and survey the contemporary U.S. media landscape, we will develop connections between present debates and a range of feminist and transgender arguments concerning nonbinary, androgynous, and unapologetically constructed identities. We will pay special attention to the role of race and sexuality in shaping writers’ experiences and analyses of masculinity and femininity.
13. Books: From Gutenberg to Google. TTh 2.30-3.45
From shelves to screens, books are everywhere around us—and they aren’t going away. But do we know what they are, and how they have come to be? Revisiting and redrawing distinctions of old/new, premodern/modern, material/spiritual, we will think about the idea and the physicality of the book—the book as more than just a carrier of text—as well as its continuities in past and future text technologies. How do specific material forms engender and prohibit access to knowledge? How do books affect our brains as well as our bodies? How are histories written, preserved, lost, and found? How do we know what we know? This course will also serve as an introduction to archival research; multiple classes will be held in the Beinecke. Topics include materiality and religion, theories of writing and remediation, race and the archive, books and the environment, Internet infrastructures, and face books. By examining episodes in the history of books, including the early modern printing press, the makings of Shakespeare, William Morris’s nineteenth-century Kelmscott Press, Kindle and Google Books, and Katie Paterson’s eco-project, Future Library in Norway— we will interrogate the political, social, and affective dimensions of books, libraries, and archives.
14. On Being (Un)Reasonable. TTh 1.00-2.15
Human beings have long been defined as rational animals. But is it truly reason that defines us? One might look at wars, carbon footprints, and Tide Pod eating challenges for evidence to the contrary. It hardly stops there, however. Irrationality plagues our political convictions, motivates our economic behavior, and dominates our psychic lives. In this course, we will examine models of human reason that try to explain such failures of rational thinking. We’ll investigate the role of irrationality in behavioral economics and modern political culture. We’ll read one of literature’s great arguments for willful irrationality and look at surrealist art designed to defy reason and aesthetics. We will explore the ancient Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna’s efforts to push logic to its limits and discover enlightenment on the other side and we will engage Zen koans in all their seeming absurdity. This course seeks out the reason for human beings being so unreasonable and tries to decipher the logic of the illogical.
15. On Beauty. MW 1.00-2.15
Beauty has challenged thinkers both ancient and modern to describe and account for its place in our lives. How do we “see” beauty and in what ways does beauty matter? When you look at a beautiful thing, does it stay with you, or leave quickly only to be replaced by another? What shapes our various definitions of beauty? How do certain stereotypes of beauty narrow our field of vision or even oppress us? Can beauty be a force for the good? Perhaps embracing a broader understanding of beauty and its role in society has the potential to enhance our humanity. In this course we will read both written and visual texts to construct arguments that explore questions of beauty and truth and the relationship between what we see, or are persuaded to see, and who we are. This course requires students adopt a readiness to look at art. While a background in art history is not required, if the Yale art galleries stay open safely, you will be asked to visit them and to use your observations as evidence in your work.
16. Representing Reality. TTh 11.35-12.50
Documentary media increasingly surrounds us, recognizable in news reportage and photojournalism, true crime docuseries, feature films and more. Certain documentary styles have become so pervasive that contemporary documentarian Jill Godmilow has even called for us to “kill the documentary as we know it!” But what defines “documentary as we know it”, and how does one document differently? In this course, we will de- and re-familiarize ourselves with “documentary”. What is a “document”? What reality does it represent, what claims does it construct, and to whom are they addressed? How are these functions structured by race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class? And finally, what do documentaries do – how or why might documentary representation be politically efficacious or desirable? We will ask these questions of our texts, and, in turn, closely attend to the questions our texts continually raise themselves about the aesthetics and politics of representing the real. Our case studies will span different media – prose, photography, and film/new media – and include both classic and contemporary essays on nonfictional representation. We will discuss the relationship between documentary subjects, producers, and audiences, the organization of information both institutionally and rhetorically, and the borderlines between fictional and nonfictional practices.
17. Superintelligence, Entrepreneurship, and Ethics. TTh 9.00-10.15
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” —Henry Ford
This course studies the anatomy of big ideas. We can offer only abstract predictions about the future of a world in which machine learning, neural lace, biointelligence, and self-driving cars will become commonplace. Instead, this course asserts that we have much to learn from how scientists, entrepreneurs, and educators argue over such predictions. What makes an idea revolutionary or contrarian in an age when so much knowledge is at our fingertips? How do we speak about that which is yet unknowable? How are narratives about superintelligence composed through the disciplines of economics, philosophy, religion, and engineering; the worlds of finance and entrepreneurship; and the concepts of evolution, futurism, and humanism? And what kinds of racial, gender, or class inequalities might superhuman intelligence reinforce or dissolve? Our course materials include peer-reviewed scholarly research, film, and in-class interviews with contemporary entrepreneurs. Throughout the course, we will reflect on what these issues mean for developing our own strategies of reading, writing, and public speaking—what will we really need in a world with superhuman intelligence and with what can we dispense?
18. Modern Medievalisms. TTh 11.35-12.50
Why do the Middle Ages feature so prominently in contemporary culture? From fantasy series like Game of Thrones to video games like Assassin’s Creed, and from card games like Magic: The Gathering to comic book characters like Marvel’s Thor, modern multimedia resounds with echoes of the medieval. For some, the Middle Ages evoke the magical and the mysterious, for others, the violent and the grim. Either way, the bygone era is mined for settings for games of all kinds, and its material culture imitated for Halloween costumes and live action role-playing. Its own fancies and mythoi are reimagined and regurgitated in countless fantasy novels and their ensuing film and cable television adaptations. Yet the (mis)use of the medieval past is not limited to the sphere of entertainment. Because of the popular association of the Middle Ages with white Christian nationalism, the alt-right has wielded imagery of medieval origin in its struggle with racial and cultural insecurity. Meanwhile, scholars such as Jonathan Hsy have shown that contemporary medievalism can be employed to antiracist ends and the legacy of a diverse and multicultural Middle Ages reclaimed for the benefit of all. In this course, we will explore what drives our collective obsession with the distant past, and what it reveals about our society today. Drawing from primary sources such as film and games and from scholarly readings in history, literature, cultural criticism, postcolonial studies and queer and gender studies, we will attempt to answer the question: “Why do we continue to look to a time long past for guidance, inspiration, and profit?”
19. In the Wake of Neo Soul. MW 11.35-12.50
What’s neo soul and what makes it new? In the late 1990s, the term “neo soul” was created to market an emerging form of R&B that invoked soul, jazz, blues, and gospel. What began as a promotional label for artists like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo has evolved into an expansive but vague genre that includes Solange, Amy Winehouse, Frank Ocean, and Ari Lennox. In this course we will consider the history and afterlives of neo soul. How does neo soul relate to other genres of black music? What critiques of the present and visions of the future do neo soul artists present? How did these artists reimagine the possibilities of musical self-expression? Throughout the semester, we will listen to neo soul albums and consider their production, lyrics, and effects on us as listeners. We will watch videos and read op-eds, contemporary scholarship in Black Studies, and African American literature that address the political stakes and interpretation of art. These works will offer a sense of the range and diversity of writing on neo soul and the way it continues to shape black artists’ politics of sound, music-making, and performance.
20. Profiling Celebrity. MW 1.00-2.15
How can thinking about fame help rethink society? This course considers the celebrity profile a contemporary expression of a longstanding interest in capturing charismatic personae in written word for entertainment, aspiration, and critique. Of particular interest is how a profile of a person can do more than promote their lives as a product, but also offer cultural analysis about the nature of individual life in a transforming culture. We will think about how the craft of writing conveys what it means to be a person, and what politics such specially promoted persons can achieve. In addition to theoretical writings about celebrity, we will read celebrity profiles about Jennifer Lopez, Gwyneth Paltrow, Richard Pryor, Margot Robbie, The Rock, Serena Williams, among others, to assess what we do when we read and write about fame.
22. The Politics of Pain. TTh 1.00-2.15
How do we communicate the experience of physical or mental pain? When pain is shared publicly, whose pain do we pay attention to, and whose do we ignore? How should we respond to the suffering and pain of others? This course will explore these questions and others raised at the intersection of pain, trauma, power, and the political. We’ll look at analyses of portrayals of pain from presidential campaigns, foreign aid letters, and real medical cases alongside memoir, queer theory, and literary studies to examine how experiences of pain are shared and circulated for a variety of political purposes. From bodies in pain that reinforce traditional gender roles to those that become rallying cries for policy changes and revolution, this course asks the question: “what difference might this pain make in the world?”
23. Beautiful People. MW 9.00-10.15
Rigorous controlled experiments have now confirmed what has always intuitively seemed true: being beautiful has its advantages. But how do we define, identify, and recognize beauty? Why do we seek it out; why must we strive so hard to achieve it? And why does it often have such an ugly underbelly?
This course will examine culturally and historically contingent ways of defining beauty, analyzing how constructs of racialized, classed, and gendered attributes at different historical moments factor into what counts as beautiful, fashionable, or desirable. We also will parse the values and ideals promoted by our own moment through a wide variety of selections from recent pop-culture and mass-media campaigns: music videos (eg: Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts,” Ed Sheeran’s “Beautiful People”), reality TV clips and promotions (America’s Next Top Model, Nip/Tuck), Instagram trends (#iweigh, #freethepuff), and advertisements for cosmetics and clothing (Aerie’s “real” campaign, Dove’s “real beauty,” Sephora’s “We Belong to Something Beautiful”). Nonfiction articles, book chapters, and documentary clips on the globalized beauty industry (cosmetics, plastic surgery) will offer critical and theoretical lenses to consider where and how beauty works. This course’s multi-disciplinary approach will encourage students to engage with fields including cultural studies, media studies, philosophy, art history, history of medicine, women’s and gender studies, African-American studies, and disability studies.
24. Telling the Truth. TTh 9.00-10.15
What do we mean by “the truth” in America today? Is objectivity possible? And, if so, is impartial observation always desirable? How independent is “independent thought?” In what has been called a “post-truth world,” questions of objectivity, fact, bias, values and even purpose have resurrected what, in an earlier period in American history, was termed the “credibility gap” and, in fact, has engaged philosophers, theorists and intellectuals for the last two thousand years. Drawing on political philosophy, journalism, history and ethics, this course challenges assumptions about objectivity, examines and refines ideas and practices in non-fiction writing for a scholarly audience, and asks essential questions for scholars and citizens in any era. What conditions lead to a discerning, unbiased assessment of the information on which we base our thinking and actions? As students and citizens, how do we determine what sources of information or opinion are trustworthy? How, as thinkers, writers and scholars, do we become trustworthy?
25. Censorship and the Arts. MW 4.00-5.15
What right does any authority have to control expression? This writing seminar will treat legal and critical debates from recent times, as well as various arguments concerning politics, artistic freedom, and religion, ranging from those of Plato to contemporary cancel culture. Written assignments will comprise argumentative essays and research papers of various lengths and formats, carefully designed to introduce a variety of writing skills. For more detailed information, please refer to the online syllabus.
26. The Art of Time. TTh 4.00-5.15
Time is a problem. Even in common parlance it attracts a rich set of metaphors, all signaling our obsession with the rate at which it moves: Time “races” when we wish we could “freeze” it, “crawls” when we wish it would “fly.” Reminding us of the old maxim “time is money,” business gurus want to tell us how to “manage” it, while gurus of the religious sort offer the hope that it can be “transcended.” Even so, we’re not really quite sure what “it” is. Physicists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, philosophers like Henri Bergson and Martin Heidegger, and artists from Shakespeare to Marcel Proust have all tried to penetrate the enigma. This course will suggest that the urge to investigate—and intervene in–the dilemma of time is a basic force driving the creation of art, literature, philosophy, and science. As we explore the human experience of time, we will examine the problem of mortality, the mysteries of memory, the malleable nature of subjective time, and the way our understanding of time is influenced by technological and cultural factors. As the course concludes, students will reflect on how they navigate the challenge of living in time and consider how our relationship with time shapes who we are and what we do.
27. Hope. MW 1.00-2.15
What is hope? What may we hope for? What is the use—if there is any use at all—of hoping? Is hoping hardwired into our biology or a socially constructed behavior? How do our social circumstances (our gender, race, class, ability, and so forth) affect how we hope? In whom—ourselves? our families? groups? institutions?—should we invest our hopes? Keeping our own hopes (and fears) in mind, we will investigate the concept, politics, rhetoric, and history of hope from interdisciplinary perspectives. We will read scholarly essays from philosophy, psychology, political science, history, education, and literary criticism, and examine a variety of complex cultural objects (political speeches and petitions, advertisements, artworks, poems). We will explore how hope may help us (or not help us, as the case may be) confront social injustice, climate change, divisive politics, and a lingering pandemic in our day-to-day lives. And, perhaps most importantly, we will ask how we can share our hopes with others.
28. The Way We Work. MW 11.35-12.50
In 1910 the most common occupational categories in America were factory workers and craftsman (38.2%) and farm workers (30.9%). As of 2019, these sectors only make up 7.9% and 1.4% of American workers respectively. The vast majority of workers are now in the more amorphous and ambiguous “Service” sector. Work increasingly involves selling your ideas, or your emotions, or someone else’s product. Work is more likely to involve managing other people or managing your own labor as a ‘sole contractor’ in the ‘gig economy’. The scale and scope of this transformation in working life is rivalled only by the Industrial Revolution.
Taking deindustrialized wealthy nations as our case study, we are going to look at how work works in the 21st century. Our course begins by examining the very concept of ‘work’ from Marxist, Feminist and anarchist perspectives. We then explore new forms of labor (such as emotional labor and so-called cognitive capitalism), as well as conditions of modern workplaces (like automation, de-unionization, and the rise of the professional-managerial class). In our final unit, we’ll focus on creative labor as an especially unusual form of work. Isn’t ‘creative labor’ an oxymoron? How have works of art anticipated, documented and resisted changes in the world of work?
29. Black and Indigenous Ecologies. MW 2.30-3.45
“Red earth, blood earth, blood brother earth”
—Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to My Native Land (1965)
Who gets to define the meaning of ecology, along with the earth we stand on, and how is this definition bound up with the legacies of colonial power, empire, slavery, and other forms of racialized oppression? And what new modes of ecological thought might emerge once we engage with the perspectives of indigenous peoples and communities of color—traditionally excluded from dominant environmentalist discourses—and their alternative ways of thinking and imagining a relation to the earth? Through readings in anthropology, geology, critical race studies, philosophy, literature, and poetry, this course explores the ecologies and counter-ecologies born of anti-imperial opposition, from 1492 to the present. Struggles for liberation, as we will examine, are never separable from struggles for land, food, water, air, and an earth in common. From Standing Rock to Sao Paulo, the Antilles to New Zealand, and Mauna Kea to Lagos, we will engage with anti-colonial and anti-racist attempts to craft an image of the earth no longer made in the ecocidal image of imperialist Western Man (or the anthropos of “Anthropocene”), and to imagine a future to be held and composed in common by all.
30. Finding Voices. MW 9.00-10.15
We are constantly surrounded by the language, images, and vocabulary of voice. For a long time, the notion of voice has been one of the most familiar and fundamental approaches to making sense of ourselves and the world around us. But what exactly is a voice, and what does it mean to have one?
Through readings from disciplines of music, dance, philosophy, social science, literature, and other fields of study, this course examines how we recognize – or decide – whether something is a voice or not. Along the way, we will also consider the stakes of creating and manipulating voices. In our readings and viewing/listening assignments, we will encounter voices in a variety of forms, including (but not limited to) those of song, animals, machines, orators, ventriloquists, musical instruments, and the divine. We will explore the ways in which voices bring together media forms, engage the senses, make use of silence, and craft social, cultural, racial, sexual, political, and religious narratives. Do voices have to have sound? Do they have to have bodies, and if not, then what does it mean for a voice to be without a body? Why do we sometimes find the attribution of certain voices to certain sources confusing, or perhaps disturbing? Powerful? Even dangerous?
(No prior experience with musical notation is required for this course.)
31. Decadence and Its Discontents. TTh 1.00-2.15
Decadence once denoted a society in moral and economic decline, but today the word often appears in the context of chocolate desserts. We find it mobilized in both homophobic invective and gay pride panegyric. What are the relationships between these meanings? By delving into decadence’s rich contradictions, our course will tackle broader questions like: What motivates someone to declare—or celebrate—the end of an era? What are the connections between social collapse and hedonistic art? Is there moral value to transgression or reclusion in a dying or unjust world? If so, what modes from the illusory to the supernatural to the artificial might they take? Our transhistorical exploration will draw on a range of materials, from the Marc Jacobs advertisement to the Roman Empire treatise; from Victorian poetry to contemporary film. We will pay special attention to the complex, often disquieting, configurations of race, gender, and sexuality in decadent discourses. And we will supplement our discussions with field trips to the Beinecke Library and Yale Center for British Art.
32. Living in the Twilight Zone: Twilight and Contemporary Young Adult Literary Criticism. TTh 11.35-12.50
This course considers the vampire phenomenon that gripped tweens for nearly a decade, Stephanie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga. We will re-examine the series, largely pathologized as book candy for teenage girls, and take seriously its cultural implications. We will treat Meyer’s work as textual artifacts and thereby a cumulative product of various young adult subcultures. In this course, we will learn how to think critically about popular culture. How do we place contemporary popular media within its cultural context? What is the utility in assigning value to certain cultural objects over others? How do we engage ‘bad’ art? What can trends in young adult literature teach us about our current political moment? How do gender, sexuality, race, and religion emerge within critical and fandom reception of YA literature. This course will explore theoretical concepts such as feminism and ‘postfeminism’, queerness and kink, as well as digital fandom and fan labor. Students will learn how to critically engage with peer-reviewed scholarly research, journalism, literature, film, and music. Readings will derive from a wide range of disciplines including literary criticism, communications (fan studies), media studies, and religious studies. Moreover, this course will teach students the mechanics of writing at the college level. Throughout the course, we will reflect on what these topics and issues mean for developing our approach to and appreciation for young adult literature.
33. (Re)Defining Family. MW 11.35-12.50
What is family? Who can or cannot constitute a family? And how do external forces—ranging from war to social media to the economy—affect families around the globe today? In this writing seminar, we will examine the institution and the concept of family through a range of scholarly lenses including history, law, literature, medicine, and sociology. Taking our cue from the signs and symbols of family that proliferate in the world around us, a selection of readings on the subject, and our own experiences as well as the lives of those around us, we will deconstruct the term “family” in an effort to analyze its many facets and implications. Through our writings and in our class discussions, we will ask: How do I define family—and how does family define me?
34. Creative Obsessions. TTh 2.30-3.45
What are your obsessions? Are they quirky and unique (and maybe embarrassing)–an obscure piece of music, a character from a novel, your family recipe for mac and cheese? Or are they more mainstream but no less haunting–a friendship, a social media platform, a sports team? From childhood crushes to white whales, our obsessions can be self-defining and often drive us to write and create beautiful things. But as much as they define us, they can occasionally delude or even destroy us. This class will allow you to explore, and write about, intellectual, aesthetic, and personal obsessions—both your own and those of professional writers, philosophers, artists, psychologists, theorists, and musicians. What is the relationship between obsession and creativity? Obsession and addiction? Are we motivated by external validation or an inward, ineffable drive? Readings will include work by such writers as Claudia Rankine, David Foster Wallace, and Maurice Sendak, exploring arguments around obsessive love, work, and creativity. We will also consider how the global pandemic may have inspired or shifted our personal and cultural obsessions.