ENGL 114 Sections

Spring 2022 Sections

01. The Anatomy of Ghosts. MW 1.00-2.15

Michael Abraham

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 Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, a modern classic that tackles the history of American enslavement, kinship, and memory.

02. Home. TTh 11.35-12.50

Felisa Baynes-Ross

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.

03. The Secret Life of Food. MW 9.00-10:15

Andie Berry

What is food? Is it a popular fad documented on Instagram, a family heirloom that has been passed down through generations as a recipe, or a symbol of socioeconomic class? Or, is it simply a complex structure of nutrients meant to sustain our bodies? In this writing seminar, we will seek to understand the relationships between what, how, and with whom we eat. How does food satisfy our most primal instincts and most sophisticated tastes? What political, social, and economic systems and ideologies collide when we sit down to eat a meal? Focused on the context of the United States and drawing from various subjects including history, economics, literature, chemistry, film studies, art history, and cooking, we will consider how food shapes our identities in obvious and invisible ways. The course will consider our rituals around food, the science that makes our favorite junk foods irresistible, the history of agricultural labor, and the contemporary food entertainment industry. We will read and watch pieces by professional foodies such as Julia Child and Michael Pollan in addition to viewing food media such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Chef’s Table. In the words of food writer Ruth Reichl: “Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.”

04. Disability and Technology. MW 11.35-12.50

Dylan Davidson

Technology is often understood in relation to human ability: Telescopes and eyeglasses enhance our vision. Stoves, pots and pans allow us to outsource digestion and receive rapid nourishment from food. Canes, wheelchairs, and prosthetic limbs enable mobility and balance for people with physical impairments. Notebooks and computers extend our capacity for thought and memory beyond the body. But not all bodies are built the same way, and technology serves many different uses for different people. This class will examine the idea that technology enhances our abilities (or compensates for our disabilities) through a critical examination of influential texts on technology, culture and politics. Together, we will ask what sorts of bodies are characterized as needing or benefiting from technology, while seeking to understand how ideas about ability, gender, race, sexuality and class can shape our thinking. For example: Can prosthetic technologies “repair” impaired or disabled bodies? Or does this idea enforce harmful norms about what sorts of people and lifestyles are allowed to exist in society? Along the way, we will discuss important strategies for both reading and writing academic arguments, through essays and seminar discussions.

05. Modern Medievalisms. TTh 4.00-5.15

Carson Koepke

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?

06. What is a Social Movement? TTh 11.35-12:50

Timothy Kreiner

By any means necessary is a slogan with a history. In the US it is usually associated with Malcolm X and the black-led revolts that outlived the Civil Rights Movement. But Malcolm borrowed the phrase from Frantz Fanon, who popularized the slogan among militants in the revolts against colonialism that re-shaped the postwar world. And although the revolutionary mood that slogan gathered during the Cold War owes much to liberation movements in the global South, it also passed through revolts against masters of every kind in the global North. Students, housewives, radical ethnic nationalists, queer militants, wageless proletarians—the variously dominated and dispossessed—were also party to BAMN. This class explores the history of collective action in the postwar US in order to ask what is a social movement? Are the burning of the 3rd Precinct in Minneapolis, #NODAPL camps, #MeToo no-platforming, and global risings against police violence part and parcel of the new social movements that took shape after 1945? Or do they signal something newer still in the twenty-first century? What about Trump-ism and the Capitol riot? Who struggles for freedom from what today how, in short, and why do we imagine those manifold struggles as separate movements? Readings draw from primary sources, movement histories, revolutionary theory, and contemporary inquiries into ongoing social struggles.  

07. Culture and Conflict. MW 1.00-2.15

Anthony Haslett

What is “culture”? And how does it collide with politics? This course will examine the place and purpose of modern culture: how it can be both a source of distraction and a site of struggle, a booming, sprawling industry as well as the root of certain forms of collectivity. The deep link between culture and power will be a major theme, and will be explored by considering thinkers who to probe the ambiguities embedded in the very concept of culture. The contradictions inherent to the constructions of race, gender, and class will guide our discussions; along the way we will be encounter differing definitions of art, memory, and the self. Readings will be from Karl Marx, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, Guy Debord, Andrea Dworkin, Margo Jefferson, Audre Lorde, Stuart Hall and others.

08. Environmental Memory. TTh 1.00-2.15

Anna Hill

How does the environment remember? How does the more-than-human world shape our memories as individuals and as participants in collective histories? In this course, we will think critically about environments — both natural and built — as dynamic sites of memory, where discourses about history, home, and belonging are continually made and remade. Reading work from cultural theorists, critical geographers, environmental historians, activists, and artists, we will consider what it means to remember through and with the multispecies ecologies in which we are embedded. We will examine how place-based memories can productively complicate dominant historical narratives that valorize some memories while selectively erasing others, and we will consider how ongoing legacies of empire, settler colonialism, and extractive capitalism continue to shape ecologies today. We will examine how patterns of displacement and dispossession can threaten environmental memory, and how, in some cases, claims to place-based memory have been weaponized to dangerous ends. Exploring a range of cultural objects – essays, memoir, film, visual art, and critical mapping projects – we will investigate how writers and artists approach memory as a generative tool with which to imagine decolonial, sustainable paths forward.

09. Creativity and Creative Obsessions TTh 2.30-3.45

Carol Tell Morse

What is the nature of creativity? Is there such a thing as “creative genius,” or are most creative endeavors achieved through hard work and practice? Can it be taught? From childhood crushes to white whales, artists, scientists, and writers have transformed ordinary obsessions into expressions of beauty and wonder.  But as much as we praise the imagination and the work it produces, it can have a darker side; creative types are sometimes linked to mental instability, substance abuse, and self-delusion. This class will allow you to explore and write about the many varieties of creativity. We’ll read scholarly work from different academic disciplines, such as neuroscience, psychology, and education, as well as professional writers, artists, and musicians. What is the relationship between creativity and obsession? Creativity and addiction? Are we motivated by external validation or an inward drive to manage, or even escape, reality? Readings may include work by such writers as Gloria Anzaldua, Maurice Sendak, Albert Einstein, and Toni Morrison.

10. Marxism and the Politics of Culture. MW 4-5.15

Chris McGowan

An introduction to classic texts of Western Marxism, Postcolonial Marxism, and Marxist Feminism, this course explores the function of culture in capitalist society. Focusing on readings in political and cultural theory and a selection of left-wing films, we discuss several interrelated questions, such as: How can artworks resist or critique the society in which they are produced? How should we conceptualize the relation between economic forms of domination and those articulated through race, gender, or sexual identity? How can we compare life under capitalism with life under earlier or alternative modes of economic and social organization? Authors may include Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Georg Lukács, Antonio Gramsci, C.L.R. James, Frantz Fanon, Raymond Williams, Silvia Federici, Angela Davis, Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Susan Buck-Morss, Mark Fisher, Nancy Fraser, and Melinda Cooper. Films may include The Battle of Algiers (1966), Born in Flames (1983), Workers Leaving the Factory (1995), Two Days, One Night (2014), and Riotsville, U.S.A. (2022).

11. Beautiful People. TTh 9.00-10.15

Sophia Richardson

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.

12. Black and Indigenous Ecologies. MW 11.35-12.50

Rasheed Tazudeen

“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.

13. Sound, Race and Diaspora. MW 2.30-3.45

Rasheed Tazudeen

What does decolonization sound like, and how can we hear its resonances? What can theories, performances, and technologies of sound and music from the Global South and across the African diaspora teach us about the histories, legacies, and futures of anti-colonial resistance? If Western tonality has historically functioned as what musicologist Kofi Agawu calls a “colonizing force” in Africa and the Caribbean, then how might we think global and diasporic soundscapes and modes of sound-making as counter-histories to both modern empire and the Eurocentrism of music theory?  

In this course, we will explore the sonic imaginaries and archives by which diasporic identities, cultures, and forms of belonging are constructed. Through readings in Sound Studies, Music, Literature, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Critical Race Studies, and listenings among a diverse array of musical genres, we will examine forms of global sound and music such as the melorhythmic drumming of West African folk music; the earth-oriented noisings of Jamaican Jonkonnu and other Caribbean folk festivals; and the social and political identities ongoingly mobilized by global and transcultural anthems of rebellion. Throughout these explorations, we will stay attuned to the question of how sound has been, and continues to be, a means through which to think and imagine freedom.