ENGL 114 Sections

Spring 2022 Sections

01. Superintelligence, Entrepreneurship and Ethics. TTh 9.00-10.15

Heather Klemann

“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?

02. Cancelled.

03. Home. MW 2.30-3.45

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.

04. Global Sound, or Decolonizing the Ear. MW 11.35-12.50

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.

05. Black and Indigenous Ecologies. MW 2.30-3.45

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. 

06. Freedom and Choice. TTh 11.35-12.50

Marcus Alaimo

Is freedom best defined as the freedom to choose, as the twentieth-century economist Milton Friedman has claimed? Or can we conceive of liberty as involving more than the presence of available options in an economic market? What are the philosophical underpinnings of different conceptions of freedom? The primary aim of this course will be to familiarize ourselves with some influential claims about philosophical and political meanings of freedom and other overlapping concepts, such as individual choice and liberation. Freedom is often assumed to refer to (economic) choice in US political discourse, so many (though not all) of the conceptions of freedom we examine will bear on this contested assumption. We will survey some classic texts about political freedom and consider how they influenced intellectual debates and political movements in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. We’ll also assess how these later debates are shaped by their own historical and social contexts, e.g., the Cold War, the struggle for Black liberation and Civil Rights, the financialization of global markets, and the looming threat of climate disaster.

07. Cancelled.

08. Cancelled.

09. The End of History. TTh 9.00-10.15

Peter Conroy

“Does history have an end? Is it moving toward a particular goal? Has it already reached one? In 1989, Francis Fukuyama sparked a global sensation when he answered these questions in the affirmative, suggesting that the “end of history” had already been reached. For him, the end of humanity’s ideological evolution was the mixture of liberalism, capitalism, and democracy prevalent in the West and apparently gaining momentum around the world. Since then, philosophers, historians, political theorists, and writers have loudly criticized him for being shortsighted, naive, wishful, or worse. Yet even his fiercest critics have tended to share his underlying assumptions about the exhaustion of alternatives. How, then, should we make sense not only of the claim that history has reached an end, but also of the crisis of imagination that seems to lie beneath it? In this class, moving from the nineteenth century to the present, we’ll explore questions of this kind by revisiting the history of debates about “the end of history.” We’ll also explore works of art, film, and literature that seem to suggest that it’s become impossible to imagine alternatives to our current form of life, despite its problems, its contradictions, and its tendencies toward crisis.”

10. Telling Stories. MW 11.35-12.50

Craig Eklund

Human beings are storytelling animals.  We tell stories of our lives, our families, and our nations.  We tell stories of the past, present, and future.  Stories are a natural, universal way for us to order and interpret experience.  But not all stories declare themselves with a “Once upon a time.”  Many, in fact, are told without any announcement at all.  Many are told without any obvious teller.  Many are not so much stories we tell as they are stories that tell us—how to live, how to think, how to understand things.  In this course we will explore how narratives and narrative-like structures secretly shape the way we conceive of the world.  We’ll ask what happens to the past when we craft it into the narrative that we call history.  We’ll look at the modern myths that populate our cultural landscape and the stories that shape our political convictions.  We’ll read the science of stories and the stories of science.  We will think about how our own life stories relate to how we conceive of ourselves.  Examining both the way we tell stories and what stories tell us, this course tries to get the story straight, once and for all.

11. Telling Stories. MW 1.00-2.15

Craig Eklund

Human beings are storytelling animals.  We tell stories of our lives, our families, and our nations.  We tell stories of the past, present, and future.  Stories are a natural, universal way for us to order and interpret experience.  But not all stories declare themselves with a “Once upon a time.”  Many, in fact, are told without any announcement at all.  Many are told without any obvious teller.  Many are not so much stories we tell as they are stories that tell us—how to live, how to think, how to understand things.  In this course we will explore how narratives and narrative-like structures secretly shape the way we conceive of the world.  We’ll ask what happens to the past when we craft it into the narrative that we call history.  We’ll look at the modern myths that populate our cultural landscape and the stories that shape our political convictions.  We’ll read the science of stories and the stories of science.  We will think about how our own life stories relate to how we conceive of ourselves.  Examining both the way we tell stories and what stories tell us, this course tries to get the story straight, once and for all.

12. The Right to Be Lazy. TTh 2.30-3.45

Greg Ellermann

This writing seminar focuses on the contemporary culture of work. We begin from the now widely shared sense that work today is overwork. To understand how we got here, we will consider the historical, political, and economic forces that have shaped our ideas about the value of working hard and that push us to lead (more and more) productive lives. Drawing on perspectives from sociology, political economy, management theory, and cultural criticism, we will ask the following questions: How did work come to be a defining feature of our lives? When, if ever, does the workday end? What is the relationship between overwork and underwork? Can we imagine alternatives to the way we work and live now?

13. Into the Wild. MW 4.00-5.15

Tess Grogan

Looking out from the peak of Mount Snowdon one night in 1791, the young hiker William Wordsworth famously saw something “awful and sublime” in the mist-shrouded valleys below. The transcendent power of an authentic encounter with nature—“In that wild place and at the dead of night”—set off a European craze for untamed experience, as nineteenth-century adventurers began flocking to glacial summits en masse. Wilderness was suddenly in vogue. Through contemporary nature writing, ecocriticism, and documentary film, this course examines the conflicted legacies of this wild desire: National Parks, mountaineers, amateur falconry enthusiasts, glampers. What can wilderness writing tell us about the figure of the ‘outdoors type’ or the relationship between environmentalism and adventurism? What tensions emerge between authentic experience and the careful framing, filtering, and marketing of that authenticity? As the wilderness has receded, finding it has become increasingly urgent. But at what cost? Readings may include: William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness”; Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind; Ramachandra Guha, “Radical Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique”; Free Solo (2018); Rahawa Haile, “Going It Alone”; Dina Gilio-Whitaker, As Long as Grass Grows; Linda Vance, “Ecofeminism and Wilderness”; Justin Farrell, Billionaire Wilderness; Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk; Christopher Ketcham, “How Instagram Ruined the Great Outdoors.”

14. BAMN: What is a Social Movement? TTh 1.00-2.15

Tim Kreiner

By any means necessary is a slogan with a history. In the US, it is usually associated with Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity he co-founded in June, 1964, at the zenith of the Civil Rights Movement. But Malcolm borrowed the phrase from Frantz Fanon, whose address “Why We Use Violence” in Accra four years earlier made it popular among militants in the movements for liberation from colonialism that re-shaped the postwar world. The mood that the slogan gathers was not born with the global South, however. It passed through Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Red Cloud, Harriet Tubman, and Nat Turner in the US; the suffragettes, Paris Commune, strikes, bread riots, machine breaking, and enclosure riots of modern Europe; and revolts against masters of every kind exemplified since antiquity by Spartacus. This class explores the history of collective action in order to ask what is a social movement? Are the burning of the 3rd Precinct in Minneapolis, #NODAPL riots, #MeToo deplatforming, gilets jaunes rising, and overturning of police vehicles wherever it goes down part of the antiracist, feminist, anticapitalist, and climate justice movements that descend from the 1960s? Or are social movements one thing and such collective actions another? What about Trump-ism and the Capitol riot? How, in sum, does who struggle for freedom from what? Readings will be drawn from the writings of militants, movement histories, revolutionary theory, and contemporary inquiries into ongoing social struggles.

15.Sedition and Dissent. MW 1.00-2.15

Stephanie Ranks

What do we risk when we speak out against the state?  If a government or institutional authority can declare anything it doesn’t like to be seditious, is speech really free?  Modern institutions, from governments to corporations to universities, have adopted “sedition” as a term of disapprobation against subjects, workers, and members who engage in protest.  How does the need for a law against speech that incites social and political upheaval square with free speech values and First Amendment rights?  Through contemporary theorists and historical authors, we will consider how radical speech has been punished and restricted over time.  Our conversations will expand into topics as diverse as the ethics of protest, the necessity of investigative journalism, and the consequences – like charges of treason – that make “free speech” such a precarious category.  We will ask who has the right to speak freely, whether speech constitutes a kind of action, and how these thorny issues translate into our current political moment.  We will look at this topic through a range of lenses: literary critical, historical, legal, political.  And we will ask ourselves how these questions map onto the recent explosion of free speech debates across college campuses nationwide.

16. Telling the Truth. MW 9.00-10.15

Barbara Riley

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?

17. Censorship and the Arts. MW 4.00-5.15

Timothy Robinson

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.

18. The Art of Time. TTh 1.00-2.15

Steven Shoemaker

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.

19. The Art of Time. TTh 4.00-5.15

Steven Shoemaker

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.

20. Cancelled.