ENGL 114 Sections

Writing seminars

Fall 2024 Sections

01. Liberalism and its Critics. TTh 9.00-10.15

Marcus Alaimo

Our course readings will address important claims about the philosophical and political meanings of “liberalism” since the early-nineteenth century, including the claims brought against it by some of its most influential critics. We will also explore how the meanings and aims of “freedom” – which liberalism is designed to promote – have been shaped by historical, economic, racial, and social contexts, e.g., the Cold War, the struggle for black liberation and civil rights, the globalization of financial markets, and the looming threat of climate disaster. Authors may include Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Rosa Luxemburg, Frantz Fanon, Friedrich Hayek, Angela Davis, Andreas Malm, and Wendy Brown.

This is a big, multifaceted topic, which we will by no means cover in its entirety. However, since the primary aim of this course will be to familiarize ourselves with conventions of academic research and writing, the topic will help us explore questions of perspective that are so key to writing and argumentation: how and why do we hold the beliefs and assumptions we do? What role do culture, economics, nationality, ideology, and identity play in these beliefs? What does it mean for core beliefs to be challenged by an intelligent interlocutor?

02. Liberalism and its Critics. TTh 11.35-12.50

Marcus Alaimo

Our course readings will address important claims about the philosophical and political meanings of “liberalism” since the early-nineteenth century, including the claims brought against it by some of its most influential critics. We will also explore how the meanings and aims of “freedom” – which liberalism is designed to promote – have been shaped by historical, economic, racial, and social contexts, e.g., the Cold War, the struggle for black liberation and civil rights, the globalization of financial markets, and the looming threat of climate disaster. Authors may include Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Rosa Luxemburg, Frantz Fanon, Friedrich Hayek, Angela Davis, Andreas Malm, and Wendy Brown.

This is a big, multifaceted topic, which we will by no means cover in its entirety. However, since the primary aim of this course will be to familiarize ourselves with conventions of academic research and writing, the topic will help us explore questions of perspective that are so key to writing and argumentation: how and why do we hold the beliefs and assumptions we do? What role do culture, economics, nationality, ideology, and identity play in these beliefs? What does it mean for core beliefs to be challenged by an intelligent interlocutor?

03. Monstrosity and the Vampire. TTh 1.00-2.15

Shubhashree Basnyat

Across the ages, our stories, and our means of telling them have changed, but the figure of the vampire endures. They are terrifying but attractive. They are repulsive yet compelling. In this class, we will grapple with the idea of monstrosity– what it means to be radically different, how that difference hurts, and how it can be, perhaps, liberating. While monstrosity poses a threat against humanity, it offers the possibility that rather than recuperating the human, leaning into the other-than-human might prove exhilarating, empowering, and transformative. Of course, not all monsters are the same, and we will pay attention to the figure of the vampire in its particularity. For example, we may consider the centrality of blood in stories about vampires: blood binds us, in complex ways, to life, death, illness, family, lineage, identity. Vampires drink, drain, infect, donate, transfuse blood, raising questions of exploitation as well as intimacy. We may also consider the fact that vampires are largely represented as intensely erotic but not reproductive figures. If they are social, they are not, however, productive. As such, vampires challenge normative expectations around labor, gender, sexuality, and ability. Through books such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, tv series such as True Blood and What We Do In The Shadows, critical texts such as Susan Stryker’s “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage” and Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure, the vampire in its various iterations across time and medium, will help us think about mechanisms of, and resistance against, colonialism, capitalism, heteronormativity, compulsory ablebodiedness, racism.

04. Home. MW 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.

05. Picturing Empire. MW 2.30-3.45

Felisa Baynes-Ross

How did premodern writers, artists, and cartographers in England visualize distant lands and people? What fantasies of Asia, America, and the Antilles (Caribbean) did they sell, and what economic interests, ambitions, and anxieties motivated these fictions? How do these texts recreate contests over space and boundaries? In this course, we will examine travel narratives, natural histories, proclamations, maps, botanical gardens, and topographical art to determine how Britain imagined empire, and how it used its technologies of knowledge and power to lay claim to contested spaces, propagate imperial ideology, authorize human trafficking, and codify Indigenous dispossession and genocide. We will examine medieval texts such as Mandeville Travels and the Letter of Prester John not as sites of origin, but to understand how their imperial logics repeat in paintings by artists like Agostino Brunias, and the rhetorical campaigns against Indigenous people in the Lesser Antilles in the 18th century. How do these discourses serve as testing ground not only for scientific knowledge but also to experiment with ideas about race and difference? How are they a theater for the rehearsal of mass murder? What logics, grammars, and rhetorical strategies did writers in the 18th century deploy to recruit subjects of empire and justify the violence of the plantation regime? How do these fictions and rhetorics re-form in 21st century conflicts over borders? What does imperial ambition look like now? As we enter these fraught spaces, we will practice methods and approaches that recognize Indigenous agency and humanity. We will consider, for example, how Indigenous peoples in the Lesser Antilles used maritime technologies, interisland networks, and ecologies to maintain their sovereignty. We will uncover counternarratives in and alongside colonial discourses then and now and analyze how they work as correctives to Indigenous erasure. In taking a transhistorical and multimodal approach to empire, we remain open to continuities and discontinuities between the past and the present, across different modes and geographies, to understand how history works and how and why these histories still matter.

06. On Disability. MW 1.00-2.15

Zoë Burgard

“In imagining more accessible futures, I am yearning for an elsewhere—and, perhaps, an ‘elsewhen’—in which disability is understood otherwise: as political, as valuable, as integral” (Alison Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip).

What’s in a name? How do terms like disability, diagnosis, ableism, access, inclusivity come into existence and how do they affect our conversations in the pursuit of justice? What does accessibility look like — at universities, in the workplace, within our communities? What are the roadblocks to access and inclusion and how can we recognize them, dismantle them? 

Disability justice represents a major area of reform in the modern political landscape. Critical disability studies are the academic entry point to these conversations. In this course, you will learn to write thoughtfully and inclusively about topics of disability justice, to read texts about disability and diagnosis with an eye for bias and prejudice, and to research and argue points about equity, access, and liberation. We will examine narratives of mental and physical disabilities, the history of language around disability, and work to dismantle outdated ideologies about how power and personhood are impacted by (dis)ability. Texts will include personal narratives like those found in Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century (edited by Alice Wong); critical race studies approaches to these questions such as The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability (Jasbir K. Puar); political theory informed approaches like The Capacity Contract: Intellectual Disability and the Question of Citizenship (Stacy Clifford Simplican); ecocritical analyses like those in Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation (Sunaura Taylor); and intersectional calls to action such as Feminist, Queer, Crip (Alison Kafer).

07. The Once and Future Campus. TTh 2.30-3.45

Ben Card

Once again universities are back in the headlines. Florida is remaking its flagship university system along partisan lines; deans encourage disciplines in the humanities to reduce hiring; and the rise of LLMs forces even once-confident departments such as computer science to rethink outcomes. A raft of small colleges closed during the pandemic. Meanwhile, already rich institutions accept enormous donations from the likes of Stephen Schwarzman and Kenneth Griffin, whose names will adorn buildings and graduate schools presumably forever.

Do universities have values? And is that even the right question to ask? Should universities equip students narrowly for the jobs that already exist, or rather give them well-rounded educations to meet an uncertain future? Can universities promote social justice or must they entrench inequality? None of these questions is settled, and each has a long history. What would our ideal university look like?

This course takes a long view of the global university, especially the American college and with a special emphasis on Yale, to bring the values and goals of higher education into focus. We will read for these themes across a wide range of forms including university reports, scholarly articles, economics and sociology, administrative emails, a documentary film, a recent horror movie, and selections out of novels. Emphasis on non-fiction and college writing in addition to archival skills. Occasional class sessions at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Authors to include John Henry Newman, Owen Johnson, William F. Buckley, R. O. Kwon, and Mariama Diallo.

08. The Tortured Artist. TTh 9.00-10.15

Julia Chin

“Men have called me mad,” Edgar Allan Poe writes, “but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence.” An orphan plagued by debt, addiction, death, and the deep depression we so often associate with troubled genius, Poe belongs to what Taylor Swift pointedly calls “The Tortured Poets Department.” History is suspiciously crammed with so-called tortured artists, from Van Gogh cutting his ear off to Beethoven becoming deaf to his own music, and the long list of suicides from Sylvia Plath to Kurt Cobain. But where did the trope of the tortured, starving, or mad artist originate? Does scientific evidence actually suggest a correlation between creative types and suffering? What has made centuries of humans so drawn to these unhappy artists? While engaging with the music, literature, and visual art of Frida Kahlo, Oscar Wilde, Giacomo Puccini, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jonathan Larson, and more, we’ll consider the ways these artists have been curated, flattened, and mythologized through secondary sources such as contemporary reviews, museum exhibits, and biographies. We’ll also read from psychology, philosophy, and criticism to explore the roles of catharsis, mental health, and genius in the artistic process. Students will experience some of these works firsthand in visits to the art gallery, Beinecke, and musical performances, and think critically and creatively about how we might better shed light on the dark picture society continues to paint of the tortured artist.

09. Books, Friends, & Nature. MW 11.35-12.50

Alison Coleman

If I were to name the three most precious resources of life, I should say books, friends, and nature; and the greatest of these, at least the most constant and always at hand, is nature.

— John Burroughs, late 19th- to early 20th-century naturalist and nature writer

This seminar explores the triad of life-giving forces described by Burroughs in his 1908 book Leaf and Tendril, considering why these topics have been subjects of reflection by writers throughout history—and, from our 21st-century vantage point, what the consequences are when these resources are imperiled by threats to climate and sustainability, inequities in access, and increasingly widespread social isolation. From our home base in the newly renovated Peabody Museum of Natural History, we will venture into the natural environments of Yale’s home city and beyond, consider the ways in which friendships are formed and nurtured, and reflect on the role that books play in shaping our ideas about the world. Students will draft, workshop, and revise three academic essays of progressive length and complexity; this work will culminate in an independent research paper on a topic of contemporary urgency, based on sustained engagement with the Peabody’s collections and inspired by close study of one or more objects in the museum. Each member of the class also will develop content based on their research to contribute to an interactive museum app. Readings will include a range of scholarly articles as well as book chapters, essays, and poetry by Alexander Chee, Anne Fadiman, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Vivek Murthy, Mary Oliver, Zadie Smith, Henry David Thoreau, and others.

10. Experiences of Chronic Illness: The Twentieth Century to the Present. TTh 1.00-2.15

Claire Crow

What does it mean to be sick in our modern world––a world in which environmental and industrial changes have corresponded to a rise in chronic diseases? This course explores the lived experiences and histories of chronic illness through diverse narratives from the twentieth century to the present. We will engage with memoir, literary theory, social media, film, and foundational texts in the medical humanities to understand the personal, social, and cultural dimensions of chronic illness. Some of our texts document personal experiences with chronic conditions, revealing how these authors understand themselves in relation to their illness. Other sources theorize illness more broadly. We will discuss ethical issues in healthcare that influence all of us in some way, such as misdiagnosis, misinformation, racial and gender discrimination in healthcare, the long-term effects of COVID-19, medical justice, and more. Above all, we will consider the many ways authors and sources define “chronic” and “illness,” questioning and reshaping our conceptions of these terms throughout the semester. Readings will include work by writers such as Virginia Woolf, Audre Lorde, Elaine Scarry, Vinita Agarwhal, and Megan O’Rourke.

11. Telling Stories. TTh 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.

12. Haunted Houses. MW 4.00-5.15

Sarah Guayante

What haunts us and where? This course uses both real and fictional haunted houses to investigate the cultural phenomenon of haunting. We’ll study haunted media–literature, film, tv shows, folklore, and tourist sites–to determine how hauntings come to narrate a set of cultural anxieties. Our writing will attend to the structure of these houses and the representation of the ghosts within to unearth buried cultural conflicts–over the value of different kinds of labor, the political marginalization of certain cultural identities, and the loss or suppression of history. In addition to studying the folklore that surrounds these haunted sites, we’ll also study the construction of haunted houses. Alongside urban theorists and architectural critics, we will discuss the real architectural histories that shape a place, as well as the folkloric histories that reflect our social experience within. We’ll question how a public decides that a place is haunted and discuss how these imperceptible realities shape the places we dwell. As we study the history of haunted houses, we’ll uncover the larger social and political histories that dwell within their rooms.

As we write about haunted houses, we will be investigating the boundaries between the objective, observable reality and the non-observable, subjective realities that are usually deemed fictional. We’ll use haunted houses as a starting point for thinking about how to represent the perceptible and imperceptible realities in our writing–challenging our understanding of reality and the truths that shape it. While we study haunted histories, we will analyze the rhetorical tools that convey a haunted history and consider the function of these tools in our own writing. How are these writers attempting to reconstruct, re-build, or represent lost histories? How are they resuscitating non-dominant discourses? What suppressed voices emerge in our re-tellings? What can these fictionalized histories tell us about the places we dwell?

13. TBA. MW 11.35-12.50

John Hoffmeyer

Description to come.

14. On Beauty. MW 1.00-2.15

Rosemary Jones

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 beautiful thing? What shapes our various definitions of beauty? How do certain stereotypes of beauty narrow our field of vision or even oppress us? 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 or pressured to see, and who we are. This course requires you be open to looking at art; while a background in art history is not required, you will be expected to visit the Yale University Art Gallery and to use your observations as evidence in your work.

The assigned readings will form the basis of our class discussions and will prove helpful as models for creating your own arguments. We will analyze and evaluate how writers identify a problem, how they generate a line of reasoning in response to that problem, how they use evidence to support their claims, and how they demonstrate a motive for their thinking. As you practice writing these elements of argument, you will learn how to write clear, compelling prose. Your major paper will be a researched argument about an aspect of beauty (your choice) and its place in the world.

15. Writing Fashion: Textile Poetics in Fashion, Film, and Literature. TTh 2.30-3.45

Theresa Kauder

Why do so many Yale students wear Canada Goose, a brand designed for Arctic survival, in the winter? What do we do when we put on clothes, and what do clothes do to us? What might it mean to say that “clothes make the man,” per the title of Gottfried Keller’s 1874 novella? In the course, we explore how we fashion our identities through fashion and how our choice of clothes always speaks a language and refers to a set of historical conventions.

We not only call into question why some fashion trends and labels became associated with particular social groups or how social media has changed the world of (fast) fashion (think of Fashion Magazines, influencers, or the Kardashians). We will also read canonical works like Oscar Wilde’s The Philosophy of Dress (1885) and Irmgard Keun’s The Artificial Silk Girl (1932) to explore the nexus of textiles and textures for both clothes and texts. Week by week, we will build a rich archive of fashion and textile poetics in literature, film, and other visual media from the past (e.g., Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1992) or Wim Wenders’s documentary Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989). As we do so, the course teaches us to talk about fashion and identity and analyze fashion’s literary and cinematic history as we tailor our own texts. Is writing a textile craft of weaving words and (inter-)texts?

16. Money, Myth, and Meaning. TTh 11.35-12.50

Heather Klemann

“We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.”

― Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

How do writers, artists, politicians, and philosophers make sense of worlds that extract value from data and trade JPEGs for millions? This course examines representations of late twentieth and twenty-first century global financialization across the fields of economics; literature; film; politics; African American studies; Ethnicity, Race and Migration studies; anthropology; and gender and sexuality studies. We explore questions such as: what does money symbolize if not commodities, labor, and production? How do individuals use metaphor, stories, and spectacle to understand allegedly invisible market forces and their material effects on lived experience? We discuss topics such as the zombification of post-industrial labor in South Africa, late-capitalist “cyberqueer,” and racial capitalism, among others. Texts include Hernan Díaz’s novel Trust, Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street, and essays by Audre Lorde, Jean and John Comaroff, Laura Mulvey, and Jean Baudrillard. Along the way, we consider how our own writing practices can be used for good: caring for vulnerable populations, elevating silenced voices, and finding joy and meaning in what can’t be commodified and exchanged.

17. What is a Social Movement? TTh 2.30-3.45

Timothy Kreiner

By any means necessary is a slogan with a history. In the US, it is usually associated with Malcolm X. But Malcolm borrowed the phrase from Frantz Fanon, who made the slogan popular among militants in the struggles for liberation from colonialism. And although the revolutionary mood that slogan gathered owes much to the Cold War and liberation movements in the global South, that mood passed through revolts against masters of every kind in much of the global North. 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 riots, #MeToo no-platforming, and risings against police violence part of the antiracist, feminist, anticapitalist, and climate justice movements born in the 1960s? Or do they suggest that something new is afoot in the twenty-first century? What about Trump-ism and the Capitol riot? Who struggles for freedom from what, why and how, in short? And why do we divide the manifold dynamics of those struggles into discrete “movements”? Readings will be drawn from the writings of militants as well as scholars, and span movement histories, critical theory, and contemporary inquiries into ongoing social struggles.

18. Why Is Art so Boring? MW 1.00-2.15

Margaret McGowan

Description to come.

19. The Anatomy of Melancholy. MW 9.00-10.15

Lacey Jones

What does Emily Dickinson mean when she calls despair a “formal feeling”? What’s the different between sadness, grief, and despondency? This course is a multidisciplinary introduction to despair. We’ll look at the ways that writers, artists, and scientists represent this state of feeling, and we’ll think together about how these ways of talking about despair shape our understandings of agency, subjectivity, and political responsibility. Is despair actually the death knoll of climate revolution? Or can our despondency be both paralyzing and productive? Does despair move us closer to life or to death? Is it an accurate or distorted way of thinking? Is it a psychiatric condition? An aesthetic one? Political? Spiritual? Together we will learn to read closely in order to ask how despair operates as both a literary and existential form. Authors may include Brooks, Dickinson, Kierkegaard, Cha, Plath, and Wiesel. 

This course will also teach writing as a mode of intellectual experimentation. Together we’ll become familiar with the mechanics and form of academic prose, developing the foundational skills necessary for clear, fluid, strong writing. Our class will focus on five key steps: identifying problems, making claims, supporting these claims with evidence, establishing motive, and providing sufficient warrants.We’ll develop the skills to read closely across disciplines and genres. We’ll also consider what makes an effective introduction or conclusion, how to best transition between paragraphs, and effective strategies for brainstorming. After this class, you’ll be well-equipped for the kinds of essays and projects that will constitute your university career. But we’ll also think more holistically about what role writing plays in the generation, use, and form of ideas, experimenting across styles and genres. At stake is your formation as a thinker and writer—not just as a successful college student.

20. Creative Obsessions. TTh 1.00-2.15

Carol 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, Richard Deming, and Albert Einstein, and we’ll watch one film exploring a creative personality (Greta Gerwig’s Little Women.)

21. Secret Lives of Children. TTh 4.00-5.15

Carol Morse

From angelic innocents to demonic brats, our perception of children runs the gamut: While some sentimentalize childhood, others minimize its significance and seek to curtail children’s autonomy and power. Yet we know that children are marvelously complex–in their imaginations, anxieties, desires, and even in the ways they experience trauma. In this course we’ll consider different models of childhood from a variety of angles–psychological, historical, literary, biological, cultural, artistic. We’ll ask such questions as: How do “secret spaces” enrich children’s imagination and sense of wonder? In what ways do children need both community and solitude, scheduled time and boredom, domestic order and wild spaces? How do young people inherit and respond to the consequences of adult decisions? What is the impact of race, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economics on developing creative identities? We’ll also consider how toys and books enhance children’s imaginations, and we’ll even analyze a few classics (Where the Wild Things Are, Calvin & Hobbes, The Giving Tree). Our readings will include works by such thinkers as varied as Langston Hughes, Jamaica Kincaid, CS Lewis, and Bruno Betthelheim, and we will watch a film or two (The Florida Project). 

22. Divine Bodies. MW 1.00-2.15

Julia Nations-Quiroz

Religious communities revere certain divine bodies. Writers, artists, and intellectuals help construct and reify those bodies through texts and visual representations of the divine. For example, the bodies of the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad have been centers of discussion for millennia. The Buddha’s body is marked by specific characteristics that set it apart; the very nature of Jesus’s body, whether corporeal or spiritual, has been a subject of debate; and while depictions of Muhammad’s body are prohibited within Islam, they have still been created. In this course, we will explore what is at stake in attending to the body of the divine. Why does it matter that figures like the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad had a body? Are their bodies analogous to our own? To different historical bodies? The course is divided into units: In the first, we consider divine bodies within the specific contexts which construct them; In the second, we analyze the relationship between divine bodies and ritualized bodies; Finally, in the third unit, we consider marginalized bodies in relation to the divine. Throughout the course, we will engage ancient materials alongside modern scholarly materials in order to attend to the questions posed above.

23. Pirates. TTh 11.35-12.50

Eden Rea-Hedrick

From Peter Pan’s nemesis Captain Hook to the Captain Morgan rum logo to the swashbucklers of Netflix’s recent One Piece series, the tricorn-hatted, cutlass-wielding pirate has been a fixture of Western pop culture for centuries. Where does this image come from? The historical so-called Golden Age of Piracy in the North Atlantic and Indian Oceans lasted less than a hundred years (roughly 1650 to 1730) and in many ways looked very different from its later depictions. Why have novelists, filmmakers, musicians, poets, painters, and more so frequently revived this era and adapted its famous figures? What is piracy’s enduring appeal, and what does the persistence of pirates reveal about our cultural preoccupations? Were historical pirates bold social outlaws or cold-blooded killers? Over the course of the semester, we will consider many possible answers to these questions and others as we examine a wide array of depictions of pirates and piracy. Our texts will include a blend of history, literature, film, musicals, television, and critical theory. Through discussion, writing, and other activities, we will interrogate what popular depictions of pirates can reveal about perspectives on history, issues of empire, race, gender and sexuality, attitudes towards work and citizenship, questions of genre in entertainment, and more.

24. Censorship and the Arts. MW 9.00-10.15

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.  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.

25. 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.

26. 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.

27. 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.

28. 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.

29. Does Anybody Read This Stuff? MW 4.00-5.15

Celine Vezina

This course will focus primarily on culturally prominent academic and para-academic works which are cited and discussed far more frequently than they are read. This premise sounds cranky; in practice, it will give theoretical depth to concepts you have frequently heard discussed shallowly, and ideally equip you to more critically encounter social and political discourse. This course will feature notable concepts from pop culture (the death of the author, with Roland Barthes’ eponymous essay; reader response theory, with Stuart Hall’s “Encoding and Decoding Television Discourse”; Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’”); key terms from mainstream political discourse (Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” which coined the term “intersectionality”; Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, whence ‘gender performativity’); and famous ideas and lines from philosophy and theory (Nietzsche’s “God is dead” from The Gay Science; Foucault on the panopticon in Discipline and Punish). Depending on the class make-up, the syllabus may expand or contract to include notable examples from the sciences. This course will allow you to become familiar with a variety of different levels and styles of academic writing, as well as provide a better sense of what an analytical or philosophical concept involves.

30. Asian Plasticities. MW 2.30-3.45

Henry Zhang

When we think of East Asia, we think of plastic: the Korean beauty industry, with its scalpel-sculpted beauty; sleek, Japanese game consoles and action figurines; Foxconn factories, producing Apple goods. But when learning that American reconstructive surgery techniques were perfected on the victims of the atomic bomb, or that the Great Pacific garbage rim, where some of our children’s toys end up, consists mainly of East Asian trash, we might wonder—what are the hidden costs of these commodities? Drawing from ethnic and transpacific studies, the environmental and medical humanities, and aesthetic theory, this class traces two, orthogonal histories: the first is the long durée of “plastic,” from its etymology in the “plastic arts,” to its christening of a powerful, new polymer in the noontime of capitalism, to its now-ubiquitous presence in our lifeworlds and bloodstreams. The second is Asian and Asian American artworks as a site for thinking about race, beauty, and authenticity, as well as the ways in which empire, capital, and colonialism have cut up and remolded the globe like a giant, scalpel-wielding hand.