Monsters and Marvels
Marvels flourish at the boundaries of literary invention, religious belief, and scientific inquiry, challenging assumptions about natural processes and expected outcomes. From Grendel, the monstrous foe of Beowulf, to Satan, Milton's charismatic antihero, this seminar examines the uses of the marvelous in a variety of texts and genres, including Shakespearian drama, medieval romance, and early travel-writing. Readings may include Beowulf, Marie de France, Chaucer, John Mandeville, Shakespeare, Milton.
Throughout the history of Europe, America, and beyond, poets and philosophers have asked hard questions about unequal relationships, whether between kings and subjects, gods and humans, men and women, rich and poor, or machines and people. Our authors take no single point of view; our goal is to analyze sophisticated and often surprising arguments and to enter new cultural worlds. Readings may include Ovid, Milton, Sei Shonagon, Machiavelli, Rousseau, and Alexievich.
Literature and Medicine
The relationship between patients and doctors, the ill and the well, involves a constant exchange of stories. In this course we will look more closely at the relationship between medicine and narrative through a selection of fiction, essays and poems that investigate the interplay between doubt and diagnosis, the idea of the case study, the problem of medical responsibility, and the language of pain and illness. Authors covered may include Sontag, Mantel, Conan Doyle, Freud, Woolf, Dickinson, Ishiguro and Shelley. Not offered 2022-23.
The Scientific Imagination in English Literature
This course considers three periods of major scientific development-the Renaissance, the nineteenth century, and the modern period- to explore the influence new ideas, discoveries, and theories had on the imagination of English writers. We will look at the early modern interplay between magic and science, Romantic and Victorian debates about evolution, and the twentieth-century advent of modern physics as we confront consistent tropes like the mad scientist, the scientist-hero, and the problem of uncertainty. Authors covered may include Shakespeare, Marlowe, Bacon, Shelley, Darwin, Conan Doyle, Stevenson, Auden, McEwan, and Stoppard. Not offered 2022-23.
The Human Animal
European literature has long been a testing ground for radical new ideas which have come to shape our basic understanding of what it means to be a thinking, speaking and perhaps even autonomous human being. The question of what - if anything - makes us different from animals was debated from numerous points of view: including talking dogs, philosophizing women, bestial men, humanlike beasts, and other creatures that defied the conventions of the time. This course explores some of the key literary texts that shaped this debate and pays careful attention to their cultural environments. Selected readings from Cervantes, La Fontaine, Swift, Rousseau, Buffon, Aikin, and Wollstonecraft, among others.
What Is Imagination?
Albert Einstein once said that imagination is everything, and even more important than knowledge. This course invites you to think about - and use - your imagination as we explore how the act of imagining has been viewed over time in the service of memory and creativity, in both the arts and the sciences. Readings will focus on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and will include Hume, Moritz, Kant, Novalis, Hoffmann, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. Not offered 2022-23.
Dream narratives reveal as much about cultural beliefs and superstitions as they do about techniques of narration and interpretation. This course investigates key developments in the literature on dreams and dream interpretations with examples drawn from the Renaissance through the beginning of the nineteenth century. Selected readings from Boccaccio, Descartes, Calderón, Shakespeare, and Diderot, among others. Not offered 2022-23.
In this course we will look closely at representations of nonhuman animals in literature from the Middle Ages to our present moment as opportunities to revisit definitions of, and the boundaries created and blurred between, the "human" and the "animal." Readings may include Marie de France, Marianne Moore, Franz Kafka, Donna Haraway, Donika Kelly, and K-Ming Chang.
Introduction to Black Literature and Culture in the United States
As both a celebration and remembrance of Black expressive thought, this course will serve as an introduction to Black literature and culture across several US geographic regions from the standpoint of a variety of intersectional identities and experiences. This course centers on how the artistic, cultural, and literary lives of Black people have shaped US economic, political, and social history since before the nation's founding. In addition to literary texts, this course will introduce students to several examples of cultural expression that have also become beloved touchstones in Black cultural history. Because literary works and works of cultural expression by Black people have long informed the possibilities of American artistic expression and critical thought, they provide possible blueprints for how US life might unfold in the future. Students will learn to apply several existing contexts and methodologies for the study of Black literature and culture, propose directions for future study, and explore their own unique possibilities for deepening their relationships to this body of work. Possible authors include Zora Neale Hurston, Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, Toni Morrison, Octavia E. Butler, and Akwaeke Emezi. Course requirements will likely include class attendance and participation in discussion, weekly reflections on the readings, a take-home midterm examination, and a take-home final essay.
Introduction to Black Feminist Poetics
This course is a comprehensive exploration of the poetics (acts of making) of Black feminisms across literature, culture, and theory, centering on works that engage social justice, healing practices, abolition, self-care, and more. Students will read and study several examples of the lives and works of Black LBGTQ+ people and others who have long reimagined dis/ability, ethics, gender, race, and sexuality within Black feminist contexts. Such works have radically retheorized community, embodiment, home, self-love, and more, in ways that challenge cultures of violence in favor of imagining beloved communities and futures. Through a combination of regular study and practice, students will build expertise to practice black feminist poetics in their own lives and work and will propose their own goals for future study in the field.
Narratives of metamorphosis have traditionally used their dramatic subject matter-a radical change of form-as a vehicle for social criticism. This course explores the ways in which twentieth-century writers experiment with the concept of metamorphosis to take on the most pressing political and social issues of their day, including slavery, women's rights, and critiques of capitalist excess. Readings to include Kafka, Garnett, Orwell, Tawada, and Erpenbeck. Not offered 2022-23.
Literature and Deception
In this course, we will be considering lying and other types of deception from the point of view of literature and philosophy, with two main goals in mind: 1) to compare cultural practices of deception at various times in European history and 2) to think in general terms about the ability of a literary text to convey truth and falsehood. Can a fictional text be "true" in any meaningful sense, such as a political one? Or, as many people have thought over time, is it more accurate to think about literature as a beautiful lie? Readings will include the legend of Till Eulenspiegel as well as texts by Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Diderot, and those relating to the Ossian controversy. Not offered 2022-23.
Beginning with Poems
Why begin the study of literature with poems? Written words are the building blocks of literature, and poetry, in Coleridge's famous equation, is "the best words in the best order." To be understood and appreciated, poetry requires a close attention to words and their ordering as they are read and reread. All good literature requires such attention, but practically speaking, poetry provides the best way to acquire the art of rereading because of its shorter forms. More importantly, poetry can be the most emotionally intense and satisfying of literary forms. We will read a small number of poems written in English from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries from several genres - sonnet, ode, elegy, verse epistle, satire, villanelle - and on several subjects - love, death, and politics. Poets will include William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and William Butler Yeats.
American Literature and Culture
Studies of American aesthetics, genres, and ideas from the birth of the nation to the present. Students will be introduced to the techniques of formal analysis. We will consider what constitutes evidence in relation to texts and how to develop a persuasive interpretation. Topics may include Nature's Nation, slavery and its aftermath, individualism and the marketplace, the "New Woman," and the relation between word and image.
Communicating Science to Non-Experts
This course offers instruction in writing and speaking about science and technology for non-expert audiences. Instruction focuses on how to convey complex technical information in clear, engaging prose and speech in a variety of contexts. Readings in different genres (e.g., the newspaper discovery story, the op-ed, the personal narrative, the explainer talk) raise issues for discussion and serve as models for assignments in these genres. The workshop-style nature of this course relies on drafting and revision in response to peer and instructor feedback. Satisfies the Institute scientific writing requirement and the option oral communications requirement for humanities majors.
When William Blake wrote "to see a World in a Grain of Sand," he tapped into poetry's power to model the universe. For instance, once we set up a simile between "world" and "grain of sand", we can test this hypothesis of sameness. How is sand like the world? Where will the model fail? And what might that tell us? Imagery, sensory language, arguments, ideas, and verse form itself can lead poetry toward power and discovery. This pursuit can reach from the page into one's own life. We will work hard together on poems, our own and one another's.
The class is conducted as a workshop of fiction writing. Contemporary short stories and novel excerpts are discussed, as well as the art and craft of writing well. The course covers the essential elements of fiction writing, including character, voice, setting, world building, scene, summary, plot, and dialogue. Each week, we discuss a particular craft element, analyze published fiction, and provide feedback on student writing. Near the end of the course, students critique the work of their peers in small-group workshops.
Journalism and Storytelling
Today's political and social turmoil have cast a sometimes harsh light on news media and the journalistic writing approach. Is the media fulfilling its role in our democracy? What should it be? And what approach should journalists take in their reporting and writing? This course will ponder these questions as it explores how to construct interesting, relevant, journalistic storytelling, including the use of new media tools. It will emphasize the foundations of the craft, such as close attention to fact, accuracy, clarity and precision, and examine its critical components, such as story form, reporting and interviewing, theme and scene, and character development. It will offer opportunities to construct a long-form journalistic piece. Students will produce numerous stories and other writing during the class, including profiles, issues, analysis and reviews. Several of these will be offered for publication in The California Tech. There will be class visits by professional journalists and a possible off-campus excursion.
Reading in English
An individual program of directed reading in English or American literature, in areas not covered by regular courses. En 98 is intended primarily for English majors and minors. Interested students should confer with an English faculty member and agree upon a topic before registering for the course.
Senior Tutorial for English Majors
Students will study research methods and write a research paper. Required of students in the English option.
Artificial Life: Literary Automata
Well before the advent of the Machine Age, literary texts have been populated by various kinds of ingenious automata, often in animal or human form. This course surveys the role of the automaton in literary texts in order to consider how the notion of "artificial life" changes over time, with a focus on the special case of the human machine. Readings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to include texts by la Mettrie, Hoffmann, Kleist, Shelley, Poe, and de l'Isle-Adam. We will conclude with a classic text from the twentieth century: Isaac Asimov's I, Robot.
Recalling the Wild
City-dwellers invented the concept of wilderness, as a space apart from human laws and culture. This course takes a critical look at the different values attributed to that space as it has been colonized by the human imagination. Our discussions will focus on the emergence of the perception of wilderness in European literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but we conclude with the question: what meaning do we invest the concept of "wilderness" with today? Readings will include works by Buffon, Toqueville, Chateaubriand, Byron, Thoreau, Wells, and London.
Introduction to Medieval British Literature
This course offers a tour of major (as well as some minor) genres and works written in Britain prior to 1500. Far from a literary "dark age," the Middle Ages fostered dramatic experiments in narrative form, bequeathing to modern literature some of its best-loved genres and texts. We will practice reading in Middle English-the language of Chaucer and his contemporaries-while we concentrate on the following questions: how did these texts circulate among readers? How do they establish their authority? What kinds of historical and cultural currents to they engage? Texts may include the lives of saints, the confessions of sinners, drama, lyrics, romances, selections from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and Malory's Morte Darthur. Readings will be in Middle and modern English. Not offered 2022-23.
Imagining the Medieval in the Nineteenth Century
Following the Enlightenment and amidst the Industrial Revolution, the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw a surging interest in the literature, lives, art, and architecture of the Middle Ages. In this course, we will explore how authors represented, invoked, and often idealized the medieval past-with its knights, peasants, saints, and monsters-as a way to think through the challenges-social, literary, political, aesthetic-of their own time. We will read several novels, poems, and treatises, including Henry David Thoreau's essay, "Walking;" Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court; Alfred Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King; and others. Requirements for the course will include weekly response papers and two essays. Not offered 2022-23.
Old English Literature
"Moððe word fræt." Want to learn how to read the riddle that begins with these words? This course will introduce students to Old English: the earliest form of the English language, spoken in England from roughly the years 450 to 1100. In studying the language, we will turn to its diverse and exciting body of literature, including one poem commemorating the brutal defeat by a Viking army and another based on the biblical story of Judith, who tricks the evil king Holofernes into sleeping with her-but not before slicing off his drunken head. We will also read a variety of shorter texts: laws, medical recipes, humorously obscene riddles. Successful completion of the course will give students a richer sense not only of the earliest period of English literature, but also of the English language as it is written and spoken today. No prior experience with Old or Middle English is necessary for this course. Not offered 2022-23.
Poetry and the Project of Justice
This course explores how contemporary poets grapple with the most urgent questions of our moment: identity, equality, environmental crisis, and justice. In this class, students will gain confidence in reading, discussing, and writing about contemporary poems and will encounter recent and more distant traditions of protest poetry. We will ask how poetic language articulates questions of embodiment, community, law, and memory. The syllabus will focus in particular on writers of color, including queer and indigenous poets, and will include opportunities to attend local poetry readings.
The medieval term romanz designated both a language, French, and a genre, romance, dedicated to the adventures of knights and ladies and the villains, monsters, magic, and miles that stood in their way. This course explores key examples from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries, while also examining evolutions in the form. We will consider how romances figured love and desire as well as negotiated questions of law, territory, and cultural difference. Authors and texts may include Chretien de Troyes, Marie de France, Gawain and the Green Knight, Arthurian legends, outlaw tales, and hagiography. Not offered 2022-23.
Madness and Reason
Madness threatens to dissolve boundaries of the most various kinds: between the human and the inhumane, reality and fantasy, sickness and health. One of the tasks of a literary text is to subdue and contain madness through the construction of rational frameworks. How does a literary text accomplish this? Which strategies, such as the use of irony and humor, are the most effective? What role do insane characters play in literary texts? And when - if ever - should we consider an excess of reason as a kind of madness in its own right? Selected readings from Shakespeare, Voltaire, Goethe, Hoffmann, Büchner, Gogol, and Schnitzler, among others. Not offered 2022-23.
Sinners, Saints, and Sexuality in Premodern Literature
This class explores the history of sexuality and gender across the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Exploring both literary texts and visual representation, it considers how previous eras and cultures understood embodiment, sexuality, and gender and asks how we, as modern readers and viewers, approach these questions across the distance of centuries. We will read across a wide range of literature, including theology, philosophy, fiction, romance, and spiritual biography, and examine manuscript illustrations and other early visual media. Questions we will take up include the following: how did writers and artists construct the "naturalness" or "unnaturalness" of particular bodies and bodily acts? How did individuals understand the relationship between their own bodies and those of others? In what ways did writing and art authorize, scrutinize, or otherwise parse the boundaries of the licit and illicit? Finally, how have modern critics framed these questions? How do we approach and make use of earlier theories of sex and gender? Not offered 2022-23.
Nineteenth-Century American Poetry
In the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman claimed that "the United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem." We might ask any number of questions in response to Whitman. If the United States are a poem, then who wrote it? What is this poem about? What genre is it? Is anyone reading it? Is it actually any good? Though we might approach Whitman's statement with some apprehension from our historical moment, this course will take seriously American life lived within poetry and the lives poems lived across the country. Together, we will track the development of American poetry as it engages with enslavement, abolition, genocide, war, beauty, nature, racialization, constructions of gender, sexuality, and affect. Ultimately, we will ask what reading nineteenth-century American poetry, or nineteenth-century America as a poem, might mean for our understanding of the country today. Readings may include Bryant, Poe, Longfellow, Schoolcraft (Bamewawagezhikaquay), Whitman, Dickinson, Harper, Dunbar, and Noguchi.
Shakespeare's Career: Comedies and Histories
The first of a two-course sequence on Shakespeare's career as a dramatist and poet. We will read plays from the first half of Shakespeare's career, his comedies and histories. Particular attention will be paid to Shakespeare's use of his sources and to the textual history of the plays. En 113 and En 114 may be taken independently and, usually, are given in alternate years. Not offered 2022-23.
Shakespeare's Career: Tragedies and Tragicomedies
The second of a two-course sequence on Shakespeare's career as a dramatist and poet. We will read works from the second half of Shakespeare's career, his tragedies, tragicomedies, and Sonnets. Particular attention will be paid to Shakespeare's use of his sources and to the textual history of the plays. En 113 and En 114 may be taken independently and, usually, are given in alternate years. Not offered 2022-23.
The Women of Ancient Epic
Epic remains the most ancient and most modern of literary genres. Women in ancient epic begin as prizes of honor for male warriors and become powerful witches and queens, while some contemporary women writers allow their ancient heroines to speak in their own voices. From Homer to the present, epic narratives also traverse continents as they narrate the founding and foundering of empires historical and imaginary. This course introduces students to key classical epics while exploring historical and contemporary adaptations from Dante's Divine Comedy to Madeline Miller's Circe . By examining the afterlives of epic, we will consider how the genre changes when taken up by the gender typically marginalized in the classical tradition. Possible authors include Homer, Apollonius of Rhodes, Virgil, Ovid, Dante, Christa Wolf, Ursula K. Le Guin, Madeline Miller, and María Baranda.
Why did the Greeks and Romans remain fascinated with the same stories of gods and demigods for more than a thousand years? On the other hand, how did they adapt those stories to fit new times and places? Starting with the earliest Greek poems and advancing through classical Athens, Hellenistic Alexandria, and Augustan Rome, we consider the history of writing poetry as a history of reading the past; the course also serves as an excellent introduction to ancient literary history at large. Readings may include Homer's 'Odyssey,' Hesiod, Aeschylus, Euripides, Apollonius Rhodius, Ovid, and Seneca.
We read three famous novels about people who migrate and people who immigrate, by authors who have also been uprooted in their own lives: Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children' (1981), Zadie Smith's 'White Teeth' (2000), and Jonathan Franzen's 'The Corrections' (2001). As you can see from these dates, this class will also teach you about experimental fiction in the 20th century, a time that prized complexity and even difficulty. We won't find "linear narratives," "well-rounded characters," or "relatability" here. How are these novels structured instead? Do their experimental structures reflect the theme of displacement itself? Should we even try to generalize about a literature of displacement, and, if yes, what kinds of comparisons can we draw? Not offered 2022-23.
What Women Want: Desire and the Modern American Novel
The question of what a woman wants animates a central strain of the modern American novel, as do evolving ideas about what women can and cannot have. This course considers female desire-for personal agency and freedom, self- and sexual fulfillment, economic and social opportunity-across a half dozen novels written from about 1880 - 1940, in light of some of the cultural forces that shape and constrain characters' (and real women's) horizons. Authors covered may include Henry James, Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, Anzia Yezierska, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston. Not offered 2022-23.
The 19th-Century English Novel
A survey of the 19th-century novel from Austen through Conrad, with special emphasis upon the Victorians. Major authors may include Austen, Shelley, Dickens, Eliot, Thackeray, Gaskell, Brontë, Collins, Trollope, Stoker, Hardy. Not offered 2022-23.
20th-Century British Fiction
A survey of the 20th-century British and Irish novel, from the modernist novel to the postcolonial novel. Major authors may include Conrad, Joyce, Woolf, Forster, Lawrence, Orwell, Amis, Lessing, Rushdie. Not offered 2022-23.
British Romantic Literature
A selective survey of English writing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Major authors may include Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Austen. Particular attention will be paid to intellectual and historical contexts and to new understandings of the role of literature in society. Not offered 2022-23.
The literature of horror, fantasy, and the supernatural, from the late 18th century to the present day. Particular attention will be paid to gothic's shifting cultural imperative, from its origins as a qualified reaction to Enlightenment rationalism, to the contemporary ghost story as an instrument of social and psychological exploration. Issues will include atmosphere and the gothic sense of space; gothic as a popular pathology; and the gendering of gothic narrative. Fiction by Walpole, Shelley, Brontë, Stoker, Poe, Wilde, Angela Carter, and Toni Morrison. Film versions of the gothic may be included. Not offered 2022-23.
This course will focus on the major novels of Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. Film and television adaptations will also be considered, and students may have the opportunity to read Austen's unfinished works, as well as related eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British fiction and non-fiction. Not offered 2022-23.
Modern and Contemporary Irish Literature
The development of Irish fiction, poetry, and drama from the early 20th-century Irish literary renaissance, through the impact of modernism, to the Field Day movement and other contemporary developments. Topics may include the impact of political violence and national division upon the literary imagination; the use of folk and fairy-tale traditions; patterns of emigration and literary exile; the challenge of the English language and the relation of Irish writing to British literary tradition; and recent treatments of Irish literature in regional, postcolonial, and global terms. Works by Joyce, Yeats, Synge, Friel, O'Brien, Heaney, Boland, and others. Not offered 2022-23.
"It is the picture of life contrasted with the fact of life, the ideal contrasted with the real, which makes criticism possible," insists Frederick Douglass. This course will take an historical approach to the relationship between literature and photography by examining what Douglass refers to as the contrast between "picture" and "fact" from the advent of photography in the nineteenth century to our present moment. Together, we will think about how each medium creates images, invites different ways of reading or viewing, and makes forms of individual, collective, and political representation possible. We will also examine the ways in which photography and literature shape our understanding of temporality, truth, memory, and history. In addition to our experience of literary and photographic works, theoretical texts on photography will inform the ways of reading and ways of seeing we will develop in this course. Readings may include Boucicault, Douglass, Dunbar, Hartmann, Barthes, Lorde, and Rankine. Not offered 2022-23.
This course focuses on Edgar Allan Poe and the considerable influence his works have had on other writers. Authors as diverse as Charles Baudelaire, Jules Verne, Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, John Barth, and Philip Roth have used Poe's stories as departure points for their own work. We shall begin by reading some of Poe's s classic short stories, including "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," "The Purloined Letter," and others. We shall then explore how and why Poe's stories have been so important for authors, despite the fact that his reputation as a great American writer, unlike Hawthorne's and Melville's, for example, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Not offered 2022-23.
After Austen: Nineteenth-Century British Women's Writing
The Victorian period introduced a huge array of new possibilities and constraints for women of all classes, as it witnessed rapid urbanization and industrialization, a changing conception of marriage and motherhood, and a new set of professional restrictions but also opportunities. This class focuses on novels by and about women, as it seeks to take the measure of these transformations and of a larger culture's reaction to them. How did women imagine and re-imagine themselves and what they wanted? How did notions of femininity and masculinity change? How do the imaginings of the Victorians resonate now? Authors studied may include Eliot, Gaskell, the Brontes, Oliphant, Braddon, and Scheiner. Not offered 2022-23.
We will spend the term studying the famous and eccentric epic poem 'Paradise Lost' (1674) by the British poet and politician John Milton. Each week we will read about 1,000 to 1,500 lines of difficult but beautiful poetry, looking especially for its visual images, literary and mythological references, and poetic sounds, as well as Milton's copious and paradoxical philosophical stances. You will never forget the central character of Satan, the parliament of devils in Hell, the theological conversations in Heaven between God and Jesus, Eve being tempted by diabolical arguments to eat the forbidden fruit, and Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden at the point of an avenging angel's sword.
The Career of Herman Melville
The course will analyze Melville's career starting with Typee and ending with Billy Budd. Special attention will be given to Moby-Dick and Pierre. The centrality of Melville's position in American literature will be considered from a variety of perspectives, including aesthetics, representations of race, class, and gender, the role of the audience, and connections with other authors.
Charles Dickens and London have perhaps the most famous relationship of any writer and city in English. In this course, we will investigate both the London Dickens knew, and the portrait of the city that he painted, by reading one of Dickens's great mid-career novels alongside a selection of contemporary texts and images and secondary historical sources. We will think about the gap-or overlap- between history and fiction, the idea of the novelist as alternative historian, and the idea of the novel as historical document. Historical topics covered may include: the development of the Victorian police force; plague and public health; Victorian poverty; colonialism and imperialism; Dickens and his illustrators; Victorian exhibition and museum culture; and marriage and the cult of domesticity, among others. Students will practice both textual and visual analysis skills. In addition to written work, students should expect to be responsible for making a short research presentation at some point in the term. Not offered 2022-23.
The Fiction of Charles Dickens
An overview of the Great Inimitable's fiction, concentrating on four texts representative of different phases of his novel-writing career and their relationship to the changing world of Victorian Britain: Oliver Twist, Dombey and Son, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend. Not offered 2022-23.
African American Literature
This course analyzes some of the great works of American literature written by African Americans. This body of writing gives rise to two crucial questions: How does African American literature constitute a literary tradition of its own? How is that tradition inextricable from American literary history? From slave narratives to Toni Morrison's Beloved, from the Harlem Renaissance to Alice Walker, from Ralph Ellison to Walter Mosley, African American literature has examined topics as diverse and important as race relations, class identification, and family life. We shall analyze these texts not only in relation to these cultural issues, but also in terms of their aesthetic and formal contributions. Not offered 2022-23.
Twain and His Contemporaries
This course will study the divergent theories of realism that arose in the period after the Civil War and before World War I. Authors covered may include Howells, James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Twain, Sarah Orne Jewett, Jacob Riis, Stephen Crane, and W. E. B. DuBois.
Ancient Greek Epic Poetry
We will start the term by reading Homer's 'Iliad' (possibly 8th century B.C.) for two weeks. This is a disconnected, strange, and violent poem, which raises the excellent question how it could become a widely revered classic down to our own time. To look for answers--answers that perhaps also apply to any "classic" book-- we will go on to study the acts of interpretation, revision, and recycling that made the 'Iliad' fresh and different, sometimes virtually unrecognizable, for each new generation of readers. We survey surprising ancient Greek philosophical interpretations, a medieval romance by Geoffrey Chaucer set in ancient Troy, a fake Scottish epic poem allegedly composed by "Ossian," Chuck Palahniuk's novel 'Fight Club' (1996), and other works. My suggestion for you will be that the 'Iliad' has remained alive for millennia only through quasi-biological processes of mistranscription, mutation, and nonlinear evolution. Not offered 2022-23.
Chaos and Literature
We tend to think of literary texts as models of a stable poetic order, but modern and postmodern writers conduct increasingly bold experiments to test the contrary. This class explores how writers from the nineteenth century onward draw upon ancient and contemporary concepts of chaos to test out increasingly sophisticated models of disorder though writing. Readings to include Lucretius, Serres, Calvino, Barth, Stoppard, and Kehlmann. Not offered 2022-23.
The way in which humans perceive and record time has a discernable history, and literary texts offer us one of the best ways to study it, particularly in times of war and natural catastrophe. With a focus on 16th- through 18th-century European literature, we will examine various techniques of literary time-keeping as they relate to topics such as, fame and mortality, as well as the experience of time's slowness and acceleration. Readings will include selections from Baroque emblem books as well as texts by Montaigne, Milton, Pepys, Defoe, and Rousseau. Not offered 2022-23.
Classical Hollywood Cinema
This course introduces students to Hollywood films and filmmaking during the classical period, from the coming of sound through the '50s. Students will develop the techniques and vocabulary appropriate to the distinct formal properties of film. Topics include the rise and collapse of the studio system, technical transformations (sound, color, deep focus), genre (the musical, the melodrama), cultural contexts (the Depression, World War II, the Cold War), audience responses, and the economic history of the film corporations. Terms may be taken independently. Part a covers the period 1927-1940. Part b covers 1941-1960. En/VC 160 b not offered 2022-23.
The New Hollywood
This course examines the post-classical era of Hollywood filmmaking with a focus on the late 1960s through the 1970s, a period of significant formal and thematic experimentation. We will study American culture and politics as well as film in this era, as we consider the relation between broader social transformations and the development of new narrative conventions and cinematic techniques. We will pay particular attention to the changing film industry and its influence on this body of work. Films covered may include Bonnie and Clyde , The Graduate , The Godfather , Taxi Driver , and Jaws . Not offered 2022-23.
Octavia E. Butler and the Literature of Black Futures
We will begin this course by reading a selection of Octavia E. Butler's (1947-2006) novels and short stories, including her 1993 novel Parable of the Sower, which became a New York Times bestseller in 2020. Born here in Pasadena, California in 1947, Butler's writing explored issues such as chattel slavery, climate change, genetic engineering, pandemics, nuclear apocalypse, and post-apocalyptic life. She was also attentive to Black and indigenous modes of care, healing, social justice, and organizing. We will pay special attention to Butler's critical and theoretical contributions to the fields of Afrofuturism, Black studies, feminisms, gender and sexuality studies, and the environmental humanities by reading her works in conjunction with select works of criticism and theory. In the second half of the course, we will explore connections between Butler and the works of other Afrofuturists and Black science fiction writers today, such as Tomi Adeyemi, Akwaeke Emezi, Nalo Hopkinson, N. K. Jemision, Nnedi Okorafor, and others, in order to explore our own ideas for extending Butler's literature of Black futures. Course requirements will likely include class attendance and participation in discussion, weekly reflections on the readings, a midterm project proposal, and a final project and essay.
Contemporary Black Diasporic Literature and Culture
What is a Black diasporic analytic and how might it deepen our understandings of the cultural and literary significance of Black lives around the world? The literary and culturally expressive genius of Black people across the African or Black diaspora has resulted in an extensive tradition within and beyond English-speaking nations. While this course focuses on contemporary Black diasporic literature and culture, it will also foreground the various histories that inform and shape this body of work. Additionally, students will learn how recent works of Black diasporic literature and culture have in turn shaped our current understandings of family, gender, identity, labor, migration, nation, race, sexuality, and more. Overall, this course will serve as an advanced-level introduction to several pivotal Black diasporic literary and cultural works; modes of criticism and methodologies; and the cultural, historical, and social realities of Black people's lives from the 1980s to today. Possible texts include those by Dionne Brand, Edwidge Danticat, Akwaeke Emezi, Bernardine Evaristo, Nalo Hopkinson, Jamaica Kincaid, Paule Marshall, and Caryl Phillips. All readings will be provided in English. Course requirements will likely include class attendance and participation in discussion, weekly reflections on the readings, a midterm project proposal, and a final project and essay.
Black Feminist and Womanist Literature and Thought
For centuries, Black feminists, especially queer and trans women, and non-binary and queer folx, writing in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, the United States, and more, have used literature to reimagine feminisms. In the decades following the second-wave feminist movement, a body of writing coalesced around the terms "Black feminist" and "womanist." These years are remembered for decolonization and postcolonialism; Anita Hill's testimony; the passing of Title IX; the first Take Back the Night marches; the introduction of terms "intersectionality" by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and "third-wave feminism" by Rebecca Walker; the widespread publishing of works by feminists; the creation of Ethnic Studies and Women's and Gender Studies departments across institutions of higher education; and more. It was a moment in which Black people across identities and national origins wrote a number of works that radically retheorized family, home, gender, love, race, sexuality, work, and more, in ways that challenged cultures of violence in favor of imagining beloved communities. In this course, students will read, discuss, and better understand multiple literary and critical works participating in Black feminisms in order to then theorize new possibilities for Black feminist futures. Not offered 2022-23.
What makes an old building, artifact, or custom "historic"? Which historic things are worth preserving? This course explores the aesthetic, political, social, and environmental dimensions of cultural heritage. We will examine the narratives and values associated with heritage conservation at the local level as well as within national and global contexts. From Caltech's own campus and the Watts Towers, to the national parks, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the culinary legacy of the Atlantic slave trade, our class will grapple with the theories, practices, and debates as they determine what gets preserved and which stories get told. Readings/screenings will be supplemented with field trips to heritage sites in Pasadena and Los Angeles.
In the seventeenth century, Descartes penned his famous expression "I think therefore I am!" and thus the modern subject was born-or so the simplified story goes. But long before the age of Descartes, the Middle Ages produced an astonishing range of theories and ideas about human selfhood, subjectivity, and interiority. For instance, writing from prison more than one thousand years earlier, Boethius came to realize that what distinguishes a human being from all other creatures is his capacity to "know himself." The meaning of this opaque statement and others like it will command our attention throughout this course, as we explore the diverse, distinctive, and often highly sophisticated notions of subjectivity that developed in the literatures of the Middle Ages. We will take up questions of human agency, free will, identity, self-consciousness, confession, and secrecy as we encounter them in some of the most exciting texts written during the period, including among others) Augustine's Confessions, Prudentius's Psychomachia, the Old English poem The Wanderer, the mystical writings of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. Not offered 2022-23.
Constituting Citizenship before the Fourteenth Amendment
What can a slave's narrative teach us about citizenship? How did the new nation identify citizens when its Constitution seemed so silent on the matter? And how did one tailor's pamphlet result in one of most massive restrictions of free speech in U.S. history? Our goal over the semester will be to sketch a story of African American literary production from the latter half of the eighteenth century to the Civil War and to tease out, through this literature, developing understandings of citizenship in the United States. We will read letters, poems, sermons, songs, constitutions and bylaws, short stories, and texts that simply defy easy categorization. We will also spend several sessions becoming familiar with key newspapers and magazines-Freedom's Journal, Frederick Douglass's Paper, The Anglo-African Magazine, Christian Recorder, and The Crisis-to deepen our understanding of the kinds of things people were reading and writing on a regular basis and the kinds of arguments they were making. Writers up for discussion may include: Frederick Douglass, James Madison, Harriet Jacobs, Henry David Thoreau, Sojourner Truth, and David Walker. Not offered 2022-23.
Special Topics in English
This is an advanced humanities course on a specialized topic in English. It is usually taught by new or visiting faculty. The course may be re-taken for credit except as noted in the course announcement. Limited to 15 students. See registrar's announcement for details.
Hardy: The Wessex Novels
This course will examine the body of work that the late Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy published under the general title The Wessex Novels, that is, the sequence of works from Far from the Madding Crowd to Jude the Obscure. The six main novels will be read critically to give a sense of the totality of this greatest British regional novelist's achievement. Not offered 2022-23.
Literature and the First Amendment
"Freedom of speech," writes Benjamin Cardozo in Palko v. Connecticut (1937), "is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom." We will go inside the matrix, focusing on how it has affected the books we read. This is not a course in constitutional law or political philosophy, but an opportunity to examine how American literary culture has intersected with law and politics. We will investigate the ways in which the meanings of "freedom," what it entails, and who is entitled to it have changed over time. Possible topics include the obscenity trials surrounding Allen Ginsberg's Howl and James Joyce's Ulysses, crackdowns on anti-war propagandists, and the legal battle between Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and televangelist and Moral Majority cofounder Jerry Falwell. Not offered 2022-23.
Victorian Crime Fiction
In 19th-century Britain, for the first time in human history, more of a nation's citizens came to live in urban areas than in rural ones. This result of the Industrial Revolution produced many effects, but in the fiction of the period, one of the most striking was an obsession with the problem of crime. Victorian authors filled their novels with murder, prisons, poisonings, prostitution, criminals, and the new figure of the detective; in this class we will look at the social history, publishing developments, and formal dilemmas that underlay such a response. Authors studied may include Dickens, Collins, Braddon, Conan Doyle, Chesterton, and Conrad, among others. Not offered 2022-23.
Dickens and the Dickensian
The adjective "Dickensian" makes an almost daily appearance in today's newspapers, magazines, and other media sources. It is used to describe everything from outrageous political scandals, to Bollywood musicals, to multiplot novels. But what does the word really mean? And what part of Charles Dickens's output does it refer to? This class will consider some of Dickens's most famous works alongside a series of contemporary novels, all critically described in "Dickensian" terms. The main concern will be equally with style and form, and 19th-century and present-day circumstances of production (e.g., serialization, mass production, Web publication, etc.). Authors considered (aside from Dickens) may include Richard Price, Zadie Smith, Monica Ali, and Jonathan Franzen. Not offered 2022-23.
The Novel of Education
This class takes up a set of mostly very funny, mostly 20th century British novels to frame a simple-seeming, yet deceptively complicated set of questions: What does it mean to be educated? Who has access to education? What does an ideal education consist in? And ultimately: What is a university for? As we think through these questions we will read op/eds and investigative journalism in addition to fiction, and we will consider a variety of university-centered topics (determined by student interest) including issues of gender, class, privilege, race, and genius. Authors read may include Sayers, Larkin, Amis, C.P. Snow, Lodge, and Zadie Smith.
This course devotes itself to the writings of the diplomat, courtier, bureaucrat, and poet, Geoffrey Chaucer. Best known for the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer also authored dream visions, lyrics, and philosophical meditations. This course will introduce you to some better-known and lesser-known works in the Chaucerian corpus, while also exploring questions central to the production and circulation of literature in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. What did it mean to "invent" a literary work in late medieval England? How did Chaucer imagine himself as a writer and reader? What are the hallmarks of Chaucerian style, and how did Chaucer become the canonical author he is today? We will read Chaucer's works in their original language, Middle English, working slowly enough to give participants time to familiarize themselves with syntax and spelling. No previous experience with the language is necessary. Not offered 2022-23.
Masterworks of Contemporary Latin American Fiction
This course studies Latin America's most influential authors in the 20th and 21st centuries, with a focus on short stories and novellas produced by the region's avant-garde and "boom" generations. Authors may include Allende, Bombal, Borges, García Márquez, Quiroga, Poniatowska, and Vargas Llosa. All readings and discussions are in English. Not offered 2022-23.
Cervantes, Truth or Dare: Don Quixote in an Age of Empire
Studies Cervantes's literary masterpiece, Don Quixote, with a view to the great upheavals that shaped the early modern world: Renaissance Europe's discovery of America; feudalism's demise and the rise of mass poverty; Reformation and Counter-Reformation; extermination of heretics and war against infidels; and the decline of the Hapsburg dynasty. The hapless protagonist of Don Quixote calls into question the boundaries between sanity and madness, truth and falsehood, history and fiction, objectivity and individual experience. What might be modern, perhaps even revolutionary, in Cervantes's dramatization of the moral and material dilemmas of his time? Conducted in English.
American Literature and the Technologies of Reading
This course explores the material forms of American literature from the colonial era through the nineteenth century. We will study how and by whom books and other kinds of texts were produced, and how these forms shaped and were shaped by readers' engagement with them. Possible topics include the history of such printing technologies as presses, types, paper, ink, binding, and illustration; the business of bookmaking and the development of the publishing industry; the rise of literary authorship; the career of Benjamin Franklin; print, politics, and the American Revolution; and manuscript culture. Not offered 2022-23.