ENG 529: Studies in Language, Literature, and Writing

ENG 529: Studies in Language, Literature, and Writing

Prerequisites: Graduate standing in English or permission of the instructor.

Recent offerings:

Policing Englishes (Fall 2018, Dryer)

This seminar will focus on the cultural phenomenon of prescriptivism – a general term we’ll use to describe efforts by institutionally or self-appointed guardians of English to monitor, shape, constrain, discourage, or ‘repair’ others’ uses of  the language.  Although the balance of linguistic research and sound pedagogy in the teaching of language has firmly shifted from the prescriptive to the descriptive, we will take Anne Curzan’s point (2016) that prescriptivism is alive and well as a force shaping language use and language change, and so needs to be understood.

Thus we will seek to understand the many forms and contexts in which we encounter linguistic prescriptivism, but we also want to understand what motivates these behaviors—what’s at stake for us in others’ language practices? What provokes or necessitates these sorts of everyday interventions, and why are these interventions so often accompanied by a rhetoric of disgust, shame, horror, or violence? What accounts for the routine conflation of, for instance, an infelicity of usage and the character of its writer?

We’ll begin with some basic linguistic concepts to give us a shared basis for discussion (e.g., the distinction between ‘grammar’ and ‘usage’) and then work to develop a coherent theoretical framework for understanding the phenomenon, building on scholarship by Bourdieu (1982), Bakhtin (1986), Milroy & Milroy (1991), Crowley (1989), and Spolsky (2009). We will interrogate the feasibility of this framework by putting it into conversation with work emerging from global englishes, including Blommaert (2010), Kramsch (2009), Giltrow (2003; 2014), Pennycook (2010), and Canagarajah (ed., 2013). We will consistently go to ‘ground-level,’ putting these theoretical perspectives in conversation with primary source documents.

In the final third of the term, students will conduct secondary- and primary-source research of their own to interrogate competing theories of ‘the standard’; fieldwork applications of these interrogations will include site visits, interviews, focus groups, corpus-building, and/or quasi-experimental design or usability testing to generate a unique contribution to our understanding of this topic.

Documentary Impulse in Literature (Spring 2017, Billitteri)

The impulse to document reality, to give a testimony to one’s moment in history and culture, has been one of the most characteristic features of literary production, evident in documentary poetics, historical theater, and the novel’s fictionalized reportage. Indeed, we could locate this impulse at the very beginning of the Western canon, with Homer, whose Iliad relates the history of the Trojan war, and follow it forward through Dante, whose Inferno is populated with historical figures, and the Shakespeare of the history plays. In more recent times, the documentary impulse guides such diverse writers as Claudia Rankine, whose book of lyric prose, Citizen, explores the hidden racism in contemporary Western societies; Mark Nowak, whose poetry documents the harsh conditions of miners’ lives and communities; Rob Halpern, whose prose-poetry hybrid Common Place explores the embodied response to unending militarization and economic exploitation; and Susan Somers-Willett, whose Women of Troy, an intermedia collaboration with photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally and radio producer Lu Olkowski, narrates the hidden lives of women in poverty.

This class will explore ten of the most significant examples of the documentary impulse in twentieth- and twenty-first-century American literature, encompassing works of fiction and poetry along with hybrid texts that bring the two genres together along with photography, journalism, memoir, and factual data. Though much of our reading will be in prose I place this work under the general heading of “documentary poetics” as the critical literature on our poetic examples has best theorized this impulse.

Our readings begin in the early twentieth century, when documentary poetics, under the pressure of the Great Depression and in response to the rapid transformation of society, acquired a more insistently political orientation, illuminating the marginalized experience of the poor, the working class, emigrants, and others. Since the early decades of the twentieth-century, the political and ethical consequences of economic crisis, labor tension, and ethnic and racial conflict have been central concerns for writers in this tradition. Moreover, while the subject matter of these writers brings particular lives and particular historical moments into sharper focus, there are ethical and theoretical implications to this work as well. This course will attend to those implications as well as to the historical and political dimensions of our readings.

Expected readings, literary texts

Charles Reznikoff, Testimony (1934); Muriel Rukeyser, The Book of the Dead (1938); James Algee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1940); Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee (1982); Mark Nowak, Shut Up Shut Down (2004) and Coal Mountain Elementary (2009); Claudia Rankine (Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (2004) and Citizen (2015); Susan Somers-Willett, Brenda Ann Kenneally, and Lu Olkowski, Women of Troy (2009); Rob Halpern, Common Place (2015). Note: Mark Nowak and Rob Halpern, have been invited to campus. If all goes well, both Nowak and Halpern will visit the seminar and will be featured in the New Writing Series programming.

Alternative texts may include: John Dos Passos, U.S.A., A Trilogy (1938); Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942); Richard Wright, Black Boy (1945); Marlene NourbeSe Philip, Zong! (2008); C.D. Wright, One with Others (2010).

Expected readings, theoretical texts

Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (2001); Judith Butler, selections from Giving an Account of Oneself (2003) and Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2006).

Alternative texts may include: Judith Butler, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? (2009);Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (2013).

Requirements and Assignments

Attendance; weekly critical responses and bi-monthly critical annotations on assigned texts; final research paper.

The End(s) of Modernism (Spring 2016, Kress)

This course counts toward the MA concentration in Gender and Literature.

For simplicity’s sake and because it is extraordinarily useful for all kinds of work, we like to think of a literary era, a stretch of history more or less linear, fixed, stable.  So:  classicism ends in romanticism, which in turn ends in modernism, which finds its demise in postmodernism, which…and so on.  But as in the rest of life, there are no such things as beginnings or endings, only fields of force with more or less intensity across space-time.  And convenience and work aside, many vital ideas, events, and already recognized texts fall into gaps of illegibility when we think only of the stability of literary eras.

To approach the ends of modernism, this course, a series of beginnings, literary beginnings and critical beginnings:

Literary beginnings:  We’ll begin with an untimely—perhaps the first—postmodern novel, and we’ll begin again with the last modernist novel.  We’ll begin with classics of high American modernism, while we begin by probing modernism’s complicity with fascism, totalitarianism, and just plain hellishness. We’ll begin by reading novels on the seams, between modernism and postmodernism, and we’ll begin by rooting out the waning intensities of modernism and waxing intensities of the postmodern.

Critical beginnings:  To begin, we’ll examine a series of waxing and waning intensities parallel to the ends of modernism, how—literally at the minute of its own arrival—structuralism collapsed under its own implications. Naturally, we’ll begin with a text that should have completely forestalled modernism’s moment and finally, we’ll begin with a text that points thataway from the ends of modernism and postmodernism both.

Probable Texts: (Note: one or two of the texts will be whittled away before the class starts)

Felipe Alfau, Locos

Kathy Acker, Empire of the Senseless

Samuel Beckett, Watt

Christine Brooke-Rose, Amalgamemnon

Ferdinand Celine, Journey to the End of the Night

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

William Gass, Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife

Ernst Junger, The Glass Bees

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood

Kenneth Patchen, The Journal of Albion Moonlight

Thomas Pynchon, V.

Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Voyeur

Paul West, Rat Man of Paris

Jeffery Nealon, Post-Postmodernism

Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (selections)

Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference (selections)

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals
Writing Projects: Students will write weekly response papers, lead the class discussion on one of the major texts, write a proposal for a longer seminar paper, write the paper itself, and present the results of their research at the graduate symposium.

Studies in Gender and Literature: Utopia and Post-Modernism (Fall 2014, Jacobs)

This course counts toward the M. A. concentration in Gender and Literature.

Course description:  In common parlance, utopia has been characterized as naïve at best, totalitarian at worst. While it is true that visions of utopia (and dystopia) are employed by individuals and groups hoping to impose their versions of the good upon others, the “blueprint” model of the genre has always been far from complete.  Since the latter part of the 20th century, a new generation of thinkers and artists has forged an understanding of utopianism as a mode of thought enabling us to address in complex and productive ways the ancient questions:  to what extent, and to what ends, do we humans create the forces that shape us and the world we inhabit?  what can we hope for?  what should we fear?  and how then should we live?

The course will begin with two foundational texts– Thomas More’s Utopia and Evgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian We—as well as selections from theorists including Ernst Bloch, Louis Marin, Fredric Jameson, and Tom Moylan.  Once having established this grounding we will go on to consider a range of literary texts that intervene in the utopian and dystopian modes.


Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood (2009)
Hakim Bey, TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism  (1991)
Ernst Bloch, selections from The Principle of Hope (1959; tr. 1986)
Bloch and Adorno, “Something’s Missing”
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities  (1972)
Samuel R. Delany, Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia  (1976)
Fredric Jameson, selections from Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Essays
Ursula K. Le Guin, Always Coming Home (1985)
Bernadette Mayer, Utopia   (1984)
Cormac McCarthy, The Road (2007)
Thomas More, Utopia     (1518)
Tom Moylan, Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia (2000)
Joanna Russ, The Female Man   (1975)
Evgeny Zamyatin, We (1921)

 Learning Goals

  • Students will be able to define and deploy critical concepts in the field, such as utopia, dystopia, critical utopia, anti-utopia.
  • Students will be able to explain the positions of important postmodern theorists of utopia and utopianism.
  • Students will be able to articulate the ways in which recent utopias and dystopias both depart from and build upon the canonical texts.
  • Students will refine their skills in textual analysis, research, and critical writing.

Major Writing Assignments

  • Regular informal postings online
  • two short (5-6 page) formal papers on a staggered schedule,  presented in class
  • prospectus and preliminary bibliography for the research paper, due in the 9th week of class
  • annotated bibliography, preparatory to the final paper, due in the 12th week
  • a final research paper, due in draft form by the last week of class and in polished form by the end of finals week


  • the writing assignments above, about 85% of total
  • regular attendance and active participation, about 15% of total

Intro to Digital Humanities (Fall 2013, Ohge)

This course serves as an introduction to the history, methodologies, and practices of digital humanities (DH). In addition to being a survey of DH as an emerging discipline, the course will show how digital tools enhance or reshape literary and cultural studies, scholarly editing, and the study of material objects in virtual spaces. As DH is a practical enterprise by nature, you will be expected to engage in hands-on projects that use the digital to enlighten your current research or creative interests.

We will also investigate several technologies relevant to digital scholarship and editing, including eXtensible Markup Language (XML), the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), Adobe Creative Suite, and platforms such as WordPress and Omeka. Each week will be divided into two sessions, the reading/lecture portion (a discussion of readings) and the demo/lab portion (blog responses as well as practical exercises with digital resources).

This course is open to all humanities majors, as well as graduate students.