English 190

Research Seminar: Suspicious Mind

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
10 Fall 2017 Best, Stephen M.
TTh 12:30-2 106 Mulford Film
Literary Theory
Research Seminars

Book List

Coetzee, J.M.: Disgrace; Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness; James, Henry: The Ambassadors; James, Henry: The Turn of the Screw; Melville, Herman: Benito Cereno; Poe, Edgar Allan: The Purloined Letter

Other Readings and Media

Films:  Rope (dir., Alfred Hitchcock); The Lives of Others (dir., Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck); The White Ribbon (dir., Michael Haneke)


Literary critics have made suspicion an essential aspect of what it means to read.  When we set out to do a “suspicious reading” of a text we assume a few things about it: that its true meaning consists in what it cannot say, know, or understand about itself; that such meaning lies at a certain remove from the reader; and that “symptoms” of meaning’s buried presence need to be “demystified” by the critical reader.  This is a class on suspicious and non-suspicious modes of reading.  We will interrogate the roots of suspicious reading, most pointedly in the writings of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, but we will also be unafraid in asking whether conceiving literary works as hiding their meaning or possessing an “unconscious” remain relevant ways to conceptualize texts in an era of fake news, unsubstantiated allegations, conspiracy theories, and “alternative facts.”  Should we continue to see literature as a laboratory for critique, where we interrogate the work of art and diagnose its hidden anxieties and meanings, or as a possible resource for alternatives to suspicion?  To answer this question, we will explore recent shifts toward an “ethics of reading” that reorients reading from something we do to the text to something that is done to us (where ethics refers not to the situation of readers and characters, or the author’s worldview, but to the varieties of formal relationality that works of literature afford in the process of reading -- i.e., building networks, communicating with intellectual strangers).

The course takes up its topic in three distinct observances: [1] the literary and cinematic tradition in which a hermeneutics of suspicion is subjected to scrutiny (Henry James, The Turn of the Screw; Edgar Allan Poe, The Purloined Letter; Herman Melville, Benito Cereno; A. Hitchcock, Rope; F. H von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others); [2] the literary-critical turn toward “surface reading,” a portmanteau term that captures reading practices willing “to respect rather than reject what is in plain view,” in the words of Rita Felski, particularly those attributes of a text that in the past may have been dismissed as either too feminine or too queer, i.e., style, texture, surface, the ephemeral, the obvious, and the enchanting; and [3] works of literature and film that reward attentiveness to the play of their surfaces (Henry James, The Ambassadors; J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace; Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon).

Please read the paragraph about English 190 on page 2 of the instructions area of this Announcement of Classes for more details about enrolling in or wait-listing for this course.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Spring, 2018
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/1 Research Seminar: Trials of Literature: Romanticism, Justice, and the Law Langan, Celeste
190/2 Research Seminar: James Joyce Flynn, Catherine
190/3 Research Seminar: Hawthorne & Melville Tamarkin, Elisa
190/4 Research Seminar: Reading Walden Carefully Breitwieser, Mitchell
190/5 Research Seminar: Harlem Renaissance Wagner, Bryan
190/6 Research Seminar: Sixty Years Since: The Historical Novel Kolb, Margaret
190/7 Research Seminar: Contemporary Historical Fiction Yoon, Irene
190/8 Research Seminar: Literary Theory and Its Objects Creasy, CFS
190/9 Research Seminar: The Faerie Queene: The Ethics of Imagination Landreth, David
190/10 Research Seminar: Pagan Fictions in Christian Literature Hobson, Jacob
190/11 Research Seminar: Andrew Marvell Picciotto, Joanna M
190/12 Research Seminar: California Books and Movies Since World War I Starr, George A.
190/13 Research Seminar: Alfred Hitchcock Bader, Julia
Fall, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/1 Research Seminar: Britain in the ‘60s Gang, Joshua
190/2 Research Seminar: The Historical Novel Puckett, Kent
190/3 Research Seminar: Another Day in Purgatory: Irish Literature and the Afterlife Creasy, CFS
190/6 Research Seminar: Literature and Revolution Lee, Steven S.
190/7 Research Seminar: Monsters, Exiles, and Outlaws in Medieval Literature Hobson, Jacob
190/8 Research Seminar: George Eliot and the Realist Novel Kolb, Margaret
190/9 Research Seminar: Historiography and Narrative: Literature and the Interstices of History Jones, Donna V.
190/11 Research Seminar: Nonsense Hanson, Kristin
190/12 Research Seminar: Making Memories Yoon, Irene
Spring, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/1 Research Seminar: The Urban Postcolonial Ellis, Nadia
190/2 Research Seminar: Harlem Renaissance Wagner, Bryan
190/3 Research Seminar: Literature and the Linguistic Turn Blevins, Jeffrey
190/4 Research Seminar: Jane Austen and the Theory of the Novel Miller, D.A.
190/5 Research Seminar: Writing a World in Crisis: Medieval and Modern Perry, R. D.
190/6 Research Seminar: Shakespeare: From the Globe to the Global Bahr, Stephanie M
190/7 Research Seminar: Place-Love: Fiction and the Melancholy of Form Xin, Wendy Veronica
190/8 Research Seminar: Literatures of the Ocean Sorensen, Janet
190/9 Research Seminar: Beowulf Thornbury, Emily V.
190/10 Research Seminar: Hollywood in the 1930s Knapp, Jeffrey
190/11 Research Seminar: The Literature of Immortality Jones, Donna V.
190/13 Research Seminar: California Literature & Film Since WWI Starr, George A.
Fall, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/1 Research Seminar: Emily Dickinson Shoptaw, John
190/2 Research Seminar: Slow Seeing / Slow Reading Hejinian, Lyn
190/3 Research Seminar: Moby-Dick, and More Otter, Samuel
190/4 Research Seminar: U.S. Modernism Goble, Mark
190/5 Research Seminar: Alfred Hitchcock Bader, Julia
190/6 Research Seminar: The Medium Is the Message: Reading Poetry in Manuscript & Print, 1300-1600 Bahr, Stephanie M
190/7 Research Seminar: Note new topic: Troy and Tragedy Perry, R. D.
190/8 Research Seminar: James / Baldwin Best, Stephen M.
190/9 Research Seminar: On Style Xin, Wendy Veronica
190/10 Research Seminar: Do I Dare? Indecision and Modernist Literature Blevins, Jeffrey
190/11 Research Seminar: Modern California Literature and Film Starr, George A.
190/12 Research Seminar: Modern Utopian and Dystopian Literature and Film Starr, George A.
Spring, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/1 Research Seminar: The Sixties Goble, Mark
190/2 Research Seminar: Through a Future Darkly: Global Crisis and the Triumph of Dystopia Danner, Mark
190/3 Research Seminar: Late Henry James Breitwieser, Mitchell
190/4 Research Seminar: The Urban Postcolonial Ellis, Nadia
190/5 Research Seminar: Contemporary British Literature and Culture Falci, Eric
190/6 Research Seminar: Classical and Renaissance Drama Knapp, Jeffrey
190/7 Research Seminar: Materiality: How the Physical World Is Made to Mean Flynn, Catherine
190/8 Research Seminar: Vital Texts: Literature and the Discourse of Life Gaydos, Rebecca
190/9 Research Seminar: Medieval and Renaissance Lyric Crosson, Chad Gregory
190/10 Research Seminar: Purcell and Handel: Their Art in Setting English Texts to Music Hanson, Kristin
190/11 Research Seminar Lee, Steven S.
190/12 Research Seminar: Daniel Defoe and the Rise of the 18th-Century Novel Starr, George A.
190/13 Research Seminar: Keats and Literary Tradition Francois, Anne-Lise

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