English 165

Special Topics: The English Department


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2018 Marno, David
MW 5-6:30 106 Dwinelle

Description

The English Department is one of the most curious developments in the history of human civilization. What do we study? The answer used to be, “literary texts of the English canon.” But then we questioned what belonged to the canon, what constituted a literary text, whether its segregation from non-literary texts was defensible, and eventually whether we should restrain ourselves to the study of texts at all.

At times we have claimed that what holds together students of English is not what we study but how we do so. But what exactly are the skills of an English major? Other literature departments require the knowledge of at least one foreign language; most English majors read texts in their first language. There are some “methods” that we supposedly share, such as “close reading” or “critical thinking.” But aside from the difficulty of explaining why we should have exclusive claims to either of these skills, we have also called them into doubt by exposing their historical particularities, epistemological biases, and political inefficiencies.

This constant self-questioning of the subjects and methods is not an incidental feature of the study of English but the logical consequence of the utopian ideal behind it: namely, to create a completely democratic discipline. This ideal is inherently paradoxical: it seeks to establish an academic discipline, that is, a branch of knowledge separate from all other branches of knowledge; and yet it seeks to leave or actively make this knowledge accessible to all. Why do we want such a discipline, and what are the consequences of wanting it?

In this course, we will be looking at the Department of English as a social and intellectual experiment with a fascinating past, a challenging present, and a doubtful future. What were the original motivations behind its establishment? What are the driving forces that continue to maintain it today? What are the particular challenges facing the English Department and its students today? And finally, if there’s a future for this field, what does it look like?

Readings include chapters from the history of literary criticism from Plato to Donna Haraway; accounts of the modern university from Wilhelm Humboldt to John Guillory; and theories of education and its politics from Thomas More to Simone Weil and Hannah Arendt. All readings will be posted on bCourses.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

fall, 2021

165/2

Special Topics: Immigration and the American Century

165/3

Special Topics: Rebel Slaves and Dark Doubles: Black Women Writers' Engagements with Jane Eyre

spring, 2021

165/2

Special Topics: Utopian and (mostly) Dystopian Movies

165/3

Special Topics: Popular Music and Social Critique

165/4

Special Topics: 21st-Century U.S. Poetry

165/5

Special Topics: Alrish

165/6

Special Topics: “Moments of Truth”: Narrating the Endings of Lies, Disinformation, and Deceit

Ramona Naddaff
summer, 2021

165/1

Special Topics: Writing at the University: A Writing Studio for Transfer Students

Atkinson, Nate
fall, 2020

165/1

Special Topics: Law and Literature in the United States

spring, 2020

165/1

Special Topics: Elegy, Mourning, and the Representation of the Holocaust

165/2

Special Topics: Enlightenment & Romance: Scotland in the 18th Century

165/3

Special Topics: On Lies, Lying, and Post-Truths--A Reading- and Writing-Intensive Investigation

Nadaff, Ramona

165/4

Special Topics: Family Histories from the Margins

fall, 2019

165/1

Special Topics: Utopian and (mostly) Dystopian Movies

165/2

Special Topics: The Pleasures of Allegory

spring, 2019

165/1

Special Topics: Global Tudors

Honig, Elizabeth

165/2

Special Topics: 21st-Century U. S. Poetry

165/3

Special Topics: John Milton's Last Poems

165/4

Special Topics: The Art of Writing: The Visible Made Verbal

165/5

Special Topics: Note: See English 165 section 6

165/6

Special Topics: Nabokov and Naipaul

165/7

Special Topics: The Materialist Epic

165/8

Special Topics: American Humor

165/9

Special Topics: The 1890s


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