Teaching

English 350:603 Twentieth-Century Genre: The Case of the Detective

Fall 2017, Mondays, 9:50 a.m.
Syllabus forthcoming

Detective fiction, probably the single most-read and best-selling category of fiction across the whole of the last century, nonetheless occupies a marginal place in standard literary-historical accounts. The literary history of the twentieth century has instead usually been told as the story of modernism and its aftermath: this story, focusing on exceptional innovations, the dilemmas of literary art, and responses to “modernity,” has little to say about developments in commercial genres. But as the modernist framework has come to seem increasingly limited as a way to grasp the changing literary field as a whole, the significance of popular literature emerges as one of the major open problems of literary scholarship.

The aim of this course is to see what twentieth-century literature looks like—and how we are to study it—if we take the proliferating formulas of detective fiction, rather than the singular modernist work, as the paradigm. We consider the difference it makes to address some major literary-historical questions—the high-low divide, the process of formal change, the shifting media ecology, the representation of identity, the possibilities of literary politics, the scope of “world literature,” and, yes, the effects of modernity—through this commercial yet intellectualized genre. And, finally, we ask what methods are most adequate to this phenomenon, seeking to complement literary interpretation with other possibilities from book history and the sociology of culture.

This course does not intend to produce graduate-level Baker Street Irregulars but to raise significant twentieth-centuryist questions that can be brought to bear on many writers and many genres. I lay special emphasis on the fact that I can never figure out the culprit in advance and don’t really want to anyway. Readings may include: among fiction-writers, Poe, Conan Doyle, Sayers, Chandler, Himes, Grafton, Mankell—together with digitized early-century sources by less celebrated names; among theorists of genre, Todorov, Genette, Fowler, Frow, Bowker and Starr; among modernist scholars, Q.D. Leavis, Huyssen, Esty; among scholars of detection, Ginzburg, Denning, McDonald, Moretti, Jameson, Boltanski, Walton, McCann, Smith. The major assignment is a research paper, for which students are strongly encouraged to seek primary sources beyond those we read together.

English 358:358 Early Twentieth-Century Fiction

Fall 2017, Mondays and Wednesdays, 2:50–4:10, MU 113
Syllabus forthcoming

This course is a study of novels and stories in English from 1890 to 1950, a period of extraordinary variety and expansion in fiction—and of upheaval in society at large: wars, depressions, migrations, mass social movements. Fiction does not simply respond to these upheavals; it participates in them, whether through political advocacy, artistic transformation, or even, at times, a willful refusal to engage. The course traces four transformations in fiction:

  1. Elevating fiction in literary modernism: Henry James, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner;

  2. Specializing popular literature in detective fiction: Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Dashiell Hammett;

  3. Globalizing literary English in India: Rabindranath Tagore, Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan;

  4. Challenging racial convention in the U.S.: Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston.

Students can expect a weekly average of 150 pp. of reading, often challenging, always worthwhile. A major aim of the course is to practice reading widely and well. Every class period will include lecture and both small- and large-group discussion. The major writing assignments consist of two papers and a take-home final.

English 359:202:H1 Honors Principles of Literary Study: Prose

Spring 2017, Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:10–2:30, HC-N106
Syllabus (pdf)
Course website

This course provides an intensive introduction to the skills and concepts of the study of fiction, focusing on the novel in English since 1800. Students will learn to move beyond talking about what happens in a story or what a text says to making interpretive arguments about how texts work and what their meanings are. Class sessions and assignments concentrate on identifying and interpreting the formal components of fiction, including genre, plot, character, point of view, and narrative voice, as they are found in English-language fictions by writers from Jane Austen to Toni Morrison. The course also introduces key critical debates about the novel and history, narrative and cognition, and the status of genre, preparing students to contribute to the scholarly conversation about literature.

As an Honors section, this course will require substantial reading in both primary and secondary texts every week. Class meetings will be in seminar format. The major assignments are three short papers and a final exam. In addition, brief exercises will help to develop the skills needed to write effective papers.

Both majors and non-majors are welcome. Principles of Literary Study is required for the English major. It also fulfills the AHp and WCd Core Curriculum requirements.

English 358:214 Introduction to Twentieth-Century Literature

Spring 2017, Mondays and Wednesdays, 4:30–5:50, Murray 208
Syllabus (pdf)
Course website

This course introduces students to the pleasures and challenges of studying the literature of the twentieth century. Twentieth-century literature in English is a global phenomenon; this course explores some of the ways fiction, poetry, and drama speak to a world in which distant people and places are brought into contact with one another by world-spanning media and communications systems, large-scale migration, catastrophic war, and the rise and fall, and rise, of empires. Rather than attempt a survey, we read intensively in a selection of writers, paying particular attention to four themes in turn: inner life amidst social division; the poetics of multiple voices; the possibilities of reduction and minimalism; and the politics of the historical imagination. Readings may include: fiction by James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Virginia Woolf, Chinua Achebe, Toni Morrison, and others; poetry by T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, A.K. Ramanujan, and others; drama by Samuel Beckett; and selected essays by and about these writers. Brief writing exercises will lead up to each assigned paper. This course is especially open to non-majors and first-years, and it fulfills the AHp Core requirement.

English 358:358 Early Twentieth-Century Fiction

Fall 2016, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:10–2:30, Murray 115
Syllabus (pdf)
Course website

This course is a study of novels and stories in English from 1890 to 1950, a period marked by rapid social change and an unprecedented expansion and diversification in literary culture. The course emphasizes the social significance of literary style, the changing uses of genres like the coming-of-age novel, the transformation of English into a global literary language, and the struggle to define literary modernity. We will read fictions from the U.S., England, Ireland, and India; avant-garde writing aimed at a self-consciously élite audience and genre fiction shooting for bestseller status; novels that document social and political conflict and novels that reject documentation altogether; texts with a global horizon and texts with a scrupulously local purview. Readings may include works by Henry James, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Sayers, Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, and Djuna Barnes. Each class period is mixed lecture and discussion. Requirements: regular informal writing, two papers, final exam.

English 358:437 Science Fiction in Print from Pulp to the Present

Fall 2016, Tuesdays and Fridays, 11:30–12:50, Scott 221
Syllabus (pdf)
Course website

Today, most people probably think of science fiction in terms of big-budget movies and TV series. But science fiction began in print, and it continues to flourish in novels and stories. This seminar is a study of science-fiction writing, with special attention to the changing status of the genre and the medium of print, from H.G. Wells to Nnedi Okorafor. SF has promised cheap thrills in inexpensive pulp magazines, and it has aspired to seriousness in between hard covers; it has been the literature of proudly distinctive, and sometimes politically radical, subcultures, yet it has also sought to break into the literary mainstream; and it has increasingly had to compete with visual media, unless it tries to collaborate in transmedia productions. In addition to print sources, we will make significant use of digitized archival materials. The course culminates with a research paper about science-fiction texts of students’ own choice.

English 350:509 Literary Data: Some Approaches

Spring 2015 Graduate Seminar. Thursdays, 1:10–4:10 p.m., Murray 305.
Syllabus (pdf)
Course website
My retrospective essay on the course

In the last ten years, the strange quasi-disciplinary formation known as DH or Digital Humanities has renewed the struggle over methods in literary studies. Analyses of digitized texts using computer-assisted techniques promise to transform the kinds of evidence, the methods of interpretation, and the modes of argument which matter to literary scholarship. Data is now a subject of energetic debate in literary studies: what constitutes literary data, and how should it be analyzed and interpreted? How might aggregation and quantification produce new knowledge in literary scholarship? What methods are most appropriate for grappling with the enormous, and enormously messy, world of digitized literary texts and data about literature?

This course pursues two aims in parallel: to engage with the history and current practice of literary data analysis, and to introduce the foundational skills of literary data analysis in the R programming language. Class time will be divided between seminar and practical instruction. The seminar discussions trace theoretical debates about literary data from structuralism and scientific bibliography, to experiments in computational stylistics, to contemporary scholarly controversies in and around DH. The practicum surveys the fundamentals of programming and data manipulation, with an introduction to selected numerical techniques and data visualizations. Short homework exercises supplement the in-class instruction, with an emphasis on handling actual literary data of various kinds.

No special technical expertise of any kind is expected; instruction begins from first principles. However, the work of programming does require willingness to experiment, patience in the face of frustration, and the nerve to ask for help as often as needed.

English 359:202 Principles of Literary Study: Prose

Spring 2015, Tuesdays, 2:50–4:10 p.m., Murray 210; Wednesday recitations.
was 350:220
Course website
Syllabus

This course provides an introduction to the study of narrative, and, while geared to potential English majors, it is suitable for any student interested in learning how fiction works. Focusing on the novel in English since 1800, we will learn to identify and interpret the components of fiction: plot, genre, character, point of view, and narrative voice. We’ll also join important critical debates about the novel and history, narrative and cognition, and the status of genre. The course is in lecture-discussion format. Recitation sections will be taught by two outstanding English department graduate students, Miranda McLeod and William Welty.

This course fulfills the AHp and WCD School of Arts and Sciences Core requirements.

English 358:358 Early Twentieth-Century Fiction

Fall 2014, Mondays and Thursdays, 11:30–12:50, Scott 216
was 350:355
Syllabus (pdf)
Course website

This course is a study of novels and stories drawn from literature in English from the 1890–1950 period. Its goal is to understand fiction’s many ways of being modern in a period marked by rapid changes in social life. The course emphasizes the social significance of literary style, the changing uses of genres like the coming-of-age novel, and the transformation of English into a global literary language. Texts include novels or stories by Henry James, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Sayers, Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, and Djuna Barnes. Though the enormous breadth of the production of fiction in English in this period makes any comprehensive survey inconceivable, the readings are chosen to indicate the range of that production. This range—this diversity, in all senses: stylistic, thematic, generic, cultural, geographic, socioeconomic—is the most important fact about the fiction of this period. We will read fictions from the U.S., England, Ireland, and India; we will read avant-garde writing aimed at a self-consciously élite audience and genre fiction shooting for bestseller status; novels that document social and political conflict and novels that reject documentation altogether; texts with a global horizon and texts with a scrupulously local purview. Each class period is mixed lecture and discussion. Requirements: regular informal writing, two papers, final exam.

English 359:410 Seminar in Literary Theory: The Social Construction of Literature

Fall 2014, Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:10–2:30, Murray 112
was 353:491
Syllabus (pdf)
Course website

Where does literature come from? Many discussions about literature proceed as if this question hardly matters: the text, say the teachers and the critics, is there, and we only need to read it closely enough to discover its meaning. But who put the text there, who said that it was literature, and who is this “we” who is doing the reading? Once we ask these questions, we have begun to think of “literature” as a social construction. The goal of the course is to enrich the way we think about literature by understanding the arguments in literary studies’ debates, from the early twentieth century to present, about the relationship between literature and society. Central themes of the course include: literary form and the rejection of social context; literature as socially oppositional force; literature and political power, especially the power of the European empires; the debate over the literary canon and the role of educational institutions; and sociological theories of the literary field. The readings in this course are challenging but highly rewarding. Seminar discussion concentrates on patient engagement with theorists including John Crowe Ransom, Theodor Adorno, Raymond Williams, Edward Said, Pierre Bourdieu, Mary Poovey, John Guillory, and Pascale Casanova. We also work with the theories in literary case studies, which may include poetry by Langston Hughes, W. H. Auden, and Elizabeth Bishop; short stories by James Joyce and R. K. Narayan; an exploration of the history of Rutgers course catalogues; and an analysis of literary prizes. Requirements: active class participation, regular informal writing, two short papers, and a medium-length term paper, which will be submitted in both draft and final forms.

Note to prospective students: the syllabus will be forthcoming over the summer. In the meantime, I welcome e-mails with questions of any kind. This course fulfills two major requirements for the English major, the seminar requirement and the theory requirement, and you can use this course to fulfill both requirements at once. It also fulfills the WCr SAS Core requirement.

English 350:220 Principles of Literary Study: Fiction

Spring 2014, Mondays and Thursdays, 9:50–11:10, Scott 203
Syllabus

Required of all prospective English majors; should be taken in the sophomore year. A study of prose narrative with emphasis on the short story and the novel. Attention to strategies of close reading, contextualization, and a range of contemporary critical approaches. Attendance is expected and required.

English 350:437 Seminar: Nobel Prize Winners

Spring 2014, Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:10–2:30, Murray 204
Syllabus

This seminar explores Global Anglophone fiction since 1900 through the lens of the Nobel Prize. Surveying a selection of the fiction-writers in English who have won the prize, from Rudyard Kipling (1907) to Alice Munro (2013), the course traces the development of a fascinating, sometimes delightfully bizarre canon of prose-narrative world literature in English. This development tells us as much about the changing definitions of “world literature”—and the changing situation of the Anglophone novel within world literature—as it does about individual writers and their choices. We will pay significant attention to individual novels and stories, but also to the paraphernalia of the prize, including Nobel lectures, medals, and outraged press commentary. Major themes: writing from, against, and after empire; the idea of the “universal”; realist and experimental forms; popularity and difficulty; and the politics of the world stage. Readings: Nobel-laureate fiction in English by writers from five continents, including Rudyard Kipling, Rabindranath Tagore, William Faulkner, Patrick White, Nadine Gordimer, V.S. Naipaul, J.M. Coetzee, Doris Lessing, and Alice Munro; some selections from scholarship on world-literary institutions. Requirements: (1) a short paper before midterm; (2) a final research project, to be developed over the term through exercises, a brief oral presentation, and a partial draft, and then revised into a paper of 16–20 pages.

English 350:355 Twentieth Century Fiction I

Fall 2013, Monday and Thursday, Period 3, Scott 207
Syllabus

This course is a study of novels and stories drawn from the English-language literatures of the 1890–1950 period. The goal of the course is to understand fiction’s many ways of being modern in a period marked by rapid changes in social life. The course especially emphasizes the social significance of literary style, the changing uses of genres like the coming-of-age novel, and the transformation of English into a global literary language. Texts may include novels or stories by Henry James, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Sayers, Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan, and Djuna Barnes. The format of the course will be mixed lecture and discussion. Assignments: regular informal writing, two papers, take-home final.

English 351:335 Science Fiction

Fall 2013, Monday and Thursday, Period 2, Scott 214
Syllabus

This course is a study in the history of science fiction from its nineteenth-century precursors to the present. The course pays special attention to the oscillations of the genre’s status, from respectable work of the imagination (“speculative fiction”) to despised escapist entertainment (“pulp”) and back, before becoming a spectrum of subgenres (cyberpunk, weird, “literary,” etc.). The interpretation of science fiction texts is thus set within the history of science fiction readers, publishers, and writers, from the earliest SF pulps to massive “convergence culture” science fiction that straddles books, film, TV, and internet fandom. Readings may include SF (or pre-SF) by Wells, Rokeya, Stapledon, Lovecraft, Bradbury, Asimov, Pohl and Kornbluth, Dick, Le Guin, Delany, Butler, Gibson, and Ghosh. Some readings in relevant scholarship and tvtropes.org. The course format is mixed lecture and discussion. Three papers, regular informal writing.

English 350:596 Author, Reader, Field

Literary Sociologies of Modernism and the Twentieth Century

Spring 2013, Thursday, 1:10 p.m., Murray 207
Syllabus (pdf)

The sociological study of literary practices—reading, writing, and circulation—has become one of the most important areas of new work in the last decade of literary studies. Though such approaches have ranged widely, recent work in this vein has been particularly interested in modernism. Indeed, the most important sociological theory of literature, that of Pierre Bourdieu, is nothing other than a theory of modernism. This course proposes to explore the conjunction of sociological method and modernist literature as more than a coincidence. We will read key recent works in literary sociology, but we will also return to imaginative writings of the early twentieth century to see how they demand, and sometimes anticipate, an analysis in terms of institutions, organizations, hierarchies of power and status, symbolic interactions, classes, and fields of relation. The aim of the course is not primarily to offer a “reading” of modernism in terms of “social” themes but to facilitate students’ own sociologically-informed work on literature. The so-called “modernist period” is only a case study, and we will reflect on the ways in which the prominence of modernism in literary-sociological work—particularly in the Bourdieuean tradition—may be a limitation. Reading beyond canonical modernism, we will challenge and extend literary sociology’s treatment of nation, race, cultural capital, and readership.

English 350:220 Principles of Literary Study: Fiction

Spring 2013, Monday and Thursday, 9:50 a.m.–11:10 a.m., Scott 203
Syllabus

Required of all prospective English majors; should be taken in the sophomore year. A study of prose narrative with emphasis on the short story and the novel. Attention to strategies of close reading, contextualization, and a range of contemporary critical approaches. Attendance is expected and required.

English 350:355 Twentieth Century Fiction I

Fall 2012, Monday and Thursday, Period 3, Murray 213
Printable Syllabus (pdf)

This course is a study of novels and stories drawn from the English-language literatures of the first half of the twentieth century. The goal of the course is to understand the many ways of being modern that the fiction of this period pursued, learning why “modernity” and “modernism” are powerful but problematic conceptual frames for approaching this epoch of literary history. Our readings will be clustered around five overlapping themes: the celebration of the aesthetic, race in global context, small- and large-scale violence, the social real, and cosmopolitan culture. Texts may include novels or stories by Henry James, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Sayers, Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan, and Djuna Barnes. The format of the course will be mixed lecture and discussion. Assignments: regular informal writing, two papers, take-home final.

Low to Middling Genres, 1890–1945

Fall 2012, Monday and Thursday, Period 2, Scott 102
Printable Syllabus (pdf)

This course explores a key period in the history of pleasure reading and genre writing in English: the first half of the twentieth century. By 1900, more books were being published and more people were reading for entertainment than ever before, on both sides of the Atlantic. What did people read? This seminar looks at the beginnings of genres that rose to popularity around 1900 and continue to flourish today, even if they aren’t always classified as “literature”: mystery, romance, thriller, science fiction. We will also read some examples of popular poetry and of a more respectable novelistic genre that was nonetheless too popular for the most advanced taste: the realist novel. We will pay special attention to gender among readers and writers; developments in publishing; sincerity and self-consciousness; sex and violence; the question of realism and the fantastic; the fictions of social class; the impact of war; and the varieties of prose style. This reading-intensive seminar will culminate in a research paper.

Literary Foundations II

Eugene Lang College, The New School, Spring 2012
MW 12:00–1:40 p.m. (LLST2002D) and MW 2:00-3:40 p.m. (LLST2002E)
Course Webpage
Printable Syllabus (pdf)

The second half of a two-semester introductory sequence for students in Literature and Writing, this course introduces key texts of literary culture from the seventeenth century to the present, focusing on Britain but including important texts from the United States and Germany as well. Its chief aim is to develop the skills of analyzing and interpreting individual literary texts intensively. Such intensive analysis develops in tandem with the critical ability to find resonances and kinships among texts: hence the course provides a broad (and necessarily highly selective) overview of four centuries of literary history, emphasizing developments in genres, forms, themes, and cultural and social contexts. Study of writings by Donne, Milton, Swift, Goethe, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dickinson, Douglass, Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Woolf, and Kafka. Seminar topics include modernity and its monsters, fictionality and authenticity, the novel among the genres, the changing meanings of “literature,” and the intersections of race, gender, and empire.

Writing Seminar. Coming of Age: Selves, Writers, Societies

Gallatin School, NYU, FIRST-UG383, Fall 2011
MW 12:30–1:45 p.m. 7 E. 12th St., Rm. LL 27
Course Webpage
Printable Syllabus (pdf)

This writing seminar explores the inescapably social process of growing up. How can people both become who they want to be and participate fully in society? What do personal development and socio-economic development have to do with one another? How do coming-of-age fictions from Jane Austen to Kazuo Ishiguro reflect on questions of identity, belonging, sexuality, growth, modernization, and citizenship? These questions will be the occasion for intensive work on students’ own intellectual development as writers and readers. Three shorter essay assignments—selecting and interpreting textual evidence, responding to a theory, and incorporating a personal motive—build up to the culminating literary-critical paper on the coming-of-age novel. Social-scientific accounts of the development of persons and societies will provide context and counterpoint to the literary works. Readings include works by Jane Austen, James Joyce, and Anne Carson; scholarly essays in sociology, psychology, and literary studies.

The Poetry of Wallace Stevens

Stanford University, English 156a, Winter Quarter 2011, MW 1:15-3:05, 160-329.
Course Webpage
Printable Syllabus (pdf)

Intensive study of one of the greatest and most challenging twentieth-century poets, Wallace Stevens, from his early, playful lyrics to his monumental meditative sequences of the 1940s and 1950s. We will spend time learning and luxuriating in Stevens’s language, but we will also pay critical attention to biographical and historical contexts. Topics include: modernism 1910-1955, abstraction, literary politics in the 1930s, poetry and war, the late-Romantic lyric, philosophical poetry, the sequence form, poetic sound, humor, “late style.” We conclude with a survey of Stevens’s influence on later poets. There is no formal prerequisite, but English 160 (Poetry and Poetics) is strongly recommended.

Everything But Modernism: Low to Middling Genres

Stanford University, English 154b, Autumn Quarter 2010, MW 3:15–5:05, 160-317.
Course Webpage
Printable Syllabus (pdf)

Since the era of modernism (1890-1940), we have learned to distinguish sharply between “high” literature, serious and advanced, and low or middlebrow literature. Exciting as the high culture of modernism is, what about all the other kinds of imaginative writing people read for pleasure? Reading American and British works 1900-1940, this seminar explores the ancestry of the ever-popular but still-stigmatized realm of “genre” writing. Genres include: mystery, romance, thriller, scifi, war poetry, and the realist novel. Knowledge of modernism not required.

Prizewinners: Anglophone Novelists and the Nobel Prize, 1991–2007

Stanford University, English 153d, Spring Quarter 2010, MW 3:15–5:05, 160-319.
Course Webpage
Printable Syllabus (pdf)

An experiment in examining the global phenomenon of the late-twentieth-century novel in English through the most naive possible lens: the Nobel Prize in Literature. We read works by the five English-language novelists to win the Nobel since the Cold War: Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison, V.S. Naipaul, J.M. Coetzee, and Doris Lessing. Topics include: “world literature,” postcolonial writing and race, realism and novelistic form, the relation to American and British canons, and the sociology and politics of the Nobel. The main objective, however, will be to explore what kind of reading the prize itself invites by grouping these writers together.

Expats and Cosmopolitan Fiction, 1900–1940

Stanford University, English 154, Autumn Quarter 2009, MW 1:15–3:05, 60-118.
Course Webpage
Printable Syllabus (pdf)

If there is an international republic of letters, those writers who leave their home countries, becoming expatriates or exiles, are among the prime candidates for citizenship. But what is the relationship between writers’ cosmopolitan lifestyles and their writings? Do those writings participate in other kinds of internationalism—cultural or political? Or do they bespeak a longing for home? Do these texts give form to rootlessness or global vision, nostalgia or adventure? This seminar studies these questions in the fiction of the golden era of expatriates and exiles, 1900-1940, with a special emphasis on historical contexts from the founding of Cosmopolitan magazine to the Great Depression. Readings include novels or stories by writers from the United States (Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Djuna Barnes), England (E.M. Forster, Christopher Isherwood), Ireland (James Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen), and Jamaica (Claude McKay).

Miscellaneous teaching materials