Networks in the Contemporary Novel (spring 2013, UCSB)
Particularly since the rise of social media as part of our daily interactions, we think more and more about who we are through the form of the network. Our networks define the reach of our ideas, our access to information and modes of self-expression, and, increasingly, our understandings of power and agency. With regard to the latter, ideas about new networks have shaped the stories we tell about both new manifestations of democracy (Occupy, the 2009 elections in Iran, the Arab Spring) and new forms of control, surveillance, and suppression. In this course we looked at a variety of fictional, sociological, philosophical, and non-fictional approaches to networks. We also experimented with Gephi and other digital technologies for modeling social networks in fiction and elsewhere. The fiction included contemporary re-imaginings of the early internet and 1970s social movements, science fiction about the power of Anonymous-style collectives, and speculative accounts of the Arab Spring and the 2011 U.K. riots written just after they occurred. Fiction, film, and multimedia work by Karen Tei Yamashita, Daniel Suarez, G. Willow Wilson, Jennifer Egan, Steven Soderbergh, China Miéville, and Ted Chiang. Requirements: reading long novels carefully, attendance and active participation, discussion board posts, and two papers, the second with a creative visualization option.
Literatures of Technology: I/Robot (fall 2011, UCSB)
In this advanced course within the Literature and the Culture of Information (LCI) specialization, students examined the relationships between literature and technology through the figure of the robot. Working across the past century, the class charts how this versatile figure has been instrumental for American thinking about the roles of technology, the limits of the human, and the meanings of freedom and unfreedom. Our investigations were split equally between science fiction novels, short fiction, and film, and many of the students collaborated on digital video projects—short films that re-stage a robotic encounter from one of our texts—as a hands-on engagement with the generic conventions, formal techniques, and conceptual stakes of the texts in the course. Works by Fritz Lang, Isaac Asimov, John Frankenheimer, Anthony Burgess, Brian Forbes, Alice Sheldon, Philip K. Dick, Neal Stephenson, Joss Whedon, Ronald D. Moore.
Mind and Modernism (fall 2012, spring 2012, UCSB)
In this senior seminar, students investigate how various ideas about the human mind have shaped our understandings of community, politics, and ethics. At the turn of the twentieth century, new ideas about the unconscious, the body’s lived experience in time, behavior, and habit inspired some of modernism’s most interesting formal experiments. We consider what those experiments meant for definitions of “modernism,” as we examine how ideas from Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson, William James, John B. Watson and others relate to some of the most convincing and enduring literary representations of skepticism, race relations, human connection, isolation, sympathy, memory, and desire. Works and selections from Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Henry James, W.E.B. Du Bois, Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, Virginia Woolf, Wallace Stevens, Marcel Proust, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, Nella Larsen, Samuel Beckett, and Alfred Hitchcock.
Race on the American Stage (spring 2012, UCSB)
This course focused on the meanings of the racialized body in twentieth-century and contemporary U.S. drama. We addressed questions about racial performance, passing, authenticity, stereotypes and icons, assimilation, interracial borrowing and imitation, and more. While we focused primarily on African American drama (branching out to other ethnic canons later in the term), we also examined how other popular forms—poetry, a novella, standup comedy, and, most of all, musical performance—supplement our understandings of central course concepts. The central course assignment, a group performance-presentation, allowed students to work hands-on with the formal constraints of drama. Principal texts by Eugene O’Neill, Nella Larsen, Lorraine Hansberry, LeRoi Jones, Ntozake Shange, Luis Valdez, Spike Lee, David Henry Hwang, and Young Jean Lee.
American Literature since 1945 (spring 2011, Macalester)
In this survey course, we examined the cultural roles played by American fiction, essays, drama, and poetry since World War II. What values and ideas has literature promoted—and been used to promote—in an age of American global prominence, of cultural and political upheaval, and of the proliferation of new modes of expression and communication? Our investigations took us through major works by Tennessee Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip K. Dick, Leslie Marmon Silko, David Mamet, Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, Moustafa Bayoumi, Don DeLillo, and others.
Intro to U.S. Minority Literatures (winter 2013, winter 2012, UCSB; spring 2011, Macalester)
In this course, we will discuss the relationships between identity, politics, and literary expression in the U.S. since World War II. The course includes major works drawn from several traditions—African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American—and we will engage with some of the problems particular to each tradition as we construct a broader narrative of the recent American literary and intellectual histories of identity, ethnicity, diversity, and race. Beginning with the legacies of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Arts Movement, we will move through the 1960s and 1970s establishments of ethnic literatures and ethnic studies alike and the celebratory multiculturalism and “culture wars” of the 1980s and 1990s, ending with the new questions about American identity and belonging that have emerged in the decade since 9/11.
The Novel: Fictions of Encounter (fall 2010, Macalester)
This introduction to the English major took “encounter” as a guiding theme for reading British, American, and Anglophone fiction from the eighteenth century to the present. We examined how writers from different countries and periods staged politically, ethically, and erotically charged encounters between different cultures and classes, in works by Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe, Herman Melville, H. Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad, Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Bishop, J. M. Coetzee, and Arundhati Roy.
Global Fictions of World War II: Literature, Memory, History (fall 2010, Macalester)
This advanced seminar asked what literature can teach us about the uses of history, through a set of texts that re-think, re-tell, and bear witness to the globally significant events of World War II. We explored how questions about historical emplotment, documentary representation, trauma, and national belonging are brought together in works by Michael Ondaatje, John Okada, Art Spiegelman, Leslie Marmon Silko, Marguerite Duras, Kazuo Ishiguro, and others.
Black Writers in America (fall 2008, UVA)
In this course on the African American literary tradition, we read spirituals and slave narratives of the nineteenth century as well as more recent novels, poetry and plays, paying close attention to writers’ strategic engagements with the assumptions of their black and white contemporaries. Students learned key concepts for thinking about literary history and form as they engaged with landmark works of African American drama, fiction, poetry, autobiography, oratory, and criticism.
Madness in Literature, Philosophy, and Contemporary Culture (fall 2006, spring 2007, spring 2008, UVA)
In this advanced composition course, students explored contemporary issues in the media, such as debates about ADHD medication, perversion, the insanity defense, and addiction, alongside historical, philosophical, and literary texts that afforded us new perspectives on these topics, including work by Plato, Edgar Allan Poe, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Sigmund Freud, Sylvia Plath, Fritz Lang, Milos Forman, Vladimir Nabokov, Michel Foucault, David Fincher, Ian Hacking, and Mark Haddon.