In recent years, probably under the varied pressures of climate change, Internet-driven genre proliferation, Internet-driven skepticism, the increasing recognition of all kinds of Otherness, the increasing recognition of animals as fellow species, the Weird has become a rich subject of interest for writers, academics, and readers of all types. As a genre, the Weird is adjacent to science fiction, horror, and the gothic, and yet has proved much more difficult to define than these neighbors (who have their own category problems). Throughout this course, we’re going to work on defining, mapping, documenting, and otherwise tracking the Weird through a variety of texts, theories, and contexts. In the process, we hope to gain some understanding of:
- How the Weird works as a genre (and how genre works as a category of analysis).
- How the Weird is produced in fiction.
- What implications the Weird offers for discussions of ability, racial difference, gender, sexuality, and other identity issues.
- What implications the Weird has for discussions of climate change, pollution, and other ecological issues, including how humans perceive these issues.
- What implications the Weird has for discussions of animals’ consciousness, humans’ treatment of animals, and the relationship between humans and animals as fellow creatures.
This course focuses on stories that concern the boundary between the human and non-human, asking questions such as the following: What is the line between human and machine? What is the line between human and monster? Who counts as human? Are some people more human than others? Under what circumstances does an individual become “inhuman”? What behaviors define the human? How are decisions about who counts as human made, and who gets to make these decisions? What do conversations about the human have to do with race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, or other forms of identity?
To salvage means to save something from loss. This course will explore salvage as a metaphor for the present, asking: How does literature represent acts of salvage? How does crisis—economic, climate-driven, or otherwise—highlight salvage as a practice? What can salvage tell us about the future or the past? What does salvage tell us about poverty, the state, race, ability, or gender? How does the novel salvage other genres? In what ways does literature itself need salvaging?
Salvage Literature will take up these questions and more, reading books by Ling Ma, Colson Whitehead, Octavia Butler, Jeff VanderMeer, and Jesmyn Ward.
Walking through buildings, streets, construction sites, plazas, shops, subway stations, warehouses, parks, and waterfronts with writers such as Miguel Algárin, Rachel Kushner, Amiri Baraka, Don DeLillo, Colson Whitehead, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lynne Tillman, Pedro Pietri, Ralph Ellison, Chester Himes, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Octavia Butler, Miguel Piñero, Ben Lerner, and David Wojnarowicz. Talking, writing, and making projects about how literature reflects, charts, re-imagines, and confronts, the post-World-War-II American city, using ideas from Sara Ahmed, Henri Lefebvre, Raymond Williams, Judith Halberstam, Jose Muñoz, Raymond Williams, Michel de Certeau, Jini Kim Watson, and others.
This course will explore fiction that engages the multiple kinds of networks that bind the globe together, which have intensified in recent years with the advent of information technology. Commentators such as Manual Castells and Tiziana Terranova describe these networks as shaping human cultures in sustained, consisted ways; they term these changes the Network Society. The Internet serves as a metaphor for such connections, but is by no means the only such network. For at least the past 500 years, the globe has been crisscrossed by transportational, political, cultural, and technological networks: shipping lanes, emigration routes, fiber optic lines, the Internet. As is frequently stated, these networks make the world a “smaller” place, as more and more people are linked to the lives of other people in distant places. Chinese workers make parts, the parts are shipped in a container to Mexico, where they are assembled into video game consoles in the border factors in Juarez, Mexico from which they are shipped to Targets in San Bernadino, Minneapolis, Dayton. At the same time, though, these networks create exclusions as well as inclusions. If those same Chinese workers want to get to Dayton, they face political, cultural, and economic obstacles—network interference. Throughout this course, we will pose the question: what role does literature play in helping people imagine, navigate, understand, or conceptualize these networks and their relation to individuals? Some of the questions we will explore include: What kind of narratives (stories) emerge in contact with networks? How do networks shape and disrupt identity?How does the virtual overtake the physical? How do networks reinforce and disrupt ideas of difference? How do networks contrast with local spaces? How do networks both reinforce and disrupt borders?
The Literature of Mad Men
Among other achievements, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men has shown its viewers a new 1960s. The show has also been lauded for its painstaking attention to historical accuracy, and the literary works featured on the show form part of this representation. This course focuses on those literary works, asking how they fit into the historical context represented—though not completely—by the show, the period 1960-1970. As Mad Men repeatedly reminds viewers, the 60s are a dynamic period in American culture, part of a long series of economic, sociological, but most importantly cultural shifts in the country as a whole. The second half of the series emphasizes that the time period witnessed a series of “culture clashes” between rising youth cultures, proponents and opponents of the Vietnam war, conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, upholders of patriarchy and adherents to women’s rights, upholders of segregation and civil rights activists, and so on. The course will focus heavily on these conflicts, using Rick Perlman’s history Nixonland as a source for historical background on these conflicts. In doing so, we’ll explore the literary reactions to these conflicts, asking how literature might reflect, soothe, reinforce, or resist these conflicts. We will use the television show to point to historical context, and examine the ways in which the show invokes literature to suggest historical accuracy. The course is, however, focused on literature, and you will need to discuss the show in relation to the literature. The class may well deepen your understanding of Mad Men, but that will be a happy accident of learning more about the literary works used by the show. Having said that, the show itself has been called “novelistic,” and it’s interesting to ponder how television has come to replace the novel as a primary cultural commentator, even for “educated” or “literary” audiences.