Note: These are general descriptions of courses that I teach or have taught at Cal Poly Pomona. Reading lists vary from one quarter to the next, so it’s important to check my course syllabi for the quarter in which you’re enrolled for the specific texts that are assigned that term. When other instructors teach these courses, their descriptions and assigned texts differ from mine.
English 105: Freshman English II
The goal of English 105 is to build on your skills as analytic thinkers, readers, and writers. We’ll read and discuss essays organized around several issues related to the theme of Identity, as we explore ways in which formal education, varying systems of belief, and personal background all contribute to our sense of who we are. You will be asked to write papers that respond to the assigned readings in increasingly complex and persuasive ways. As the quarter progresses, we will also study effective strategies for gracefully drawing on others’ views in the service of your own written arguments; concisely quoting and accurately paraphrasing relevant passages from what you’ve read; and creating standard formats for bibliographies and annotations that reflect the extent of your background reading. Part of our class time will be organized as a workshop in which you will read and respond to drafts of each other’s work before turning in polished assignments to me. In addition, I’ll ask that you keep an informal journal in which you record some of your own responses to what you’re reading and studying; I will collect this from you at several points during the term.
English 201: Introduction to Modern Fiction
Our aim in English 201 is to explore the rich diversity of modern fiction written by male and female authors from a variety of cultures. As we read a selection of short stories and one novel, we will examine the concerns they express and the ideas they present as we also analyze such formal aspects of fiction as narrative point of view, character, setting, plot, and theme. In the first part of the term we will focus on literary conventions and experimentation in the short story genre. At the end of the quarter we will give close attention to an influential contemporary novel.
English 208: Survey of British Literature II
The aim of English 208 is to provide you with a broad background for more specialized study in British literature; we will read works of the Romantic, Victorian, Modern, and Contemporary periods. As the focus of the course is historical, we will look at the ways in which social contexts and literary traditions helped shape the poetry, drama, expository prose, and fiction of authors of different eras. This approach can pose problems, though, because memorable writers tend to move outside the boundaries of their periods, and easy generalizations about the conventions of their times do not always lead to a satisfying grasp of their art. On the other hand, an historical perspective has its uses, for it gives us a sense of the climate within which authors wrote and the forces with which they contended, either through adaptation or rebellion. So we'll discuss the merits as well as the limitations of an historical outlook as we study of the literature of the past two centuries.
English 240: Women Writers
Our course, organized around the subject of women writers, immediately raises provocative issues and problems. What are the virtues of studying female authors without making explicit reference to their male contemporaries? What are the limitations that such a single-sexed approach could impose on us, as readers? By highlighting specifically feminine characteristics in the themes and techniques of writers, will we arrive at some sense that authorship is indeed shaped by gender? Or might we find that we put women writers into a sort of literary “ghetto” and fail to recognize the contexts in which they wrote, when we isolate them from masculine literary traditions? Here we will read short stories, novels, and poetry written by female authors who speak from a range of cultural backgrounds, social classes, and ethnic heritages. Will we come to see the diversity of women's writing? Will we discover areas of similarity, of shared concerns and approaches, that do link these writers--as women--to one another? Throughout the quarter, we'll keep asking these questions. By the end of the term we may, or may not, agree that there are answers to be found.
English 303: Advanced Expository Writing
This is a course about reading and writing and the vital connections between them. We’ll look at expository prose by authors who ask that you do more than just absorb their work, sponge-like, in the pursuit of information. They challenge, they demand, they provoke, they puzzle, they compel. In other words, they invite you to participate in a creative act, to help produce the meaning, as you respond to their words on the page. Our class discussions will have two general goals: to get inside these writers’ frames of reference, understanding their points of view; and also to question what they have written and see how or if issues they raise remain, for us, unresolved. I invite you to think of your own writing in this class as an effort to share your deep and complex processes of understanding. Rather than beginning with a set argument or thesis that you go ahead and “prove,” you may--you should--think of each essay you write as an occasion to voice a problem, test an impulse, try out something new. Let’s see, together, where this takes you.
English 306: The Modern British Novel
The aim of this course is to explore developments and departures in novels written between the opening and concluding decades of the twentieth century. We will study shaping influences on our “modern,” western culture and consider the possible forms and concerns of artistic developments to come. Among the many issues raised by the fiction we will read are whether or not the world is really knowable, human personality coherent, and meaningful relationship with others possible, as writers define their relationship to the past and look ahead to a new age. These novelists have adopted realist approaches, in which individual case histories are presented as reflections of universal concerns; experimental methods, in which isolated characters explore the reaches of consciousness and perception; and complex combinations of technique, in which discordant conditions of life are described in symbolic, straightforward, fantastic, and scientific terms. Our assigned texts are by male and female authors from privileged and more marginal social positions; from those born in England and also from those situated elsewhere, in homage to and critique of the English. Together, they suggest the diversity of British experience and the rich possibilities for expression in the novel form.
English 345: Race and Gender in Modern Literature
We will be reading modern works of fiction, drama, poetry, and expository prose that focus on issues of race and gender--and the related subjects of nationhood, class, and sexual orientation. Traditionally, literature classes in English departments begin from a center that is assumed to be the reality of lived experience (characteristically, a white, male experience) and then, perhaps, move outward to examine life as it is lived in the margins, by those whose birth or predilections make them seem “Other” to mainstream culture. Here, in an effort to defamiliarize the social rules with which we live and to scrutinize the assumptions that shape as well as confine us, we will try a different kind of beginning. Working from the periphery, we’ll listen to the voices of those who have been denied autonomy by people in positions of power. In the process, we’ll explore the notion of a so-called “norm” of human experience: what does that really mean, anyway? Our assigned materials, different as they are from one another, have a shared concern: to investigate the boundaries of race and gender--and to revision these categories in exciting ways.
English 350: Literary Theory
Why and how do we analyze literature? Is a purely objective approach possible? Or do economic status, gender identification, sexual orientation, and academic training influence many acts of interpretation? Are certain qualities universal to all great literature? What is great literature? How do we--and should we--establish the value of works of art?
We will tackle these questions (and more) as they inform contemporary literary theory. Although the course emphasizes critical texts, we’ll turn to selected literary works for practical applications of the theoretical approaches we are considering. By the end of the quarter, we should arrive at a sense of how our own perspectives and prejudices shape the material we read--and the criticism we write.
English 448: Victorian Writers
In English 448, we will analyze the paradoxical nature of the Victorian world, as reflected in fiction, poetry, and drama of the nineteenth century. For many readers of our time, the word “Victorian” has come to mean a culture characterized by repression, prudery, and convention. We inherited this stereotype from the authors who immediately followed the Victorians and who needed to establish clear distinctions between their own artistic aims and those of a parent generation. But in revisiting the Victorians, we find that they were much more complex than their successors allowed; the best minds of the nineteenth century were conflicted, self-aware, dynamic. Exuberant confidence, debilitating doubt; an ideal of public responsibility, a sense of personal isolation; the love of God and country, the loss of faith – these are among the many issues addressed in the art of an intensely compelling period.
English 450: Twentieth-Century British Literature
English 450 centers on the thoughts and approaches that have come to be called modern and that have shaped, for better and for worse, the lives we lead today. The books on our syllabus cover a wide range of topics, as addressed by both male and female writers working in a variety of genres throughout the twentieth century. The authors we will study, who represent a wide spectrum of cultures both within England and in the countries England once colonized, speak to experiences that continue to influence the way western culture thinks of itself and of those it has designated as its “others” across the globe. We will read about the experience of war as it affected the soldier witnessing the horror first-hand, on the battlefield, and the family at home contending with war’s profound psychological impact. We will address the effects of imperialist politics on nations determined to achieve their own identities, as well as the displacement of those in colonized countries without a certain sense of a “motherland” or national origins. We will consider the modern individual’s difficult and sometimes ennobling struggle to forge a sense of self in the face of increasing uncertainty about social institutions--marriage, family, church, and government--that once provided overarching meanings. And we will examine the liberating potential of a self-consciously modern culture beginning to question and challenge social restrictions based on race, class, and gender.
English 451: Modernism and Postmodernism
In the opening decades of the twentieth century, writers and artists--American, British,
European--transcended many striking differences as they proclaimed their sense of “modernity.” What exactly was “modern” about “Modernism”? An impulse to rebel, to create a space that is entirely one’s own, is actually a very traditional feature of Western culture. Arguably, it has less to do with true originality than with Oedipal anxiety and desire: what Freud might describe as the need to topple overbearing, influential parent figures among preceding generations of artists and to rise, autonomously, above them. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Modernists themselves were supplanted, as the century unfolded, by a younger generation of “Postmodernist” figures. How does Postmodernism differ from what came before? Is it infused with the same sense of energized self-importance that characterized Modernist efforts? What will happen next? Are we on the verge, perhaps, of “Post-postmodernism”?
We’ll investigate these questions (and many others) as we read selected texts by Modernist and Postmodernist writers. Our materials--poems, short stories, novels, essays, and one biography/autobiography/cartoon--offer a fascinating comment on the distinctive ideologies and aesthetic strategies, the overlapping impulses and recurring preoccupations, of twentieth century literature and art.
English 460: Modern Critical Theory
This course is framed by an assumption: that feminist theory is not a theory; it is not a single-minded investigation that arrives at one solid conclusion about the actions and representations of women in our world. Rather, feminist theory comprises a group of concerns best described, perhaps, by the term feminisms, which suggests a diversity of approaches as well as a shared ground of interest among scholars in this field. In English 460, the theorists we will study differ markedly in aim and method, despite the fact that they all investigate the place of gender (for both women and men) in culture. Our readings will focus on a variety of issues, including the ways in which gender influences the responses that readers of literary texts are expected to have; the power wielded by an androcentric literary canon in determining what is considered "good" and "bad" literature; how female traditions of writing diverge in emphasis and technique; the role of historical necessities in the kinds of texts women have been able, and have chosen, to write; the impact of class and ethnicity on feminine lives and writing; and how contemporary revisionings of women's desire, the body, and the gaze may shape our responses, as members of a culture, to artistic expression both in literature and in a highly influential form of current narrative--film.
English 550: The New Woman in British Literature
Between 1880 and 1930--between the final years of Queen Victoria’s reign and the tumultuous beginnings of the twentieth century--a character appeared in British fiction who was to arouse admiration, dismay, excitement, and rage among general audiences, reviewers, and literary critics. This figure was the so-called “New Woman”; that is, the woman seeking personal emancipation, sexual liberation, and political power through revolutionary and disruptive action on her own behalf. The New Woman appeared in fiction in many guises: as the resolutely independent, clear-thinking heroine; the cigar-smoking, “mannish” female; the sexually ambiguous androgyne; the frigid intellectual; the nurturing muse; the dazzling creative force. Whether penned by female or male, “minor” or “major” authors, she was a figure to be reckoned with. To accommodate this newly-conceived character, fiction itself shifted shape, as realism was infused with fantasy and romance, and linear storytelling gave way to more fluid, circular narrative styles. In this seminar, we will look closely at novels and short stories of this volatile period in literary history, keeping our focus on the New Woman as imagined (both as inspiration and nightmare) by diverse British writers. We will also read selected theoretical and critical articles by contemporary feminist scholars, as a framework for our discussion of the fiction.
Among the many questions to be asked here: why did the New Woman, a center of controversy and debate for at least fifty years, virtually disappear from critical discussions after 1930? Did she disappear, or was she still around (and was she simply being ignored)? Why is it that some authors who wrote about the New Woman--e.g. Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence--are still read and revered in college classrooms today, while other writers--e.g. Victoria Cross, Vernon Lee, Olive Schreiner--are virtually unknown? How does the literary canon, comprised of the “classic” books of Western culture, serve to meet the needs of those in power and suppress more dissident voices? When we make attributions of worth, lauding some texts as “great” and denigrating others as “second-rate,” how directly are we influenced by the politics of gender: the valuation, in our society, of male versus female experience? Are certain modes of fiction intrinsically “artistic” and thus more deserving of our attention? Is it significant that male authors have dominated some of these modes, and women others, when we come to decide on the merits of the literature? Is New Woman fiction simply an historical footnote, an index of its era, without any aesthetic claims? Finally, must art be “universal” and must it be “timeless” in order to qualify as art at all?
English 551: Studies in English Literature (20th Century)
Our course will take up the question of “what modern is” or, to phrase this more precisely, “what modern was,” as we examine works of fiction, poetry, and drama that had a shaping role in conceptions of literary modernity. In the early decades of the twentieth century, British literature increasingly defined itself as radical, as a break with traditions and traditionalism. The texts that we will read self-consciously display their newness by innovations in theme as well as technique. These works challenge complacency and confront social norms by offering rigorous critiques of the institutions of marriage and family, casting these symbolically as the symptoms of a diseased culture; describing the ravages of war as experienced by those witnessing battle first-hand as well as those at home; and exploring the intimate, vexed connections between self and other as personal relations shed light on issues of colonial domination. We will study our authors as complements to and complications of each other, considering the legacies of canonized, lauded figures in English literary history as well as writers whose contributions have been marginalized for a variety of reasons. The assumption here is that both recognized literary figures and those who have been critically neglected speak to important aspects of the culture and intellectual space that they inhabited.
English 552: Studies in English Literature (20th Century)
In exploring British fiction written in the first several decades of the twentieth century, we will focus on questions of literary experiment and convention, on unique aesthetic approaches and productive cross-fertilizations. The course will include novels, written early and later in their careers, by three writers who influenced one another even as they demonstrated striking points of difference in pursuing thematic and technical concerns. Among the topics we will address are: the condition of England in an industrialized and war-scarred world; the relationship between England and other nations; the increasingly important connections between sexuality and selfhood; and the role of gender and race in the formation of cultural identity. Stylistic matters that we will examine include: the dismantling of linear, plot-driven narratives in twentieth-century novels; new approaches to creating characters, as depicted from within rather than from without; and the role of unconscious and spiritual aspects of experience in shaping dreamlike and metaphysical, as opposed to realistic, fictions. We will read Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim and The Secret Agent;
E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View and A Passage to India; and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando, in addition to selected critical and theoretical articles. Each student in the seminar will be required to give an oral presentation and complete a researched paper. Although this is the second quarter of a two-quarter sequence, English 551 is not a prerequisite for this course.
English 570: Contemporary Literary Theory
In English 570 we will explore a range of issues and approaches that have dominated literary theory in the last forty years: from the Post-Structuralist revolution of the 1960s to the present moment of proliferating critical ideologies and approaches. What diverse contemporary theories have in common is that they challenge assumptions about the activities of writing and reading. It is no longer possible, for instance, to make easy generalizations about historical and intellectual movements as “explanations” of a literary text; about the autonomy of a literary work; or about the individual reader as member of a universal community of like-minded readers. Although the theorists we will study differ in aim and method, some seeming to privilege the “text” as a field for the analysis of language functioning, others focusing on a “context” beyond language determining the text, in fact this very useful distinction is also a problematic one, as we will see. The assigned essays for this class do explore, deflate, and promote systems of thought. Topics to be addressed include the conventional and arbitrary features of the language that attempts to describe human experience, and the multiple possibilities for making meaning that language allows; the ways in which history and politics may serve institutional and disciplinary systems and thus determine our mode of understanding culture; the part played by gender identification and sexual orientation in the creation and reception of literary works; the degree to which psychoanalytic discussions of the self help us to understand how, and why, we become readers and writers; and the ways in which vicissitudes of personal background and pressure from academic communities shape acts of literary interpretation. Students at all levels are welcome in this class: those who are encountering critical theory for the first time, as well as those who wish to explore, in depth, a particular theory or several related theories.
English 571: Studies in Fiction
The idea of the “modern” that captivated the imagination of the early twentieth century and informed the arts as well as the social sciences depended on an increasingly rigorous, self-conscious investigation of human subjectivity. Internal states of perception and strong feeling became the touchstones for writers working from diverse narrative models. This course, centered on British and American fiction written in the first three decades of the twentieth century (ca. 1900-1935), takes as its focus the work of six novelists who demonstrate remarkable variety in terms of background, cultural placement, and technical concern but nevertheless share a heightened interest in evoking the nuances of psychological life. Accordingly, our study of narrative representations of mental processes will begin with two influential case studies by Freud to establish a preliminary vocabulary of mental states and open up territory for examining how factual narrative differs from fictional representation. We will then move into our exploration of novels whose treatment of psychology is notably complex and provocative, with our discussions of the fiction supplemented by articles by relevant psychoanalysts representing major trends in twentieth-century thought. Students registering for the class are not expected to have a background in psychoanalytic theory but should be receptive to this approach. The overall aim of English 571 is to examine the compelling ways in which mental states are represented in modern narratives, as we consider how psychological paradigms shed light on fictional renditions--and also, perhaps, how they fall short in addressing the rich possibilities that fiction invites.
English 572: Studies in Fiction
In exploring the complex and variable presentations of human subjectivity in modern fiction, this course will provide an in-depth study of the work of two influential British novelists: D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. Although differing in their ideological premises and technical objectives, both Lawrence and Woolf express the early twentieth-century preoccupation with inner experience and how notions of selfhood and of others construct the individual consciousness. Our examination of Lawrence’s and Woolf’s novels will be complemented and (ideally) enriched by readings in psychoanalytic thought by eminent theorists of the modern age who build on Freudian assumptions, representing the approaches of “object relations,” “ego psychology,” “intersubjectivity,” and “self psychology,” respectively. Students enrolling for the class are not expected to have background in psychoanalytic theory but should be receptive to it; and English 571 is not a prerequisite for this course.