Department of English Spring 2014 Course Descriptions Essays

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Department of English
Spring 2014 Course Descriptions

89S. Imagining War. Instructor M. Maiwald. WF 8:30-9:45
In this course, we will consider how the experience of war has been represented in American fiction, non-fiction, and film. We will investigate how attitudes toward war have evolved throughout American history: our timeline begins with the Civil War—the traumatic event that birthed the modern American state—and ends with the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In particular, we will attend to the ethics of representation, asking who is assigned the roles of hero, villain, and victim in the works we study, and why the writers and film directors have made the choices they do. The arguments made by these books and films are part of evolving conversation about the nature of organized violence, and our task will be to account for these shifts in perspective. In order to do so, we will have to attend not only to the technological innovations that have so dramatically changing the nature of modern warfare and our reaction to it, but also to changing political context of America’s presence in world affairs.
90S. Thinking Animals. Instructor T. Manganaro. WF 4:40-5:55
Do animals think and feel like we do? Biologically speaking, humans and animals share 60% to 99% of their genetic codes, and comparative cognitive science shows the remarkable similarities of our brain’s basic functions. This might suggest that we know what it is like to be an animal. On the other hand, humankind has long kept animals as pets and eaten them as food, as if to say they are replaceable or disposable. In what respects are animals definitely not human? In this class, we will read literature and watch films that ask us to imagine a wide range of relationships between humans and animals. In each case, we must reconsider what makes us different from animals, whether we understand each other better than we think, and how we are to live with each other.
We shall begin by considering man as opposed to animal. From the ancient Greeks through the Enlightenment,
Western culture defined human beings by virtue of their differences from members of the animal kingdom. Jonathan
Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and some eighteenth-century political philosophy will help us understand what it means to think within this framework. Next, we will explore the Age of Darwin, who understood man as an animal. To see how this transformed the belief that man was superior to animal, we will look at nineteenth-century novels like Mary
Shelley’s Frankenstein and some of Darwin himself. Finally, we shall read novels and films that suggest that man must cohabit this planet with other animals. Novellas like Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and J.M. Coetzee’s The
Lives of Animals, and films like the recent adaptation of The Life of Pi, bring us face to face with the ethical problems involved in living together.
The requirements for this course will include active class participation, very short weekly response posts, and three
5-7-page papers. Possible readings include selections from The Metamorphosis (Ovid), Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan
Swift), Leviathan (Thomas Hobbes), Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), The Descent of Man (Charles Darwin), Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy), The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka), The Burrow (Franz Kafka), Sociobiology
(E.O. Wilson), Animal Liberation (Peter Singer), The Lives of Animals (J.M. Coetzee), and Disgrace (J.M.
Coetzee). Films may include King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and The Life of Pi.
90S.02. Cruci-Fictions: Christ Figures Across Literature. Instructor L. Pawlak. WF 3:05-4:20
“Who do people say I am?” – Mark 8:27
From the earliest narratives in the Gospels the figure of Jesus has presented an interpretive puzzle. The Bible tells stories of many people trying and failing to figure out who Jesus is and why he matters. Jesus, in turn, most often tries to explain…