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Platform, Software and Code Studies (2017–)

(Graduate; Fall 2017)

An introduction to three interrelated domains of the study of computational media as cultural artifacts, or what has come to be called “expressive computing,” with focus on the specifically linguistic and textual elements of computing as those elements most germane to literary and language studies, to cultural studies more broadly conceived, and to both communication studies and the cultural history of computing. We’ll begin with platform studies (the study of the hardware basis for computational media artifacts), move on to software studies (the study of compiled or packaged programs as computational media artifacts) and conclude with code studies (the study of programs as writing and text, and the study of programming languages as cultural artifacts).

Historicizing “Digital Humanities” (2015)

(Graduate; Fall 2015)

“Digital humanities” is a deliberately, rather than accidentally presentist name for an amalgamation of discourses and practices that are not new at all. Literary humanist involvement with computing is coterminous with the history of computing itself, beginning with research on machine translation immediately after the Second World War and in computer-assisted or computer-enhanced philological activity going back to the 1950s. Before asking ourselves what is at stake in debates both in and around the image of “digital humanities” today, we will situate its emergence in relation to this history and to its immediate antecedent, humanities computing. Topics to be examined will include the history of tension between quantitative and qualitative research methods in the humanities; the history of computational philology, from literary scholarship’s involvement with cryptology during the First World War to the machine translation research of the 1950s; debates and issues in research methodology, academic publishing, and the academic labor market; race and gender in the history of computing; and relations beween humanities scholarship and the contemporary security state. We will both examine and challenge the self-segregation of DH from the study of the impact of technology and media on culture (in science and technology studies, media studies, and other well-established but quite separate fields), as well as its promotion as a set of practices removed from or explicitly hostile to theory. We will also consider some developments since 2013 for which DH enthusiasts were unprepared, and which have left them excluded from emerging critical conversations on the politics of the technology industry, software engineering ethics, and the legislative regulation of data collection and analysis.

Digital Genres (2014–)

(Undergraduate; Fall 2018; Fall 2016; Fall 2015)

[Fall 2018] This course will explore genres of digital culture, with a focus on genres of the arts, broadly conceived, and the creative use of data. Topics will vary by semester but may include electronic literary genres, chatbots and the history of AI, and literary uses of social media; mixed text-image forms (ASCII art, emoticon writing, image macros and memes), and visual and sonic forms (pixel art, glitch art, circuit-bending).

[Fall 2016] Genres of digital culture, data and creativity, text-image, integrative arts, disintegrative arts. Twitter genres, chatbots, ASCII art, emoticon writing, image macros and memes, new photo genres, new video genres, algorithmic art, pixel art, software art, glitch art and music, art games, new audio genres.

[Fall 2015] Genres of digital culture: poetry generators, Twitter genres, ASCII art, emoticons and emoji, memes and image macros, Instagram genres, new video genres, digital comics, algorithmic art, pixel art, software art, glitch art and music, art games, Netflix genres, new audio genres, new musical genres, infographics, new presentation genres.

Media Theory and Modernity (2011-2014)

(Graduate; Fall 2014; Spring 2014; Spring 2011)

A close and careful reading of major works of media theory understood as a branch of modernity theory, in liaison with questions of literariness and literary study. We’ll begin with the work of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan, as an effort to “unthink” Euro-Atlantic modernity, or shift it into reverse. Subsequently, we’ll examine the extension and refinement of McLuhan’s project in the writings of Walter Ong, Elizabeth Eisenstein, Friedrich A. Kittler, and Vilém Flusser. If this array of “masocritical” conflict can be said to mark the struggle of Euro-Atlantic modernity with itself, can it point us to work to be done without its episteme? Main texts: Hansen and Mitchell, Critical Terms for Media Studies (2010); Innis, The Bias of Communication (1951); McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962); Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (1982); Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (1983); Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Grammophon Film Typewriter, 1986); Flusser, Post-History (Pós-História: vinte instantâneos e um modo de usar, 1983); Flusser, Does Writing Have a Future? (Die Schrift: hat Schreiben Zukunft?, 1987).

Digital Studies (2014-)

(Undergraduate; Fall 2014; Spring 2014)

This course provides an introduction to genres of digital culture (bit, file, document, program, version, domain, network, game) and debates in contemporary digital studies.

New Media and Literature (2010-)

(Undergraduate; was Contemporary Literary Theory and Practice: Media Theory and Literature; Fall 2018; Fall 2017; Spring 2016; Spring 2015; Fall 2011; Fall 2010; Spring 2010)

[Fall 2018] This course will explore new cultural forms and textual phenomena at the intersection of electronic media and the literary arts, along with the domain of expressive and creative computing more generally. Topics will vary by semester but may include computing and literature, including the specifically literary history of computing; electronic literature including hyperfiction, ergodic literature, and digital poetry and poetics; and literary uses of social media.

[Fall 2017, Spring 2016] This course will explore new cultural forms and textual phenomena at the intersection of electronic media and the literary arts, along with the domain of expressive and creative computing more generally. Topics include literature and computing, game fictions, story generation, and literary code.

[Spring 2015] Two modules: digital poetry and poetics; game studies

[Fall 2011, Fall 2010, Spring 2010] An introduction to new media in liaison with literature, literariness, and literary study. We will consider the novelty of electronic screen media, in a print culture of newspapers, magazines, and books; the simulation and remediation of older by newer media, and of newer by older media; the residuality of literary modernist print culture in a “postmodern” technocratic society; and the broader questions of technology, temporality, and modernity that shape these concepts. We will also examine a selection of key critical essays on genres of hypertext and hypermedia fiction and nonfiction, cybertext and “ergodic” literature, net art and Web art, and software and electronic installation art. Major texts: Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word [N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines]; Espen J. Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature; essays by Janet Murray, Lev Manovich, Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, Norbert Wiener, J.C.R. Licklider, Douglas Engelbart, Allan Kaprow, William S. Burroughs, Roy Ascott, Ted Nelson, Joseph Weizenbaum, Sherry Turkle, Scott McCloud, Robert Coover, Espen Aarseth, Michael Joyce, Jay David Bolter, and Stuart Moulthrop (in Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort, ed., The New Media Reader).

Senior Seminar: Genres of Migration and Displacement (2008-2010)

(Undergraduate; Spring 2010; Spring 2008)

Does the content or “experience” of migration and displacement place a certain pressure on the form of writing about it? Ought it to? In this seminar, we will explore the transcultural encounter in globalization as mediated in and by genres of writing. Examining literary figurations of Sephardic, Ottoman, and Maghrebi cosmopolitanism (Aciman, Out of Egypt; Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City; Djebar, Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade), North American aboriginal migration (Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain), Caribbean diasporic return (Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land), European civil war and unification (Sebald, The Emigrants), and the production of the U.S. American West (Ondaatje, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid), we will consider how memoir both serves and disserves authors’ (and narrators’) stories. We’ll consider the relationship between linguistic and cultural translation, and the literary implications of a cosmopolitanism experienced from above and from below, in the knowledge of languages and cultures meaningfully distant from one’s own. Finally, we’ll think about “life writing” as autobiographical writing that exceeds, resists or fails the existing generic conventions of published or publishable autobiography (and as writing that perhaps resists or fails publication itself). Additional reading to be drawn from the work of Orhan Pamuk (“My Father’s Suitcase”), Walter Benjamin (“The Storyteller”), Frantz Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks), Shirley Geok-lin Lim (“The Im-Possibility of Life-writing in Two Languages”), Fredric Jameson (“Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism”), and Aijaz Ahmad (“Jameson’s Rhetoric of Otherness and the ‘National Allegory’”).

Introduction to Critical Reading (2009)

(Undergraduate; Fall 2009)

A course in reading both literature and literary criticism as a thinker, or a reader interested in the conflict of ideas. We will consider a foundational theory of literariness, in the work of Viktor Shklovsky; extended definitions of tragedy, epic, the essay, and the novel (in works by Friedrich Nietzsche, Georg Lukács, and Robert Musil); Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of literary creativity; and two classic works of Anglophone Euro-Atlantic literary modernity (Brontë, Jane Eyre, and Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea) as read, re-read, and re-written through and by feminist and postcolonial literature and literary criticism (in the work of Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak).

Writing Nonfiction (2008-2012)

(Graduate; Spring 2012; Spring 2009; Spring 2008)

To the extent possible, we’ll alternate between reading, reviewing and discussion of works in progress by members of the class and reading, reviewing, and discussion of other things. “Other things” might include recently published works of literary nonfiction, with an emphasis on work by authors born outside the United States and on work relevant to the current geopolitical situation (for example, recent memoirs by Assia Djebar and Orhan Pamuk, or the trilogy of J. M. Coetzee’s essay-novels Elizabeth Costello, Slow Man, and Diary of a Bad Year, or the trilogy comprising Coetzee’s fictionalized autobiography, in Boyhood, Youth, and Summertime). It might also include work in the new creative writing studies (for example, Mark McGurl’s The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing) or the sociology of the publishing industry (for example, John B. Thompson’s Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States and Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-first Century).

Language Memoirs (2007)

(Undergraduate; Spring 2007)

This course will introduce you to a new genre of contemporary U.S. prose literature: the language memoir, or memoir of language acquisition. We’ll read memoirs by (1) U.S.-born, English-speaking authors who learned languages other than English while living abroad; (2) authors born in the United States who grew up in bilingual or multilingual families; (3) authors who emigrated to the United States and learned English as a second (or third, or fourth) language; (4) authors who settled in the United States after growing up multilingual in their home cultures. We’ll look at how the generic conventions of memoir both serve and disserve these authors’ stories, paying special attention to the experiences of spatial mobility (in travel, migration, and displacement) they record. We’ll also examine the social mobility acquired with a new language, as one crosses the line of economic class or (or and) ethnic/national identification. We’ll consider the relationship between linguistic and cultural translation, and what it means to be cosmopolitan and/or post-colonial, possessing knowledge of languages and cultures meaningfully distant from ones own. And we’ll look at the politics and ethics of multilingualism, in controversies over language rights and language policy. Finally, we’ll consider just what is at stake in discovering — or creating — a new genre of contemporary literature. Readings from Aciman (Out of Egypt), Alhadeff (The Sun at Midday), Anzaldúa (Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza), Dorfman (Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey), Hoffman (Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language), Kaplan (French Lessons), Kazin (A Walker in the City), Mencken (The American Language), Moraga (Loving in the War Years: lo que nunca pasó por sus labios), Ogulnick (Onna Rashiku/Like a Woman: The Diary of a Language Learner in Japan), Rodriguez (Hunger of Memory), Said (Out of Place: A Memoir), Stavans (On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language).

Introduction to Critical Reading (2006-2007)

(Undergraduate; Fall 2007; Fall 2006)

We’ll have three goals here. The first is to develop an understanding of critical concepts essential to the study of literature. The second is to establish working definitions of key terms for literary studies and to trace their emergence from different critical approaches or “schools” of literary theory. The third is to learn to read for, and to reproduce, literary-theoretical argument. If one of the questions literary theory asks is “What is literature?,” the other, obviously, is “What is theory?” — or, at a deeper level, “Why theory?” A working assumption here will be theory’s everydayness — its presence everywhere in both public and private conversation. That means, for example, that we can identify ordinary and often simple problems (problems that are easy to understand, if not necessarily to solve) in the most abstruse theoretical arguments. Still, we’ll be reading primary sources in literary theory, which are often difficult, so we’ll need to develop that acumen. We’ll also read commentary placing different theoretical approaches in a wider context. [Finally, we’ll read and reread a single canonical work of English literature (King Lear), examining it from a variety of critical perspectives.] In learning from theory tactics for reading literature critically — reading form, reading for critical contrast, for argument, and for the tension between common sense and counterintuition — we’ll also be learning to read theory itself. Texts by Shklovsky, Brooks, Saussure, Jakobson, Freud, Lacan, Nietzsche, Derrida, Marx, Gramsci, Althusser, Bakhtin, Foucault, Greenblatt, Fanon, Said, Bhabha, Thiong’o, Brathwaite, Horkheimer and Adorno, Bourdieu, Certeau, Deleuze and Guattari, Spivak, Butler.

Honors Seminar: Writing Across Genre (2007)

(Undergraduate; Spring 2007)

In this course we will read closely works of twentieth century U.S. and world literature that combine or cross fictional, nonfictional, and poetic genres, considering how generic boundaries are defined, as well as what it means to “write across” them. Among the questions we’ll ask ourselves are: How does the system of disciplines in the university (English studies, comparative literature, creative writing) reflect or produce distinct genres of writing? What is the proper relation of writing to knowledge? How does one properly narrate, or “essay,” or lyricize personal and collective trauma in war, or in the colonial encounter? Do writers write freely, or are genres structures that constrain or determine the practice of writing? Is “writing across genre” itself a genre? In structured experimental writing assignments, you will (a) respond critically (analytically) to these readings, and (b) create texts of your own (poetic, fictional, autobiographical or autoethnographic, and/or literary-critical) which cross genre. Readings from Agee (Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), Anzaldúa (Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza), Berger (Pig Earth), Césaire (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land), Djebar (Algerian White), Kumar (Passport Photos), Momaday (The Way to Rainy Mountain), Ondaatje (The Collected Works of Billy the Kid), Sebald (The Emigrants), Toomer (Cane).

Essayism (2006)

(Graduate; Fall 2006)

This course has two goals: (1) To bring into contact three disciplines pitted against each other in the contemporary conflict of the faculties; (2) To examine a genre of nonfiction prose common to, and controversial for, each discipline. The three disciplines are literary studies, philosophy, and creative writing. (Genre produces controversy in history, anthropology, and other humanities and social science areas as well, however, and seminar members working in those areas are most welcome.) The genre is the essay. In practical tension with the scholarly article and research monograph, the treatise, and the nonfiction narrative, we could say, the essay form both articulates and tests the act of discipline by which knowledge is divided and through which it disseminates. Accordingly, we’ll focus our work in two areas: the theory of genre and the practice of writing. Our method will be comparative: we’ll consider the essay as form, anti-form, and nostalgia for form; as genre, anti-genre, and law of genre; as constellation, piece work, defacement, life writing, art de faire, Bruchstück, sur-vivre. “Essayism” marks this concurrent, comparative emphasis on theory and practice, science and art, philosophy and poetry (… literature…“creative writing”). Our project here is to use the tension between those terms to develop an understanding of the real boundaries of our disciplines, and of real possibilities for cross-border relations. Think of this, then, as an attempt to lend substance to the often empty (yet exigent) rhetoric of interdisciplinarity, by restoring to it a perpetually missing link: writing practice. Format should be equally useful to M.F.A. candidates working in literary forms of nonfiction prose and to M.A./Ph.D candidates in literature or related humanities disciplines with interests in genre studies, rhetoric, poetics, literary and critical theory, or philosophy and literature. Readings from Adorno, Badiou, Bruss, Deleuze, Derrida, Fish, Guillory, Hartman, Hesse, Howe, Lukács, Lyotard, McGurl, Musil, Obaldia, Perloff, Rancière, Siskin, Viscusi.

Broken Pieces (2006)

(Undergraduate; Spring 2006)

Most writing remains unfinished, “living on” in the form of notes, sketches, and drafts. This course examines writing’s “broken pieces,” with focus on short forms of nonfiction prose: aphorism, maxim, sketch, vignette, feuilleton, pensée, prose poem, fragment, and essay. Along the way, we will consider how larger units of writing, including books, are constructed (through collage, montage, mosaic, constellation, counterpoint or dialectic, and other methods of composition) from accumulations of smaller ones. Course format combines structured experimental writing with close reading and analysis. Readings from Adorno, Artaud, Barthes, Baudelaire, Beckett, Benjamin, Blanchot, Borges, Djebar, Hejinian, Howe, Jabès, Kafka, Lichtenberg, Lévi-Strauss, Mallarmé, Maso, Michaux, Montaigne, Nietzsche, Novalis, Pascal, Pessoa, Ponge, Rimbaud, Rochefoucauld, Roubaud, Schlegel, Stein, Trakl, Wittgenstein, Woolf.

Introduction to Nonfiction Writing (2006)

(Undergraduate; Spring 2006)

A survey of nonfiction prose genres, with attention to the form of the essay and to truth claims in memoir and autobiography, travel and environmental writing, and journalism. We’ll look closely — and critically — at the “lyric essay” as a form of the moment. Course format combines structured experimental writing with close reading and analysis. Readings: essays by McPhee, Goldbarth, Lopez, Dillard, Sontag, Carson, Alexie, Didion, Theroux, Mathews, Cha, Boully (from D’Agata, ed., The Next American Essay).

American Nonfiction Prose (2005)

(Undergraduate; Fall 2005)

Works of prose nonfiction dramatizing the “American scene”: the partly observed, partly imagined America of both native- and foreign-born citizens. We’ll read Americans who went abroad (Emerson, English Traits; Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son; Settle, Turkish Reflections; Kaplan, French Lessons), those who arrived from elsewhere (Hoffman, Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language; Dorfman, Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey; Aciman, Out of Egypt; Abinader, Children of the Roojme) and those who traveled at home (Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory; Heat-Moon, PrairyErth; Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza).

Autobiography as Defacement (2005)

(Graduate; Fall 2005)

Our theme for this semester will be autobiography as “defacement.” Together we will reflect on the iconoclasm of writing and the ethics of publication. How do we violate objects, places, or persons by writing about them in genres that tell us they are “telling the truth”? Can this violation be avoided, or can we make restitution for it? How is the truth revealed, and how is it concealed, by the personal essay, by memoir, autobiography, and biography, and by journalistic writing? By travel writing and ethnography? By scholarship generally? By philosophical writing? You’ll be asked to reflect on these aspects of your own work in any genre of nonfiction prose, which you’ll present to us at length in at least one class session. We will emphasize both theory, in rigorous thinking, and practice, in daily reading and writing by quota toward the form of the book. Readings from Berger (Pig Earth), Derrida (Monolingualism of the Other), De Man (“Autobiography as De-facement”), Djebar (Algerian White), Goytisolo (Makbara), Howe (The Birth-mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History), Lévi-Strauss (Tristes Tropiques), Giard (The Practice of Everyday Life, II: Doing-Cooking), Sontag (“Looking at War”), Spivak (“Harlem”), Stavans (On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language), Viscusi (Astoria).