2018-19 Courses

Note on graduate course numbers and levels:

Please note that each course carries, along with the ENGL which identifies it as an English Department course, a three digit number, the first digit of which describes the general level of the course, as follows:

5 - MA students and U3 undergraduates (usually Honours BAs);

6 - MA and PhD students only;

7 - MA and PhD students only. 

Note on maximum and minimum enrolments for graduate seminars:

Graduate courses are limited to a maximum enrollment of 12 (for 6/700-level courses) or 15 students (for 500-level courses). 500-level courses with an enrollment of fewer than 7 students, and 600- or 700-level courses with an enrollment of fewer than 4 students, will not be offered except in special circumstances.

Note on registration in 500-level courses:

500-level courses are restricted to an enrollment of 15 students and are open to Master's and advanced undergraduate students. B.A. students must receive permission from the instructor before registering for a 500-level course.   As a general rule, M.A. students are permitted to take two courses at the 500-level and Ph.D. students may only exceptionally register for 500-level courses after receiving permission from the Graduate Program Director. But PhD students should certainly not overlook 500-level courses when making their course selections, particularly if the subject matter of a particular course makes a good fit for a PhD student’s research interests. Similarly, an M.A. student who has a good justification for taking a third 500-level seminar should contact the Graduate Program Director to be given permission to register for it.

Please click on the “full course description” link below any of the following course titles to find a detailed description of the course goals, the reading list, and the method of evaluation.

ENGL 503 Eighteenth-Century Literature

Samuel Johnson, James Boswell and the Art of Biography

Prof. Peter Sabor
Fall Term 2018
W 2:35-5:25

Full course description

Description: Samuel Johnson (1709-84) is perhaps best known today as a literary critic, as the author of Rasselas, a seminal work in the oriental tradition, and as the compiler of the first major English dictionary: hence his sobriquet, Dictionary Johnson. He was also however, a major theoretician on the art of biography and among its most important practitioners in the eighteenth century. As he wrote to his own biographer, James Boswell, shortly after they first met in 1763, “the biographical part of literature is what I love most.”

This course will begin with a study of Johnson’s writings about formal biography and life-writing in general, both in his periodical essays of the 1750s—The Rambler, The Adventurer and The Idler—and in other miscellaneous publications. We shall then examine some of the many biographies, epitaphs and obituaries that Johnson produced in the early part of his writing career before turning to the remarkable series of critical biographies collected as Lives of the Poets that he wrote in his final years. His lives of Milton, Dryden, Addison, Pope, Swift and Gray will be among those studied. We shall consider some of the questions about life-writing that Johnson’s biographies raise and that he himself posed in his theoretical essays. How blunt, for example, should a writer of obituaries and epitaphs be about his or her subject? To what extant should a biographer draw on personal knowledge of the subject, and how tendentious should his treatment of the subject be? How large a place should critical analysis play in life writing about a literary figure?

Seven years after his death, in 1791, Johnson himself became the subject of what many consider the finest biography in English, or perhaps in any language: James Boswell’s Life of Johnson. We shall focus on specific sections of this massive work, considering the strategies that Boswell used to immortalize his close friend, and to what extent his own techniques of life-writing drew on, and differed from, those practised by Johnson. 

Evaluation: Short paper, 15%; seminar presentation, 15%; participation in class discussion, 20%; research paper, 50%. 


  • James Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. R.W. Chapman, intro. Pat Rogers. Oxford World’s Classics, 1980.
  • Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets, ed. John Mullan. Oxford World’s Classics, 2009.
  • Coursepack: a selection of short biographies and writings on biography by Johnson taken from The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson.

Format: Seminar

ENGL 504 Nineteenth-Century Literature

Victorian Fiction and Feminist Narratology

Prof. Tabitha Sparks
Winter Term 2019
W 2:35-5:25

Full course description

Description: The field of feminist narratology was formulated in the last quarter of the twentieth century, when critics such as Susan Lanser and Robyn Warhol began to identify gender dynamics in a text’s formal structure.  Critics of the Victorian novel have been slow to develop this approach as they contend against the dominantly historical and materialist reading practices associated with this period.  They also grapple with a conventional literary history that dates innovations in the novel to the Modernist period, when writers dispensed with realistic representation and linear plots.   This course will answer to these two critical challenges by working to post-date formal expressions of gender in the 1850-1900 period.  We will read familiar and lesser-known novels as well as two purported memoirs, looking for feminine subjectivity in the methods of narration, the portrayal of information and authority, and the use of parody and satire.

Our class readings will include a range of essays defining and sometimes challenging feminist narratology, but the novels will be the primary focus. This course would be appropriate to students interested in the novel, the nineteenth-century, feminist criticism, and narratology, but only prior experience with the novel is required.  

Evaluation (provisional): review assignment 20%; final research paper 50%; presentation 15%; participation 15%

Texts (provisional):

  • Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (1848)
  • Amelia Edwards, Barbara’s History (1864)
  • F.W. Robinson, Memoirs of Jane Cameron, Female Prisoner (1864)
  • Wilkie Collins, The Law and the Lady (1875)
  • Eliza Lynn Linton, The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland (1885)
  • Kate Marsden, On Sledge and Horseback to the Outcast Siberian Lepers (1892)
  • Other texts to be provided on MyCourses

Format: Seminar

ENGL 516 Shakespeare

Performing the World: Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Prof. Paul Yachnin​
Fall Term 2018
W 11:35-2:25

Full course description

Description: Members of the “Performing the World” seminar will work together toward a wide-ranging and deep understanding of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. In addition to our central work on the sonnets themselves, our readings will include selected poetry by Shakespeare’s contemporaries (Sidney and Spenser especially) and predecessors (like Petrarch and Thomas Wyatt). We’ll dig into the critical literature, which variously brings forward how the Sonnets speak brilliantly to concerns in social politics (including gender, sexuality, and social rank), philosophy (including philosophies of the self, language, knowledge, and natural and human temporality), and the arts (including how poetry lives in the world). That extraordinary breadth of address in the Sonnets themselves will enable members of the seminar to develop their individual research projects, which will in turn contribute to the shared understanding of how the Sonnets have become formative new ways of performing the world.

A special feature of the “Performing the World” seminar will be the opportunity for seminar members to workshop with the actors, mask-maker Brian Smith, and director Guy Sprung of Infinithéâtre’s production of “Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Comic Half Masks: The Voices of Montreal,” which will be performed at McGill in October 2018.


Journal 30
3-minute presentation 10
Course paper (12-15 pages) 35
Non-academic version of your paper (3-5 pages) 10
Participation 15

Your journal is, first of all, for you to do some thinking by writing at each step of the course. But it is also something you do for marks, so you have to write at least a page (350 words) about each week’s readings (and our discussions of the readings.

From near the start of the course, you’ll be thinking about the course paper that you will want to write. I’ll work with you and provide a sounding board for your ideas. We’ll put on a course conference in the middle of the term. You will have three minutes—you’ll be on the clock—to present the question and/or argument that you will develop into your course paper. This part of the course is based on the three-minute thesis program, where graduate students compete for prizes in recognition of the clarity, succinctness, value, and appeal of their research. We’ll take the competition out of what we do, but leave in the emphasis on clear, succinct, and engaging accounts of valuable research. We’ll do prep work in the weeks leading up to the course conference.

Your course paper will develop a topic of your own devising. Your work will need to take account of the most important research on the question or argument you’re developing. What you write does not have to be original work, in the sense that it does not have to be an idea or a view that no one has thought of before. But it does have to be work that you care about, have thought a good deal about, and are keen to share with others. So you could write about the Sonnets as a rethinking of the sexuality of the self, which is not a new idea, but you could do that with new evidence, with thinking that takes previous work further than it was willing or able to go, and with a conclusion that might shift the perspective from which we see the relationship among poetry, sexuality and selfhood in Shakespeare’s time.

Once you’ve completed your course paper, you’ll have one more task. This one is non-traditional, even experimental. You’ll write a version of your paper’s central argument as if for a non-academic readership—readers who are intelligent and thoughtful but who have not taken the course and who are not in the academy (though they might have an undergrad education in their past). So think about writing a piece on Shakespeare Sonnets for the weekend edition of the Globe and Mail, or The Walrus, or maybe as a script for a Ted Talk. We’ll take a bit of time during the course to look at models for this kind of writing.

Participation requires your presence in class, both body and mind. You have to come to each class with questions, ideas, puzzlement (which you have to speak about), expressions of joy or grief. It is true—it’s really true: there is no such thing as a stupid question.


  • The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems, ed. Colin Burrow (2008).
  • Other texts will be provided in electronic form.

Format: Seminar

ENGL 530 Literary Forms

Adaptation: Intermedial Literary Forms

Prof. Robert Lecker​
Fall Term 2018
M 2:35-5:25 | Screening M 5:35-8:25

Full course description

Description: Adaptation is one of the most engaging and influential art forms. It encompasses debates about the nature of originality and influence. It testifies to the ongoing presence of the past, and to the ways in which creators often try to refashion the past. Adaptations are always hungry: they cannibalize other works. Adaptation is a form of intertextuality. It is also a form of criticism, since whenever a work is adapted, the adaptation itself becomes a commentary on the original or “source text,” raising questions about its relevance and the ways in which it has been understood by different audiences over time. Adaptation invites a kind of reading that is always a rereading. By extension, adaptation is about multiple ways of seeing the world. As Julie Sanders points out in her commentary on Adrian Poole’s treatment of the Victorian interest in “reworking its artistic past,” there are several enticing terms that can be associated with adaptation: “borrowing, stealing, appropriating, inheriting, assimilating . . . being influenced, inspired, dependent, indebted, haunted, possessed . . . homage, mimicry, travesty, echo, allusion, and intertextuality.”

This course will enter into those terms by looking at several forms of adaptation as they appear in novels, short fiction, poetry, journalism, painting, film, photography, and music. It will focus on some of the most powerful and diverse examples of adaptation, with an emphasis on modern and contemporary works. In doing so, it will explore some central questions. How do adapted works become collaborative texts that illustrate synergies between creators of different media? How is the reshaping of a text a political or moral act? In what ways can an adaptation question the existing canon or reformulate systems of authority (an issue raised by postcolonial and feminist theory)? What happens to the original work or the source text when it is reinterpreted through adaptation, and how does its adaptation reconfigure the source text’s value? How have different interpreters conceived of different adaptations over time? In what ways can theories of adaptation be applied to contemporary models, including mixes, samplings, song covers, web sites, and other experimental forms of adaptation?

These questions will be explored through several provocative texts. Students should be prepared to allow extra time for screenings (approximately five screenings from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. during the term). Students who cannot accommodate this extra screening time should not enroll in the course. Although the final syllabus will inevitably change due to the availability of different media, a preliminary example of some of the modules to be considered in the course would include the following:

  1. “This is the end, my only friend”: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), with music and poetry by The Doors, The Beach Boys, and T.S. Eliot, among others.
  2. Variations on Virginia Woolf: A study of gender representation and subjectivity in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925), adapted to film by director Marleen Gorris (1998), and then reimagined in Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours (1999), which inspired Stephen Daldry’s feature film of the same name (2003).
  3. Identity: Sherlock Holmes is the most widely read and re-appropriated detective-figure in the Western world. A recent collaborative project between comic writer Karl Bollers and graphic artist Rick Leonardi, Watson and Holmes: A Study in Black (2013), modernizes Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (1887). Set in Harlem, the graphic novel both adapts and subverts Holmes’s Victorian fixation with evolution and physiognomic investigative practices.
  4. From Sight to Sound: An in-depth look at Picasso’s The Old Guitarist (1903) and its reinterpretation in both poetry and song, as exemplified by Wallace Stevens’ “The Man with A Blue Guitar” (1937) and Paul McCartney’s “Two Fingers & Whistling” (“When the Wind is Blowing”) (1971), which was later sampled in Kanye West’s hit single “All Day” (2015).
  5. Desire: Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” (1997) and Ang Lee’s film adaptation (2005) both showcase the complications of gendered and sexual desire and repression, while simultaneously unpacking the implications of socially enforced masculinity, through the depiction of cowboy figures in the American Western.
  6. Obsession: Based on the New Yorker article “Orchid Fever,” by Susan Orlean (1995). Later turned into a book (1998), and followed by the movie Adaptation (2002), directed by Spike Jonze, which is itself about the problem of adapting the original article and the book.
  7. Haunting: David Constantine’s short story “In Another Country” (2015) and Andrew Haigh’s film adaptation 45 Years (2016) both examine the intricacies of haunting (the haunting of an old love, the past, commitment, guilt, and endless regret).
  8. Hysteria: We read Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca (1938) and watch Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation of the same name (1940).
  9. Subversion: Canadian First Nations artist Kent Monkman satirizes the white, Western gaze through his paintings and performance pieces, often drawing from classical art directly. We will examine his recreation of famous artworks by Raphael, Manet, and Caravaggio, among others.
  10. Freaks: Tod Browning’s classic film Freaks (1932) is based on “Spurs” (1923), a short story by Tom Robbins. We look at both, as well as parodies of the film that appeared on The Simpsons, South Park, and in Insane Clown Posse’s song “Oddities” (1998), the video of which features clips from the film.
  11. Poems based on paintings: Including “Mourning Picture” by Adrienne Rich (1965), “Musée des Beaux Arts” by W. H. Auden (1938), “Hunters in the Snow” by William Carlos Williams (1962), “The Starry Night” by Anne Sexton (1961), “The Disquieting Muses” by Sylvia Plath (1957). We look at the poems and paintings together.
  12. Forgery: Michael Frayn’s Headlong (1999), a comic novel built around Pieter Breughel’s series of paintings called The Months (1565). Deceit and deception mark this satire of the art world. We look at the paintings described in the novel, and try to find the real one. Or is it also fake? 

Evaluation (provisional): Short papers 40%; final paper 30%; attendance 10%; participation 10%.

Texts: TBA

Format: Seminar

ENGL 531 Literary Forms

The Graphic Novel

Prof. Sean Carney​
Fall Term 2018
T 2:35-5:25

Full course description

Prerequisite: Open to Honors and Masters Students

Description: This course will introduce students to contemporary graphic novels from a variety of different theoretical perspectives, attending to the form as a popular medium while also considering its unique aesthetic qualities.  Considerable attention will be paid to close reading and to the analysis of formal and stylistic elements that distinguish comics as a unique artistic phenomenon.  Students will be encouraged to develop their own approaches and bring diverse critical and theoretical frames of reference to bear upon the texts studied.

The course will be organized into approximately four thematic groupings: revisionist narratives within the mainstream, memoirs and confessionals, new journalism, and auteur comix.  The texts will be chosen based not only on historical impact, verifiable influence or general popularity with readers but also with an eye to comics that experiment and expand the boundaries of the medium.  So, while students will no doubt recognize some familiar names and titles, there will also be some less well-known books represented.


Seminar presentation with accompanying written component, 20% 
Two 10-page essays, 30% each 
Class participation, 20% 

Texts: Writers and artists to be chosen from include: Sarah Glidden, David Mazzuchelli, Lynda Barry, Julie Doucet, Will Eisner, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, James Sturm, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Eddie Campbell, Art Spiegelman, Chester Brown, Frank Miller, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Alison Bechdel, Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Chris Weston, Warren Ellis, David Collier, Ben Katchor, Marjane Satrapi, Rutu Modan, Jason Lutes, Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Jeff Smith, Guido Crepax, Joe Sacco, David B., Chris Ware, Los Bros. Hernandez, Nick Abadzis, Rick Veitch, Phoebe Gloeckner, Neil Gaiman, Harvey Pekar, R. Crumb, Adrian Tomine, Jack Jackson, Craig Thompson, James Kochalka and  Scott McCloud.

Format: Seminar

ENGL 535 Literary Themes 

Nonhuman Romanticisms: Ecology, Matter, and the Parliament of Things

Prof. Michael Anthony Nicholson
Winter Term 2019
M 11:35-2:25

Full course description

Description: The course will explore the remarkable Romantic turn to the nonhuman during the era that saw the invention of modern geology, the rise of industrial capitalism, the institution of global warfare, and the appropriation of new colonial natures. Our diverse investigations of the nonhuman will encompass talking teacups, petitioning mice, wild weather, chilling phantoms, revolutionary rocks, and sensitive plants. Instead of delimiting the nonhuman and the human as separate spheres, however, we will trace their mutual construction and imbrication as ecologies, atmospheres, things, and networks. This seminar will thus necessarily interrogate so-called universal theories of nature and the historical relations between landscape and laboring-class, feminized, and non-Western bodies.

We will survey newer identifications of Romanticism with the Anthropocene and what Anahid Nersessian has recently termed “the calamity form”—as well as more familiar associations of the period with “nature poetry,” “natural supernaturalism,” and aesthetic theories of the sublime, the beautiful, and the picturesque. Our inquiries into the nonhuman will range across the diverse array of genres and traditions that collectively sought to redefine the borderlines between nature and culture, body and machine, country and city, and life and death: pastoral, anti-pastoral, georgic, sketch, descriptive poem, oriental romance, chivalric romance, it narrative, ode, elegy, science fiction, prophetic text, and locodescriptive lyric. Our intellectual forays will also require the re-evaluation of literary and ecological forms of uncultivated trash and debris: the gothic fictions, vulgar ballads, and fragment poems that themselves variously represent wastelands and common greens by way of formal fracture, excess, openness, and/or decomposition. Within these forms, we will examine relevant figures and tropes: personification, apostrophe, pathetic fallacy, catachresis, symbol, analogy, caesura, etc. Parting ways with the “egotistical sublime,” we will discover what Bo Earle terms “Post-personal Romanticism” in the period’s poetics of impersonality and posthumous vision.

Finally, we will trace how Romantic writers’ diverse engagements with what Jane Bennett terms “vibrant matter” pose active challenges to anthropocentric definitions of ontology, action, catastrophe, and form. Moreover, our conversations will explore how Romantic theories (Percy Shelley’s vegetarianism, Coleridge’s organic form/one life, Mary Shelley’s vitalism, Wordsworth’s conservationism, Keats’s chameleon poet) and formal innovations (Smith’s botanical verse, Clare’s descriptive poetry, Brontë’s atmospheres, Blake’s illuminated books) resonate with the recent turn toward deep time, the wild, animal rights, recessive action, and environmental justice in contemporary critical theory. Together, we will attempt to map the contested ground of Romantic literature’s alternative visions of nonhuman spirit and substance.

Evaluation: Participation (15%), Reading Responses (25%), Presentation (10%), Seminar Paper (50%)

Texts (provisional):

  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • William Blake, The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The Book of Urizen, Songs of Innocence and Experience
  • Matthew Lewis, The Monk
  • James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
  • Robert Burns, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect
  • Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.), The Faery of the Fountains and selected poems
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Christabel and selected prose
  • John Keats, Isabella: Or, The Pot of Basil, Lamia, and selected letters
  • Paintings by J. M. W. Turner
  • Mary Robinson, selected poems, including “The Haunted Beach,” “The Linnet’s Petition,” etc.
  • Anna Barbauld, selected poems, including “The Groans of the Tankard,” “The Mouse's Petition,” etc.
  • Lord Byron, “Darkness” and Don Juan (canto 2)
  • John William Polidori, The Vampyre
  • Erasmus Darwin, selections from The Botanic Garden: The Loves of the Plants 
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Vindication of Natural Diet, “The Sensitive Plant”
  • William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads (1798; 1800), Guide to the Lakes, and selected poems
  • John Clare, selections from Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, The Village Minstrel and Other Poems, and The Shepherd’s Calendar
  • Charlotte Smith, Beachy Head, Elegiac Sonnets
  • Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
  • Selected essays/book chapters from Timothy Morton, Alan Bewell, Donna Haraway, M. H. Abrams, Raymond Williams, Jonathan Bate, Anne-Lise François, Jane Bennett, Bruno Latour, Giorgio Agamben, Rob Nixon, Lawrence Buell, Daniel Tiffany, Ursula Heise, Kevis Goodman, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Tobias Menely, Jayne Lewis, John Barrell, Katherine Hayles, Noah Heringman, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Bill Brown, Carolyn Merchant, Anahid Nersessian, etc.

Format: Seminar

ENGL 545 Topics in Literature and Society

Four Media of the American Uncanny

Prof. Ned Schantz
Fall Term 2018
F 11:35-2:25

Full course description

Description: This course is designed to bring together the Literature and Cultural Studies streams of the English Department around the concept of the uncanny—a concept that cuts straight to the troubled heart of literature, film, and other media in their definition and practice. The course may also appeal to theoretically minded Drama and Theatre students, since the uncanny cannot be fully conceived without the notion of theatricality. Together, we will attempt to track over 100 years of U.S. Culture in some of its most unsettling manifestations in literature, film, radio, and television; it is the tradition in which “things are not what they seem,” in which tidy complacencies give way to vast unknown forces, where time is out of joint and the individual character/reader/listener/viewer irredeemably lost. We will provisionally expect the uncanny in three overlapping domains: in social worlds that resist navigation, in natural environments that defy mastery, and in technology that creates its own imperatives. If these domains house respectively the American Dreams of equality, frontier, and progress, it may be only to show that there is nothing more uncanny than the idea of America itself.

Note: for the first class meeting all students will read the first three items in the coursepack: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman,” Freud’s “The Uncanny,” and Samuel Weber’s “Uncanny Thinking.”

Evaluation (provisional): journals 65%, participation 25%, presentations 10%

Texts (provisional): Possible literature includes Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived At the Castle, Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, and Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist. Films could include Vertigo, Blue Velvet, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Meek’s Cutoff. We’ll watch episodes of The Twilight Zone and listen to radio episodes of Suspense.

Format: Seminar

ENGL 568 Topics in Dramatic Form

Seminar on (Nineteenth-Century) Melodrama: Theory / Practice

Prof. Denis Salter
Winter Term 2019
T 2:05-4:55

Full course description

Description: Our seminar will take much of its theoretical orientation and its conceptual preoccupations from arguments developed by Peter Brooks in The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama and the Mode of Excess (1976; republished with a “new Preface’ in 1995) and in various book chapters and articles by him, in which he postulates that “melodrama is a form for a post-sacred era, in which polarization and hyperdramatization of forces in conflict represent a need to locate and make evident, legible, and operative those large choices of ways of being which we hold to be of overwhelming importance, even though we cannot derive them from any transcendental system of belief.” To advance his case, Brooks examines recurrent terms and concepts, including the confluence of verbal and non-verbal sign systems; hysteria as an exercise in “bodily writing;” repressed affects and effects; psychoanalysis as a melodramatic heuristic device; the aesthetic values and ethical preoccupations of the sublime, the beautiful, and the picturesque; the literal and figurative journey, from which no return might be possible, into a kind of Conradian ‘heart of darkness;’ “somatic form” and somatic psychology; ‘expressionism’ avant la lettre as inherently a mode of demonstrative and troubled excess; guilt and what is often figured, somewhat paradoxically, as  its antinomy, purgation; “’demonic dread;’” “manichaeistic demonology;” “the Gothic castle [as] an architectural approximation of the Freudian model of the mind;” “an epistemology of the depths;” the “’moral occult;’” the “romance” conventions that govern and are articulated by the triad of “fall-expulsion-redemption;” the “’Naturalization of the dream life;’” “the melodrama of psychology;” the functions and forms of “rhetorical excess;” the poetics of torture and terror; the phenomenon of “self-nomination;” “the topos of the voix du sang;” “’the text of muteness;’” the appetite for wonder; the pleasures of virtuosic performance; magical transformations of quotidian life into the realm of the extraordinary, perhaps particularly the 'green world';  the locked-room paradigm; “the language of presence used for the expression of absences;” the “anaphoric” and “desemanticized” nature of the vocabulary and syntax of the language of gesture;  the performative construction of The Other; seeking to speak “the unspeakable” and to transcend the limits of representation; the pervasive presence of doppelgängers; engagements with the uncanny; and the pro-generative, modern, and post-modern Gothic imaginary.

Although Brooks includes the study of fiction by Balzac and James, our seminar will instead concentrate on plays for and on the stage, with excursions into the screening and analysis of several twentieth-century melodramatic films: Sergei Eisenstein’s ¡Que viva México!, Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis, Jim Sheridan’s In The Name Of The Father, Nicholas Nickleby, adapted from Dickens’s novel by David Edgar, directed by Jim Goddard, and Douglas Sirk’s Written On the Wind, along with selected scholarly literature.

A magisterial work that serves as a kind of meta-text for Brooks’s study is Martin Meisel’s Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth Century England, which, among other tasks, reflects on a wide range of melodramas in relation to a study of painting, fiction, and performance.  Close readings of Meisel will not only re-introduce preoccupations found in Brooks, but, together with the critical articles and chapters you will be reading in concert with specific plays, will introduce another complementary cluster of interrelated themes, subjects, structures, and modes of articulation, including: seeing the melodramatic tableau as an exercise in affective pictorial anagnorisis engendered by both movement and stasis; the gentrification of melodrama; Christian mytho-poesis; the policing and normalization of traditional gender roles, along with incipient interrogations of those roles; fears of industrialization;  the exploitation of workers, along with resistance from workers, together with rebellions, and continuing anxieties about the potential for a large-scale political revolution; the baleful consequences of land enclosures and the predatory actions of absentee landlords; the human suffering caused by unchecked urbanisation; inter-racial strife and the creation and legitimation of racialized and racist discourse; what Jacky Bratton has described as “the important ironizing influence of the comic dimension of Victorian melodrama, which was in many ways the element which added complexity to the high drama of right and wrong;” the juxtaposition of radical and conservative values and value-systems, in some instances in the same play; the project to give expression to ‘voices from below’ and in doing so to question the rigid divisions of the class system--what Emily Allen has referred to, in glossing the work of Elaine Hadley, as the ways in which “the melodramatic mode provided a public and theatricalized paradigm for resistance to the hierarchies of market capitalism;” the phenomenon of frequently making women characters into (often masked, often deformed) villains,  a move that asked / asks questions about female agency and identity; and the use of melodrama as an instrument to advance and legitimate the jingoistic project of world-wide imperialism.

Plays will include, amongst others,  Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon, for comparative purposes, Branden Jacbos-Jenkins’s An Octoroon (2009-10), Leopold Lewis’s and Henry Irving’s The Bells, Thomas Holcroft’s A Tale Of Mystery, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Pizarro, George Aikens’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Douglas Jerrold’s Black- Eyed Susan and The Rent Day, H. M. Milner’s Frankenstein: Or The Man and

The Monster, Richard Brinsley Peake’s Frankenstein: A Romantic Drama, and Milner’s Mazeppa; or, the Wild Horse of Tartary. All texts will be read in their original editions; in the case of films, their directors’ final shooting scripts might also be read. 

Evaluation: Fully engaged and continual participation in the intellectual and cultural life of the seminar: 15%; a presentation on a play / production and / or theoretical-historical text or a workshop: 15%; an 8-page essay arising from that presentation or workshop in the form of a distilled critical argument: 20%; a scholarly paper, with an analytical through-line, all themes / topics to be individually-negotiated, in the order of 15 to 20 pages: 50%.

Texts: Plays will include, amongst others,  Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon, for comparative purposes, Branden Jacbos-Jenkins’s An Octoroon (2009-10), Leopold Lewis’s and Henry Irving’s The Bells, Thomas Holcroft’s A Tale Of Mystery, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Pizarro, George Aikens’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Douglas Jerrold’s Black- Eyed Susan and The Rent Day, H. M. Milner’s Frankenstein: Or The Man and
The Monster,
Richard Brinsley Peake’s Frankenstein: A Romantic Drama, and Milner’s Mazeppa; or, the Wild Horse of Tartary. All texts will be read in their original editions; in the case of films, their directors’ final shooting scripts might also be read. 

Format: Brief lectures; led-discussions; individual and collective presentations including interrogative Q & As; mini-performances / workshops; and lots of reading plays out loud as we seek to understand the plays original interpretations and modes of performance.  Acting experience is not required. 

ENGL 585 Cultural Studies: Film

Image/ Sound/ Text

Prof. Ara Osterweil
Winter Term 2019
M 2:35-5:25

Full course description

Expected Student Preparation: Please note that it is both a critical studies and an art-making course. Some fluency in critical theory, cultural studies and/or art history is expected. Background in visual art, performance, poetry, dance, or music is encouraged but not required.

Description: This experimental seminar is designed 1) to help students respond critically and creatively to contemporary art, and 2) to help students learn to create experimental and/or hybrid forms of writing and digital media.  By focusing on multi-media artworks that incorporate elements of image, sound, and/or text, we shall explore how meaning in contemporary art and culture is often generated across multiple registers.  Over the course of the semester, students will be introduced to important examples of experimental film and video, Conceptual art, body art, photography, sculpture, and installation art from the 1960s to the present. In addition to writing critically about these works, students will be asked to experiment with some of the artistic strategies we study in order to create their own self-directed visual art and curatorial projects.  In other words, students will not only be expected to discuss, think and write about the works we study, but to create more experimental projects that respond to them.  Occasionally, local and/or international artists will be invited to class to give special seminars and workshops.  On other occasions, the class will meet outside of our normal meeting time and place in order to attend contemporary art exhibitions and performances.

Evaluation: TBD

Selected artworks by: Chantal Akerman, Michael Snow, John Cage, Derek Jarman, Su Friedrich, Jonas Mekas, Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneemann, Ken Jacobs, Hollis Frampton, Marlon Riggs, Kenneth Anger, Chris Marker, Adrian Piper, Valie Export, Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Yvonne Rainer, David Wojnarowicz, Catherine Opie, Sophie Calle, Moyra Davey, Sharon Hayes, Greg Bordowitz, Glenn Ligon, Carrie Mae Weems, Martha Rosler, and others. 

TextsSergei Eisenstein, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, John Cage, Michael Fried, Douglas Crimp, Amelia Jones, Rebecca Schneider, Peggy Phelan, Carol Mavor, Kaja Silverman, Jacques Attali, Svetlana Boym, Jacques Rancière, Jennifer Doyle, Maggie Nelson, Wayne Koestenbaum, Rebecca Solnit

Format: Seminar

ENGL 586 Cultural Studies: Other Media

The Kennedys

Prof. Berkeley Kaite
Winter Term 2019
T 2:35-5:25

Full course description

Description: David M. Lubin writes of his book, Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images, “This is a book about connectivity: about links and relationships, especially during the postwar information age presided over by John F. Kennedy. Our perceptions of JFK and his era, not to mention our own, rely entirely upon the endlessly replicated and infinitely elastic chains of images from art, literature, and the media that constantly inform us, often in contradictory ways, of who we are, who we ought to be, and where we belong.” With attention to these relationships, perceptions, “infinitely elastic chains of images,” and contradictions we will examine the (mostly) North American pre-occupation with the Kennedy family through its mediated constructions of it. The Kennedys are fictional characters to us and will be treated as such. Much attention was paid to JFK – he was President after all – before he was assassinated but that attention morphed into a peculiar kind of fascination following his death. The same could be said about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, his wife, and in a different though related vein, of the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy was the 4th US president to be assassinated, so how can we interpret the enduring fascination with him (and Jacqueline)? Among other things, thus, we will focus on the peculiar nature of his death and the cultural contexts for what can be referred to as the “Kennedy industries.” These will include enhanced visibility of the presidential office and family, charisma and the photogenics of power, the culture of the “cold war” and the transition from the late 50s to the early 60s. But, we will also look at some related issues and questions, among them: the fusion of celebrity and politics; the role of trauma and the body in the maintenance of national identities; the investment in secrets, conspiracy theories and gossip in the mass media age; the function of popular memory; the celebrity fan relationship. Key questions here will be, among others, what do we need to remember of the Kennedys and what do we insist on forgetting? Note: this course is not concerned with getting at any truths about the Kennedys; therefore, we will not try to compare media images against some perceived or even real truth. We only know the Kennedys in mediated form. The course thus seeks to address the circulation of stories, the proliferation of statements, “facts,” images which go into the “cultural screen saver”* called JFK (*Thomas Mallon, Mrs. Paine's Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy, 2002).

Again, this course does not begin with the premise that JFK was a great president or in any essential way special. We will not try to figure out who he really was, nor do we measure the media analysis of him against assumptions of his ‘true’ self and presidency. We will not assume the media provide a distorted view of him and Jacqueline; rather – and this is the focus of the course – we take as given that the media have constructed (and continue to construct) the icons we know as JFK, Jackie (O) and Oswald. They are, to us, the same as fictional characters. Thus our questions should be, what factors go into their makeup? How are they constructed and reconstructed as “characters”? How do we “read” them? What plots are in circulation about these figures? What metaphors – visual and verbal – are employed? Our objectives in this course are also: to ask why “JFK” and “Jackie” have endured as signs to be read; to learn how to read those signs so as to question what appears to be inevitable; to question the larger cultural investments in certain representative figures; and to learn to be engaged readers of cultural icons and artifacts. We will pay special attention to language and image. The tools we employ can be used in the study of many if not all popular figures – JFK and Jackie (and Oswald) are merely examples of that type of figure.

Our “data” for the course consists of, among others: clips of JFK’s campaign; the televised debates with Richard Nixon; televised interviews with JFK and Jacqueline; magazine and newspaper coverage of the Presidency; magazine and newspaper coverage of the assassination of JFK and the death of Jacqueline; literary fiction; popular films; documentaries. 

Evaluation (provisional): short papers 50%; project based on primary research 30%; presentation 10%; participation 10%

Texts (provisional):

  • David M. Lubin, Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images
  • William Manchester, The Death of a President, November 20-November 25, 1963
  • Wayne Koestenbaum, Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon
  • Don DeLillo, Libra
  • Adam Braver, November 22, 1963
  • Jed Mercurio, American Adulterer
  • Thomas Mallon, Mrs. Paine’s Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy
  • Other articles and chapters to be provided on MyCourses from, Michael J Hogan, The Afterlife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Peter Knight, The Kennedy Assassination, Art Simon, Dangerous Knowledge: The JFK Assassination in Art and Film; Norman Mailer, “Superman Comes to the Supermarket”; Max Weber, “The Sociology of Charisma”

Films and media material

  • JFK
  • The House of Yes
  • Jackie
  • Jackie O: An Opera​
  • Smash His Camera
  • Documentaries: Primary; Crisis; The Kennedy Mystique; The Lost JFK Tapes; Faces of November; JFK: Three Shots that Changed America

Format: Seminar, lecture, discussion; several film screenings; the screening of visual material

ENGL 607 Middle English

Collectors, Memory, and the Archive

Prof. Michael Van Dussen
Fall Term 2018
T 2:35-5:25

Full course description

Description: In the Middle Ages, the idea of collecting gradually came to take on a positive cultural value, though the value of collecting remained (and remains) hotly contested. Medieval innovations in collecting and archiving hold great significance for medieval and early modern humanist, antiquarian, religious, and political developments, as well as for modern concepts of evidence, research, and historical narrative. Yet while early modern antiquarianism and collecting have received a great deal of scholarly attention, we still know relatively little about collecting or collectors in the Middle Ages. In the medieval period, however, we witness vibrant developments in the book form, mnemonics, encyclopedism, compilation, preservation, and retrieval of knowledge, often informed by classical mnemonic theory. We also see the formation of lively social networks that surrounded collectors and their collections, library formation, communication, and the introduction of print technology. In England, we find the ironic situation that an explosion of collecting activity in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, combined with a rapid increase in textual production (and the introduction of print technology), was immediately followed by a wave of library destruction and redistribution in the sixteenth. This development in turn contributed to unprecedented preservation attempts and historical narrative that some have claimed gave “birth” to modern historiography and archival practice.

Students in this course will explore medieval mnemonic and archive theory, some of it inherited from classical and late antiquity. We will also study literary engagements with this theory as it intersected with other contemporary social and material developments. The course will be organized around categories including the following: mnemonic theory (classical, late antique, medieval); writing and artificial intelligence; memory and the archive; curiosity and collecting; preservation and destruction, remembering and forgetting; storage and access; the book form (manuscript and print); and information overload. The class will meet frequently for workshops in McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections and in the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, where we will examine original manuscript and early print materials. While the historical scope of the course will begin with classical antiquity and extend to the start of the seventeenth century, we will focus on the Middle Ages, and especially the literature of the fourteenth century. Some of our primary texts will be read in the original Middle English, though no previous knowledge of the language is required. Portions of several classes will be spent developing proficiency in Middle English. 

Evaluation: short papers 25%, long research paper 50%, presentation 10%, participation 15%

Texts (provisional):

  • Richard de Bury, Philobiblon
  • William Langland, Piers Plowman
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The House of Fame
  • John Leland/John Bale, The Laboryouse Journey

Coursepack readings, including selections from:

  • Plato, Meno, Phaedo, Phaedrus
  • Aristotle, On Memory and Recollection
  • Cicero, Pseudo-Cicero, and Quintilian(writings on memory)
  • St. Augustine, Confessions
  • St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae
  • Hugh of St. Victor, The Three Best Memory Aids for Learning History
  • Roger Chartier, The Order of Books

Format: Seminar

ENGL 615 Shakespeare

In Search of the Natural Fool in Shakespeare

Prof. Wes Folkerth​
Fall Term 2018
F 8:35-11:25

Full course description

Description: Scholarly attention to the figure of the fool in Shakespeare has tended to focus on the festive licence the fool enjoys in his interactions with other characters. Shakespeare’s “artificial” or “wise” fools derive this licence from their mimicry of “natural” fools—individuals of limited mental capacity who were known in the period by a variety of names such as idiot, imbecile, mome, moron, and numerous similar epithets still in use today. Broader studies of the fool as a literary and historical type also highlight the figure’s ambivalence, an ambivalence which seems to originate in medieval and early modern attitudes toward individuals with intellectual disabilities. The fool’s very lack of cognitive ability was also considered a positive trait, for such individuals remained impervious to and unaffected by the corruptive effects of social life and manners. What rendered the natural fool special in terms of his relationship to the social environment was his aloofness from it. This positive quality was frequently construed in a religious sense as sacred.

Shakespeare’s fools are a class of character that audiences, readers, and even scholars of today typically have enormous difficulty understanding. In this seminar we will study Shakespeare’s works that represent some of the natural fool’s many guises as a familar social type in early modernity, including The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry the Fourth Part One, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, All’s Well That Ends Well, and King Lear. Along the way we will also consider the enduring cultural influence of the humanistic “cult of folly” in the work of Erasmus, as well as early modern accounts of fools in the writings of Robert Armin and Timothy Granger. Recent work on the history of intellectual disability by scholars such as C.F. Goodey and Tim Stainton will provide important context for our efforts as we trace the fool’s connections to other closely-related figures such as clowns, fairy changelings, melancholics, and madmen.

Evaluation: seminar presentation 35%, long paper 50%, participation 15%

Texts: TBA

Format: Seminar

ENGL 620 Studies in Drama and Theatre 

Performance Studies (with special attention to affect and objects) 

Prof. Erin Hurley​
Winter Term 2019
W 2:35-5:25

Full course description

Description: “Performance” has gained widespread currency as a heuristic device and analytic tool in the humanities and social sciences. From pedestrian business usage (“performance indicators”) to rather more involved literary theories of “performativity,” the metaphor of performance has proven useful to a range of academic disciplines and critical projects.

This seminar will provide a critical introduction to performance theory as it is currently deployed in performance studies and English studies. After exploring “what is performance” and its “universals” through readings of now classic texts in performance theory (Schechner, Phelan, Turner, Hochschild, etc.), we will read theories of performance’s relationship to text (Worthen, Brody, Puchner), of performativity (Butler, Schneider, Davis), and of cultural memory (Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, Roach, Taylor, Richards). Special attention will be paid to recent turns in performance theory, which investigate affect (Ridout, Muñoz, Dolan, Warner) and objects or things (Hamera, Schweitzer, Bernstein). 

Evaluation (provisional): Discussion prompts 10%, Presentation 25% (10 minutes), Long paper 50% (5000 words), Participation 15%

Texts (provisional):

  • Laura Levin and Marlis Schweitzer, eds. Performance Studies in Canada.
  • Marvin Carlson, Performance: A Critical Introduction.
  • Course-pack of readings

Format: Seminar

ENGL 661 Seminar in Special Studies

Debates in the Digital Humanities

Prof. Richard Jean So
Fall Term 2018
R 2:35-5:25

Full course description

Description: This course offers a graduate-level introduction to the emerging academic field known as “the digital humanities” (or “DH”). “DH” refers to a broad collection of new practices and intellectual concerns for the humanities, particularly history and literary studies, that center on the growing ubiquity of computation, data, and algorithms in society. This includes: the creation and curation of large digitized corpora of texts; the use of empirical and quantitative methods, such as text mining and GIS, to study culture and literature; the increasing use of technology in the classroom; and the critique of data and data science from the perspective of the humanities. The digital humanities is a relatively new field yet has attracted a great deal of controversy, both in academic journals and the popular press. In this seminar, we review a series of important debates related to this field, which shed light both on its origins and where it likely is heading.

We will focus on two broad forms of the debate. The first concerns the relation between data/numbers and humanistic scholarship. In its earliest iteration, the primary terms of the debate consisted of: “can art and literature be quantified? Is culture data?” Here, we look at polemics for and against this position. Readings will include essays by (for) Franco Moretti, Alan Liu, and Johanna Drucker and (against) Stanley Fish, David Golumbia, and Wendy Chun. Next, we look at more mature iterations of this debate. If we accept that literature and art can be quantified, what types of methods are appropriate for studying culture as data? Here, we explore attempts to synthesize methods and tools from statistics and computer science, such as topic modeling and network analysis, to study literature, art history, and cultural history. We will pay particular attention to Moretti’s paradigm of “distant reading,” and review debates over close and distant reading. Finally, we will consider the cutting edge of computational criticism and cultural analytics that seeks to take on difficult questions of race, gender, economics, and other issues central to the study of literature and culture. Authors will include: Ted Underwood, Andrew Piper, and Jo Guldi. We will assess the strengths and weaknesses of this work.

In the second part of this course, we explore broader, meta-reflexive questions regarding the increasing presence of quantification/data in the humanities. A number of scholars, such as Christopher Newfield and Sara Brouillete, have associated the rise of the digital humanities with the intensifying “neoliberalism” of the corporate university. Here, we review several histories of how the university became corporatized in the past thirty years and how that trend has effected the humanities, particularly its relationship to the social sciences and the sciences. The main question to be considered is: does “DH” represent a threat to the core values of the humanities under the sign of neoliberalism, or does it signal an opportunity for the discipline to “modernize” and take advantage of new developments in technology? Readings will cover recent critiques and histories of data science and the university, such as O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction, as well as recent polemics in the popular press. Such readings will also help us to contextualize scholarship we’ll have read in the first part of the class.

Generally, this course aims to give graduate students an introduction to an increasingly contentious and important new direction in the humanities. It does not offer a hands-on introduction to applied research in the digital humanities, such as text mining, but for students that are interested in pursuing this work, it is a good first gateway course to taking future classes in this area. In the final weeks of the seminar, there will be a few opportunities for interested students to try out several basic computational methods for cultural analysis in a casual and exploratory environment.

Evaluation: 15% weekly response papers, 15% class participation, 20% presentation, 50% final paper


  • Franco Moretti, Distant Reading
  • Debates in the Digital Humanities (selections)
  • Drucker, et al., Digital_Humanities
  •  Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction 
  • Ted Underwood, “Theorizing Research Practices”
  • Andrew Piper, “There Will be Numbers”
  • Brouillete, et al, “Neoliberal Tools (and Archives)"
  • Alan Liu, “Where is Cultural Criticism in Digital Humanities?”

Format: Seminar

ENGL 662 Seminar of Special Studies

Marxist Literary and Cultural Theory

Prof. Derek Nystrom
Winter Term 2019
F 2:35-5:25

Full course description

Description: This course will critically examine the efforts within the Marxist tradition to theorize literary and cultural production. After starting with an overview of Marxism as a system of thought, we will trace the critical formulations of various Marxist theorists as they address the aesthetic modes of realism, modernism, and postmodernism—modes whose periods of cultural dominance correspond, Fredric Jameson and others have suggested, to different stages in the development of the capitalist mode of production. As we follow a somewhat chronological itinerary through the critical debates each of these aesthetic modes has occasioned, we will also engage with Marxism’s dialogue (and sometimes conflict) with other critical traditions, in particular those of feminism and queer theory. Throughout the term, we will examine some primary works of literary and cultural production to test out the claims of these theorists. The guiding metaphor for our inquiries will be that of base and superstructure: How are literary and cultural productions related to the realm of economic production? What role does the study of aesthetic form have in Marxist analysis? Our inquiries will be undertaken in a collaborative, rather than competitive spirit, even as we pursue what Marx once called the “ruthless criticism of all that exists.”

Evaluation: short papers; final paper; class presentation; class participation 

Texts (provisional):

  • Marx for Beginners, Ruis [recommended, not required]
  • Marxist Literary Theory, eds. Terry Eagleton and Drew Milne
  • Aesthetics & Politics, Theodor Adorno et al
  • Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac (Norton Critical Edition)
  • Endgame, Samuel Beckett
  • Tout va bien, dir. Jean-Luc Godard
  • Fight Club, dir. David Fincher
  • Selected episodes of UnREAL
  • Course pack with essays by Fredric Jameson, Colin MacCabe, Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, Heidi Hartmann, Fred Pfeil, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Judith Butler, Nancy Fraser, and others

Format: Seminar

ENGL 680 Canadian Literature

Canadian Modernist Poetry

Prof. Brian Trehearne
Fall Term 2018
M 8:35-11:25

Full course description

Description: All of the major English-Canadian poets from 1920 to 1960 recognized modernism as the definitive literary, cultural, philosophical, and critical innovation of their era.  Like modernists in almost all the English-speaking traditions, Canadian poets organized themselves into cultural (usually regional) groups, produced and defined themselves through little magazines, published and “boosted” themselves and one another in those little magazines and in associated small presses, and contributed polemical and self-canonizing critical statements to the national literary discussion.  They were not, with a few exceptions, the innovators of modernism: they were innovators in Canadian poetry who saw in modernist developments elsewhere both a literary consciousness to which they were deeply sympathetic and an opportunity to develop and promote their own poetry as the needed Canadian expression of that consciousness.  While they pursued such modernist ideals as T.S. Eliot’s notion of impersonality and Ezra Pound’s injunction to “make it new,” they typically adopted modernist techniques and socio-political analyses to their own ends, which include an often covert cultural nationalism at odds with the interna­tionalist assumptions of most Anglo-American modernist criticism and theory, and a socialist vision at odds with authoritarian and fascist sympathies that are occasional if incoherent in Pound, Yeats, and Eliot.  The surprisingly strong Surrealist strain in Canadian poetry is one sign of what A.J.M. Smith called its “eclectic detachment,” its readiness to import, with discrimination and adaptation, its inspirations from a wide range of sources.  The relative prominence of women poets in the Canadian modernist canon, from its earliest formation by anthologists, is another noteworthy national phenomenon.  Canadian modernist poets were readier to revert to traditional verse forms now and then than their counterparts elsewhere, and they were slower to develop the modernist long poem that has been seen as definitive of modernist consolidation in England and the United States.  In short, Canada’s poetic modernism is a distinct national expression which must be studied in the context of original modernisms elsewhere but is not usefully measured against them.

We will study six to eight Canadian poets as individual modernist writers first and foremost and attempt to bring important new light to bear on the work of each.  Close readings through group discussion of assigned poems will take up a substantial part of our class time.  There has been much recent editorial and critical activity in the area of Canadian modernism, and we will profit from new textual and contextual information in our studies.  The major Canadian little magazines of the period in question will provide a secondary narrative of development in the period; we will also be attentive to the history of the modernist canon in Canadian criticism, for the canonical place of many of these poets is by no means assured today.  Finally, readings from an anthology of the period’s poetry will allow students to hear rival and collaborative voices and to assess the instructor’s representation of a Canadian modernist canon.  


25%: Conference paper, 20 minutes’ reading time, about 8-9 pages, followed by your chairing of 15 minutes’ discussion by the class.  Your topic must be cleared in advance with the instructor, and you will circulate a one-page abstract of your argument with a short bibliography of primary and secondary sources by e-mail to your classmates no later than one week in advance.  As well as for the abstract, bibliography, and paper, you will be assessed for your ability to generate and focus discussion and for your responses to your paper’s discussion by others

50%: Major research paper, minimum 20 maximum 25 pp.  It may derive from your symposium presentation or be wholly independent of it

25%: Preparedness for and participation in seminar discussions and symposia.  NB: attendance is not relevant to this portion of your evaluation, since at the graduate level it is assumed you will attend every class without exception.  A failing grade will be given in this category to those who don’t participate consistently, constructively, and in an informed way in class discussions

Texts to be determined, drawing six to eight poets from the following:

  • Avison, Margaret. Always Now: The Collected Poems.
  • Cohen, Leonard. Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs.
  • Dudek, Louis. Infinite Worlds: The Poetry of Louis Dudek.
  • Glassco, John. The Complete Poems of John Glassco [due 2018].
  • Klein, A.M. The Complete Poems of A.M. Klein.
  • Layton, Irving. A Wild Peculiar Joy: Selected Poems.
  • Livesay, Dorothy. The Self-Completing Tree and Archive for Our Times.
  • Page, P.K. Kaleidoscope: Selected Poems.
  • Scott, F.R. Collected Poems.
  • Smith, A.J.M. The Complete Poems of A.J.M. Smith.
  • Webb, Phyllis. The Vision Tree:  Selected Poems and Water and Light.

Format: Seminar

ENGL 714 Renaissance Studies

17th-Century Poetry

Prof. Maggie Kilgour
Winter Term 2019
T 11:35-2:25

Full course description

Description: The 17th century has often been described as a period of social, philosophical, scientific, political, and indeed psychological revolution that produced the modern world and subject. In England, especially, this time of intense change was marked equally by intense poetic productivity and experimentation. In this course we will consider this period through the short poetry of a wide range of writers, including Jonson, Donne, Wroth, Lanyer, Herbert, Herrick, Lovelace, Suckling, Crashaw, Vaughan, Traherne, Milton, Cowley, Marvell, Philips, and Cavendish. Beginning with Jonson and Donne, poets whose careers were forged in the 1590s, we will trace the development of English verse through the period of Civil War up to the Restoration. Our primary focus will be formal and literary historical, as we consider this critical period in the shaping of English literature. We will begin therefore by looking briefly at the formal innovations of the 16th century to see how 17th century writers continuously both drew on and rebelled against them, as they further experimented with new genres and forms, to represent the shifting experiences of this turbulent time. At the same time, however, we will consider the relation of the new poetics in the formation of modernity.  We will therefore need to interpret formal innovations in the context of larger social, political, and philosophical changes: urbanization, developments in science and industry, the effects of deforestation and environmental change, debates over religion and the place of women, the agitation for political reform and, most of all, the Civil War itself. 

Evaluation: book report (10%); 5 page close reading of Donne or Jonson (15%); 20-25 page research paper (50%); participation (25%)


  • Ben Jonson, Complete Poems, ed George Parfitt (Penguin, 1975)
  • John Donne, John Donne’s Poetry, ed Donald R Dicksin (Norton, 2007)
  • George Herbert, The Complete English Poems, ed John Tobin (Penguin, 1991)
  • Andrew Marvell, The Poems of Andrew Marvell, ed Nigel Smith (Longman, rev. ed. 2007)
  • Selections from all other poets will be posted on Mycourses.

Format: Seminar

ENGL 716 Special Studies in Shakespeare

The McGill Shakespeare Moot Court

Prof. Paul Yachnin
Winter Term 2019
M 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Description: In this collaborative interdisciplinary seminar, led by Jennifer Drouin (Law) and Paul Yachnin (English), students from Law and graduate students from English will team up to argue cases in the “Court of Shakespeare” (i.e., where the sole Institutes, Codex, and Digest, is comprised by the plays of William Shakespeare).

The overall aims of the course are to –
(a) provide an organic and responsive model for the ways in which resources to articulate social values can be developed;
(b) explore the ways in which traditions of legal and textual interpretation are created, grown, and modified;
(c) offer new insights into the normative implications of a body of work of supreme cultural significance;
(d) explore the particular nature of Shakespeare’s drama, and of literature generally, as an expressive register of normative social values;
(e) consider how literature and literary thinking might influence and might have already influenced law and legal thinking.

Pairing law students with graduate scholars in literature, the project is intended to allow a depth of connection between the discourses of law and the humanities that is rarely achieved. Law and English students will learn about the processes of reasoning and analysis in the other discipline, and they will come to appreciate the cultural imbrications of these forms. At the same time, students will develop their skills of argument in a new and challenging context.

The students who participate in the Shakespeare Moot Course will find themselves at a rare moment of unfettered creativity. They will not only study the emergence and nature of a legal system. They will be making one. This is especially the case because the participants will create the precedents from which the future legal system will continue to grow.

The course will have a number of components. Part of your time will be spent working in two-person teams with a colleague from the other discipline. Teams will be arguing for or against a particular legal remedy in the case before the court, and you will, of course, be arguing against each other. The case will be chosen and/or created by the instructors. Each team will be responsible for the preparation of a factum, and each team will also plead their side of the argument before the court at a formal hearing. Students will also read and discuss a number of works that theorize the relationship between law and literature, the nature and social situation of literature, and questions of authority and interpretation. We will study the role of Shakespeare and of literature in general as a site for public debate and for the articulation of public emotions and therefore as sites of informal, collective law-making. On the basis of these discussions and your own directed reading, each student will be expected to write an essay that reflects what they have learned from the moot project, and that focuses in particular on questions about Shakespeare as / and law, the question of interpretation and authority, or the nature of the relationship between law and literature.

The 2019 McGill Shakespeare Moot Court course will initiate the International Court of Shakespeare. In Winter 2019, Professor Desmond Manderson will lead students at the Australian National University in a Shakespeare Moot Court of their own, focusing on the same case that is before the McGill Court. The winning teams from McGill and ANU will face off before an international panel of judges at McGill’s Faculty of Law in Spring 2019.

Factum - 30%
Oral pleading at Moot Court - 30%
Reflection paper - 30%
Participation - 10%

Texts: TBA; these will include a selection of Shakespeare plays most pertinent to the case before the Court as well as a robust selection of essays on legal and literary history and theory.

Format: Seminar

ENGL 726 Narrative Prose of the 18th Century

Richardson’s Clarissa and the Theory of the Novel: Philosophy, Passion, Piety

Prof. David C. Hensley​
Winter Term 2019
T 2:35-5:25 | Screening T 5:35-9:30

Full course description

Description: This course will focus theoretical questioning on Samuel Richardson's million-word-long Clarissa, which many readers since the eighteenth century have regarded as the greatest European novel. From week to week, our readings will canvas various approaches to different parts of this gigantic text. Insofar as possible, the syllabus will orient our discussion toward an analysis of the terms in which Clarissa articulates a theory that some of Richardson’s contemporaries viewed as an encyclopedic “system” of thought. We will be concerned with interactions or disjunctions between large conceptual areas such as Richardson’s celebrated “new” psychology, his account of moral judgment, and his critique of aesthetics. Clarissa is a self-consciously intertextual work. To relate our understanding of the novel’s argument to Richardson’s literary-cultural and intellectual context, we will read a wide range of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century texts drawn from the traditions of the emblem book, libertine poetry, the Restoration stage, sentimental romance, erotic narrative, theological controversy, British moral philosophy, and early feminist criticism. (To supplement seminar discussion we will view a wide range of relevant films – including operas by Lully, Purcell, Händel, Gluck, and Mozart; and films by Dreyer, Rohmer, Breillat, and Almodóvar.) The logic of this course, as of Richardson’s novel, gives particular attention to the conflicting ideological and representational claims of allegory and theatricality. It is hoped that such textual and categorial analysis will enable (1) a theorization of problems in Clarissa and (2) an understanding of Clarissa’s contribution to the “history of problems” – problems not only of literary form but also of gender, psychology, ethics, law, politics, and religion – that constitute the theory of the novel.

Evaluation: participation (20%), oral presentation (20%), term paper (60%)

TextsThe recommended version of Clarissa is the one-volume Penguin paperback (ISBN 0140432159 or 9780140432152) edited by Angus Ross. The books for this course will be available at The Word Bookstore (469 Milton Street, 514-845-5640). One or more photocopy packets may supplement the books on order. A full schedule of assignments will be available at the first meeting of the seminar. Our readings, in addition to Clarissa, will probably include assignments in the following texts.

  • Emblems of Francis Quarles and George Wither (seventeenth century)
  • John Wilmot, second earl of Rochester (1647-80), poems
  • Thomas Otway, Venice Preserv’d ((1682)
  • John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (1690)
  • Anthony Ashley Cooper, third earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristicks (1711; rev. 1714)
  • Eliza Haywood, Fantomina (1725)
  • William Law, An Appeal to all that Doubt the Gospel (1740)
  • Sophia, Woman’s Superior Excellence over Man (1740)
  • Samuel Johnson, Rambler No. 4 (1750)
  • Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)
  • Denis Diderot, Éloge de Richardson (1762)
  • Vivant Denon, “No Tomorrow” (1777) 

Format: Seminar

ENGL 761 Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature 1

Human Rights and Literature

Prof. Allan Hepburn​
Fall Term 2018
R 11:35-2:25

Full course description

Description: Literature represents the limits and possibilities of human rights. Via a series of weekly discussions and some assignments, this course will consider the emergence of human rights as a legal category in the twentieth century, which culminates, at least in a mid-century iteration, in the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Although that document is aspirational in its ideals rather than enforceable in practice, it sets parameters for discussions of justice for individuals, regardless of their nationality, citizenship, statelessness, race, sex, beliefs, or other criteria. In addition to the UDHR, we will consider legal documents such as the British Nationality Act 1948, the UN Convention against Torture, and the Geneva Protocol regarding civilians during times of war. We will question the validity of reading legal documents against literary texts. This course will therefore draw upon law and history, but it will presume that human rights are a lived experience as well as problems in literary narrative. The majority of texts on this syllabus are novels, yet we will also read some non-fiction (Rebecca West, Martha Gellhorn, Philip Gourevitch) and plays (Samuel Beckett). Some visual material, particularly photographs, will be discussed (from the Spanish Civil War and the opening of Dachau concentration camp). A wide variety of topics ought to surface during discussions: refugees, dignity, torture, race, war, genocide, empathy, intervention, nationality, liberty, bare life, temporality, humanitarianism, witnessing, legality, judgment, internal dislocation, and so forth. The readings are not designed to limit discussion or set boundaries for human rights; instead, primary and secondary texts should serve as templates for application to other literary examples, regardless of national origin or genre. Contextual and theoretical readings by Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Ian Baucom, Seyla Benhabib, Matthew Hart, Joseph Slaughter, Lyndsey Stonebridge, and others will supplement primary texts.

Evaluation: short paper 25%; long paper 60%; participation 15%


  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People
  • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  • Ngugi wa Thiong’o, A Grain of Wheat
  • Caryl Phillips, Foreigners
  • Rebecca West, A Train of Powder
  • Storm Jameson, A Cup of Tea for Mr. Thorgill
  • John Le Carré, Mission Song
  • George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Primo Levi, If This is a Man
  • Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon
  • Graham Greene, The Quiet American
  • Samuel Beckett, Rockaby, Happy Days, Not I, Rough for Radio II
  • Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families

Format: Seminar

ENGL 770 Studies in American Literature

Cosmopolitanism in Nineteenth-Century American Writing 

Prof. Peter Gibian
Winter Term 2019
R 11:35-2:25

Full course description

Description: This seminar on literary responses to and enactments of cosmopolitan vision in nineteenth-century America will begin by surveying definitions and uses of the notion of "cosmopolitanism" in other eras and contexts. In early weeks, we will compare and contrast some key twentieth- and twenty-first-century theories of the cosmopolitan (Bourne, Robbins, Nussbaum, Clifford, Hannerz, Bhabha, Appiah, Anderson, Gilroy, and others) with writings by Benjamin Franklin that epitomize the Enlightenment "cosmopolitan ideal" as it was developed in eighteenth-century England and Europe. This international and cross-historical context may then help us to see nineteenth-century American writing in an unusual new perspective, bringing out developments often ignored through a traditional critical focus on dominant tendencies to nationalism, regionalism, nativism, provincialism, ruralism, and so on.  From this perspective, though, we can trace a long and important alternative line of American writing and thought as it develops through a somewhat unusual roster of authors and works. This survey of the varieties of cosmopolitan experience will include a primary focus on authors selected from the following list: Franklin, Irving, Hale, Melville, Taylor, Fuller, Cable, Du Bois, James, and Wharton. Melville's deeply divided relation to the cosmopolitan will be central to the course; we will focus on "Benito Cereno," and on the predicament of Ishmael and Queequeg in Moby-Dick, in the context of allusions to passages from Melville's early travel writings. We will then end the course with a quick comparative look at 20th-c. American fictions by authors such as Fitzgerald, Mukherjee, and Lahiri.

Tracing this line of American writing as it develops through the nineteenth century, we find that we are following an ongoing, anxious debate about the powers and limits of the cosmopolitan, about the American writer as a cosmopolitan figure, and even about America as a cosmopolitan culture. Indeed, this tradition of nineteenth-century American writing gives us some of the clearest examples we have of what Randolph Bourne describes in his famous essay evoking a "Trans-National America," and what anthropologist James Clifford describes as the vision of a "traveling culture." Following the evolution of cosmopolitan thought in this line of writers, what emerges is the paradox of a national vision that finds itself most fully in trans-national situations, where the writer is characteristically seen not as a defender of unicultural coherences but as an intercultural ambassador, speaking not from within a bounded and self-contained "home culture" (be it American or European or cosmopolitan) but more often from a life of constant physical and spiritual movement through a series of homes-away-from-home. Here cosmopolitanism can emerge less as a privilege than as a predicament; it does not always involve the easy detachment of the distant, aesthetic observer. When the protagonists in these exploratory writings move away from isolation and detachment, their travelers’ experience leaves them torn between the competing responsibilities and emotional involvements that come with multiple allegiances to diverse home-worlds. No longer in the classic position of the leisured aesthetic tourist, they find themselves condemned to cosmopolitanism—in the role of the homeless bachelor wanderer. The story of this sort of cosmopolitan figure then raises large questions about (to borrow a phrase from Homi Bhabha) "the location of culture": the location of home, the location of home culture, for American writers who characteristically see themselves, after this move into the realm of the international or inter-cultural, as unable to go home again. 

Evaluation (tentative): participation 20%; series of one-page response papers or textual analyses 20%; oral presentation 15%; final research essay 45%.

Texts (provisional): selections from among the following works: Franklin, Autobiography; Irving, Sketchbook (selections); Melville, Moby-Dick (selections), and "Benito Cereno"; Hale, “Man Without a Country”; Cable, Old Creole Days (selections); W. E. B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk; James, "Daisy Miller,” “An International Episode,” Ambassadors or Portrait of a Lady; Wharton, The Age of Innocence; Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night; stories by Mukherjee, Lahiri; course pack of additional readings in 19th-c. literature and in contemporary theory of the “cosmopolitan.” 

Format: Seminar

ENGL 785 Studies in Theory 

Affective Ecologies: Life Practices

Prof. Alanna Thain​
Winter Term 2019
M 11:35-2:25

Full course description

Description: The affective turn in critical theory sought to explore sensation, intensity and feeling as productive, rather than simply reactive, forces, building on insights from the artistic, critical and political projects of minoritarian subjects for whom feeling otherwise was a creative response to a world not made for them. Such forces traverse what Felix Guattari called the three ecologies: subjective, social and environmental lifeworlds; these transversal movements are also re-compositional practices that renew and reimagine what is possible. This course will explore contemporary art, media and cultural theory rethinking of questions of life, embodiment and relationality today, through creative practices of resistance drawn from queer, feminist, critical race and other perspectives. How do we rethink concepts such as agency, corporeality, feeling, action and politics from an expansive ecological perspective, beyond the concept of the anthropocene? 

Evaluation (provisional): participation; response paper(s); final project

TextsArts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene (Anna Tsing et al.); Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (Eric Stanley, Johanna Burton, and Reina Gossett); Geontologies (Elizabeth Povinelli); In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Christina Sharpe); The Undercommons (Fred Moten and Stefano Harney); The Intimacies of Four Continents (Lisa Lowe); The Three Ecologies (Felix Guattari); Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Donna Haraway); “An Ecology of Practices” (Isabelle Stengers); As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (Leanne Simpson); Cruising Utopia (José Muñoz); Black Quantum Futurism: Theory & Practice (Volume 1) (Rasheedah Phillips)

We will also be screening films, as well as attending performances, workshops and exhibitions. This class will include a research-creation component.

Format: Seminar

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