2019-20 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 500 Middle English

Otherworlds of the Medieval North

Prof. Michael Van Dussen
Fall Term 2019
W 11:35-14:25

Full course description

Description: A rich body of literature developed in the European Middle Ages that explored worlds or realities that stood somehow apart from the world of everyday experience. Yet these other (or under) worlds were never entirely separable from what medieval Europeans regarded as the world of their day-to-day lives. By exploring these worlds, authors and readers were simultaneously cultivating a renewed understanding of their own experience of time, geographical space, and the ways in which their belief systems infused both with meaning. In this course, students will analyze several literary accounts of worlds or landscapes that stand in some way apart from what their authors and audiences regarded as ordinary. We will read dream visions, including visions or revelations of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory; we’ll encounter underworlds that are geographically contiguous with specific locations in Europe; we’ll study narratives of fairy otherworlds; we’ll read accounts in which travelers encounter the exotic or the marvelous; and we’ll examine the relationship between travel narrative and antiquarianism. This course will introduce students to texts written in England, Ireland, Iceland, and on the European continent during the period ca. 800-1400. Analysis of these texts will quickly reveal that there is no strict way to isolate these texts from other, non-northern influences, despite their places of origin or geographical location.

While the historical scope of the course will span much of the medieval millennium and take in literature from the outside of England, we will focus on the later Middle Ages, and especially the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Several 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 paper (50%); presentation (10%); participation (15%).


  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The House of Fame
  • Chretien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances (selections)
  • Marie de France, Lais (selections)
  • Snorri Sturluson, Gylfaginning
  • Pearl
  • Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales (selections)
  • St. Patrick’s Purgatory
  • Sir Orfeo
  • The Book of John Mandeville
  • The Vision of Tundale
  • The Voyage of St. Brendan

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrollment: 15 students

ENGL 501 Sixteenth Century

Elizabethan Ovidianism

Prof. Maggie Kilgour
Winter Term 2020
W 14:30-17:30

Full course description

Description: From his own time to the present, the Roman poet Ovid has been a continuous source of inspiration for later artists and writers who have metamorphosed his tales of love and metamorphoses. While it may seem extravagant to claim that English literature begins with Ovid, it is clear that the burst of creative energy in the 16th century that we call the English Renaissance was fuelled by translations and adaptations of this Protean poet. In this course we will try to understand how and why Ovid spoke to the Elizabethan situation in particular. We will examine how Ovid was taught in school and popularized through allegorical readings and English translations, and then see how his stories and verbal ingenuity in general inspired and influenced the development of epyllia, drama, and love poetry. Does the poet associated with change help Elizabethans understand the changes taking place in their own time – as he may help us in ours?

Prerequisite: No formal prerequisite; however, all students must have read the entire Metamorphoses before the first class. Knowledge of Ovid’s other works and some background in Renaissance literature and classics is also very useful.

Evaluation: 5 page research paper on an Ovidian myth (20%); final 20 page paper (55%); participation (25%).

Texts: Shakespeare: Venus and Adonis; Rape of Lucrece; Midsummer Night’s Dream; Titus Andronicus

On myCourses:

  • Selections from Elizabethan epyllia, poetry, translations, commentaries, and emblems
  • Marlowe, Hero and Leander
  • Spenser, “Muiopotmos”; Faerie Queene 3; Mutabilitie Cantos
  • Ben Jonson, Chloridia; Poetaster
  • Milton, A Mask/Comus

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 15 students

ENGL 505 Twentieth-Century Literature

British Literature of the 1950s

Prof. Allan Hepburn
Fall Term 2019
F 11:35-14:25

Full course description

Description: Austerity, rationing, youth culture, race riots, sex scandals—British literature in the 1950s covers a gamut of topical material. To segment the 1950s from other heuristic categories, such as “postwar,” “the Atomic Age,” or “mid-century literature,” is to impose a synchronic analysis on a national literature. Like a sensitive recording machine, British fiction registers social changes, such as the upward scramble for prestige in Angus Wilson’s novels or the taboo of adultery in Elizabeth Taylor’s novels. Many 1950s novels look back to the war; after all, the Second World War had bankrupted the nation and the consequences of heavy bombardment remained visible in metropolitan centres well into the 1950s. If the 1950s concern the aftermath of the war, they also take a robust perspective on British industry, trade, and research, as manifest in the Festival of Britain (1951) and the injection of vigour given by the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1953). An unusual number of 1950s British novels speculate on the nature of state sovereignty and the role of individuals in respecting the law, as in John Wyndham’s dystopic novels about carnivorous plants that invade England. Although the Welfare State mandated a levelling down of social difference, many characters in 1950s fiction, usually young urban males, are on the make: they want to fight their way to success, either through employment or strategic marriage. Spivs and hustlers abound in this decade. In works by Barbara Pym, Muriel Spark, and Alan Wildeblood, queer young men risk criminal records by having sex with other men. Consequently, this course will deal with changing ideas of sexuality for men and for women. It will also cover domestic and international politics, manifest in Welfare State reforms, the Suez Crisis, and the Notting Hill race riots. Some short stories and films will be included on the syllabus. Critical readings will range from works by Raymond Williams, Frank Kermode, Iris Murdoch, and J. B. Priestley, to Alice Ferrebe, Alan Sinfield, and Richard Hornsey.

Evaluation: Participation (15%); short paper (25%); long paper (60%).

Texts: This list is provisional and subject to modification.

  • William Golding, The Inheritors (1955)
  • John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids (1951)
  • John Braine, Room at the Top (1957)
  • Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners (1959)
  • Iris Murdoch, Under the Net (1954)
  • Peter Wildeblood, Against the Law (1954)
  • Nevil Shute, On the Beach (1958)
  • Muriel Spark, The Comforters (1958)
  • Barbara Pym, A Glass of Blessings (1958)

Format: Weekly seminars, discussion

Maximum Enrolment: 15 students

ENGL 506 American Literature

Nothing Ever Dies: Multi-Ethnic American Histories

Prof. Alexander Manshel
Winter Term 2020
M 11:35-14:25

Full course description

Description: In the period since the 1980s, several key institutions of literary canon formation—from the National Endowment for the Arts to literary prize organizations, from university syllabi to literary criticism itself—have transformed in ways that either expressly or implicitly promoted historical fiction as contemporary literature’s most prestigious and politically potent genre. Moreover, American fiction’s “historical turn” has been especially pronounced among minority writers, whose increasing recognition within both the academy and the prize economy has been almost exclusively in the idiom of historical fiction. What are the political, aesthetic, and literary-historical stakes of American fiction’s decisive turn toward the past? What new possibilities and problems arise when, as Toni Morrison famously put it, “nothing ever dies”? Working comparatively across ethnic literary traditions, this seminar will focus on a handful of contemporary fiction’s historical sub-genres: the WWII novel and Holocaust fiction; narratives of immigration and the multigenerational family saga; and experiments with mass-market genres like detective and spy fiction. Our readings will include the novels below—paired with short fiction and a wide range of critical texts—as well as a final novel or short story collection selected by the class.


  • Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark (ISBN 9780679745426) and excerpts from Beloved
  • Art Spiegelman, Maus, Vol I: My Father Bleeds History (ISBN 9780394747231)
  • Ronyoung Kim, Clay Walls (ISBN 9781877946783)
  • Philip Roth, The Plot Against America (ISBN 9781400079490)
  • Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban (ISBN 9780345381439)
  • Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing (ISBN 9780385686136)
  • Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, A Kind of Freedom (ISBN 9781640091030)
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer (ISBN 9780802124944)
  • Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing (ISBN 9781501126079)
  • Tommy Orange, There There (ISBN 9780525633013)
    Final Text TBD by Student Vote

Evaluation (tentative): Participation (15%); research presentation (25%); midterm essay (25%); final research paper (35%).

Format: Seminar

ENGL 525 American Literature

19th-Century American Writing and City Life

Prof. Peter Gibian
Winter Term 2020
R 14:30-17:30

Full course description

“It does not permit itself to be read.”
(Poe, “The Man of the Crowd”)

Description: Intensive study of a diverse range of American literary writings that attempt, over the course of the long nineteenth century, to develop new aesthetic forms appropriate to expression of new modes of consciousness associated with the experience of life in the modern city. Readings will include selected works by authors such as: Franklin, Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Lippard (or another “city mystery” writer), Whitman, the diarist George Templeton Strong, Holmes, Cable, Crane, Dreiser, Alger, L. Frank Baum, Jacob Riis, Chopin, Howells, James, Wharton. At the same time, we will study diverse critical analyses of the city in literature, and theoretical works (often coming out of Walter Benjamin’s seminal studies) defining the dynamics of an emerging "city consciousness"”: the base value of mobility linking mental movements to the flow of urban crowds; the power of clothes and commodities in a culture of “conspicuous consumption” and “image management”; the stress on aesthetic gifts for show and performance necessary for self-fashioning in the social theater; and the desperate search for new modes of literacy that might satisfy the felt need to read city experience or to master the circulation of print in the literary marketplace of an emerging mass culture. To deepen our sense of the urban context for these primary writings, we may make side trips to explore secondary readings surveying the cultural history of urban crowds, urban periodicals, flânerie, bohemian enclaves, Olmsted’s urban parks, shows and amusements, arcades and department stores, world's fairs, museums, hotels, tenements, and also parallel developments in other arts related to the urban scene (painting, photography, panorama, cinema).

Evaluation (tentative):
Participation in discussions (20%)
Series of one-page textual analyses (20%)
Class presentation (15%)
Final research paper (45%)

Texts: TBA—selected from among the authors mentioned above.

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 15 students

ENGL 527 Canadian Literature

Canadian Modernism

Prof. B. Trehearne
Fall Term 2019
R 8:35-11:25

Full course description

Description: In close study of seven exemplary poets and four novels, the course will examine the birth, growth, and consolidation of Canadian modernist writing from 1920 to 1960. Canadian modernism has recently enjoyed a critical renaissance triggered by a wave of activity in the scholarly editing and publication of little-known or out-of-print works. As a result, the canon of Canadian modernism is more fluid than ever before, and so is the critical understanding of “modernism” that underpins much of this recent activity. We will read our authors as individuals participating consciously in the global modernist project, and as Canadians fashioning a distinct national course and qualities for that project. In the process, we should gain a sense of global modernism’s essential characteristics—of what may and may not rightly be called modernist—as well as of its possible national variations. We will be attentive to the Anglo-American and European sources of Canadian modernism, in particular to T.S. Eliot’s ideals of “impersonality” and “the objective correlative” and their eventual supplanting by a newly lyric modernism in the 1950s, as well as to the little-noticed Surrealist vein in Canadian modernist writing. We will note the relative prominence of women writers in Canadian modernism after 1945 and also seek to clarify relations among modernism and ethnicity, regionalism, nationalism, and cosmopolitanism. Discussion will close with consideration of Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook (1959), which has been called both the first modernist and the first post-modernist novel in Canada; we may wish to revisit that debate, but the novel will also help us open up new ethical approaches to Canadian modernist writing.


  • Seminar presentation on one poet or novelist, 25%: 20 minutes of presentation time with 10 minutes of follow-up discussion directed by you; your topic must be cleared in advance with the instructor; you will circulate a one-page abstract of your argument with a short bibliography of recommended primary and secondary sources by e-mail to the instructor and your classmates no later than one week in advance. If you are working on a poet it is presumed that you will buy a comprehensive edition of the poet’s complete or at least selected works as you prepare your presentation. You have two options for the grading of this assignment: (1) I will grade you only on what happens in your half hour in the seminar room: on your argument; on your clarity; on your effective delivery of your argument to a listening audience; on your ability to generate and focus discussion; and on your verbal responses to your paper’s discussion by others. Alternately, (2) I will grade you on all components listed under Option (1) but also on a formally presented essay version of your remarks (8-9 pp.) that you turn in immediately following your presentation. This essay, revised, may then be incorporated into your major research paper (see below). Option (2) is the better choice for those who would like guidance on their scholarly writing prior to the submission of the research paper.
  • Major research paper (20 pp), 50%. This paper may (1) extend and enrich the ideas of your seminar presentation and incorporate its content in revised form; the recycled material must show clear evidence of response to critiques received from instructor and peers; or (2) may take up an entirely new topic, including a topic on a different writer; in this case, the new essay topic must be cleared with the instructor in advance.
  • Informed participation in class discussion, 25%. NB: consistent and informed participation in scholarly discussion is not optional in the academic profession and so cannot be in this course, which has among its obligations the task of preparing potential apprentices for that profession. Mere attendance is not relevant to your participation grade; absences will be noted, but full attendance is presumed. 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 (McGill Bookstore):

  • Trehearne, Brian, ed. Canadian Poetry 1920 to 1960. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart [New Canadian Library], 2010.

Four of the following novels will be assigned:

  • Buckler, Ernest. The Mountain and the Valley. 1952.
  • Cohen, Leonard. Beautiful Losers. 1966.
  • Grove, Frederick Philip. The Master of the Mill. 1944.
  • Klein, A.M. The Second Scroll. 1951.
  • Laurence, Margaret. The Stone Angel. 1964.
  • Richler, Mordecai. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. 1959.
  • Smart, Elizabeth. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. 1945.
  • Watson, Sheila. The Double Hook. 1959.
  • Wilson, Ethel. The Equations of Love. 1952.
  • ---. Swamp Angel. 1954.

Format: A seminar is a directed discussion group in which all participants are equally responsible for consideration of subject matter and readings. Lectures will be minimal.

Maximum Enrolment: 15 students

ENGL 529 Topics in American Studies

Hollywood’s Great Depression

Prof. Derek Nystrom
Winter Term 2020
M 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Prerequisite: This course is reserved for undergraduates in the Honours program and graduate students.

Expected Student Preparation: Familiarity with concepts and terminology from film studies and cultural studies will be very useful.

Description: The 1930s marked a period of massive change for both the U.S. as a whole and its film industry. The Great Depression that ravaged the nation’s economy also threatened to destroy the Hollywood studios, forcing them to re-organize themselves less as family businesses and more as modern corporations. The labour radicalism ignited by the Depression sparked union drives within Hollywood as well. Concern over the influence of films on America’s youth prompted the expansion and stricter enforcement of the industry’s Production Code, which imposed multiple constraints on both film form and content. In addition, Hollywood’s transition to synchronized sound necessitated a series of changes, both technological and aesthetic, that transformed the vocabulary of cinema. Operating from an understanding of these multiple social, industrial, and aesthetic contexts, this course will examine several different film genres and cycles that attempted to address—directly and indirectly—the Great Depression while it was underway. Of key interest will be questions of narrative form: how did classical Hollywood narration—whose causal structure is driven by the agency of its individual protagonists—represent a social world that dramatized the ineffectual nature of personal agency in the face of economic collapse? The course will pay special attention to genres and cycles that treated forms of life whose position in the social order was precarious—the gangster film, the fallen woman cycle, the social problem film—while also examining film styles whose relationship to the Depression may seem more tenuous, such as the musical.

Evaluation: Participation; class presentation; seminar paper.

Required Readings: Course pack including essays by Michael Rogin, Paula Rabinowitz, Robert Warshow, Fran Mason, Thomas Schatz, Henry Jenkins, Richard Maltby, Lary May, Rita Barnard, Michael Denning, Lea Jacobs, Vivian Sobchack, Lawrence Levine, Victoria Sturtevant, Robert Sklar, Danae Clark, Robin Wood, Giorgio Agamben, and others.

Required Films:

  • Little Caesar (Mervyn LeRoy, First National/Warner Bros., 1931)
  • Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, Paramount, 1932)
  • American Madness (Frank Capra, Columbia, 1932)
  • Prosperity (Sam Wood, MGM, 1932)
  • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy, Warner Bros., 1932)
  • Wild Boys of the Road (William A. Wellman, First National/Warner Bros., 1933)
  • Baby Face (Alfred E. Green, Warner Bros., 1933)
  • Gold Diggers of 1933 (Mervyn LeRoy, Warner Bros., 1933)
  • Gabriel Over the White House (Gregory La Cava, MGM, 1933)
  • Stand Up and Cheer! (Hamilton MacFadden, Fox Film, 1934)
  • It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, Columbia, 1934)
  • Our Daily Bread (King Vidor, King W. Vidor Productions/United Artists, 1934)
  • Black Fury (Michael Curtiz, First National/Warner Bros., 1935)
  • My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, Universal, 1936)
  • Modern Times (Charles Chaplin, Charles Chaplin Productions/United Artists, 1936)
  • Fury (Fritz Lang, Loew’s/MGM, 1936)
  • Marked Woman (Lloyd Bacon/Michael Curtiz, Warner Bros./First National, 1937)
  • Black Legion (Archie Mayo, Warner Bros., 1937)
  • Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, Paramount, 1937)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1940)
  • Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, Paramount, 1941)

Format: Seminar, weekly screenings.

ENGL 566 Special Studies in Drama 1

Feminist Theatre and its Theories

Prof. Erin Hurley
Winter Term 2020
R 14:05-16:55

Full course description

Description: Theatre has long been a site of feminist contestation, experimentation, and pleasure. That this performing art takes place (usually) in a shared time and space via live bodies heightens its affective draw, narrative force, and political potentials. This makes theatre an inviting – and also risky – space for feminist-identified theatre workers to produce. What kinds of representations are available to feminist performers, for instance? Following Teresa de Lauretis we might ask, How does a feminist enter representation? What are the conditions of her appearance? How might feminist theatre and its theories alter such conditions? This course investigates feminist responses to and innovations in contemporary North American theatre. Through readings (and/or viewings) of feminist plays/performances and of key texts in feminist dramatic and performance theory, we will consider how feminist theatre -- exemplified for the purposes of this course in select artists, practices, and institutions -- negotiates and reconfigures the gendered power dynamics of dramatic literature, theatrical production, and performance theory.

Evaluation: Participation; seminar presentation; final research paper.


Coursepack may include excerpts from:

  • Kim Solga, Theatre and Feminism
  • Laura Levin, Performing Ground: Space, Camouflage and the Art of Blending In
  • Elin Diamond, Unmaking Mimesis
  • Jill Dolan, The Feminist Spectator as Critic
  • Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: performance and politics
  • Ellen Donkin and Susan Clement, eds. Upstaging Big Daddy: Directing Theatre as if Gender and Race Matter
  • Shelley Scott. Nightwood Theatre: A Woman’s Work is Always Done

Possible Plays/Performances:

  • The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein, How to Become a Cupcake
  • Peggy Shaw, Menopausal Gentleman
  • Marie Clements, The Unnatural and Accidental Women
  • Rebecca Belmore, Vigil
  • Adrian Piper, “My Calling Cards”
  • Adrienne Kennedy, Funnyhouse of a Negro; and A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 15 students

ENGL 586 Cultural Studies: Other Media

Introduction to Literary Text Mining

Prof. Richard Jean So
Fall Term 2019
W 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Description: This course provides hands-on training in the use of computers and statistical methods to analyze literature – an approach also known as “literary text mining.” In the past ten years, computational methods to study culture, particularly literary texts, have increasingly moved out of the margins. We’ve seen the publication of a string of important articles in major literary studies journals, and the release of several new monographs. At the same time, we’ve seen an increase in the number of academic positions advertised in the “digital humanities” and “cultural analytics” in English and literature departments. As research in this sub-field expands and improves, the digital humanities and cultural analytics will continue to grow, making larger and more significant interventions into the discipline.

This course means to prepare graduate students in English and literature to perform applied research in the digital humanities. In this seminar, students will learn how to write computer code in Python – a standard computing language used in data science – and the rudiments of statistical methods useful for a data-driven analysis of literary texts. By the end of the course, students will be able to perform simple to intermediate computational and statistical analysis on literary corpora, such as collocations analysis, most distinctive words analysis, and topic modeling. Most of the core “shallow” methods for text analysis, like simple counting, as well as several “deeper” methods, like vector semantics, will be introduced in a live context. We will leverage the availability of a number of free online corpora – for example, a large collection of English-language novels from 1800 to 1923 – to build case studies.

At the same time, the second half of the class will introduce excellent recent examples of digital humanist and cultural analytics research from scholars such as Ted Underwood, Andrew Piper, Lauren Klein, Michael Gavin, and several others. The purpose of this is two-fold: first, to allow students to be aware of the “cutting edge” in this field – the most interesting work that is currently happening – and have an opportunity to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and second, to allow them to replicate existing examples of DH work from the ground-up. With the instructor’s help, we will often reproduce these arguments to see how they work. This then provides a useful template for students to develop their own ideas.

There are no prerequisites for this class. All that is required is a healthy dose of curiosity, open-mindedness, and willingness to learn. It is particularly aimed at literature students who do not think of themselves as “good at math,” or even imagine themselves as averse to “science.” The class will be challenging to students with no background in quantitative research insofar as it will train them in habits of thought somewhat alien to the humanities, such as mathematical logic and algorithmic thinking. But the course will entirely be taught through a humanistic lens, meaning that the instructor will introduce all methods and concepts through literary studies examples and the logic of familiar approaches like close reading. In other words, the course is not a seminar in “computer science”; it is a seminar in humanistic research that ideally will become useful as part of the student’s literary studies toolkit.

Evaluation (provisional): Weekly problem sets (50%); final project (25%); attendance and participation (25%).

Texts (provisional):

  • Andrew Piper, Enumerations
  • Sarah Allison, Reductive Reading
  • Daniel Shore, Cyberformalism
  • Ted Underwood, Distant Horizons
  • Katherine Bode, A World of Fiction
  • Franco Moretti, Distant Reading

Other texts to be provided on myCourses.

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 15 students

ENGL 587 Theoretical Approaches to Cultural Studies

Archives/Anarchives: Practices of Potential

Prof. Alanna Thain
Fall Term 2019
T 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Description: How do anarchival impulses reanimate the anarchic and anachronistic elements of the archive? In this course, our focus will be on how (an)archival practices of queer, feminist, racialized and indigenous lifeworlds are critical and creative responses to hegemonic conditions of knowledge and power. What are the political, ethical and aesthetic questions and challenges that the archive poses? Who can access the archive? How do we recognize one? How has the digital altered our notions of access, remixing and recirculating the archive? What is the work of materiality in constituting the archive as a site of encounter? This course takes an anarchival approach to archives, through three units: media, body, performance. Attentive to material practices and reading across key texts of contemporary theorizations of the archive, we will explore case studies that address questions of liveness, animacy and agency. In collaboration with the national research project “Archive/Counter-Archive: Activating Canada’s Moving Image Heritage” this course will include a collaborative case study of a local media archive, bringing hands-on experience in reanimating archives through research-creation to the overall course goals.

Evaluation (provisional): Weekly responses (20%); final research project (40%); collaborative case study (30%); participation (10%).

Texts: TBA

Format: Seminar, with site visits and film screenings.

Maximum Enrolment: 15 students

ENGL 607 Middle English

The Poems of the Pearl-Manuscript

Prof. Dorothy Bray
Winter Term 2020
R 11:30-14:30

Full course description

Description: British Library Manuscript Cotton Nero A.x, dating from the mid-fourteenth century, contains the four poems known as Pearl, Cleanness (or Purity), Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – a dream-vision, a homily, a near-allegory, and a chivalric romance. Such disparate genres and subjects, however, do not point to disparate authors: there is sufficient internal evidence from the West Midland dialect of the poems to presume that they were composed by the same person, a near contemporary to Chaucer. The poems reflect the fourteenth-century alliterative revival, as exemplified by William Langland’s Piers Plowman, and like Langland, the poet employs the modes of dream-vision and allegory. Pearl offers the vision of a man grieving for the loss of a child, who is taken on a journey of theological enlightenment; Cleanness carries its theme through a sweep of biblical narrative to emphasize the moral point, while Patience teaches the title virtue by means of exemplar. These three all deal with Christian beliefs and morality from what many see as a clerical point of view, but what of the last piece? Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is ostensibly a secular narrative which takes chivalric romance in a new direction, exploring chivalric ideals in a landscape where such ideals are challenged and the language of ‘courtly love’ proves wanting.

Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are perhaps the best known of the four, and each has attracted a substantial body of scholarship. However, studies of the four poems together are not as plentiful. The aim of this course is to read and analyze each of these poems in their manuscript sequence, to uncover what (if any) literary evidence exists that might allow us to view them in dialogue, in order to interrogate their generic modes and their political, social and religious concerns.

Note: We will read the poems in the original, but the textbook comes with a CD-ROM containing a prose translation by the editors.

Texts: The Poems of the Pearl-Manuscript, ed. Andrew Waldron and Malcolm Andrew. Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies. Liverpool University Press, 2008 (ISBN 9780859897914).

Students are requested to purchase the text online – make sure you get the one with the red pentangle on the cover – as this is easier and less costly.

Evaluation: Essay; seminar presentation; final paper.

Format: Seminar

Average Enrolment: Capped at 15 students.

ENGL 620 Special Studies in Shakespeare

The Birth of Bardolatry: 18th-Century Shakespeare

Prof. Fiona Ritchie
Fall Term 2019
Th 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Description: How did Shakespeare come to occupy his preeminent place in English literature, culture and society? Shakespeare’s fame waned after his death and in 1660 he was a little-known dramatist, but by 1814 a character in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park could declare Shakespeare “part of an Englishman’s constitution” and the idea of Shakespeare’s cultural capital remains strong today. This course will explore how Shakespeare achieved this reputation. It will therefore be relevant to students with interests in:

  • the eighteenth century,
  • Shakespeare and the early modern period,
  • drama and theatre studies,
  • celebrity culture,
  • reception studies,
  • memorialisation,
  • iconicity.

The roots of Bardolatry can be traced to the 18th century, a period in which society became fascinated both by the man and his works and in which Shakespeare was deliberately constructed as a national hero, the archetype of theatrical and literary culture, and the arbiter of all things English. We will examine the phenomenon of Bardolatry in the period 1660-1769 by analysing a variety of texts, including some of the following:

  • adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays which sought to make the works conform to new cultural and aesthetic standards (such as Nahum Tate’s “happy ending” King Lear),
  • editing and criticism of the works which often advanced a separate agenda (including Elizabeth Montagu’s Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear, which mobilised the Bard against the French in the service of English nationalism),
  • discoveries and forgeries of Shakespeare plays (such as Lewis Theobald’s Double Falshood, an adaptation of the lost Shakespeare play, Cardenio),
  • performances of Shakespearean drama which portrayed his characters in line with 18th-century behavioural norms (such as David Garrick’s sentimentalised portrayal of Leontes in The Winter’s Tale as a “man of feeling”),
  • representations of Shakespeare in visual culture (including paintings, sculptures and souvenirs of the man, his works, and the actors who performed his characters),
  • social groups who promoted appreciation of Shakespeare (such as the Shakespeare Ladies Club, a group of women who petitioned theatre managers to stage more Shakespeare plays),
  • cultural events which popularised the Bard (including the most (in)famous event of 18th-century Bardolatry, David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee).

Evaluation (tentative): Participation (15%); research presentation (25%); paper proposal and annotated bibliography (10%); paper (50%).

Texts (provisional):

The texts studied will be supplied in a course pack available for purchase from the McGill University Bookstore.

We will also be studying several of Shakespeare’s plays, therefore a good edition of the complete works (e.g. Oxford, Norton, Riverside) or of the individual plays (e.g. Arden, Cambridge, Oxford, Penguin) is recommended.

We will make good use of the essays and resources in Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Fiona Ritchie and Peter Sabor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Format: Discussion seminar, possibly some performance work with adaptations.

Maximum Enrolment: 15 students

ENGL 661 Seminar in Special Studies

The Global Cold War

Prof. Monica Popescu
Fall Term 2019
W 11:30-14:30

Full course description

Description: In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, marking the end of a period that involved not only the USA and the USSR, but engulfed the entire world. Following the most recent research in the field, we will discuss literary works and films from Britain, the USA, and Anglophone (post)colonial nations that present the Cold War as a world-wide conflagration, which involved both superpowers from the Northern hemisphere and nations from the global South. What scientific and technological developments fueled the arms race and how were they represented in fiction? What literary genres emerged as a result of the competition between East and West? What forms of masculinity and femininity were forged by Cold War cultures? How does the East that constitutes the object of Cold War studies compare to the East discussed in postcolonial criticism? These questions will constitute the starting point for our exploration of literary representations of espionage and intrigue, the nuclear threat, the space race, new forms of imperialism, the Bandung Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement, African socialism, utopian and dystopian societies. Along with films and literary works, we will read essays by Jacques Derrida, Jean Franco, Timothy Brennan, Ann Douglas, Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, etc.

Evaluation (tentative): Presentation (20%); short paper on theoretical text (20%), final essay (45%); participation (15%).

Literary Texts (provisional list)

  • Graham Greene, The Quiet American
  • Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Devil on the Cross
  • Mark Behr, The Smell of Apples
  • Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban
  • Richard Wright, The Color Curtain

Films (provisional list):

  • Dr. Strangelove, Dir. Stanley Kubrik
  • The Manchurian Candidate, Dir. John Frankenheimer
  • The Hero, Dir. Zeze Gamboa
  • Apocalypse Now Redux, Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
  • Double Take, Dir. Johan Grimonprez

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 12 students

ENGL 662 Seminar of Special Studies

Ekphrasis: Poetry and Painting

Prof. Robert Lecker
Winter Term 2020
T 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Description: Ekphrasis is the term used to describe literary works that are based on visual art. Ekphrastic texts have a dynamic relationship with their visual source. As Ruth Webb observes, ekphrasis is “a form of vivid evocation that may have as its subject-matter anything – an action, a person, a place, a battle, even a crocodile. What distinguishes ekphrasis is its quality of vividness, enargeia.” Ekphrastic relationships encourage us to interrogate their visual sources and to question our own process of interpreting those sources. Ekphrasis can help us understand painting, and painting can help us understand poems. The course focuses on a series of provocative paintings in order to explore a wide range of visual and verbal forms of creativity, with an emphasis on nineteenth and twentieth-century works. As indicated below, the paintings to be considered include those produced by canonized artists such as Breughel, Cezanne, Dürer, Klimt, Rousseau, and Van Gogh, along with poems by Blake, Browning, Carson, Ginsberg, Keats, Ondaatje, Sexton, Tennyson, and Whitman, to name a few. At the same time, the course will introduce students to a range of contemporary works by new artists and writers who challenge conventional ekphrastic boundaries. Students will learn how to explore paintings and how to approach poems based on those paintings. The method of study will be collaborative, with equal time given to visual and written texts. A tentative description of each weekly class follows:

  1. Desiring ekphrasis: Introduction to ekphrastic models, with poems by Robert Browning and John Keats that imagine non-existent paintings. What is the nature of ekphrastic desire?
  2. Animals with human faces: We enter the animal world through engravings by William Blake and paintings by Henri Rousseau and Albrecht Dürer, along with poems by Kathleen Jamie and David Zieroth.
  3. Water worlds: Dive into ekphrasis with Katsushika Hokusai, Paul Cézanne, Allen Ginsberg, and others. How does the fluidity of water find its way into poetic form?
  4. Bodies and embodiment: Destabilizing conventional conceptions of the body and the traditionally canonized representation of humans over time including Juan Carreno de Miranda’s La Monstra Desnuda and Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. With poems by X.J Kennedy, Mary Meriam, and Lorette Collins Klobah.
  5. Representing the male body: The presence of the male body as captured through painting and poetry, from Jean François Millet’s L’Homme à la Houe and Thomas Eakins’ The Swimming Hole, to a screenshot of Sayo Yamamoto’s Yuri!!! On Ice. With poems by Edwin Markham, Ethan Leonard, and Walt Whitman.
  6. Representing the female body: Female poets Anne Carson, Margaret Atwood, and Lisel Mueller challenge the painterly male gaze in canvases by Edward Hopper, Edouard Manet, and Paul Delvaux. How do these female poets re-appropriate names (“mermaid,” “prostitute,” “nun,” “slut”) and spaces?
  7. Pre-Raphaelite passion: Spend a week in the nineteenth century with Alfred Lord Tennyson, some pre-Raphaelite painters (John William Waterhouse, John Everett Millais) and their muses. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood often depicted women and experimented with new forms of expressing passion and sensation. How do they challenge the established artistic systems of authority? How do they depict femininity?
  8. Dreams and a kiss: For every painting this week, there are two poems. How does the poetic dialogue between these poems allow us to experience Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Rousseau, Gustav Klimt, and their works? With poems by Anne Sexton, Charles Simic, and Michael Ondaatje.
  9. Scandalous bodies: An exploration of sexual taboos (rape, incest, exhibitionism) in the paintings of Balthus and the poetry of Stephen Dobyns, who is often obsessed with Balthus.
  10. Death by art: Whether it’s a beheading or losing wax wings to the sun, Renaissance painters bear witness to the tragic. Artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Pieter Breughel – along with Shelley, W.H. Auden, and e.e. cummings – re-imagine depictions of violent death.
  11. The face of war: Great war scenes as painted by Goya, Stanley Spencer, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali. With poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Billy Howell-Sinnard, and Sandra Sneed. How do these ekphrastic conversations alter our perception of conflict and open a dialogue about war, with its expectations and inevitable casualties?
  12. Who do you think you are? The art of self-representation through portraits such as Andy Warhol’s Self Portrait, Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, and Winold Reiss’ Langston Hughes. Can paintings and poems modify our conception of identity? With poems by Adrian Clarke, Barbara Crooker, and Winold Reiss.
  13. “Camera Lucida”: In the final week, students will be asked to apply their knowledge of ekphrastic art to photographs by Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, Grete Stern, and Nick Ut. How do poets grapple with controversial images? What does the shift from painting to photo entail?

Evaluation: Short papers; class presentation; class participation.

Texts: TBA

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 12 students

ENGL 690 Seminar of Special Studies

Modernism out of the Archives

Prof. Miranda Hickman​
Winter Term 2020
M 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Description: As a field, Modernist Studies, focused on early twentieth-century experimental writing, has changed shape significantly over the past thirty years, in part due to the major wave of archival work of these decades—a kind of “archive fever”—which considerably expanded and diversified understandings of what was associated with “modernist literature.” As Ronald Schuchard suggested at the turn of the twenty-first century, there was no more exciting time to be working in the area—as new concepts of modernism stepped out of the archives: a wealth of hitherto unpublished material became more widely accessible, destabilizing received conceptions of both what counted as modernist and what “Modernism” stood for. This new availability took various forms: as a moment of heightened canon debates, these years saw a wealth of intentional efforts to recover from the cultural archive many writers and texts once integrally part of early twentieth-century modernist culture, yet generally erased by the later academic consensus about the range and definition of “modernism.” Moreover, surfacing from the archives was a trove of material from “grey canons”: contextual material such as relevant manuscripts, letters, and historical records, which contributed considerably to revising (as Adrienne Rich puts this, “re-visioning”) how commentators were interpreting modernism’s inherited texts.

Now that this first wave of modernist archival work is just past, how might it be used to reassess what “modernist literature” entails—and reread it newly? How might we draw on material from the cultural archive to intervene in received narratives about both modernist literature and the early twentieth-century modernist cultures from which it emerged? How might the idea of the “cultural archive” be used more broadly, in a Benjaminian sense, to read modernist novels and poems themselves as “archives” of thought and feeling? This course reflects on what Joycean Robert Spoo calls “our new riches” from the modernist archives, considering now these might help to “make new” our concepts of modernism—and read experimental modernist texts with fresh eyes.

Evaluation (provisional): Brief essay (25%); oral presentation (20%); longer essay (40%); participation (15%).

Texts: Texts will include work by W.H. Auden, Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, James Joyce, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Muriel Rukeyser, and Virginia Woolf.

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 12 students

ENGL 714 Early Modern Epic

Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Milton’s Paradise Lost

Prof. Kenneth Borris
Fall Term 2019
Time TBA

Full course description

Description: A forum for inquiry into The Faerie Queene (reading Books III, IV, and VI) and Paradise Lost, with about half the course devoted to each of Spenser and Milton. The central topics of those highly complementary parts of The Faerie Queene are, respectively, love, friendship, and courtesy. For each text, initial sessions will introduce its literary, socio-political, and intellectual contexts, and effective methods of original primary research. These discussions will emphasize current issues in Spenser and Milton studies while also providing a toolbox of techniques for devising and supporting original interventions. According to their own particular interests, seminar members will determine their own topics for seminar presentations and hence related discussions, as well as discussion topics in the final period. Insofar as possible, presentations will be grouped in a series of informal “conference sessions” on related matters according to a schedule that we will consultatively establish (bearing in minds the diverse commitments of seminar members) at the start of the course. This format aims to establish a diverse, open, and responsive seminar.

Evaluation: Two seminar presentations (45% each), one on Spenser and the other on Milton; seminar attendance and participation (10%).

Texts (provisional): I recommend the Longman Faerie Queene and Paradise Lost, and there is a Course Reader, all available at the Word Bookstore.

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 12 students

ENGL 716 Shakespeare

Performing the World: Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Prof. Paul Yachnin
Fall Term 2019
F 11:35-14:25

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 near-contemporaries (Sidney and Spenser especially) and predecessors (especially Petrarch). 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.

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


  • The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems, ed. Colin Burrow (2008).
  • Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime; The Portrait of Mr. W. H., and Other Stories (Methuen, nd).

Both books available at Paragraph Books.
Other texts will be provided in electronic form.

In addition, there are excellent online collections of major sonnet sequences:

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 12 students

ENGLISH 731 The Nineteenth-Century Novel

Realism and Parody

Prof. Tabitha Sparks
Winter Term 2020
Time TBA

Full course description

Description: The realistic novel of the 19th C is often used to exemplify the apex of the novel’s mimetic project. But from the beginning of the century, realistic novels used parodic elements to heighten, not undermine, their representational authority. In this class we will read novels that evince realism and parody as mutually reinforcing techniques, challenging the idea that nineteenth-century British novelists use ‘realism’ to elevate the seriousness of their art at the expense of humor, irony, and experimentalism. Many of the novels we will read, furthermore, comment on the practice of writing novels and the stakes involved in various realisms. We will consider a variety of critical approaches to realism, from the 19th C to the present day, and class time will include student presentations and discussion of the students’ final papers.

Evaluation: Presentation (20%); informal participation (10%); abstract (10%); long essay (60%).

Required TextsAvailable at the University Bookstore and online (book list is subject to change)

  • Edgeworth, Maria. Castle Rackrent (1800)
  • Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey (1817)
  • Thackeray, W.M. Vanity Fair (1847-8)
  • Trollope, Anthony. Can You Forgive Her? (1864)
  • Riddell, Charlotte. A Struggle for Fame (1883)
  • Gissing, George. New Grub Street (1891)

Additional critical texts to be read via McGill’s online databases.

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 12 students 

ENGL 734 Studies in Fiction

Nineteenth-Century Austen

Prof. Peter Sabor
Fall Term 2019
W 11:35-14:25

Full course description

Description: This seminar will undertake a close study of the novels of Jane Austen (1775-1817), concentrating on those that she wrote in the early nineteenth century. Austen wrote drafts of her first three novels – Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey – in the late 1790s, and they respond, often satirically, to Richardsonian, sentimental, and Gothic fiction. Numerous critics have focused on Austen in her eighteenth-century context; this course will focus, instead, on Austen in her later years. We will begin with two anomalies: Austen’s only novella, “Lady Susan,” probably written in the 1790s but copied in c. 1804 and the first of her two aborted novels, “The Watsons” (c. 1805). We will next study her last four published novels, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (these two appearing together as a four-volume set shortly after her death), as well as “Sanditon,” which she was writing but could not complete at the end of her life. We will also study Austen’s little-known manuscripts “Opinions of Mansfield Park,” “Opinions of Emma,” and “Plan of a Novel.” Particular attention will be paid to Austen’s own commentary on the art of fiction, both within her novels and in her letters.

Evaluation: Participation (20%); seminar presentation (30%); term paper (50%).


  • Emma, ed. George Justice, Norton
  • Mansfield Park, ed. Claudia Johnson, Norton
  • Manuscript Works, ed. Linda Bree, Peter Sabor and Janet Todd, Broadview
  • Northanger Abbey, ed. Claire Grogan, Broadview
  • Persuasion, ed. Linda Bree, Broadview
  • Selected Letters, ed. Vivien Jones, Oxford World’s Classics

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 12 students

ENGL 757 Modern Drama

Contemporary English and Irish Theatre

Prof. Sean Carney
Fall Term 2019
T 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Description: The recent Brexit vote in June 2016 has turned the world’s eyes towards the United Kingdom and raised pressing questions about British cultural identity and the relationship of “Britishness” to the history of immigration to England. This course is concerned with representative plays by both established playwrights and the new generation of young dramatists in the United Kingdom. Our particular focus will be the representation of cultural and ethnic diversity in post-Imperial England. Special attention will also be paid to the “In-Yer-Face” moment of theatre in the mid-1990s (Kane, Ravenhill) as an unorthodox response to the “state-of-the-nation” play and the aftereffects of this theatrical moment on the contemporary UK theatre scene. We will consider a variety of different dramatic responses to the transformations of British identity in the face of various significant historical events. Examples of such events include the de-colonization of India, the decline of the British Empire, the increased waves of commonwealth immigration to the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, the Irish Troubles of the 1970s, the dismantling of the Soviet Union following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the siege of Sarajevo and the war in Bosnia, the changing face of terrorism in the post 9/11 and 7/7 era, the financial crisis of 2007-08, globalization, the out-sourcing of labor to India and the growth of transnational capitalism, the “special relationship” between George W. Bush Jr. and Tony Blair, the international proliferation of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, and most recently the (pending) exit of the UK from the European Union.

Evaluation (tentative):
Seminar presentation with accompanying written component (20%)
Two ten page essays (30% each)
Class participation (20%)

Texts to be chosen from (tentative):

  • Caryl Churchill, Cloud Nine
  • Brian Friel, Translations
  • David Edgar, Destiny
  • David Edgar, Pentecost
  • Sarah Kane, Blasted
  • David Edgar, Testing the Echo
  • Ayub Khan-Din, East is East
  • Sebastian Barry, The Steward of Christendom
  • Robin Soans, Talking to Terrorists
  • Richard Bean, England People Very Nice
  • Mark Ravenhill, Product, Some Explicit Polaroids
  • Caryl Churchill, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You
  • Anupama Chandrasekhar, Disconnect
  • Jez Butterworth, Jerusalem
  • debbie tucker green, Truth and Reconciliation
  • Phil Davies, Firebird
  • Rory Mullarkey, The Wolf from the Door
  • Caryl Churchill, Escaped Alone
  • Mike Bartlett, Albion
  • Alistair McDowell, Pomona

Format: Seminar

Maximum Enrolment: 12 students

ENGL 776 Film Studies 

Ecology of Film

Prof. Ned Schantz
Winter Term 2020
W 11:30-14:30

Full course description

Description: This course will consider film’s fundamental representational and transformational capacities from a broad ecological perspective—which is to say, in terms of the sustainable flourishing of life in any number of environments, including the unforgiving terrains of cities, suburbs, highways, deserts, and oceans. Our concern will be to understand film ecologies socially, which means in terms of their principles of association, of how human and nonhuman members come into relationship. The course will therefore be as much about cinematic form as about “green” themes, considering how cinema itself produces environments in specific relational terms. In short, the premise of this class is that film inevitably is social theory (whether implicit or explicit), and the procedure of this class will be to put film and film theory in conversation with other social theory, including Critical Space Theory, Ecofeminism, Animal Studies, and Actor-Network Theory. Possible films include The Gleaners and I, Los Angeles Plays Itself, Leviathan, The Turin Horse, Under the Skin.

Evaluation: Weekly film journals (60%); presentations (10%); participation (30%).

Texts (provisional):

  • John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds
  • Hugh Raffles, Insectopedia
  • Michel Serres, The Natural Contract
    and a coursepack

Format: Lecture/discussions and weekly conferences

Maximum Enrolment: 12 students

ENGL 778 Studies in Visual Culture

I & Thou: Portraiture & Autobiography in Experimental Film and Fiction

Prof. Ara Osterweil
Fall Term 2019
R 11:35-14:25

Full course description

Description: This course is a hybrid seminar/ artistic workshop that invites students to create their own non-conventional portraits and self-portraits in response to a wide range of literary and cinematic texts. The focus of the seminar is on experimental novels, poetry collections, and films that challenge conventional understandings of autobiography and portraiture. We examine these texts in order to explore the ways in which the boundaries between subject and object, and self and other collapse in poetic investigations of the thoroughly relational nature of subjectivity. Beginning with two foundational texts that explore charged forms of intimacy and inter-subjectivity--Gertrude Stein’s “novel” about her lover’s life, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and Martin Buber’s philosophical inquiry I and Thou--this course explores fictional autobiographies in which the author masquerades as their subject; portraits that intentionally depersonalize or otherwise objectify their subjects; and self-portraits which rely upon the construction of intertextual surrogates a way of exploring the porous boundaries between reality and fiction. In response to these texts, students will be asked to experiment with multimedia formats to create their own experimental portraits and self-portraits. While artistic background or demonstrable talent is not required for admission into the course, a desire to experiment with both literary and cinematic form is both necessary and highly encouraged.

Evaluation (provisional):
Participation (15%)
Creative exercises (15%)
Experimental portrait or self/ portrait (30%)
Final creative audiovisual project (40%)

Texts (provisional):

  • Martin Buber, I and Thou
  • Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice Toklas
  • Sylvia Plath, Ariel
  • Sina Queyras, My Ariel
  • Maggie Nelson, Jane
  • Sigmund Freud, Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis
  • Rachel Cusk, Outline
  • Anne Carson, The Autobiography of Red
  • Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
  • Ara Osterweil, “Between Her Body and The Stain”

Films (provisional):

  • Maya Deren, Meshes of the Afternoon
  • Andy Warhol, selected Screen Tests
  • Jonas Mekas, Lost, Lost, Lost, & As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty
  • George Kuchar, Hold Me While I’m Naked and selected Weather Diaries
  • Jim McBride, David Holzman’s Diary
  • Su Friedrich, The Ties That Bind & Sink or Swim
  • Carolee Schneemann, Kitch’s Last Meal
  • Marielle Nitoslawska, Breaking the Frame
  • Michelle Citron, Daughter Rite
  • Greg Bordowitz, Fast Trip, Long Drop
  • Jonathan Caouette, Tarnation
  • Sarah Polley, The Stories We Tell
  • Chantal Akerman, No Home Movie

Format: Seminar, workshop

Maximum Enrolment: 12 students

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