ENG 506: Computers and the Study of English (Syllabus PDF)

English Studies in the Late Age of Print

This course provides a cultural study of technology in English Studies with a particular emphasis on contemporary non-print media. While the course provides some basic instruction into the production of web-based media and addresses the incorporation of computer technology into the classroom, these goals are secondary to developing a critical understanding of information technology’s relationship to our discipline.

English Studies has long entertained an ambivalent relationship with technology. While the modern concept of a reading public and the educational goal of general literacy are clearly predicated upon industrial modes of print publication, literary studies has typically viewed literature as a humanistic counterpoint to industrialization. Similarly, while we often read literature for its critique of industry and its concern for the individual in the face of society, the fundamental product of literacy education has been literate workers and managers for factories and commerce. The seeming contradiction in English Studies, in which apparent critiques of technoculture fit into an educational project that fundamentally serves dominant class interests, provides an entry point into our discussion of the relations between technologies, our discipline, and the texts and textual practices our discipline studies.

This course will have four primary parts. The first part provides some general philosophical and disciplinary background. Jay Bolter’s Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print provides critical methodology and historical context for understanding the transformation of writing practices in relation to their media. We will also read Plato’s Phaedrus as an important example of the concerns raised about new technologies (the new technology at stake for Plato is writing). In the second part we will look at the development of new media theory, aesthetics, and artistic practice. As new media is obviously a combination of various media and technology, our text The New Media Reader collects works, statements, and analyses from computer scientists, philosophers, artists, writers, and others. Part three addresses the integration of these issues into the English Studies classroom. The essay collection Writing New Media presents both theory and practices for achieving this integration. In the final part of the course, we will look into the experimental future of new media in relation to textual production through Rhythm Science by Paul D. Miller (better known as DJ Spooky, a.k.a. that subliminal kid).

Our intellectual task spanning the semester will be the development of a theory of literary production and consumption that incorporates cultural-material-technological contexts and can serve as a foundation for exploring the evolution of literacy pedagogy in the twenty-first century. We will undertake this task through a serious of new media productions including blogs, multimedia presentations, and web-based “texts.” Instruction in the use of these technologies will be included in the course; no prior specific experience with new media production is required, but a general familiarity with computers is expected.

ENG 672: Seminar in Literary Criticism (Syllabus PDF)

Literary Theory and the Future of English Studies

ENG 672 is the capstone course in our M.A. program, but it is open to all of our graduate students as an elective. This course builds upon your experiences with literary theory and interpretive methodology in the literature courses you have taken here. The course seeks to deepen your understanding of primary areas of contemporary literary theory (e.g. Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, postcolonialism, postmodernism, etc.) through a direct engagement with primary theoretical texts. Though a course in literary theory could go back at least as far as Aristotle’s Poetics, this course articulates a history that roughly follows that of modern literary studies, beginning in the nineteenth century with Marx and Nietzsche. The course then tracks the development of theory through the period of modernism, the structuralist theories of the fifties and sixties, post-structuralist theories of the late sixties and seventies, and into the postmodern and cultural studies methods current to the discipline.

As we cover this material (collected in our anthology), we will have two main purposes. First, and most practically, we will be giving thought to the task of the Master’s Thesis. Your engagement with and employment of contemporary literary-critical methodologies will be the foundation of producing a successful thesis. An M.A. marks an individual as a professional in a field, and in our field, like most others, that professionalism is demonstrated through an understanding and skill with professional methods. After all, any college student can read a novel or poem; what separates an English Studies graduate student is his/her ability to employ professional, disciplinary methods in that act of reading, with the result hopefully being a contribution to the ongoing intellectual work of our discipline.

This leads to our second purpose: investigating the nature of that ongoing intellectual work, its potential future, and the role theory will play in that future. Contemporary theory has provided extensive analysis of the cultural/ideological function of literature and its academic study. It has also provided radical new theories of language and text in relation to the conscious and unconscious, as well as the body. These theories will serve as a basis for this investigation.

To this end, during the semester you will write two response papers deploying methods we have discussed in the analysis of a text of your choosing. Your final project will require you to select a particular method of interest to you to research. You will then employ this method in a reading of texts of your choosing in an attempt to understand what role those texts play in our discipline and might play in the future. Hopefully, this final project will serve as a starting point for your Master’s Thesis.