Fall 2021 Courses: Senior Seminars

ENG 4973.003 Senior Seminar: Medieval and Modern Drama

Instructor: Dr. Kimberly Fonzo
Class Time: W, 1:00-3:45 p.m.
Class Location: TBA

Course Description
This course simultaneously introduces students to two different traditions of plays—those of medieval England and those of modern America. Approaching these plays comparatively, students in this course consider a number of questions: What is the function of drama, and how much has it changed over time? What (beyond the obvious) makes scripted performance different from the written word? What makes it different from film? How do those differences affect the goals of playwrights and actors? How do ethics function differently in religious and secular drama? Is there any commonality between how medieval and modern plays attempt to influence their audiences? Do we turn to the theatre for the same reasons that medieval people did? How do the material differences of staging, props, and costumes across periods affect the messages of plays? Is there still a place for medieval plays in the modern world? How have medieval performances influenced the theatrical traditions that followed them? The class reads new medieval and modern plays every week. Students write one long comparative paper and one performance concept. Students also perform one graded scene for their classmates. We read the medieval plays in modernized Middle and Early Modern English. No prior knowledge of the language or religious traditions is required or assumed.

ENGLISH 4973 004: Senior Seminar: Modern World Jewish Literature

Instructor: Dr. Steven G. Kellman
Class Time: TR, 1:00-3:45
Class Location: MH 3.03.12

Course Description

What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself. --Franz Kafka Of making books there is no end. --Ecclesiastes

Dubbed (by the Qur’an) “People of the Book,” Jews were authors of the most influential of all books, the Bible. And they have been prolific in creating additional books during the past three millennia. Scattered throughout the globe, Diaspora Jews have been major figures in Arabic, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish literatures, as well as of course in Aramaic, Hebrew, Ladino, and Yiddish. Sixteen Jews have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, far out of proportion to their percentage in the general population.

By its very nature, the study of Jewish literature is a project of Comparative Literature, the interdisciplinary enterprise that transcends the narrow boundaries of nationality and language. A scholar of Jewish literature must approach the subject with ardent curiosity about the literatures of several countries and languages and about history, theology, and sociology.

Though Jewish authors have also excelled in poetry, drama, and nonfiction, English 4973, a senior seminar, will focus on fiction – short and long – of the past 150 years written throughout the world by authors identified as Jewish. But what exactly is a Jew, and what is Jewish literature? Is it a matter of ethnicity? Religion? Race? Culture? History? What, if anything, does a secular Brazilian author have in common with a Soviet socialist and a religious Israeli? These are among the tantalizing questions confronting us as we study and savor some fascinating fictions of the modern and postmodern eras. Authors to be studied, with close, Talmudic intensity, include: Sholem Aleichem; Franz Kafka; Isaac Babel; S.Y. Agnon; Bernard Malamud; Cynthia Ozick; Philip Roth; and Clarice Lispector.

ENG 4973.001 Senior Seminar: Reading Faulkner Post-Black Lives Matter

Instructor: Dr. Jeanne C. Reesman
Class Time: M, 1:00-2:45
Class Location: TBA

Course Description
We will explore a variety of contexts—historical, biographical, psychological, political, gender studies, disability studies, and of course literary criticism--work on Faulkner in race, class, regionalism, and other cultural studies fields such as postcolonial theory. Faulkner’s novels brought him the Nobel Prize. But the more one learns about him, the more a mystery he becomes. Don’t let that stop you! Paraphrasing what William Dean Howells said of Henry James, you must come to his ground, because he will not come to yours. It takes time and patience to start to get him, but once you get into Faulkner, it is hard to leave.

This Faulkner Senior Seminar is a study of some short stories but mostly major novels of William Faulkner, focusing on his method of telling a story, or “narratology,” and his experimental modernist choices and discoveries in prose with narrators, especially multiple narrators, embedded narrators, “unreliable” narrators, a-chronology, regional voices, lack of conclusion to sentences or novels, stream-of-consciousness, ambiguity. A brilliant if withdrawn young man thought to be feckless and lazy from a small town in Mississippi was dazzled by the international modernist movements his New Orleans friends first showed him in the arts such as Cubism, the Symbolist poets, writers like Dostoevsky, whom he greatly admired. Next came Paris. Later came the neo-realistic developments in Hollywood film of the 50s. He read the other modernists; his copy of Joyce’s Ulysses in his personal library is closely annotated in his tiny inked passages. Primarily he was haunted by the endless existential presence of the cruel Past, and he, like Hemingway, wrote in the various voices of a tragic present. He once said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”* This course offers a re-examination, as must happen, of probably the greatest American novelist and provocateur of racial justice. Yet he is mostly not read for that at all, but often to confirm pre-existing prejudices against his progressive, but now out-dated racial constructions.

But Faulkner is most remembered for his unflinching portrait of Jim Crow Mississippi and the legacy of slavery upon his “Yoknapatawpha County” characters. Often called the greatest of American novelists, Faulkner portrayed unforgettable characters upon the sin- and blood-soaked soil of the South, issues of regional, national, and global importance such as race and racism, as well as haunting private instances of what he called “the human heart in conflict with itself.” We will read the works closely and background materials, as well as try to see Faulkner in the contexts of recent critical and theoretical perspectives in particular those developed and developing inspired by Black Lives Matter. . Despite the fact that he wrote nearly 100 years ago as a white man in Mississippi, Faulkner is one of our greatest accusers of slavery and its racist descendants in Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the “New South,” as his sense of the doom this American Original Sin brought upon the South and the nation is only relaxed for a bit of hope in one of his last novels, Go Down, Moses. We will end on a more hopeful note, reading John Lewis’s Across That Bridge: A Vision of Change for a Future America (2007).

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