Course Description Roundup: 2021/22

Dr. Gisèle M. Baxter

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This is a list of the courses I’ll be teaching in 2021-22, with brief descriptions and text lists. I’ll create individual posts for each of these courses later this summer. All my Term 1 courses are MWF; all my Term 2 courses are TTh.

ENGL 100/003: Reading and Writing About Literature: Haunted Houses

Term 1 | MWF 11:00-12:00p

“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.” – The Devil’s Backbone (dir. Guillermo Del Toro)

Where is the fascination, even when the deepest mysteries of the universe are being scientifically unlocked, in stories of haunted houses? What accounts for the lure, and even the enjoyment, of tales of terror and horror, even in the 21st century? This course examines the Gothic influence in texts where collisions of past and present, and implications of the uncanny, allow fascinating investigations of social codes and their transgression.

Core texts include Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca; Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House; Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger; Helen Oyeyemi, White is for Witching; and Crimson Peak (dir. Guillermo Del Toro), as well as Gardner and Diaz, Reading and Writing About Literature (5th edition). Through readings in current criticism and theory, we will develop strategies for textual analysis in literary and cultural studies. We will also consider the difficulty, if not impossibility, of reaching a “fixed” or consensus reading of any text.

Evaluation will be based on two short essays, a term paper requiring secondary academic research, a final examination, and participation in discussion.

ENGL 110/036: Approaches to Literature: Literary Monsters and Monstrous Literature

Term 2 | TTh 2:00-3:30p

Rey: “You are a monster.”
Kylo Ren: “Yes, I am.”
– Star Wars: The Last Jedi

“Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world” – Richard III 1.i

What is a monster? We know monsters from myths and legends, folktales, horror fiction and film. We know their variety: the grotesque, the beautiful, the terrifying, the pitiable, the sports of nature and the forces of evil. Dragons, werewolves, vampires, zombies, Frankenstein’s Creature, Dorian Gray, the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, Marisa Coulter, many of the characters in The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones: they’re everywhere, from under the bed to the house next door to the battlefield, and right into a great deal of literature. Which leaves us here: in this section of 110 we’ll focus on how literary texts across the genres use representations of monstrosity in ways that inspire both terror and horror, as well as (let’s be honest) fascination and even enjoyment.

We’ll look at William Shakespeare’s Richard III (a play that meditates on villainy and ambition in demonizing its subject for Tudor audiences, yet still fascinates contemporary ones). In doing so, we’ll consider various film and stage adaptations, including Ian McKellen’s 1995 film, which shifts the setting to an alternate-reality 1930s England where fascism takes hold, and more recent adaptations using race and gender-diverse casting, and casting as Richard actors who are themselves physically disabled or disfigured. Other core texts include Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Angela Carter’s short story “The Lady of the House of Love”, possibly another short story or novella, and selected poetry (with a focus on the sonnet form).

Evaluation will be based on two short timed essays, a home paper, and a final exam, plus participation in discussion.

ENGL 243/002: Speculative Fiction: Commodified Populations; Posthuman Dystopias

Term 2 | TTh 12:30-2p

“We make Angels. In the service of Civilization. There were bad angels once … I make good angels now.” – Niander Wallace, Blade Runner 2049

The near-future and alternate-reality landscapes of science fiction are often terrifying places, and have been since Gothic and dystopian impulses intersected in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shelley’s landmark tale evokes dread in the implications of Victor’s generation of a humanoid Creature; this dread echoes in more recent products or accidents of science: clones, robots and replicants, artificial intelligences, cyborgs. Such texts raise issues of gendered exploitation, consciousness and rights, research ethics, and fear, in the realization that these creatures are, ultimately, not human but posthuman, yet often more sympathetic than their makers. However, despite their apparent superiority, such humanoids tend to be defined as commodities. In this course, we will consider the posthuman element of dystopian speculations reflecting on the present and recent past, especially concerning threats of mass surveillance, profit-motivated technology, environmental crisis, and redefinitions of human identity. Core texts tentatively include William Gibson, Neuromancer; Lauren Beukes, Moxyland; Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski, The Matrix: Shooting Script; Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go; Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve); and possibly District 9 (dir. Neill Blomkamp).

Evaluation will be based on a midterm essay, a term paper, a final exam, and participation in discussion.

ENGL 301/001: Technical Writing

Term 2 | TTh 9:30-11a

Now with added grammar! While 301 is not a course in remedial grammar, this section will provide online Canvas-based writing resources and a series of workshops, designed to help identify writing and proofreading problems, and to provide strategies to address them.

English 301: Technical Writing examines the rhetorical genre of professional and technical communication, especially online, through analysis and application of its principles and practices. You will produce a formal report, investigating resources and/or concerns in a real-life community, as a major project involving a series of linked assignments. This project will involve the study (and possibly practical application) of research ethics where human subjects are involved (e.g. in conducting surveys or interviews).

Think of this course as an extended report-writing Boot Camp: intensive, useful preparation for the last phase of your undergraduate degree, as you start applying to professional and graduate programs, and for the years beyond of work and community involvement. Technical Writing is closed to first- and second-year students in Arts, and cannot be used for credit towards the English Major or Minor.

The course text will be Lannon et al, Technical Communications, 8th Canadian Edition, Pearson, 2020.

Please note that this is a blended course, and will require both participation in synchronous lectures and workshops as well as asynchronous independent work of the sort done in a conventional online course (e.g. Canvas-based textbook exercises and peer feedback on drafts).

ENGL 365/001: Modernist Literature: Haunted Landscapes of Gothic Modernism

Term 1 | MWF 2:00-3:00p

“in the middle of my party, here’s death, she thought” – Mrs. Dalloway

Modernism was born out of seismic, revolutionary shifts in society and culture. World wars, political revolutions in Europe and beyond, murderous civil and colonial/imperial wars, economic depression, and successive waves of technological modernization offering mixed psychological and social benefits and injuries laid siege to assumptions that the world was in any way well-ordered or reliably understood. Its literature both reflects conscious innovation and experiment and sometimes opposes these passions for change. Its obsessions respond in complex ways to those seismic shifts in its representations of gender and sexuality, social structures, race and culture, in all cases often in terms of transgression.

And yet, in its drive to make things new, Modernist literature is often a haunted place: spectres of ancestry, of war, of places escaped from collide with the present moment, creating a dark, Gothic modernity. This troubled place will be our focus in the darkening days of autumn.

Core texts tentatively include Henry James, The Turn of the Screw; Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison; D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love; Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway;  short fiction by James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield.

Evaluation will be based on a midterm essay, a term paper requiring secondary academic research, a final exam, and participation in discussion.

ENGL 392/002: Children’s Literature: Something in the Shadows is Watching

Term 1 | MWF 12:00-1:00p

“You are always in danger in the forest, where no people are.” Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves”

From The Turn of the Screw to The Others, creepy children frequently haunt Gothic texts. But what of Gothic texts assuming a young audience? Children’s/YA literature so often focuses on successful (or not so successful) negotiation of threats and learning opportunities in the intimate and public worlds around the child that “children’s” tales are often scarier than adult fiction.

In this section, we will study a variety of texts through a literary/cultural studies lens, exploring their (sometimes) evolving genre features. We’ll start with familiar (and not-so-familiar) oral-tradition folk/fairytales, to consider how their recurring devices establish tropes still frequently recurring. Then we will stray from the path and consider how a selection of novels might challenge or subvert perceived boundaries and conventions, especially in engaging with Gothic themes and motifs, ending with a graphic novel examining adolescent engagement with Goth culture. Core texts tentatively include Folk and Fairy Tales (Broadview, 5th ed.); Alan Garner, The Owl Service; Francesca Lia Block, The Rose and The Beast; Neil Gaiman, Coraline; and Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, Skim.

Evaluation will be based on a midterm essay, a term paper requiring secondary academic research, a final exam, and participation in discussion.

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