ENGLISH 831 - Seminar: The Study of Genre
Section: 001 Genre and American Fiction
Term: FA 2018
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
Advisory Prerequisites:
Graduate standing in English, Women's Studies, or English and Education Program. Permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

This seminar is centered on the question, “how do we think about kinds?” It’s difficult to think or talk about anything without some kind of notion about what kind of thing it is, because that’s how we know what kind of conversation we should have about it. There you have the recursive problem of “genre.” Some of the most sophisticated thinking we have on the nature of classification is developed in theories of literary genre. We will read both classic and current works.

There is however a considerable gap between theory and how literary scholars talk about forms, how authors understand and mobilize them—and we need to reckon with the welter of ways in which genre categories are actually put to work. Observation suggests that it is impossible to talk about any cultural artifact or practice without referring to its kind. Both everyday and expert speakers start by indicating whether we are talking about a novella, or a mural, or a live musical performance—and so on. We invoke complex traditions like modernism and queer writing, we locate ourselves within or in opposition to constructs like the English novel and African-American literature that invoke the nation, and thus are connected with an immense interdisciplinary conversation about temporality, identity, boundaries and borders. Usage is often muddled, and always revealing.

We will therefore tack between three bodies of work: genre theory, genre criticism, and fiction (mainly but not only—other kinds of creative expression will certainly be included and may move to the center as we work). We won’t be applying genre theory. Rather, we will strive to understand each text on its own terms, and read each kind of work against the others.

What happens in the seminar will depend a lot on who joins. My own specialization is Anglophone prose narrative from 1850 to the present, and we will begin with a category-busting fiction by Rebecca Harding Davis titled Life in the Iron Mills. We will spend time thinking through the conversation about specific genres—I’m thinking of melodrama, regionalism, modernism, and students are invited to help me decide. We will definitely spend time talking about genre theory from Aristotle through Derrida to Levine, about genre in composition studies, about periodization and the national model of literary history, and about interdisciplinary methods. How much time we spend on poetry, on how comparison works, or on digital studies will depend on student interest (please do message me). By the end of the term our topics will be driven wholly by student interests, as we workshop your papers.

Course Requirements:

Since this is an 800-level course, students will be expected to produce a substantial (15-20 page) research paper. Papers must engage with topics and issues addressed in the course, but can focus on primary texts from any historical period.

ENGLISH 831 - Seminar: The Study of Genre
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
M 4:00PM - 7:00PM
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