Practicing Literature, Practical Criticism

ENGLISH 500

MASTERS PROSEMINAR

Practicing Literature, Practical Criticism

 

This course introduces new MA students to a range of English literatures (essays, novels, poems, memoirs) and to some of the current professional conversations in the field of English Studies (the dismantling of the university, the question of public humanities).  Bodies of literature are linked to the domains of literary criticism, public writing, and the vocation of teaching by the underlying promise of words doing things. Throughout the semester, students will exercise this promise in genres like the pop-culture review, the op-ed, the profile, and study it in literary works from a variety of contexts and genres. Whether focusing on criticism, rhetoric, pedagogy, or creative writing, seminar participants should come away newly equipped to practice and advocate for literature as a way of life. 

 

REQUIRED TEXTS (at the UIC Bookstore)

Jasper Bernes, We Are Nothing and So Can You

Peter Coviello, Long Players

Rachel Cusk, Outline

Samuel Delaney, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Claudia Rankine, Citizen

Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140

 

Articles, essays, and supplemental readings available in our course dropbox.  In some cases, you will find there PDFs of entire books even though we’re only reading sections of those books – be sure to check the reading assignments.

 

WRIITNG ASSIGMENTS

rapid-writing: 7 prompts for 7 days before the semester starts; write for 30
minutes or 250 words, whichever comes first (prompts distributed over email)

intellectual self-description: 250-500 words profile of your interests, writerly/readerly activities, networks or communities in which you participate (optional: close
with an author bio for who you want to be in 5 years)

   listicle: bullet-pointed, highly-circulatable, catchy-titled compendium of something

   pop culture review: 1000-2000 words evaluative essay on literature, film, tv, music                    for a venue of your choice like the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Chicago Reader, Avidly, Public Books

space mapping:250-1000 words conjuring a locale in Chicago or elsewhere; real or

               imaginary; present, past, or future

op-ed: 250-750 words arguing for / about something that matters today, but drawing
upon the literary, the personal, or the past to do so, making specific recommendations, in short sentences, short paragraphs, active voice.

expository/technical writing: 250-1000 words clearly explaining how to do something
(tie shoes, make ice cream, teach writing, solve climate change)

personal essay / profile: 500-3000 words; use what you know about good literary narrative, evocative literary description, and compelling literary voice to write about yourself or someone else in very specific terms / situation that blends the local and the global / the personal and the universal

longform writing: 750-4000 words in any genre, including repeating/revising one of
the genres we’ve already worked in, or doing more straightforward academic literary criticism or creative writing

 

GUIDELINES

We will approach the seminar space as a laboratory for experimenting with collective reading and discovering, and as a workshop for writing. This requires active seminar participation, including careful completion of assigned reading, consistent, thoughtful contribution to discussion, and attentive feedback to colleagues sharing work. Discussion participation is key to a strong seminar and an important basis for your evaluation.

 

Each student will sign up for one seminar session to lead a chunk of discussion time focusing on the texts assigned for a given session (drawing connections to previous readings where useful).  Take pedagogical liberties as far as activities, discussion plan, etc, but be sure highlight at least three passages of interest, and to pose questions to your colleagues.

 

Every student will produce writing in multiple genres, and will participate in reading / editing the writing of their colleagues. Seminar time will regularly be used for these exchanges.

 

Each writing assignment genre will be discussed during seminar in advance of the due date, with samples and how-tos at hand. Samples appear below in italics.

 

Students are encouraged to compile their writing assignments into a portfolio to be revised and revisited throughout their time in the MA program, culminating in materials useful for post-graduation job applications.

 

Please note that the first novel in the course, assigned for week 5, is long; students are advised to begin reading it before week 4.

 

SCHEDULE

PART ONE: THE UNIVERSITY, THE PROFESSION, THE VOCATIONS

 

29 AUG

infrastructures of the university

J Hillis Miller, On LiteratureChapters One and Two

Jonathan Culler, Literary TheoryChapters One, Two, Three

Peggy Kamuf, “The University in Deconstruction”

Eric Hayot, “The Sky is Falling”

David Theo Goldberg, “The Afterlife of the Humanities”

Fred Moten, “Studying through the Undercommons”

Henry Turner “Universitas

 

intellectual self-description activity

rapid writing DUE

 

5 SEPT

publics and the new public criticism

Michael Warner, “Styles of Intellectual Publics”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “What It Means to be a Public Intellectual”

Lili Loofbourow and Philip Maciak, “The Time of the Semipublic Intellectual”

Evan Kindley, “Growing Up in Public”

Sharon Marcus, “How to Talk about Books You have Read”

McKenzie Wark, General Intellectsintroduction

 

in-class workshop: public writing theory, public writing practice

intellectual self-description writing DUE

 

listicle samples:

JORDAN STEIN, TOP 10 FAG HAGS OF HENRY JAMES

TITA CHICO, BOOKS I’D LIKE TO WRITE

PUBLIC BOOKS STAFF, 12 GREAT BOOKS ABOUT WOMEN AND WORK

THE LISTICLE AS A LITERARY FORM

 

12 SEPT

doing things with words

Jacques Ranciere, “The Politics of Literature”

Caroline Levine, FormsIntro

Martin Puchner, Poetry of the Revolutionintro, chapter 1

James Baldwin, “In Search of a Majority”

listicle DUE

 

 

19 SEPT

criticism as vocation

Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist” (1-20)

GeorgLukacs, “On the Nature and Form of the Essay”

Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Textexcerpt (pages 3-30)

Rita Felski The Limits of Critique“In Short”

Joseph North, Literary Criticism: A Concise Political Historyintro

 

popculture samples:

ADRIENNE BROWN, NEW FORMATION

ANNA KORNBLUH, CHICAGO LAW

JANE HU, CAN HORROR MOVIES BE PRESTIGIOUS?

 

PART TWO: GENRES OF WORD DOINGS

 

writing and abstraction

26 SEPT

Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

 

pop culture review DUE

 

 

3 OCT

Rachel Cusk, Outline

 

writing disaster

10 OCT

Samuel Delaney, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

 

space mapping samples:

LIESL OLSON, MY LA

THOMAS HARDY, RETURN OF THE NATIVE EXCERPT

NATHAN HILL, THE NIX EXCERPT

 

17 OCT

Peter Coviello, Long Players

 

space mapping DUE

 

op-ed samples

LENNARD DAVIS, WHAT DO PROFESSORS, WALMART, AND PIG NUTRITION HAVE

IN COMMON

CAROLINE LEVINE, YOUR TURN BUILDING BRIDGES

LISI SCHOENBACH, ENOUGH WITH THE CRISIS TALK

THE OP-ED PROJECT TIPS AND TRICKS

 

writing for change

24 OCT

Jasper Bernes, We Are Nothing and So Can You

 

 

expository/tech sample

HOW TO EMAIL A PROFESSOR

ERIC HAYOT, PARAGRAPHING

ROY SCRANTON, LEARNING HOW TO DIE IN THE ANTHROPOCENE

 

op-ed DUE

 

 

31 OCT NO CLASS

 

7 NOV

Claudia Rankine, Citizen

 

 

personal essay / profile samples

JORDY ROSENBERG, GENDER TROUBLE ON MOTHERS DAY

MERVE EMRE, TWO PATHS FOR THE PERSONAL ESSAY

THE REAL ESTATE ARTIST

 

expository / technical writing DUE

 

 

14 NOV

Rob Nixon, “Slow Violence”

Jed Purdy, After Nature Prologue and Intro

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything Intro and Conclusion

David Wallace Wells, “The Uninhabitable Earth”

 

personal essay or profile DUE

 

28 NOV

Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140

 

CONCLUSION: SPEECH ACTS AND THE FREE UNIVERSITY

 

5 DEC

Tressie McMillan Cottom, “Why Free College Is Necessary”

Astra Taylor, “Unschooling”

The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Darkexcerpt

 

12 DEC

longform writing due