Advanced Undergraduate/ Graduate Seminar
What We Talk About When We Talk About China: Discourse, Philosophy, History
co-taught with Lionel Jensen (Pilot Course)

This course will explore the nature and purpose of comparative Chinese studies in humanities fields: what it means and what it has meant to “talk about China” in the humanities.  We will read and discuss a variety of English-language texts written over the past 100 years that attempt to “explain” various aspects of Chinese history and culture in comparative terms, and others that hold the comparative project itself up to scrutiny. Our primary emphasis will be less the “facts” about China per se than the complex and shifting processes by which such “facts” are constructed, and how such constructions change both China and the West, as we examine the goals and implications of different approaches to comparative analysis within such fields of literature, cultural history, philosophy, linguistics, and art history. Students who have interests squarely in the history of East-West encounters and/or China studies will develop a maximally original vocabulary for their own projects, which we hope to see both as conference papers and possibly articles that will emerge from their coursework. Students whose interests are peripheral will be rigorously trained to read and apply theory from a range of intellectual traditions from pragmatism to translation studies, visual theory to postsecularism.


Graduate Seminar
New Sociologies of Literature

What if the social doesn’t just “contain” literature but takes its cues from it? This course will address the fundamental and ongoing questions about the role of books in reflecting and changing the way people live and the role of social practice in defining, producing, and using literature.  In this course we will ask about the material production of texts; about the role of readers in appropriating them; about the alliance of literature to class and institutional settings; about the human interactions that literature models for us and their problems; and about the connection between literary studies and globalization. We will also take up bodies of knowledge that fall in the contact zone between sociology and literature–discourse-network theory, media studies, object-oriented ontologies, and systems theory–and assess their worth for changing conversations in literary studies without rendering literary criticism obsolete. Students will be given a solid introduction to British Cultural Studies, the Frankfurt School, Affect Studies, Book History, Narrative Theory, as well as Transnationalism/Translingualism Studies that has emerged out of China Studies.


Graduate Seminar

Nineteenth-Century American Literature: Theories of Transnationalism and Transnational Methodologies

This graduate seminar uses the literature and literary culture of nineteenth-century America to ground an exploration of the theories and methodologies of transnationalism. It is guided by the proposal that transnationalism is not (just) phenomena or supralocal identification but a discursive technology afforded by modernity. We know, for example, that Frederick Douglass visited Ireland, borrowed from Jane Eyre and Bleak House, and, in Haiti and elsewhere, participated in polities larger than the nation-state. The discussion of Douglass’ transnationalism, however, should not end with these observations. We will look at transnationalism as ways of delinking text from national ideology, from progressive, linear history, and from interpellations of subjectivity based in rituals of consensus. In nineteenth-century American literature, transnationalism also names the fantasies of participating in bibliographic, as opposed to geopolitical, networks, fantasies which generate very particular interpretations of the pathways between language, agency and utopian possibility. In addition to thinking about transnationalism as an enabling positionality, we will examine it as a form that conditions expectations of synthesis, and thus belonging with other positivist formations in the nineteenth-century such as international law and Hegelian historiography. Historicizing transnationalism in this manner means being very self-conscious about using transnationalism as a methodology, since transnationalism is itself a genre. The question to ask as literary historians then is not “how is this piece of literature or writer transnational,” but rather, “how do they position themselves vis-a-vis the genre of transnationalism?” We will explore the possibility that instead of transmission of ideas and engagement with the world, transnationalism can function as the ways of compartmentalizing and cordoning off, of being open to the world and yet ideologically contained, that actually describes much of modernity.

Coverage will include the writings of Washington Irving, Alexander Hill Everett, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, and Henry James; critical literature from the “transnational turn” in American Studies; and theories of materiality, media, affect, sociology, translation, systems, and identity that engage with historical transnationalism.

Advanced Undergraduate Seminar

American Literary Nationalism and Transnationalism

Profoundly uncertain about its contours, borders and internal cohesiveness, nineteenth-century America offered up the paradoxes of literary nationalism. Why, in consolidating “national” literature, did so many writers stage their American dramas elsewhere? Most of Moby Dick, for example, takes place in the southern Pacific. In this course we will explore the trope of displacement in nineteenth-century America’s literary imaginary, addressing texts through two key questions: why does the story take place elsewhere, and why, in this elsewhere, does so much reading and “mis-reading” occur? To answer these questions, we will move from text (close-reading) to context (broader geopolitical history) and in so doing uncover the relationship between the private crises of reading and the public crises of nationhood that has been so crucial to American literature since its inception. The writers and works we will study include James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Lydia Maria Child, Herman Melville, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry James. Primary texts will be supplemented with appropriate secondary reading of literary historical and theoretical nature to aid our movement from text to context and address even broader questions related to reading cultures and nation-building.