Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Summer Syllabi: “Comics as Literature” and “UTOPIA in America”

with 6 comments

My six-week summer-session courses start today, so I thought I’d put up the syllabi:

ENGLISH 4717/5717: “Comics as Literature”: superheroes, Watchmen, All-Star Superman, Maus, Fun Home, Jimmy Corrigan, Here

ENGLISH 6700: “Utopia in America”: “Omelas,” Utopia, Jameson, “The Lucky Strike,” Star Trek, Pale Fire, Flannery O’Connor, “Recitatif,” Sula, Afrofuturism, The Man in the High Castle

I’ll certainly take any questions in the comments, if people have any about why I’m doing what I’m doing…

Written by gerrycanavan

July 5, 2016 at 2:35 pm

6 Responses

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  1. course on utopia looks great. for future iterations you may also want to take a look at the communal studies collection at USI, which also has some rich resources on utopian experiments in the US (esp. Robert Owen and New Harmony). Here’s a link: http://www.usi.edu/liberal-arts/communal-center

    R Geroux

    July 6, 2016 at 6:29 pm

  2. Comics course looks fabulous.

    All the readings in the Utopia course looks fabulous too, but yeah, I’m not seeing what you’re doing by putting them in this course, in this order, under this title. For example: I’m not quite sure how Pale Fire connects to the class. I mean, it’s one of my favorite books, but I’m missing the connection. (Zembla is fantastical, but not utopian that I recall…) I’m presuming Man in the High Castle is dystopia? (The whole “in America” section looks like good literature peripherally related.) …I’m probably missing the bigger theme honestly. I’d love to hear a bit more about what you’re up to.

    Although I will say that since you’re throwing in Star Trek, you might consider using Frase’s blog post on Anti-Star Trek (basis of his later Four Freedoms,basis of his forthcoming book); contrast brings out the utopian dimension of Trek really well IMHO.

    Stephen Frug

    July 7, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    • I was going to lean on that Frase piece in the discussion, but good idea to actually throw it out to the students as well.

      I suppose one missing piece is that students in our program have an MA exam that focuses on major canonical writers from a given period, and three of the ones from the 20C period are (this may shock you to your core) Nabokov, Morrison, and O’Connor. But in terms of the mission statement for the course I had a few things overlapping in my mind. Cribbing from my introduction on the first day of class:

      • reading the actual text of Sir/St. Thomas More’s Utopia, on the occasion of its 500th birthday, and we’ll be doing it as Americans and (for many of us) as Americanists
      • looking at utopia (let’s say little-u) as a concept that structures a great deal of literary criticism and critical theory in the contemporary academy
      • considering a number of explicitly or maybe we should say deliberately utopian cultural formations in the US, from (pre-founding) to 20/21C science fiction
      • looking at the more implicit or submerged utopian longing as a critical reading strategy in mainstream/canonical literary texts from Nabokov, Morrison, and O’Connor

      My hope is that you find this class useful on all these registers: that utopia and utopian theory is useful to you as a concept in your own writing (especially for those of you who find as many graduate students do that your work has a strong political valence); that the close study of Nabokov, Morrison, and O’Connor is useful to you both in terms of grounding in some “necessary” authors (and in each case we’re reading some secondary or tertiary work as opposed to the number-one-with-a-bullet capital-F FAMOUS text), as well as for the MA exam if that’s in your future; and that the focus on pop-cultural texts is useful to you both in terms of writing and teaching pop cultural texts (in both cases where it is becoming an increasingly big part of the discipline).

      For Pale Fire Zembla’s status as a maybe-utopia is clear; Morrison’s Bottom is another enclosure that has some utopian qualities even as it is framed in other ways as well, and structured by an apocalyptic imaginary; O’Connor stories focus on grace which is either a utopian or anti-dystopian formulation depending on how you look at it…

      gerrycanavan

      July 8, 2016 at 9:33 am

      • Basically, though, how do we ring a lot of different sorts bells at the same time in a six-week grad course (which is a deeply bizarre pedagogical form to begin with)? Here’s one try.

        gerrycanavan

        July 8, 2016 at 9:34 am

      • I didn’t get around to this right away — busy week — but thanks for explaining. Nice to get where you’re coming from.

        Stephen Frug

        July 12, 2016 at 9:01 pm


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