ENGL S114 Course Descriptions

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On Being (Un)Reasonable - Craig Eklund

Human beings have long been defined as rational animals. But is it truly reason that defines us? One might look at wars, carbon footprints, and Tide Pod eating challenges for evidence to the contrary. It hardly stops there, however. Irrationality plagues our political convictions, motivates our economic behavior, and dominates our psychic lives. In this course, we will examine models of human reason that try to explain such failures of rational thinking. We’ll investigate the role of irrationality in behavioral economics and modern political culture. We’ll read one of literature’s great arguments for willful irrationality and look at surrealist art designed to defy reason and aesthetics. We will explore the ancient Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna’s efforts to push logic to its limits and discover enlightenment on the other side and we will engage Zen koans in all their seeming absurdity. This course seeks out the reason for human beings being so unreasonable and tries to decipher the logic of the illogical.

Craig Eklund is a Lecturer in the English Department.  He received his PhD in Comparative Literature last Spring.  He specializes in French and English language Modernism and wrote his dissertation on the imagination in the writings of Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett.  He has been teaching writing classes at Yale and Quinnipiac Universities for several years now.

BAMN: What is a Social Movement? - Tim Kreiner

By any means necessary is a slogan with a history. In the US, it is usually associated with Malcolm X and his critique of the Civil Rights Movement. But Malcolm borrowed the phrase from Frantz Fanon, who made the slogan popular among militants in the struggles for liberation from colonialism. And although the revolutionary mood that slogan gathered owes much to the Cold War and liberation movements in the global South, that mood passed through revolts against masters of every kind in much of the global North. This class explores the history of collective action in the postwar US in order to ask what is a social movement? Are the burning of the 3rd Precinct in Minneapolis, #NODAPL riots, #MeToo no-platforming, and risings against police violence part of the antiracist, feminist, anticapitalist, and climate justice movements born in the 1960s? Or do they suggest that something new is afoot in the twenty-first century? What about Trump-ism and the Capitol riot? Who struggles for freedom from what, why and how, in short? And why do we divide the manifold dynamics of those struggles into discrete "movements”? Readings will be drawn from the writings of militants, movement histories, revolutionary theory, and contemporary inquiries into ongoing social struggles.

Tim Kreiner is the Course Coordinator for ENGL 115 and a Lecturer in Directed Studies and the English Department at Yale. He is finishing a book of literary history titled Contentious Poetics: Social Movements and American Poetry in the Postwar World, and teaches courses on global social movements, political theory, and the relationship between social contest and cultural production in the US.

Marxism and the Politics of Culture - Chris McGowan

An introduction to classic texts of Western Marxism, Postcolonial Marxism, and Marxist Feminism, this course explores the function of culture in capitalist society. Focusing on readings in political and cultural theory and a selection of left-wing films, we discuss several interrelated questions, such as: How can artworks resist or critique the society in which they are produced? How should we conceptualize the relation between economic forms of domination and those articulated through race, gender, or sexual identity? How can we compare life under capitalism with life under earlier or alternative modes of economic and social organization? Authors may include Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Georg Lukács, Frantz Fanon, the Combahee River Collective, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Nancy Fraser, and Melinda Cooper. Films may include The Battle of Algiers (1966), Born in Flames (1983), Workers Leaving the Factory (1995), Two Days, One Night (2014), and Riotsville, U.S.A. (2022).

Chris McGowan is a Lecturer in English at Yale University. He is currently working on an academic book called "Inherited Worlds: The British Modernist Novel and the Sabotage and Salvage of Genre," which studies the relation between British modernism, novelistic genre, and the history of the family under capitalism. At Yale, he teaches courses on literature, creative nonfiction, and first-year writing. He is a founding member of the Left Literary Studies Working Group.

Creative Obsessions - Carol Morse

What is the nature of creativity? Is there such a thing as “creative genius,” or are most creative endeavors achieved through hard work and practice? Can it be taught? From childhood crushes to white whales, artists, scientists, and writers have transformed ordinary obsessions into expressions of beauty and wonder.  But as much as we praise the imagination and the work it produces, it can have a darker side; creative types are sometimes linked to mental instability, substance abuse, and self-delusion. This class will allow you to explore and write about the many varieties of creativity. We’ll read scholarly work from different academic disciplines, such as STEM fields, business, education, and the humanities. What is the relationship between creativity and obsession? Creativity and addiction? Are we motivated by external validation or an inward drive to manage, or even escape, reality? Readings will include work by or about such artists as Gloria Anzaldua, Maurice Sendak, and Prince.

Carol Tell Morse is a lecturer in the English Department and a Learning Specialist in the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. Prior to working at Yale, she was the Faculty Director of the Lloyd Scholars for Writing and the Arts at the University of Michigan, where she also taught classes in first-year writing, children’s literature, podcasting, and poetry. She received her PhD in Irish poetry from University College, Dublin.

Admirers, Aficionados, and Addicts - Ben Pokross

Everyone’s a fan of something. Today, allegiance to a pop star or a basketball team can be a central part of a person’s identity. Even political orientation seems more often based on attraction to personality than considered ideological beliefs. What does it mean, then, to be a fan? Is fandom simply admiration? Or is there something childish or even pathological in the fan’s adoration? This course seeks to answer these questions by examining the history and meaning of the fan. We’ll read about the fan in relation to debates around the rise of mass culture. And we’ll take up particular examples of fan culture, thinking about the violence of British football hooligans, the elaborate rituals of queer opera fans, and the behavior of contemporary online stan communities. Throughout, our attention will be not only on what fans are obsessed with but how they express their feeling, the material culture of fandom.

Ben Pokross will receive his PhD in English from Yale University in May 2023. His dissertation examines nineteenth-century Indigenous historians. At Yale, he has taught courses on museum studies and creative nonfiction. He is a fan of old Hollywood movies and the Red Sox.

The Art of Time - Steve Shoemaker

Time is a problem.  Even in common parlance it attracts a rich set of metaphors, all signaling our obsession with the rate at which it moves:  Time “races” when we wish we could “freeze” it, “crawls” when we wish it would “fly.”  Reminding us of the old maxim “time is money,” business gurus want to tell us how to “manage” it, while gurus of the religious sort offer the hope that it can be “transcended.”  Even so, we’re not really quite sure what “it” is.  Physicists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, philosophers like Henri Bergson and Martin Heidegger, and artists from Shakespeare to Marcel Proust have all tried to penetrate the enigma.  This course will suggest that the urge to investigate—and intervene in--the dilemma of time is a basic force driving the creation of art, literature, philosophy, and science.  As we explore the human experience of time, we will examine the problem of mortality, the mysteries of memory, the malleable nature of subjective time, and the way our understanding of time is influenced by technological and cultural factors.  As the course concludes, students will reflect on how they navigate the challenge of living in time and consider how our relationship with time shapes who we are and what we do.

Steve Shoemaker has taught writing and literature for more than thirty years, and at a number of colleges and universities, including Harvard University, Yale University, and the University of Virginia.  He also served for many years as the Director of College Writing and the Roth Writing Center at Connecticut College. As a teacher of writing, he is committed to helping students engage with writing as a genuine act of thinking, a powerful means for pursuing the questions they find most compelling.


Hope - Sam Steinmetz

What does it mean to hope? What may we hope for? How do our social circumstances affect how we hope? In whom or what should we invest our hopes? And what is the use—if there is any use at all—of hoping? Despite thousands of years spent deliberating, the jury is still out on hope—you’re as likely to find it among the ingredients for the good life as among the culprits of a bad one. In this seminar we will investigate the concept, rhetoric, and politics of hope from an interdisciplinary perspective, all the while keeping our own hopes (and fears) in mind. Through speeches, poetry, philosophy, and psychology we will explore how hope may help us live in a world mired in climate change, social injustice, and a global pandemic.

Sam Steinmetz is a PhD candidate in the German department, and is currently finishing a dissertation about aesthetic theories of the novel and cinema in early twentieth-century Europe. Before coming to Yale he taught high school English in Austria and studied comparative literature at Boston University. His non-scholarly pursuits include riding his bike, playing go, and baking vegan chocolate chip cookies.

Sustenance: The Limitations of our Food System - Barbara Stuart

The United States is the world’s largest food producer, but do we produce real food that sustains us and our environment? The answers: No and no. Most Americans eat what is called the Standard American Diet, commonly and aptly known as SAD, a diet containing an excess of processed foods, refined carbohydrates and added sugars, refined fats, high-fat dairy products, and red meat. The top five U.S. agricultural commodities– corn, soybeans, dairy, wheat, sugar cane–make up the bulk of this diet, are not produced sustainably, and largely go into foods that have little nutritional value. In this course, we will explore solutions to improve an industrialized food system that contributes to air pollution, ruins our soil, depletes our water supplies, and, above all, fails to feed us well. You will use research to determine how we can encourage a healthier diet among the general population, help low-income Americans access healthy food, and make it easier for farmers to produce nutritious foods sustainably. At the end of the summer term, you will come together to develop a plan of action to determine a course correction for our food system.

Barbara Stuart earned her Ph.D. long ago and happily taught at Yale for 30 years. The focus of her doctoral work was the Victorian novel, and she often re-reads those novels with great pleasure, but at Yale she has taught documentary film, the contemporary essay, and two courses inspired by her own and her students’ interest in our food system: “The Real World of Food” and “Writing about Food.”