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ENGL 535 A: American Culture and Criticism

Theory, Literature, and the Shape of Careers

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
SMI 111
Joint Sections: 
C LIT 502 B
Leroy Searle
Leroy Searle

Additional Details:

This seminar, offered in both Comparative Literature and English, is designed to address a connected series of issues with a bearing on contemporary trends, issues, and choices in Ph.D. literature and humanities programs. The point of immediate interest is emerging evidence and increased speculation concerning professional futures. There is virtually no one not concerned in some way with the apparent condition of the job market for professional positions, the status and purpose of the Ph.D. degree, the ambiguous evidence of declining enrollments and the not so ambiguous evidence of diminished university budgets in the humanities.

The focus of the seminar, however, will emphatically not be to review and rehearse bad news, nor will it be organized to increase a sense of competition in a time of apparent scarcity.

The main premise is that current uncertainties can be clarified, starting from a direct effort to consider, as a point of theory, what has happened to ‘theory,’ as an organizing professional motif, leading directly to a reconsideration, again as a point of theory, of current issues in the teaching of literature. The practical issue, accordingly, is to carry out a down to earth conversation about the shape--and of course, the shaping--of contemporary professional careers in literature and the humanities.

The seminar will follow, topically, the title of the seminar:

Part I: Theory: Dilemmas on the left.  A review of the inheritance of Enlightenment and Romantic philosophical foundations, with emphasis on Kant’s 3rd critique, and recent work on the problematic history of ‘Post Kantian’ German Idealism. ‘Theory’ is clearly not the enterprise of 20 years ago: what counts now as ‘theory’, and how is it related to concrete practice? The political context will be developed primarily through Anti-Systemic Movements, by Arrighi, Wallerstein, and Hopkins, with related historiographic and economic work from a ‘World Systems Theory’ perspective.

Part II: Literature: Canons and Cannons.  We will focus on two monster novels of the 19th century: George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. The central issues here will be a reconsideration, from a Pragmaticist view (via Charles Sanders Peirce and Coleridge) of the sense in which our notion of ‘canonical’ literature may fall seriously short of understanding major works as themselves already being theoretical.

Part III: The Shape of Careers.  This will be the main focus for the seminar, to examine as clearly possible concrete practical, political, and theoretical changes that appear already well advanced. The way we have imagined professional careers has a deep and tangled history, which is unmistakably changing in fundamental ways. Assumptions about the ‘field,’ the ‘profession,’ and concrete prospects in a very different demographic and political environments stand in need of open, critical discussion. Throughout the quarter, we will collectively assemble materials, and develop examples, in the effort to make visible and discussable emerging changes in how a professional career can be imagined and actually pursued.

Texts available at the University Bookstore. There will be a course reader at E-Z Copy and Print on University Way, directly north of University Bookstore.

Arrighi, et al, Anti-Systemic Movements, Verso

Peirce, C. S. Essential Writings, Vol. 1 Indiana

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, Dover Thrift edition

George Eliot, Middlemarch, Dover Thrift edition



Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, Cambridge

Karl Americs, Cambridge Companion to German Idealism

Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:30pm