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ENGL 550 A: Studies In Narrative

Studies in Narrative: Cultural Studies of the Novel

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 1:20pm
SAV 169
Professor Harkins in front of bookshelf
Gillian Harkins

Syllabus Description:

Professor Gillian Harkins                                                              Office Hours: T/Th 1:30-2:30

Email:                                                       A-306 Padelford Hall

English 550: Studies in Narrative


Studies in Narrative:

Cultural Studies of the Novel


Namely, instead of asking: what is the relationship of a work of art to the relationships of production of the time? Is it in accord with them, is it reactionary or does it strive to overthrow them, is it revolutionary? – in place of this question, or in any case before asking this question, I would like to propose another. Before I ask: how does a literary work stand in relation to the relationships of production of a period, I would like to ask: how does it stand in them? This question aims directly at the function that the work has within the literary relationships of production of a period. In other words, it aims directly at a work’s literary technique.

 --  Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer” (1934)


This course will review cultural studies of the novel.  Its aim is to support graduate students planning to treat novels in their interpretive and analytic arguments. The course invites students to clarify how and why they engage novels as both cultural media and geo-political mediation across historical and social formations.  We will consider narratological and post/structural approaches; inter- and trans-national Marxist debates; cultural materialisms and historicisms; anti-, post-, and de-colonialisms; and a range of feminist, queer, and critical race approaches.  By the end of the course, students should have a grasp of various approaches to the study of culture and narrative forms. Students will also have been exposed to a range of social and political questions related to cultural studies methodologies, including theories of race, nation, colonialism, empire, gender, sexuality, and class.  We will read two sample novels alongside a wide range of critical work.


Required Texts

We will decide whether or not to purchase the following books: Jeanette Winterson, The Passion; Colson Whitehead, Zone One.

On-Line Course Readings: Additional readings are collected on the Canvas website. 

Course Objectives:


  • What is a/the novel?
  • Why is it important?
  • How do you analyze it?
  • Can you make arguments through it?
  • Is it really relevant to X?

Course Requirements

  • Participation:  You will be expected to participate actively in seminar twice a week.  To receive full credit for participation, you must complete assigned reading in advance of class and come prepared to engage your peers about points made in class as well as your own ideas about the assigned materials.  Participation: 20%
  • Reflection Papers: You will be expected to submit two short reflections (one page max) on two critical readings from the class.  You may complete these response papers as you choose, although I encourage you to do them at regular intervals.  These entries will be shared with your peers online.  Reflection papers: 15% each
  • Research Paper: You will hand in one 15-20 page paper on a novel of your choice.  Use this essay to theorize your own reading practice as well as provide an analysis of the novel.  Please reference at least two essays from class as well as at least two pieces of literary criticism related to your specific novel. Final essay topics will be approved by instructor on an individual basis.  Final Essay: 50%


Course Policies


  • Classroom Conduct: All students are invited to raise questions and offer additional perspectives about any materials discussed in class. All students are also expected to contribute their ideas in a manner that is thoughtful and respectful of the ideas expressed by others.  We will collectively center diversity, equity and inclusion in class discussion. Basic agreements for discussion will be covered the first week of class.
  • Academic Honesty: Please review the University of Washington website for a definition and explanation of plagiarism and academic misconduct.  I will immediately report any suspected instance of academic misconduct to the University.  If you are confused or have any questions about a specific instance, please feel free to see me in advance of the due date.
  • Academic Accommodations: To request academic accommodations due to disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY).  If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating that you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss the accommodations you might need in this class.
  • Religious Accommodations: Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (


Course Schedule


Week 1          

T 1/7                Lynn Emanuel, “The Politics of Narrative: Why I Am a Poet”:

Th 1/9              Dierdre Lynch and William B. Warner, “Introduction: The Transport of the Novel,” Cultural Institutions of the Novel Eds. Lynch and Warner, Duke UP: 1996, 1-11.

Michael McKeon, Introduction to Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach, Ed. Mckeon, Johns Hopkins UP, 2000, xiii-.xviii.

Dorothy Hale, “General Introduction” to The Novel: An Anthology of Criticism, Ed. Hale, Blackwell, 2006, 1-16.


Week 2          


T 1/14              Ian Watt, excerpt from The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding, Penguin, 1957.

Nancy Armstrong, excerpt from Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel, Oxford UP, 1987.


Th 1/16            Gauri Viswanathan, “Preface to the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition,” and “Introduction” to Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India, Columbia UP, 1989 (25th Anniversay Edition, 2014).

Edward W. Said, “Consolidated Vision” from Culture and Imperialism, Vintage, 1991.


Week 3          


T 1/21              Jeanette Winterson, The Passion (1987) [first 1/2]

Th 1/23             Jeanette Winterson, The Passion (1987) [second 1/2]


Week 4          


T 1/28             Raymond Williams, from Marxism and Literature, Oxford UP, 1977.  [First half; I'll provide directions on which parts to emphasize] UPDATE: Read Basic Concepts (all); Cultural Theory (not "Productive Forces") through the end of "From Reflection to Mediation")

Th 1/30           Cont. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature, Oxford UP, 1977. [Second half; same emphasis coming] UPDATE:  Finish Cultural Theory (not "The Sociology of Culture"); Literary Theory (read only "Genres" and "Forms")

Week 5            

T 2/4             Frederic Jameson from The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, Cornell UP, 1981.

Th 2/6           D.A. Miller, excerpt from The Novel and the Police, UC Press, 1988.

Catherine Gallagher, “Marxism and the New Historicism” (1989) from New Historicism and Cultural Materialism, Ed. Kiernan Ryan, London: Arnold Publishers, 1996.

Week 6       

T 2/11             Mikhail M. Bahktin, excerpt from The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, Trans. Vadim Liapunov and Kenneth Brostrom (1982).      

Th 2/13         Mikhail M. Bahktin, excerpt from The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, Trans. Vadim Liapunov and Kenneth Brostrom (1982).  


Week 7          

T 2/18     [Discuss The Passion]


Th 2/20        

Henry Louis Gates, excerpt from The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism, New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Mae Gwendolyn Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer’s Literary Tradition” in Changing Our Own Words, Ed. Cheryl Wall, Rutgers University Press,1989.

Week 8           CHANGE IN READINGS

T 2/25        

 Barbara Christian, "The Race for Theory" (1988) [Added to Files page]

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, "The Language of African Literature" from Decolonizing the Mind (1986) [Full text online]


Th 2/27         

Jonathon Culler, “Forward” to Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, Tran. Jane E. Lewin, Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980.

Gérard Genette, “Preface” and “Introduction” to Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, Tran. Jane E. Lewin, Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980.

Ann Banfield, “Unspeakable Sentences” (1982) in Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach, Ed. Michael McKeon, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2000.


 Week 9          

T 3/3              Sianne Ngai, “Tone” from Ugly Feelings, Harvard UP, 2007.

Roland Barthes, excerpts from S/Z: An Essay, Trans. Richard Miller, Ed. Richard Howard, New York: Hill and Wang: 1974.


Th 3/5            Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading, Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You” from Touching Feeling, Duke UP, 2002.

Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best, “Surface Reading: An Introduction” Representations 108.1 (Fall 2009).

Week 10        

T 3/10    Madhu Dubey, “Introduction” from Signs and Cities: Black Literary Postmodernism, U Chicago P, 2003.

Lisa Lowe, “Decolonization, Displacement, Disidentification: Asian American ‘Novels’ and the Question of History” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Studies, Duke UP, 1996.

Th 3/12          Neferti X.M. Tadiar, “Loosed Upon the World,” Things Fall Away: Philippine Historical Experience and the Making of Globalization, Duke UP, 2009.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Thinking Cultural Questions in ‘Pure’ Literary Terms” from Without Guarantees: In Honor of Stuart Hall, Verso, 2000.


Last updated: 
October 15, 2019 - 1:37pm