American Literature’s Spirits: Spring 2014

So my course description has been approved by the English Department and I’m slated for teaching American Literature’s Spirits in Spring 2014. This feels like a ways away but here it is. Still in its baby stages of course:

English 90 Course Description: American Literature’s Spirits

American literature has a thing for ghosts. Think of Edgar Allen Poe’s lady ghosts and all that ghost sex! Or Toni Morrison’s black ghosts. And how about those Jewish spirits in Tony Kushner’s Angel’s in America? Let’s face it, American literature is just plain spooky. The question is why?

In this course, we’ll ask this very question: why is American Literature so enamored with the ghostly, the ghastly, and the supernatural? As part of this inquiry, we’ll do some serious soul searching, tracking down the appearance of ghosts and spirits in 19th and 20th century American literature. We will pay special attention to souls that are given a race, gender, and/or sexuality.  We’ll think about who has a soul, who doesn’t, who can get it, and who can’t. Some food for thought: W.E.B. Du Bois maintains that black folk are gifted with second-sight and possess two souls, the 19th-century transcendentalist Margaret Fuller claims women possess a special electrical composition, and Yiddish culture understands the soul, or neshama, as exclusively Jewish. We’ll consider the significance of employing a spiritual rhetoric (like the examples just mentioned) against the backdrop of a mainstream science which was often racist, sexist, and homophobic. In other words, we’ll ask whether a belief in spirits, ghosts, and generally spooky things can be its own form of resistance against social injustice.

Writing assignments will include regular blog posts, one short response paper (2-3 pages), and a final paper preceded by a paper proposal. Literary readings may include works by Edgar Allen Poe, W.E.B Dubois, Toni Morrison, Pauline Hopkins, Philip Roth, Tony Kushner, S. Ansky, Rose Terry Cooke, and others.


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