Archive for course materials

Summer 14 course materials: Introduction to Literary Theory

Posted in Teaching, The Profession with tags , , , , , , , on 25 May 2014 by Ben

This summer, during the June  ‘A’ Term, I will be teaching (for the second time ever), ENGL 2112: Introduction to Literary Theory. You can find the description of my previous stab at it here along with some course documents. This time things will be a bit different, as I am eschewing the “know a few things well” approach that I tried to employ last time even if I am trying not to teach according either to the “canonical theory” or “theory cafeteria” models which seem to prevail in many such courses.

Download the schedule (ENGL_2112_Schedule_2), the syllabus(ENGL_2112_Syllabus), and the daily worksheet assignment (Daily_worksheet_assignment) if you like. Looking them over as you read will be helpful.

So, in what follows I want to explain and perhaps rationalize the schedule and shape of the course. Note that in the last version of the course we read books of theory, D+G’s Kafka book, for example. Here we are using the second edition of The Norton Anthology of Thoery and Criticism as our only text for two reasons. First, cost/efficiency. It’s a spendy book, yes, but it has resale value to students and could be less than five or six university press titles we won’t even be able to finish. Plus, everyone knows where the readings are and what to bring to class every day. The second reason is that by limiting myself to the Norton, just as with limiting myself to post-1980 theory, I am adding a helpful constraint. I don’t have to think about everything. I don’t think of this as being derelict in my duty as I would have to leave things out no matter what, whether I am drawing from ALL of theory or just from the selections in the anthology. I guess I could add another reason, namely that dealing with an anthology offers us a chance to think about the politics of anthologies, a major point of contention in the culture wars of the 1980s. In any case, I know there are drawbacks to the “antho-logical” approach (not the least of which is the appearance of “cafeteria”style theory), but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks in this experiment in course design. (I think. I hope.)

More below the fold.

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Old syllabus: Posthuman Media

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 1 February 2014 by Ben

Following a discussion with Marc Weidenbaum via Twitter, here is the syllabus for an old course: Posthuman Media.


Spring 2014 course materials: Music and Digital Media

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 5 January 2014 by Ben

Some people on Twitter asked me to post this stuff, so here it is.

Although I think the class will work well, I don’t pretend that it’s comprehensive. Rather, it is rather idiosyncratic. Since it’s a theory class according to the English Department (ENGL 3116: Topics in Advanced Theory), the Wark seems necessary to me. It makes sense anyway, but does provide a broad theoretical background to some of the issues we will discuss, one that is largely absent otherwise.

I realized while constructing this syllabus 1) how much things have changed since I last taught this course in 2011, not only with regard to music itself, but also with regard to the industry (do they still sue downloaders? is this still a thing?) and media studies generally; and 2) with regard to these changes mentioned in 1,  that I am rather behind on the scholarship in the field. More accurately, I would say that I am more aware than ever of what it means to be an expert on something, and find now what I once considered to be my expertise in this field, while still adequate in some respects, somewhat less than I would like. Oh well, when I finish Here at the end of all things I can rectify that issue as I prepare for The Age of the World Playlist.

So here is the syllabus (with course policies) and the schedule. Note that the schedule is mostly organized as follows: Mondays are for theory, Wednesdays are for texts on music and/or media, and Fridays are given to listening. Mostly. There are probably more exceptions than I would like to know about.



Last set of Cloud Atlas Notes

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , on 5 April 2013 by Ben

These are even more scattered than previous ones. They are the leftovers, notes I took as the reading progressed with an eye towards future lectures. We never did get to these lectures, for one reason or another. I missed a class and had a colleague sub for me, so there’s that. Then we spent the last class having a discussion of whether the novel is pessimistic or optimistic. Hard to say, as one ending (the chronological one) reads to me as very pessimistic and the other ending (the novelistic one) is much more positive. Of course, Ewing doe snot know what is in store for the human race. One student pointed out that, of course, there are more than just two endings, so it’s hard to say this split is real. Oh well, at least I got to trot out my pet theory about how people generally like happy endings (especially those that are earned), but they tend to believe sad endings. Of course, the question at the end of the novel is belief, something I am intrigued with lately after reviewing Stiegler’s Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals, but I can’t get past my irrational feeling that the whole question is hokey, not unlike some of Cloud Atlas.


connection between human passing and the desire for immortality

  • major point: these two issues are connected
    • one seems to drive the other
    • they each seem to drive each other

    Continue reading

Cloud Atlas notes part the fourth

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , on 19 March 2013 by Ben

Okay, here are my day four teaching notes for Cloud Atlas. They cover up to and including the “Sloosha’s Crossin'” section. Again, very idiosyncratic. Would really love to know if they mean anything to anyone else.


discussion points

  • finishing last time and adding reading and writing “Sloosha’s Crossin’”
  • coming unstuck in time and history
  • connection between human passing and the desire for immortality Continue reading

Even more notes on Cloud Atlas

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , on 17 March 2013 by Ben

So these are the day three notes, but SHHH: day three is actually tomorrow.

discussion points

  • more on textuality: the issue of cohesion
  • evolving subjects of reading and writing
    • this will lead us to a discussion of the time traveler and our discussion for next time
  • next time
    • unstuck in time and history
    • human passing and immortality
  • after break
    • evolving ideas (humanity, power, money, etc) across the novel’s parts

    Continue reading

Some more notes on Cloud Atlas

Posted in Teaching with tags , , on 17 March 2013 by Ben

These were for the second day (having read through and including the first Timothy Cavendish section). They are a bit less complete than I would have liked, which reflects me running out of time.

finish up list of themes from last time

  • the human and its passing
    • see page 3
      • cf Foucault and Crusoe
    • page 6: assumptions about the human
    • 10: the question of civilization
      • it seems eternal, but it will not last
      • it is historical
      • and, it seems for Mitchell, cyclical
    • all forms of government bad (this is Nietzschean)
      • 61
      • all exploit
      • all are human constructions and shall pass
      • Foucault takes this from Nietzsche
      • both are antidotes to Hegel
      • see 62: Zarathustra
    • 76: times change and empires fall
    • 81: hankering for immortality
      • through authorship
      • will it work?
      • we will see something of it in the 1970s section
  • chance
    • especially the references in the second part to croupiers, but also the fact of the way that Ewing and Autua meet, etc
    • chance stands opposed to necessity
    • necessity is a property of the eternal as opposed to the historical, but the two become confused
    • what is historical is, in theories contrary to the Hegelian, what is accidental
    • not that it happened on accident, but that what happens could have happened otherwise or could have not happened at all
  • textuality
    • amanuensis (see page 45)

plural amanuenses, is a person employed to write or type what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another, and also refers to a person who signs a document on behalf of another under their authority. The term derives from a Latin expression made up of a suffix, -ensis, “belonging to”, and prefix, manu-, “hand”.


The word originated in ancient Rome, for a slave at his master’s personal service “within hand reach”, performing any command; later it was specifically applied to an intimately trusted servant (often a freedman) acting as a personal secretary.

    • the issue here connects slavery to textuality as well as to the undecidable nature of the text
      • who writes it?
        • this is an issue in the second part
      • who completes it?
      • who reads it?
    • see also 65: giving up share of authorship
      • cf “His Master’s Voice” on page 60
    • see also the thematic links between Arys’s musical works and the rest of the text
      • page 52
      • untergehen: to die out or to go down fighting
  • love
    • of all kinds, even amongst people who never know one another
  • Romanticism
    • page 59 – 60
  • this last related to the question of the new
    • are classics good?
    • should we try to overcome them?
    • can we, or are we always simply plagiarizing from the past?
    • see 83: daring ideas in old age


the problem of fiction and reality

  • we know how we are “getting” the Adam Ewing section already
    • Robert Frobisher is reading it
    • we also know that Frobisher, who is no authority certainly, questions the authenticity of the journal
      • see 64
  • so let’s ask two more questions
    • how are we “getting” the Robert Frobisher section?
      • see 111
      • see 120
    • how are we “getting” the Luisa Rey section?
      • see 156
  • what is the implication of the latter?
    • if Luisa Rey (and Rufus Sixsmith) is fictional, does that mean that Robert Frobisher is fictional
    • if Robert Frobisher and Sixsmith are fictional, does that mean that


  • see 119: Cloud Atlas Sextet
    • we know of its existence in the present before we know of its existence in the past
    • implies that Luisa has read more of the letters than we have




Some notes on Cloud Atlas

Posted in Teaching with tags , on 17 March 2013 by Ben

I am finding it very hard to organize my thoughts on Cloud Atlas and am reminded what it must have been like to teach systems novels in the 1980s, before anyone had collated so much information on them. At least with House of Leaves I can just ignore things. I don’t feel I can do that here.

Anyway, these notes are “as is.” They are likely “wrong” in one or more spots for one or more reason. They reflect my idiosyncrasies and the way I teach. They also only reflect the fact that we had only read the first two parts of the book (the first Adam Ewing section and the first Robert Frobisher section)

discussion points

  • several difficulties
  • several themes

Continue reading

Further notes on Parable of the Talents

Posted in Here at the End of All Things, Teaching with tags , , , , , , on 10 February 2013 by Ben

Some further thoughts on Butler’s novel, with regard to the question of entering history.

taking part in history

  • last time we defined history not as what happened but rather the account of what happened
  • today, we refine that definition
    • history is not simply the account of what happened, but specifically human progress
    • while history as a concept has a long history, most contemporary understandings of history owe at least something to Hegel’s theory as described by Alexandre Kojeve
    • Kojeve, following Hegel, argued that History is the “space” of meaning
    • history is human conflict and the meaning that derives from that conflict
    • only in history is there meaning
      • animals exist outside of history because they have no meaning and they have no meaning because they are outside of history
    • Kojeve, again following Hegel, understands history to be progressive, that humans are working towards the fulfillment or end of history, a time when there will be no more conflict and therefore no more meaning (no more art, etc)
      • things will still happen but they will no longer be meaningful because human destiny (not his word or concept) will have been fulfilled
      • Hegel understood this to have happened after the Battle of Jena in 1806
      • more recently, Francis Fukuyama understood this to happen with the end of the Cold War, which Butler had thematized quite dramatically in Xenogenesis
  • in any case, we must understand the context in which the events of this novel take place
    • the glory years to which Jarret refers are the 1950s, which we have discussed as being uniformly white in their representation and in our “memories”
    • more that that, they were also the start of the Cold War and the start of American world dominance
    • in part that dominance came about because America was competing with the Soviet Union
      • we put a man on the moon to make sure we were the first to do so
      • spending on defense drove the national economy and educational initiatives in science, engineering, and later computer science
      • we have the Cold War to thank for the Internet
  • Jarret becomes president in 2032, some four decades after the end of the Cold War
    • Butler writing in 1998 was well aware of the problems that the fall of the Berlin Wall meant for the US, which found itself for the first time in half a century without an enemy and therefore without an identity
    • history was over with the end of this conflict and with it went meaning
    • we might speculate that this is the reason that Bankole says the Pox began in the late 20th century, because it was at that moment that the US had lost its identity, its reason for existence
    • it took forty years in this fiction, but Jarret comes along to give America its identity back
  • one of the primary questions facing Americans generally and Acorn specifically is whether to re-enter history
    • people debate whether they should use the truck they acquire to trade or if they should withdraw further into the mountains
    • Lauren believes that they need to trade
      • of course, Lauren also believes in a sort of destiny, although whether her goal involves re-entering history or surpassing it is an open question
      • as is whether there is any difference between these two ideas is another open question
  • and here we can revisit Butler’s thematization of the connection between past and future, and the way that Bankole and Lauren come into conflict with regard to this issue
    • see 62 – 64
    • see also 66: looking back/looking forward discussion
    • B and L argue because he thinks the world used to be good and is getting worse
    • she thinks it can get better, but the idea that it was better in the past is something of a fiction
      • hence her personal dislike for Jarret, who to her lies about past greatness
    • see 133 where Lauren describes Bankole’s anger with her
      • she is “unrealistic”, in contrast with what she thinks of herself
    • we will come back to the question of realism at a future date, but note that the conflict here has to do with how one re-enters history
      • Bankole wants to return to history, to the past, to what no longer exists
      • that is meaning to him
      • Lauren wants to shape the future, to MAKE history (again, maybe to leave it behind altogether or to surpass it in some way)
  • there is a similar tension between Lauren and Marcos
    • see 109
    • he thinks that the world WAS better, got worse, and can return to past glory
    • Lauren thinks that it can only get better by leaving that past behind
    • see 111, where daughter calls Marcos a “realist”, in tension with Lauren’s claim to the same earlier (page 97)
    • Marcos also wants to return to the past, but unlike Bankole wants to shape the future into that past where Bankole only wants to return
  • also note that “god is change” is predicated on the notion of looking forward and the painful truth that Lauren often refers to is related to the issue that humans want things to remain the same, to NOT change, to not progress or move forward
    • see page 72 for example of this
      • one of the conflicts of the novel has to do with to what extent Acorn should be a part of human history
    • one of the thing that the west is about is progress, and history has often been the story of that progress
    • however, times change but times do not always progress
      • see 75: things will settle into a NEW norm
      • see also 86: negative change
      • 87
      • 115: how much it hurts to change
    • sometimes they get worse, or they might get better for or in the opinion of some people even as they get worse for or in the opinion of others
      • history is uneven
      • see 67 and discussion of what civilization is
      • also see 69 where some people buy into older notions of progress
      • it may be that Lauren also buys into progress, as she buys into SF and the notion of progress it implicitly contains
      • see 70 where Lauren imagines Acorn much as the founding fathers imagined America
  • as I mentioned, one of the conflicts in the novel is whether Acorn should take part in history
    • this is expressed by those who wish to remain apart from society and to ignore the world in the hopes that the world ignores them
    • we have seen that the world will not ignore them, that the world often if not always insists that everyone take part in history either as the master or the slave
      • and, it should be noted that Hegel developed this idea along with our most prominent theory of history
    • 81: news media; related to whether Acorn should join history (some people do not want detailed news, which is the stuff of history, perhaps feeling it’s not important to their situation)
    • and it is here that we should
      • first, note that Lauren wants to enter human history but also transform it
        • (although perhaps only augment it)
      • and second that we can see a connection between the issue of history and that of media in the novel

Summer 2012 Course: ENGL 4038: Foucault & Deleuze: From Knowledge and Discipline to Control and Networks

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 7 January 2013 by Ben

Here are the course materials for a class I taught in Summer 2012 on Foucault, Deleuze, networks, and power. The class was a senior capstone seminar and the students did really outstanding work on a very difficult subject.

The focus here was on Deleuze’s reading of Foucault, especially the latter’s transition from considerations of discourse to non-discursive formations during the period between Archaeology of Knowledge and Discipline and Punish (something that Deleuze makes much of in the first two or three chapters of Foucault).


ENGL 4038: Foucault & Deleuze Syllabus

ENGL 4038: Foucault & Deleuze Daily Schedule