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.

Continue reading


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