ENGL631 - AUTOBIOGRAPHICS, AVATARS, ALIASES, ARCHIVES, AESTHETICS, ETHICS, ANONYMOUS: Queer Rereading Practices and Theories of Life Writing in the Facebook Era

Memoir, all the rave at the close of the twentieth century and advent of the twenty-first.  Facebook.  Twenty-Five Randon Things About Me.  Follow ME on Twitter: “Writing the Self” or writings from, of, or off “the self” have been central to British and American literary traditions and the reciprocal relationships between self-fashioning and aesthetic media self-consciously acknowledged.  This course will examine self-fashioning strategies in a range of authors across a centuries-long temporal spectrum—excerpts used will include readings from spiritual/moral autobiographies of Bunyan, Baxter, and Milton in England to ones by Rowlandson, Winthrop, Bradstreet, and Sewall in colonial New England; from Franklin’s autobiography, Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, and letters of Abigail Adams in the newly realized United States; poetry and other writings by Whitman, Dickinson, Frances Harper, and others in the slaveholding and then post-slavery union; and “lyricized” writings from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century, from modern and postmodern “confessional” poetry to AIDS memoirs and coming-of-age stories.  We will not limit ourselves to “lyricized” expressions and prose narratives but will range widely across genres and media so that music, journalism, film, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter focus our critical inquiry as we probe the following elements in self-representational writing—writing itself as constituting autobiographical identity; discursive contradictions (rather than unity) in representing identity; the name as a site of experimentation in states of being; gendered, racialized, sexualized, and classed connections and disconnections of word and body; limitations of critical/theoretical understandings of the terms “public” and “private”; collaborative writings and renegotiations of not only the first person singular but of the finally porous distinctions between and among literature, criticism, and theory; critically extensive reflection on what counts as “writing,” what counts as “literature”; critically extensive reflection on “archives,” what counts as an archive, on archives as remainders reconstituting collective memory.  Critically investigating uses of writing from the first person singular to mark, configure, and solicit identities, we will study a wide range of cultural figures, from those obscure and unknown to historical and contemporary celebrities, and we will examine the production and circulation of “writings” in manuscript, in print, and on the screens of listservs, reflectors, the World Wide Web, television, movie theaters, and on PDAs.  Our study will include scrutiny of some previously unimagined possibilities and constraints afforded by cyber-identities, as well as technologies of theory such as affect theory and its diverse influences on literary interpretation as critics muse upon the human condition.  Besides our readings, course work requires keeping a journal, an oral presentation, a short (2-3 pp.) paper, and an article-length autobiographical and/or theoretical paper and/or website or other digital production performance.  Of particular interest will be how writings, readings, and receptions queer and are queered by notions of the self.  Collaborative writing, web-authoring, and other digital media endeavors are welcome.

Possible Texts (sure to be revised with registrants’ input):

Course Packet—excerpts from Bunyan, Baxter, Milton, Rowlandson, Winthrop, Bradstreet, Sewall, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams (Abigail), Whitman, Dickinson, Harper, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Stein, H.D., Brooks, Ginsberg, Rich, Morrison, Facebook’s “Twenty-Five Random Things About Me” and Tweets (as memoir).

Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion.

Ashley, Kathleen, Leigh Gilmore, Gerard Peters, eds.  Autobiography & Postmodernism.

Castle, Terry.  The Professor and Other Writings: A Sentimental Education.

Clough, Patricia Ticineto with Jean Halley, eds.  The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social.

Cvetcovich, Ann.  An Archive of Feelings

Derricotte, Toi. The Black Notebooks.

Dickinson, Emily. Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson and Emily Dickinson’s Correspondences: A Born-Digital Textual Inquiry (both recommended; copies will be supplied).

Greenblatt, Stephen. Excerpts from Renaissance Self-Fashioning.

Hejinian, Lyn. Writing Is an Aid to Memory, excerpts from The Language of Inquiry.

Muske, Carol.  Women & Poetry: Truth, Autobiography, and the Shape of the Self.

Rukeyser, Muriel.  The Life of Poetry.

Sedgwick, Eve. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity.

Walt Whitman.  “Calamus” in print or “Live Oak With Moss” on screen, as you like it. The Walt Whitman Archive (http://whitmanarchive.org)