Spring Teaching: "Theories of Literature and Social Justice"

This spring I'm co-teaching a graduate seminar on Theories of Literature and Social Justice with my colleague Seth Moglen. We designed a new version of the syllabus that takes advantage of our respective areas of expertise. Below is the bare-bones version of the document. 



Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987)

J. M. Coetzee, Foe (1986)

Toni Morrison, A Mercy (2008)

Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio (1930s)

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)

Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928)


Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature


This course introduces students to theories of literature and social justice. How does the study of literature offer distinctive ways of grappling with questions of social justice? How do literary works reinforce or challenge dominant ideologies? In what ways do literary works provide tools to map exploitative or oppressive social and political formations? How do literary works enable us to imagine freer modes of life and more just and equitable societies? Most of our attention will be focused on theoretical and critical works that provide conceptual tools for thinking about these matters. We will also read some literary texts, from varied historical contexts, in order to provide opportunities to experiment with these interpretive paradigms. Major units will focus on intersectional approaches to: race; class; gender and sexuality; and postcolonial and decolonial thought. 


Thurs. Jan. 26 Introductions – and Bong Joon Ho’s Cinematic Representation of Class and Capitalism in Contemporary South Korea.

Bong Joon Ho, Parasite (2020)

Recommended reading: Nam Lee, Films of Bong Joon Ho, Conclusion: "Parasite – A New Beginning? 

Thurs Feb. 2 British Cultural Materialism: Raymond Williams and Carolyn Kay Steedman.

Raymond Williams’ Mid-century Cultural Manifesto.  Raymond Williams, “Culture Is Ordinary” (1959)

Carolyn Kay Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman (1986), Intro and Part I (Stories): pp. 5-24.

Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (1977), Part II, Chapters 4-9: pp. 95-135

Thurs Feb. 9 Fredric Jameson: Literature as Cognitive Mapping & Utopian

Fredric Jameson, “Cognitive Mapping” (1988)

Fredric Jameson, “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture” (1979)

Thurs Feb. 16 Modernism and Economic Inequality: Working-Class and Bourgeois Literary Visions

Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio (1930s/1974)

Robert Frost, “Two Tramps at Mud Time” (1934)

Ezra Pound, “The Garden” (1916)

Claude McKay, “Spring in New Hampshire,” “If We Must Die,” “Joy in the Woods,” “The Barrier,” “The Little Peoples” (1919-1920)

Thurs Feb. 23 Whiteness, Blackness

Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992), Preface and Chapters 1-2: v-xiii, 1-59.

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926), Chapter 7

William Carlos Williams, “A Negro Woman” (1955)

Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in 19th-Century America (1997): Intro & Chapter 1

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845): Chapter 1.

Thurs March 2 Theorizing the Implications of Slavery in the U.S.: Hortense Spillers and Christina Sharpe

Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” (1987).

Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016): Chapter 1, pp. 1-22.

Sojourner Truth, “Aren’t I A Woman?” (1851)

Thurs March 9 Literature as Wake Work: Reimagining Early America

Toni Morrison, A Mercy (2008)

Thurs March 23 Postcolonial Theory

Gayatri Spivak ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?” 

Homi Bhabha, “Of Mimicry and Man,” “Signs Taken for Wonders”

Amardeep Singh, "Mimicry and Hybridity in Plain English"

Thurs March 30 Postcolonial Literature

J. M. Coetzee, Foe

Gayatri Spivak, “Theory in the Margins” (essay on Foe)

Thurs April 6 Decolonial Visions and Practices

Mahashweta Devi, “Pterodactyl” (1994), translated by Gayatri Spivak.

Walter Mignolo and Catherine Walsh, “The Decolonial For: Resurgences, Shifts, and Movements (from On Decoloniality).

Thurs April 13 A Modernist Case Study: Virginia Woolf as Feminist Theorist

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1929)

Virigina Woolf, Three Guineas, excerpt

Thurs April 20 Queer and Trans Theory and Representation

Douglass Crimp, “Mourning and Militancy” (1989)

Heather Love, Feeling Backward (2009) (introduction)

Grace Lavery, “Egg Theory’s Late Style”

Sherwood Anderson, “Hands” (from Winesburg, Ohio, 1919)

Angelina Weld Grimké, “A Mona Lisa” (1927)

Thurs April 27 Gender and Sexuality in the Literature of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography (1928)

Thurs May 4 Theory as Literature/Literature as Theory: Bringing It All Together

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987)