Spring 2022

Literature and the Nonhuman World

Listed in: English, as ENGL-296


Geoffrey D. Sanborn (Section 01)


The premise of this course is that ecological thinking is now an essential foundation of literary studies. Our primary focus will be on the way in which literature interacts with biology–with, in Elizabeth Grosz’s words, “a system of (physical, chemical, organic) differences that engenders historical, social, cultural, and sexual differences.” Through a not-only-intellectual immersion in the reading and discussion of a range of literary works, including Frankenstein, Walden, Dickinson’s poems, Kafka’s stories, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Winter in the Blood, we will develop an understanding of literature as, among other things, an expression and extension of life as such. Along the way, we will ask questions like these: What happens to our understanding of literature if we accept that it has emerged from a non-personal, non-teleological process of evolution? What happens to our understanding of authorship if we accept that human animals are neither autonomous nor self-governing? And what might happen if we were to think of individual works of literature as ways of getting closer, conceptually and sensually, to life, to the difference-making process within which we all find ourselves?

Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Learning how to read closely and with emotional intelligence; learning how to augment the experience of reading through informal reflective writing and class participation; learning that all ideas are associatively connected to other ideas and that there are powerful alternatives to state-illustrate-restate arguments. There will be pre-class writing assignments, two papers, and an emphasis on the quality of the contributions to class discussion. There will be no quizzes or exams. Students with documented disabilities who will require accommodations in this course should be in consultation with Accessibility Services and reach out to the faculty member as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations can be made in a timely manner.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2022