My Photo


Roll Call

Become a Fan

« What's With the Frequency, Kaufman? | Main | All My Vintage Peeps! or Knapp and Some Knappy Conjectures »

Monday, 15 August 2005


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Seminars and Seders: A Lazy Quasi-Comparative History of Neither:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


huh. that novel & narrative course looks exactly like the narrative subject I did in my undergrad in 1993, it even had Bleak House as one dismembered cadavers.

If you really don't like any of those courses you could always emigrate. there is no such thing as a 'graduate seminar' in an Australian university, and thus I guess no pervasive and annoying Theory! Problem solved.


...BH as one OF the dismembered, etc


Laura, did you see this article by chance?

Charming and modest observations on American life by an Australian academic...


I read it. He does go on rather. Like, why is he so obsessed with the New York Times? Somebody that learned really ought to know better. On the other hand, what he says about the general reaction to Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction uncannily mirrored my own experience (I was also in America at the time).

I was once informed by a visiting American academic that Australia is just like small-town America used to be, in the 1950s, before America got all "crapped up".... sorry, Scott, for the hijacking, which ceases now.

Luther Blissett

Though here I give away certain key facts about myself which I've tried to keep secret in all my contact with blogs, I hereby give the url for the University of Pennsylvania Fall graduate seminar descriptions. I think you'll see from these why I *don't* believe in Theory's ubitquitous and uniform presence.

And just to clarify things: the "proseminar" that is listed as a "literary theory" course is not really one. It's more an "introduction to the profession" for incoming grad students in English. I won't deny that various "theories" appear in these descriptions. But I suppose I was formed in an environment -- both as a graduate and as an undergraduate student -- in which literature was held above, or prior to, theory. I also think that a course like "Modern Social Imaginaries" shows the importance of lit courses in bridging certain disciplinary boundaries; that is, some may see this as yet another "Theory" course, but I think it is actually a course that proposes a close study of a variety of discourses that have informed, and are informed by, the novel, including work from philosophy, historiography, sociology, and so on.

But Penn is well-known as a largely historicist program, with a heavy concentration on New Historicism and Material Texts in the early periods, and a more political-historicist (race, class, gender) bent in 18th and 19th century courses. Our modernists are more likely to be theoretical in the High Theory sense of the word, especially given our high concentration of experimental poetics scholars. Thus, I began my dissertation feeling oppressed by historicism, which is perhaps why I was so attracted to Hayden White, Frank Ankersmit, Dominic La Capra, and Michel de Certeau. I liked the "idea of history," even though I was turned off by what I often felt was a deadening of the power of literature by shoving it into the concrete boots of a rigid historical context. So ultimately I've written a lot about how literature itself thinks about history, and less about how history overdetermines literature. (Ironically, the most theory I read in a graduate seminar was when I took a course at Rutgers back in '99!)

Ray Davis

Those two novels don't stand a chance, do they?

At least they probably won't be read "in clips". Admittedly, there are few movies I respect less than Deleuze, but I'd expect that even some more admiring readers might prefer that the "very texts that have inspired" him be respected as works in their own right. Out-of-context fragments cited as authority -- pretty classic fodder for the anti-Theorists.

Speaking of which.... Scott, is this a complete or a selective list? If selective, how large a pot is it drawn from?

Scott Eric Kaufman

Real quick note: Ray, that's a selective list. I didn't feel the need to re-format the entire catalog. There are five other English seminars, three other Comp. Lit. and two other Critical Theory courses. I'll write a little more about them later.

Ray Davis

No need to as far as my question went, Scott. 7 out of 17 is enough empir-ical evidence to back up your point. Thanks!

Mark Kaplan

Scott, the courses on Deleuze, the Novel and Edward Said strike me as significantly different from some of the others. Hum 270 indeed looks like classic 'Theory' as I've seen it defined - eclectic, multi-tasking, a certain categorical carelessness. But the course, say, on Deleuze is simply looking at a single author's work on a single topic and investigating that author's own categories in the light of a range of films. Well, I suppose it's also using this to re-visit (replay) favourite 'Theory' themes, but nonetheless. I see no real reason why this should fall under the name Theory. Of course, the fact that it is placed under this rubric by the institution is in need of explanation. I can see why an anti-Theory person might object to hum270, but these same objections wouldn't really work with the deleuze course, or the course on the novel. ??

Scott Eric Kaufman

Mark, I'm not objecting to these courses, only presenting some material evidence to back my contention that "Theory" exists as an institutional practice. Also, I think any class on Deleuze at this point falls under the rubric of Theory because, at least from what I understand, he's not taken seriously by philosophers. (Now that is something I can't say definitively.)

Ray Davis

Mark, it's interesting that you should demure over what to me seemed the two most nightmarish prospects. Given the oh-so-helpfully-vague nature of these controversies, maybe we're starting from different ideas of the problem?

The Deleuze course claims that its goal is "to understand the formal elements of film style." But it clearly intends to put actual films in a very subordinate position, as something for Deleuze to make points about, and that it doesn't look into any other approaches.

The course on "the novel as a modern (that is, post-Romantic) genre; and narrative form" allows time for only two novels, one of them an idiosyncratic Romantic novel by Goethe and one of them an idiosyncratic Dickens warhorse, both of which are explicitly promised to serve as mere fodder for theorizing about "a short section from one."

Admittedly, advertisements can be misleading. But as advertised these sound like they aim to be the sort of New Canon abuses that I hear (legitimate) complaints about.

Ray Davis

(Wow, even for a pre-coffee comment, that was pretty sloppy. I hope some of my intended meaning managed to hack its way through.)

The comments to this entry are closed.