5500 Topics in Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Literature

ENG5500HS    L0101    

Weird Fiction   

Dancer, T.    

Course Description:  

The genre of weird fiction exploded in prominence over the last couple of decades. From Jeff VanderMeer's popular Area X series (the first novel of which, Annihilation, was made into a feature film) to works by Victor LaValle, Naomi Novak, and Colson Whitehead, the weird has become a key location to ask the most serious questions about art, gender, bodies, the planet, ethics, race, and politics. In the course we will explore weird fictions beginnings in Kafka and Bulgakov as well as its contemporary manifestations. Our main readings will be works of weird fiction, but they will be supplemented by philosophical readings on aesthetics, ethics, and language (from authors such as Kant, Wittgenstein, Murdoch, A.N. Whitehead, and Foucault) as well as relevant criticism and theory by Bakhtin, Marshall, Shklovsky, Thacker, and more.    

Course Reading List:  

Ann VanderMeer
Jeff VanderMeer
Victor LaValle
Naomi Novak
Erin Morgenstern
Thomas Ligotti
China Mievelle
K J Bishop

Method of Evaluation and Course Requirements: [NB: SGS requires that participation grade must not exceed 20% of total grade]
Participation (20%)
Reading Responses (50%)
Term Paper (30%)

Term: S-TERM (January 2025 to April 2025)
Date/Time: Tuesday 11:00 am to 1:00 pm (2 hours)
Location:  JHB 616 (170 St. George Street, Jackman Humanities Building)

Delivery: In-Person  

ENG5501HF    L0101    

Social Robots in the Cultural Imagination 

Goldman, M.    

Course Description: 

This course will explore the production and portrayal of social robots in the cultural imagination in conjunction with literary and religious myths of creation. While the course looks back to the history of AI and early literary accounts of robots in the 1960s, it concentrates on modes of production and on works written in or after the 1990s when western society experienced "the development of a fully networked life." The course will explore the ethical and aesthetic questions raised by the intersection between the production and the imaginative portrayals of transhuman relationships. Questions to be considered in interpreting developments in AI and in reading literature about social robots in light of the religious and classical myths-include: how is creation figured? What or who is created and why? Who plays God? Who serves as Eve/Adam? Who is cast as Satan? What is the locus of the Garden? What constitutes power/knowledge? And, finally, how does a particular treatment of the social robot potentially alter our understanding of the foundational imaginative intertexts and, by extension, notions of divinity, humanity, gender, animality, and relations of kinship and care.  

Course Reading List:  

1. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (1967) 2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968) 3. Speak by Louisa Hall (2015) 
Films and TV series: 1. Ex Machina 2. West World 3. Robot and Frank 4. Her 
1. Half Life by John Mighton 2. Marjorie Prime by Jordan Harrison 
Secondary Sources and Human Resources: 
1. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle 
2. Analyses of real-world development of social robots: a. ElliQ: robot companion https://www.intuitionrobotics.com/elliq/ b. Sophia et. al.: http://www.hansonrobotics.com/robot/sophia/ c. Erika: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87heidlFqG4 d. Geminoid DK: a) test https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZlLNVmaPbM b) in action https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSLe7xrP4jQ e. Kismet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KRZX5KL4fA; c. CHATGBT 
3. Teresa Heffernan's SSHRC-funded project: "Where Science Meets Fiction: Social Robots and the Ethical Imagination" (see: http://socialrobotfutures.com/
4. Amelia DeFalco's research and writing on social robots, aging, and care work. Her research project, Curious Kin: Fictions of Posthuman Care, investigates non-human care, both actual and imagined. This work examines representations of companion animals and robots in literature, film, television, and advertising to explore how posthuman dependencies might transform our understanding of "humane" care and the human. 
5. U of T is home to the newly created Vector Institute, The Vector Institute (VI), whose mandate entails driving "excellence and leadership in Canada's knowledge, creation," and using "artificial intelligence (AI) to foster economic growth and improve the lives of Canadians."  

Method of Evaluation and Course Requirements:  [NB: SGS requires that participation grade must not exceed 20% of total grade]
1.    Each week students will be required to be prepared to answer orally a list of questions handed out the previous week (or sent to you via e-mail; students will also be asked to choose one question from the list and to write up a 1-2 page response (double spaced, 12 pt. font) that will be handed in at the end of each class-no late submissions will be accepted without permission of the professor. [One-page responses = 15% of grade] 
2.    Each student is responsible for one seminar report to be presented orally (max. 15 min.). The report should, where appropriate, analyze the intersections between the theory and the fiction under consideration. A written version of the report is due the week following the oral presentation (max. 8 pages). [Oral presentation and response to questions from the class = 10% of total grade; written version of seminar which, if necessary, can be revised in the light of questions and/or further research = 30% of final grade.] 
3.    There is one major research paper, which may develop out of your seminar but should include (theoretical and fiction) material not read on the course (max. 20 pages). [Research paper = 45% of final grade]. 

Term: F-TERM (September 2024 to December 2024)
Date/Time: Monday 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm (2 hours)
Location:  JHB 616 (170 St. George Street, Jackman Humanities Building)

Delivery: In-Person  

ENG5502HS    L0101    

Against the Law: Writing and Reading Male Homosexuality in Post-War England

Morra, I.   

Course Description:  

This course explores the aesthetic representation of male same-sex desire in twentieth-century English literature, drama, and film before the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales (1967). Throughout the first half of the century, the Oscar Wilde trial acted as a perpetual reminder of the close relationship between literature, the arts, and public (and sometimes judiciary) assumptions about male same-sex desire. This relationship was further enforced by an established environment of cultural policing, where novels and publishers could be put on trial, and where censorship of theatre and film was rigorously enforced. Beginning with an overview of influential Victorian and Edwardian literary tropes, this course examines prominent constructions of homosexual identity and same-sex desire variously associated with Oxbridge aesthetes, the ‘theatrical set’, and the privileged, invariably tragic outsider. Its primary focus then turns to the diverse reworkings, reassertions, and rejections of these associations in post-WWII literature, theatre, and film. Close attention will be paid to the close relationship between aesthetics and an increasingly public preoccupation with class identity, social mobility, sexuality, national identity, and the manifold possibilities of artistic expression itself.

Course Reading List: 

Preliminary Reading List: 
Excerpts from the Oscar Wilde trial and Oscar Wilde, De Profundis; poems by A.E. Housman, J.A. Symonds, Noël Coward lyrics; Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin; Evelyn Waugh, Put Out More Flags and Brideshead Revisited; E.M. Forster, Maurice; Robin Maugham, The Servant; Rodney Garland, The Heart in Exile; Mary Renault, The Charioteer; Terence Rattigan, Separate Tables; Peter Wildeblood, Against the Law; Gillian Freeman, The Leather Boys.

Films: Victim; The Servant; The Leather Boys

Method of Evaluation and Course Requirements: [NB: SGS requires that participation grade must not exceed 20% of total grade]

  • 60%: Final Essay
  • 20%: Seminar Presentation
  • 20%: Participation

Term: S-TERM (January 2025 to April 2025)
Date/Time: Friday 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm (2 hours)
Location:  JHB 616 (170 St. George Street, Jackman Humanities Building)

Delivery: In-Person