Monday, December 14, 2009

Syllabus Building as Academic Party Game

by KARL STEEL

It's that most wonderful time of the year, by which I mean of course the time to prepare next Semester's syllabi. I'm teaching just the one course, described below:
English 791X, “Saints, Monsters, and Animals in the Middle Ages”

“For anyone who doubts that a horse is by its very nature better than wood, and that a human being is more excellent than a horse, should not even be called a human being.”
Anselm, Monologion

This seminar will explore the multiple edges of humanity as it abuts on, and mixes with, the super-, sub-, and extrahuman. Course readings will treat a wide range of literatures, ranging from the era of the Roman empire through Early Modern writers like Montaigne. Readings will concentrate, however, on works of the Middle Ages, including narrative, church doctrine, and law: these include considerations of the nature of the human by Augustine and Aquinas, a ninth-century letter on dog-headed humans, a twelfth-century account of a dog revered as a saint, and several stories of saints that have left behind human civilization; we will also read in secondary, theoretical material, including Critical Animal Theory, Ecofeminism, and Posthumanism: philosophers of interest will include Ralph Acampora, Carol Adams, Matthew Calarco, Jacques Derrida, Donna Haraway, Kelly Oliver, and Cary Wolfe.


I have 20 students, 15 classes to fill, each 90 minutes long, and I'm looking for advice from the many of you who have taught similar courses, sometimes multiple times. Here's a possibility for now:

  1. Introduction: theoretical approaches
  2. Christian Foundations: Bible: Creation accounts in Genesis and Psalms 74:12-17; Numbers 22:1-41 (Balaam and the Donkey); Acts of Peter 9 (talking dog); Augustine on Animals (DCD I.20) and Ambrose Hexaemeron (excerpts); [perhaps Christians vs. Animal Reverence from Gerald of Wales [coronation ceremony] and Pagan Horse Consultation in Henry of Livonia's Chronicle]
  3. Abandoned Possibilities: Plutarch, "Beasts are Rational" (Gryllus the Pig debates with Odysseus); Sextus Empiricus on Animal Reason; Endelechius "On the Death of Cows"; Montaigne on his Cat; Acts of Phillip 8 [leopard and goat turned transformed into humans to participate in Eucharist];
  4. Studying Nature/Nature Studying Us: Bestiary excerpts; Owl and the Nightingale
  5. Holy Compassion and Confusion: Waddell, Beasts and Saints; Benedict mistaken for Animal (from Gregory the Great, Dialogues)
  6. Into the Wild: Vita Merlini; John Bouche d'Or or any Hairy Saint Life (whatever's been translated)
  7. Dogs: The 'Canis' Legend from 7 Sages of Rome (including Stephen of Bourbon on Guinefort) and Other Loyal Dogs (Dog of Antioch/Queen Sebille story)
  8. Monsters: Liber monstrorum; Cursor Mundi on the 'conversion' of monsters; Ratramnus of Corbie's Letter on the Cynocephali
  9. Monstrous Progeny: Melusine and Other Monsters from Geoffrey of Auxerre's Apocalypse Commentary; Gerald of Wales on Werewolves and Cowboys; Green Children
  10. Yvain [suggestions on translation? I don't want the Cline, nor do I want a Chr├ętien omnibus; ideally, I'd like an OF/English facing page, but I don't think that exists]
  11. Either Albina and Her Sisters or Lydgate, 'Debate of the Horse, Goose, and Sheep'
  12. Weeks 12-15: Secondary Reading + Presentations

What are your suggestions? What would you swap out? What does a course like this absolutely need? Currently, I think its chief impediment is its anthropocentrism, but I locked myself into that with the course description: next time, I'll try for a more strongly ecocritical and nonhuman angle.

(UPDATE JAN 15 2010: and here is the syllabus)

19 comments:

Eileen said...

This course looks really interesting, Karl. I've taught an M.A.-level seminar on the post/human Middle Ages and also an undergraduate senior seminar in literature from Ovid through Philip K. Dick. My only real comment here would be to encourage you to definitely do the Albina + sisters myth as it will allow you to have some time to investigate the intersections between gender/monstrosity/animality and also because it is connected [likely rooted in] the classical myths of Jove and Io plus the Danaides [and here, some Ovid in the course would not hurt--the Danaides are supposedly direct descendants of Io], and here, also helpful [and interesting to discuss in class] is Kristeva's commentary on women and "foreignness" in chapter 2 of "Strangers to Ourselves." I was surprised not to see any Marie de France here, but perhaps you might think that's over-exposed stuff? You might also think of including an art historical component--images of animal/human/vegetative hybrids in medieval art: sculpture, manuscript illuminations, and the like [and here, some of Michael Camille's work would be very apropos to the subject matter of your course]. Have fun!

Karl Steel said...

Thanks Eileen! I'll use the Albina legend, then. Unfortunately, there's no publically available translation of any of the OF versions; but I can use
Carley, James P. and Julia Crick. “Constructing Albion’s Past: an annotated edition of De Origine Gigantum.” Arthurian Literature 13 (1995): 41-114
and
Evans, Ruth. “Gigantic Origins: an annotated translation of De Origine Gigantum.” Arthurian Literature 16 (1998): 197-211.

Pairing this with Kristeva also strikes me as a really good idea! Thanks for the suggestion.

The Lydgate is a sadly under read poem, though, so I'd like to squeeze it in somewhere: maybe if I drive enough students away, I can drop a week of presentations?

I'm ALSO surprised not to see any Marie on here. I had it in my notes, but the werewolves section fell away when I got to this stage. I might put Bisclavret, then, on Week 7 Dogs? I know her fables would be useful, but I honestly think they're boring for Critical Animal Theory: if they went anywhere, they'd go with the Bestiary, but I'm more excited right now about Owl & Nightingale.

I also like the art idea: I could bring something in every week to illustrate the things we're talking about!

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Wow, what a course. Given that the amount of material you MIGHT have included is almost infinite, you've made good hard choices and arranged them well. I'd have put Mandeville on there, since the entirety of the book is so on-topic. And William of Palerne, with its lycanthropy and other crossings into animal bodies. And maybe assign Alf Siewers new, theory-savvy book on ecocriticism and the Middle Ages?

Of course my own idee fixe is that stone is a kind of organism, so there would have been lapidaries ...

Erin said...

Just quickly: I second the inclusion of Mandeville, and might suggest Bisclavret? It's short, pithy, interested in the human/animal overlap, and invariably teaches well. This looks like a phenomenal course--I'm jealous.

Anonymous said...

"And maybe assign Alf Siewers new, theory-savvy book on ecocriticism and the Middle Ages?"

May I ask what the title of this book is that you refer to here, Professor Cohen?

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Here. I love the book. I read it in manuscript about six months ago, and am looking forward to re-reading it now that my hard copy has arrived.

Karl Steel said...

Thanks for the additional suggestions and the compliments. They're much appreciated!

Another problem here is that most of my students won't have Middle English. As they're Brooklyn College students, I can count on proficiency in several modern languages--Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, and probably French, among others--but it'd be a mistake to count on anyone's skill in Old French, Middle English, and Latin (let alone any of the Germans). Thus I'll have to translate some of the Middle English myself (especially for the Cursor Mundi).

With that said, my chances of being able to do Jean Bouche d'Or or the Vie Jehan Paulus are highly unlikely unless I want to bear down and translate either one myself. William of Palerne however sounds like a great idea to put in its place. Has anyone taught this translation of the French version?

Mandeville also sounds like a good idea. I have the Moseley trans. (Penguin ed.): is that the usual one to assign?

So the question is: Werewolves OR Mandeville? I'm thinking Werewolves, unless I drop the Canis legend and put Mandeville in its place.

I can't really assign the Alf Siewers book, as great as it's going to be: too expensive. I can ask the library to put a copy on reserve, I think. I was honestly thinking of just assigning the Greg Garrard intro to Ecocritism for one of the last weeks of class.

As for Bisclavret, chances are I will put it on the syllabus. Although I've taught it couple of times already at BC, I think I could stand to do it again.

Anonymous said...

Karl:
There is also this edition of William of Palerne, which is bilingual (French and modern English, facing-page). Plus it looks cheaper than the edition you linked to:

http://www.amazon.com/Romance-William-Palerne-not-known/dp/1402196385/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2D2F0EYFZIVZY&colid=8CWWPP38T9GH#noop

Karl Steel said...

Unfortunately, the Facing Page trans of that edition (a reproduction of a mid-19th-century edition) goes only until the Middle English starts, at which point it becomes impenetrable for probably 1/2 the class. Too bad! Thanks for looking though,

Karl Steel said...

but students who are interested can get the whole thing as a free pdf here.

Mary Kate Hurley said...

This is def. a great course, Karl -- I'm promising myself I won't enroll, but boy do I want to.

My only thought: When you assign the Liber Monstrorum, are you doing the version which includes the fragment of the Apochryphon of Jamnes and Mambres? The OE version of the text (bilingual Latin and English) has that weird addition to the text, which raises an interesting question about the other creatures in the text, esp. those who are thought to be men. I can expand on this if you're interested.

Karl Steel said...

Expand please! Or have I heard you present on this work?


For the Liber M, I was thinking of just course-packing the Andy Orchard translation from Pride and Prodigies. Can you give me a link to the OE edition you're thinking of ESPECIALLY if it has a modern english translation in it?

Anne F. Harris said...

Hello! on the art history front: John Block Friedman's classic, _The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought_ (Syracuse University Press, 1981) interweaves multiple literary sources with images; and Debra Higgs Strickland's marvelous _Saracens, Demons, and Jews; Making Monsters in Medieval Art_ (Princeton University
Press, 2003) works out a thesis tracing the slippery slope from fictional monstrous races to making monsters in society. I'm an art historian myself (and tremulously posting for the first time ever!) and have just finished teaching "Marvels and Monsters: Imagining the Other in the Middle Ages" if you'd like to see the syllabus.

Jennifer said...

You might want to teach the legend of St Roch (who is healed from his plague wounds when licked by a dog), only because there's a really great statue of St Roch and his dog at the Cloisters, and I imagine a trip there would be encouraged (also because they have so many great capitals that show monsters, and half monk-monsters, which are great).

Karl Steel said...

Thanks for the rec. for Roch: I was hoping for St Blaise, about whom various animal stories and connections survive (see "Walter, Philippe. "Merlin, le loup et saint Blaise." Mediaevistik 11 (1998): 97-111), but, again, I think I'm stymied by an absence of translations (except, now that I check, the story in the Golden Legend is available).
As for Friedman and Strickland, I know both books relatively well, and there's also Rudolph Wittkower's foundational article. Thanks for the reminder! I WOULD very much like to see your syllabus, Anne: a good email address is ksteel AT brooklyn DOT cuny DOT edu.

Paul said...

What a fascinating course! I wish I could take it...

Anonymous said...

Karl: since so many people (myself included) seem interested in this course you are putting together for next term, would you mind posting a syllabus once the class schedule comes together a little more?

Eva Frojmovic said...

I wonder what people on this blog think of Bynum's "Wonder" lecture/essay?

Karl Steel said...

Anon.: I'd be delighted. In the meantime, here are some other medieval monsters syllabi: from Eileen, from Kip Wheeler, and Jeffrey "Celebratory Pizza" Cohen.

Eva, "wonder" in general has been a frequent topic here: I don't have anything to offer just yet on Bynum's essay, but I'm sure to put it on the syllabus. By then, at least, I'll have a response!