Wednesday, August 26, 2015



Don't miss Jonathan Hsy's SUMMER DIGEST below.

CUNY's Fall Semester starts next Monday, which means that yesterday was the last possible date for me to really wrestle my SMALL THINGS seminar into a syllabus. With a swarm of help over at a social media site, I had (most of) my texts.

With this, my second PhD seminar (the first, here), and my first since Tenure and Promotion (!), and my last before Sabbatical (!), I'm now noticing the obvious: how my scholarship and habits of thought determine the shape of a (not just for MA students) graduate syllabus. It's here that the syllabus is most personal; I expect or at least want students to want to think like I do, which means a syllabus that's either frenzied, crowded, jumbled, recherché, or learned, or all of these, depending on what you think about how I think. There's just a little below that I've taught before.

By several requests on twitter, it follows, below. Subject to change of course:

Professor Karl Steel
M 2-4pm
Grad Center Room 4433
Office Hour: 4-5pm and by appointment

“Shewe forth thyn ers, and lat the frere se
Where is the nest of freres in this place!”
And er that half a furlong wey of space,
Right so as bees out swarmen from an hyve,
Out of the develes ers there gonne dryve
Twenty thousand freres on a route” (Canterbury Tales, Summoner’s Prologue)

“Now, very slowly, the famous New York skyline comes through the mist. At first it looks like one of those scenes in stenciled cardboard fashionable in London theatre just after the War. Here I have the same experience as Mr Bergeret’s little dog Riquet: ‘As I approach an object, I grow less.’ Soon the spectacle becomes overwhelmingly grand: I am now no size at all.” – James Agate, “My American Journey”

Critical animal theory has tended to focus on larger animals, while ecocriticism has tended to focus on systems. What, however, of small, only seemingly inconsequential things? This course will range from Lucretius to Hooke and Cavendish to study swarming animals like worms, insects, and other vermin, the basic building materials of existence, and little people, some real, and some legendary (like the Green Children of Woolpit). The course will focus on medieval texts, but will frequently range into early modern material, particularly in its final weeks.

Required Texts (purchase or library)
Bernardus Silvestris, Cosmographia, trans. Winthtop Wetherbee (Columbia UP, 1973, 1990)
J. Allan Mitchell, Becoming Human: The Matter of the Medieval Child (U of Minnesota P, 2014)
Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain: The Knight of the Lion, Burton Raffel, trans (Yale UP, 1987)*
* other not terribly old translations may be substituted: the Kibler Arthurian Romances (Penguin) is good

Theme and Assignments
1. Derrida “The Animal that Therefore I am
2. “Bi a forrest as I gan fareDIMEV 922
3. Margaret Cavendish, “The Hunting of the Hare” (EEBO and U of Virginia Library)
THEME: Ethics of the (One) Other
Thu 9-10
1. Bernardus Silvestris, Cosmographia
2. selections from Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (c. 1650 translation by Lucy Hutchinson)
Recommended: Kellie Robertson, “Abusing Aristotle
THEME: Physics and the Scale of Matter
Assignment: Presentation
J Allan Mitchell, Becoming Human: The Matter of the Medieval Child
THEME: Human Growth
Assignment: Find a text or image from your field and talk about it in relation to a particular passage from Mitchell’s book
1. Green Children of Woolpit: Ralph of Coggeshall (in English; in Latin);
2. William of Newburgh (in English [from Godwin appendix in Broadview]; in Latin)
3. Godwin, Man in the Moone (excerpt)
4 John Clark, "'Small, Vulnurable ETs': The Green Children of Woolpit" Science Fiction Studies (2006)
5. Cohen, Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman 201-11
6. Goldberg, “Childhood and Gender in Later Medieval England” Viator (2008)
THEME: The Uncanniness of Children
Assignment: Presentation
2. Augustine, On the Trinity, III.4-9 (all things caused by God)
3. Albert the Great, Questions Concerning Aristotle's Historia Animalium, Book V, question 1, and XVII, questions 4-14 (wind eggs and spontaneous generation)
4. Ralph Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe, 1:314–24 (on mechanical necessity)
5. Hooke, Micrographia, 123-25
6. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Gutarri, A Thousand Plateaus, “Introduction: Rhizome” (use this for help)
Recommended:  Ian MacInnes, “The Politic Worm: Invertebrate Life in the Early Modern English Body,” in The Indistinct Human in Renaissance Literature, ed. Feerick and Nardizzi, 253-74
THEME: Swarms and Non Familial Development
Assignment: Presentation
1. Yvain
2. “Disputation Between Body and Worms” (Middle English; Modern English; Manuscript (with images!))
3. Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter, “Chapter 7: Political Ecologies”
THEME: Ethics of the Other meets the Ethics of the Swarm, plus herds and giants
Assignment: Presentation
1. Chaucer, “Prioress’s Tale” (from Canterbury Tales)
2. Higgins trans, Book of John Mandeville, Chapter 29, on Gog and Magog, 157-60
3. Thomas Dekker, Lanthorne and Candle-Light, Chapter 8, “Moone Men” (EEBO and Early English Books)
4. Broadside “The braue English iipsie” (EEBO, and Broadside Ballad Archive)
5. John Hartigan, jr, Aesop’s Anthropology, “Are Natives Plants or People?”
THEME: Swarms, Racism, and Fantasies of Contagion
Assignment: Presentation
1. Exeter Book, Riddle 27 (available in Price article below)
2. Bees and the Eucharist (start here; for more, see Anne Harris “Issues of Scale”)
3 and 4. Campana, Joseph. "The Bee and the Sovereign: Political Entomology and the Problem of Scale," Shakespeare Studies 41 (2013): 94-113 and "The Bee and the Sovereign (II): Segments, Swarms, and the Shakespearean Multitude," in Return of Theory in Early Modern English Studies, Volume II
Recommended: selections from Lisa Jean Moore & Mary Kosut, Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee
THEME: The Domesticated Insect
Assignment: Presentation
3. Richard Leigh, “Greatness in Little” (EEBO)
4. Hooke, Micrographia, selections (feet of a fly, eyes of a drone fly, of a blue fly)
5. Margaret Cavendish, “A World in an Eare-Ring” (EEBO and Norton)
THEME: Before and After the Microscope
Assignment: Presentation
1. “Voyage of St Brendan” (focus on islands & whales)
2. Letaldus of Micy, "About a Certain Fisherman whom a Whale Swallowed"
3. “Patience” (Middle English story of Jonah)
4. Granger “A Moste true and marueilous straunge wonder” (EEBO and English Broadside Archive)
5. “A True and Wonderfull Relation of a Whale” (EEBO)
THEME: The Human Made Small
Assignment: Presentation
1. Trevisa, Polychronicon Vol 2, 180-185
2. Exeter Riddle 30
3. Plato Philibus, 235-237 (Loeb Classical), 20e-21e
4. Gelli Circe Oyster and Mole
5. Enlightenment Encyclopedia, “Innate” & “Pleasure
6. selections from Joanna Zylinska, A Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene
THEME: Oysters and Agency
Assignment: Select your book to review (180-300 pages, from this century)
Assignment: Presentation
THEME: Assorted Small Things, Review of course themes
Book review presentation
Assignment: 2-page academic book review (maximum 1000 words)
Bring in a short associated text for discussion
Workshop on Paper writing
Assignment: Bring in a short passage from a primary text for discussion
Final paper due


Anonymous said...

Hi Karl,
This looks like a fascinating course!
W. Wetherbee's just brought out a new facing translation of the Cosmographia
which may be of use/interest.
Best wishes,
Johnny Morton

Karl Steel said...

Thanks! and WOW!! April 2015, so it really did just slip out. Too late to switch the one they'll be reading (which is the one I read in Joan Ferrante's Medieval Allegory class 15 or so years ago), but I'll see about getting my hands on it myself.

A.W. Strouse said...

It's great that you're including a workshop on paper writing. (Too many graduate professors neglect to teach the writing process.) But the workshop might be more effective if it came earlier in the semester. Or you may want to do two workshops--one midway through and one towards the end--in order to lead students through a long-time process.

Karl Steel said...

maybe can squeeze it in still! a good idea. -karl