Overview | Requirements | Courses | Faculty


Courses in the English department engage students in the close critical study of English-language literature in an international and interdisciplinary context, encompassing works from British, American, and other Anglophone literary traditions. In keeping with Occidental’s mission values of equity and excellence, students in English courses read the work of both long-studied writers and of those previously excluded from traditional literary history. Majors will 1) become proficient in close reading and focused discussion of individual literary works,  2) learn to situate those works in their generative historical, geographic and social contexts, and 3) become skilled in interpreting them through a range of theories and methods that characterize the evolving discipline of literary studies. Non-majors will develop their capacity to engage in close reading, critical thinking, and analytical writing. Most courses in the department are seminars or combinations of lecture and discussion. This pedagogical orientation underscores the department’s strong emphasis on faculty-student interaction and the collaborative production of knowledge. Introductory survey courses (ENGL 287-289) expose students to the breadth and diversity of Anglophone literary history. Upper division courses (ENGL 300 level classes) develop sophisticated skills in literary analysis, interpretive writing, and oral presentation. Methodological and research-oriented seminars in the sophomore, junior and senior years (ENGL 290, 390 and 490) direct students in the practice of original independent analysis that places primary textual interpretation in dialogue with secondary critical research.


MAJOR: A major requires a minimum of eleven courses (44 units). These must include three historical survey courses (ENGL 287, ENGL 288, and ENGL 289); students may substitute one of the corresponding first-year survey courses (187, 188, 189) for its 200 level counterpart (287, 288, 289), but may not receive major credit for both (e.g. 187 and 287). Students must also take three sequential seminars (ENGL 290, ENGL 390, and ENGL 490) in their sophomore, junior and senior years, respectively. The remaining five courses should be chosen in consultation with the student’s adviser. But they must include one course from each of the following four categories, with no more than two taken at the 200-level:

Group I: Medieval and Renaissance Literature (courses numbered 210-229 or 310-329)
Group II: 18th and 19th Century Literature (courses numbered 230-249 or 330-349)
Group III: 20th and 21st Century Literature (courses numbered 250-269 or 350-369).
Group IV: Emergent Literatures (courses that satisfy the department criteria for representing the study of literatures from historically marginalized groups or communities)
[NOTE: “Emergent Literature” courses will typically fall under the Group II or III categories. However, they cannot count for both a period requirement (such as Group II or III) and the Emergent Literature requirement.]

Students considering graduate work in literature are strongly encouraged to take additional English courses beyond the minimum of eleven in order to broaden and deepen their knowledge of literary history and their practice of literary interpretation. They should also take ENGL 370: Literary Criticism. Most graduate programs require proficiency in at least one foreign language.

CREATIVE WRITING EMPHASIS:  Students majoring in English may elect to take additional courses in order to complete a Creative Writing Emphasis, a special track that provides a strong background in both literary history and creative writing skills. Students choosing this emphasis will take a total of 13 courses. These must include ENGL 287, ENGL 288, ENGL 289, ENGL 290, ENGL 390, ENGL 490, and three courses from among the four upper division course categories noted above as Groups I, II, III and IV (only one of these may be a 200 level course). The four remaining electives must be creative writing courses. At least two of these must be from the English department. Other departments and programs that have offered writing courses include French, Theater, AHVA, and Writing and Rhetoric. Students interested in pursuing the Creative Writing Emphasis must work out a careful program in consultation with their adviser and the department chair.

MINOR: Five courses (20 units); two courses from 287-290 (one first year course from among ENGL 187, 188 or 189 may substitute for its 200 level equivalent); and three other courses, two of which must be taken at the 300-level.

ADVANCED PLACEMENT POLICY: English majors who have completed the AP test in English with a score of 4 or 5 may petition the department chair to be allowed to graduate with 10 courses (including all required courses and Group I-IV categories) rather than the 11 specified above.

JUNIOR WRITING REQUIREMENT: Students majoring in English satisfy the final component of Occidental College's college-wide writing requirement by successfully completing ENGL 390 in the junior year and receiving a notation of "Satisfactory" for its writing component.

SENIOR COMPREHENSIVE REQUIREMENT: All majors must take ENGL 490 (Senior Seminar) in the fall of the senior year, where they will design, develop, and complete a significant project involving literary research and analysis. The project will result in a substantial essay of original interpretation and pertinent secondary research, and a formal conference-style oral presentation at the Senior Symposium held during the spring semester. See the department website for more details.

HONORS: Honors may be awarded to graduating seniors who demonstrate excellence in course work and who successfully develop their comps project into an honors thesis. To be eligible, students must have a 3.65 grade point average in courses taken toward the major and an overall 3.5 grade point average. Qualified students will be invited to apply for permission to proceed to honors by the department prior to the beginning of the spring semester. Upon review by department faculty, students whose applications are accepted will register for ENGL 499 (Independent Study), for two units in the spring semester. They will complete a thesis to be orally defended before a faculty committee during the spring semester. Honors candidates are encouraged to take ENGL 370, preferably in the junior year. For further details, consult with your department advisor.


English Courses Open to All Majors

English courses numbered 200-290 are open to all Occidental students of any major who have completed the first-year fall CSP writing seminar. No more than two may be counted toward the English major.

142 - Joyful Noise! On Black Literature & Musicality

In the course, “Joyful Noise! On Black Literature and Musicality,” students will join scholars like Emily Lordi, Shana Redmond, and Brent Edwards, who look at how the literary and musicality mutual inform each other in the black diaspora, how gender tensions can enrich literary and musical creation, how these creative influences often trespass (or help to change) national boundaries. In this course, blackness is not simply an identity on the census, but a site of contingency, translation, and formal experimentation. This course will look at several literary genres including short fiction, poetry, novels, and political essays, as well as musical genres including jazz, gospel, opera, labor movement anthems and hip-hop. The syllabus will pair works of literature and music in relation to relevant scholarship. Readings will include (but are not limited to) W.E.B. Du Bois’s international political essays and their direct references to Wagner; Mahalia Jackson and the writings of Martin Luther King; Richard Wright and Bessie Smith; Kendrick Lamar and the pre- and post-prison writings of Nelson Mandela; and other fascinating encounters between literature and music in Black America and the Black Diaspora.

155 - Science as Fiction – Philip K. Dick

One version of science fiction extrapolates the technical and cultural trajectory of its society into a dystopian or utopian future. Another takes issue with the scientific method and finds in that rationalistic and metrical analysis a materialized and reductionist illusion as to the complexities of existence. From this second perspective, it is science and not literature that is the delusional fiction. Perhaps, the greatest author of this second type is Philip K. Dick. This class will read some of his weird and psychologically challenging short stories and novels against their historical antecedents such as Frankenstein, and try to understand their startling quarrel with realism and the more generally accepted logical portrait of the world. To visualize his creative deviation, we will also analyze a couple of the many movies based on his work. This class is tailored for first and second year students who have done little college level work in literature.

177 - Shakespeare and Film: The Bard and Bollywood

In his own day, Shakespeare was part of a complex theatrical world that produced drama of supreme intensity, and his works continue to exert their force in our contemporary global world. Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted to film more than those of any other author in any language. This class will examine film adaptations emerging in the past three decades from the largest film industry in the world, Bollywood. We will learn how to read closely and write about 5 Shakespeare plays (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and A Comedy of Errors) and their Bollywood versions (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Haider, Omkara, Maqbool, and Angoor). As we trace the evolution of dramatic form, poetic style, characterization, and ideology in Shakespeare's own persistent artistic experimentation, we will also work to understand how Bollywood films diversely inherit and extend these experiments through adaptation, mimicry, appropriation, and displacement. What modes of interpretation must we cultivate to trace the circulation of Shakespeare's texts from his own period across time and space to postcolonial South Asia? How can these films enrich our reading of Shakespeare's plays, revealing issues of race, gender, sexuality, and power that are too often marginalized, and vice versa? By bringing Shakespeare into dialogue with Bollywood, we will enliven the complex, unruly energies that characterize Shakespeare's work, while also tracing the legacies of colonialism that continue to make Shakespeare relevant to the world of South Asian cultural production today.

178 - Shakespeare and Film

In late 16th and early 17th-century England, Shakespeare was part of a complex theatrical world that produced drama of supreme intensity, and his works continue to exert their force in our contemporary global world, both in theater and in film. Shakespeare’s plays have, in fact, been adapted to film more than those of any other author in any language. This class will read some of Shakespeare’s most complex and interesting plays and examine film adaptations from around the world. We will pay special attention to the evolution of Shakespeare’s tragic vision, and its possible redemption in his late romance plays, in order to trace his experimental development of dramatic form, poetic style, characterization, and ideology. We will also work to understand how films enliven the complex, unruly energies that characterize Shakespeare's work, extending these experiments through adaptation, mimicry, appropriation, and displacement. CORE REQUIREMENT MET: PRE-1800 ● REGIONAL FOCUS

189 - The American Experience in Literature

A historical survey of the major literary genres from the colonial to the contemporary period, emphasizing the persistent thematics of the American experience from a cross-cultural perspective. This class is particularly suited for students interested in the ways in which well-known American authors are in conversation with African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos/as, and white women, who, until recently, had been left out of the literary canon. Open only to first year students. ENGL 189 satisfies an equivalent requirement to ENGL 289 within the English major. Students may not receive credit for both 189 and 289.

241 - The "Deviant"

This course looks at representations of “deviance” in 19th and early 20th century literature. Underlying our examination will be an investigation of what constitutes the “normal” and the ways in which normativity polices its boundaries. Focusing primarily on literary and filmic representations of the sexual, racial, legal, and economic “taboo,” in works including Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, E.M. Forester’s Passage to India, and Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, we will seek to uncover the terms of normativity against which the figure of the deviant emerges into representation. We will supplement our analysis of literature with readings from a range of theoretical methodologies, from psychoanalysis, legal theory, Marxist/economic theory, to postcolonial and critical race studies. Major requirement met: Group II/IV.

273 - American Poetry, Politics, and Pleasure

Today, poetry is less often studied than prose or film. However, for American poets between the 18th and 20th centuries, poetry was a primary technology for the liberation of feeling and, by that, a challenge to the political status quo. Verse was seen as a process whereby the poet and the reader overcame the ideological habituations of a prosaic and controlling world of isolation, money, and pragmatism. Thus, this genre constituted as existential revolt against capitalization through the unfettering of emotions from excessive familiarity and cliché. This class will expect no previous knowledge of the genre. After a sufficient but brief introduction to the methods of verse, we will undertake an immersion in a very few and brief poems from writers including Wheatley, Bradstreet, Poe, Whitman, Ginsberg, Plath, and Stevens.

274 - Women Writers

In English 274 we will study novels by Anglo American, African American, and Native American women writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among the authors we will read are George Eliot, Kate Chopin, and Virginia Woolf; Harriet Jacobs, Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, and Alice Walker; Louise Erdrich and Leslie Marmon Silko. In addition to doing close readings of the novels, we will strive to understand the historical context and the cultural values in which the works are embedded and to which they respond. Prerequisite: 100 or 200 level ENGL class, or junior standing.

280 - Creative Writing

This creative writing workshop will focus on fiction, memoir and poetry. Students will be required to read and write extensively, to write reports on assigned reading, to attend author readings on campus, and to participate in class examination of student work. A final portfolio is due at the end of the semester. We will examine ways of heightening imagination through both memory and perception.  The class is limited to first and second year students. Prerequisite: Any first year fall CSP writing seminar, Writing and Rhetoric 201, or permission of instructor.

281 - Creative Writing: Poetry

This course introduces students to the fundamentals of poetry writing. Students will learn how to craft and revise poems, and will workshop their poetry in class with their peers. Outside readings will also be required.

287 - English Literature 1077-1660

One of the three introductory courses for the major, this course is an introduction to reading early literature in English, from Beowolf to the late 17th century. We?ll develop our capacities to hear, feel, and understand the language of some of the greatest and most influential writers in English, and we?ll explore a set of analytic concepts and strategies for interpreting their difficult works. Topics we will consider include: genre and form; allusion and influence; rhetoric and truth; metaphor and allegory; narrative and memory; gender and sexuality; race and power. Prerequisite: Fall CSP course.

288 - English Literature 1660-Present

Monsters and Monstrosity: Literature is rife with portraits of monsters and monstrosity. From Homer's The Odyssey, and Grimm's fairytales, to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Salman Rushdie's Shame, monsters challenge our everyday ideas about normality. Situated between the animal and the human, monstrous creatures are ciphers for difference that force us to consider what we regard as culturally abject or grotesque, as well as alluring. That these mythical figures continue to fascinate, even as they frighten, suggests their symbolic power in embodying both our latent desires and prohibitions. This course will explore the emergence of the monstrous aesthetic across several genres (epic, drama, novel, poetry, film), and periods (renaissance to contemporary) to probe the shifting terrains of sexual, racial, and cultural otherness that monsters represent. Along the way, we will ask critical questions that arise from the study of monstrosity. What, for instance, separates monsters from humans? How does monstrosity define our notions about beauty and ugliness, desire and disgust? Does the monster appear each time under a different guise? If so, to what extent does it reshape our sensibility about what is socially abnormal? What can monsters teach us about the hopes and apprehensions of the cultures and times to which they belong? Ultimately, we will seek to understand how and why these ferocious figures also elicit sympathy in us toward those markedly unlike ourselves. Our reading list includes works by Alfred Tennyson, William Blake, R.L. Stevenson, Mary Shelley, Patricia Highsmith, among others. Prerequisite: Fall CSP class.

289 - The American Experiences in Literature

This class surveys American Literature from the colonial period to the present. We will study genres, authors, and cultural trends in a historical framework. Significant emphasis will be placed on close reading and analytic writing. Students will be introduced to the nomenclature of literary analysis through discussion and interpretation of individual texts.

290 - Literary Methodologies

This course will introduce students to contemporary critical methodologies in literary studies.  Students will engage a wide range of critical approaches to help ground their subsequent study of literature across the English department curriculum. By studying influential works of theory and criticism, you will become familiar with the historical genesis of literary studies, with special attention to the political, social and other institutional factors informing the rise of particular methodologies in the academe. We will trace these critical genealogies so as to recognize and participate in the fullness of literary studies. Prerequisite: any first year fall CSP writing seminar, Writing and Rhetoric 201, or permission of instructor.


Upper Level English Courses

English courses numbered 300-385 are designed primarily for English majors and students from other majors with some experience in reading and writing about literature at an advanced level. Successful completion of one 100-level or 200­level English course, or junior or senior standing, is required for these courses. In some cases individual instructors may require additional prerequisites, as listed below.

310 - Death in Middle English Literature

Examining death in the imaginative and meditative culture of the 14th and early 15th centuries, this seminar will introduce advanced students to a wide range of Middle English literature. No prior knowledge of Middle English or medieval literature required. We will contextualize our work by looking at religious, philosophical, and medical texts about death, yet our focus will be on scenes of death, burial, mourning, and memorial in literary texts by Chaucer, the Pearl Poet, Julian of Norwich and others. Asking how we can construe the ethical and political imagination of the medieval English literary world, we will also consider larger issues related to the literary awareness of death: the representability of death; the political and generic function of consolation, tragedy, and elegy; death?s relations to the sacred and the sovereign; the economics of death in the age of the plague; war and martyrdom; mourning and rebellion; dreams and the afterlife; gender, living death, and anchoritism. Prerequisite: Successful completion of one 100-level or 200 level English course, or junior or senior standing

311 - Premodern Romance

Akin to the novel in modernity, romance was one of the most important genres of imaginative literature in medieval and early modern England (and Europe more generally) and yet it was also the one that provoked the most profound moral and aesthetic concern. Hugely popular, romance was often condemned for its endless attention to pleasure, pain, and error, for its perverse magical stories of quest and exploration, for its unseemly analysis of chivalric duty and obsession—and even for its capacity to corrupt its readers beyond repair. Whether viewed as a genre of utopian dreaming or of lurid and dangerous narrative failure, romance is a vexed concept. By examining premodern and modern genre theory, this class will explore the formation of the category of romance across medieval and Renaissance England (with some attention paid to France, Italy, and Spain), thus giving students an opportunity to consider how genre can enable and constrain understanding of particular works of literature. We will focus the majority of our attention on two of the most anomalous expressions of the genre: Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Crisyede and several books of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. These poems relentlessly reflect on their own status as romances; their examinations of story-telling and power, gender and sexuality, spectacle and violence are acute. At the end of the semester, we may turn to more recent speculative fictions (such as Samuel R. Delany’s Nova) to get a sense of how premodern romance remains an archive for some of the most exciting cultural production today. Prerequisite: One 100-level or 200 level English course, or junior or senior standing.

321 - Seventeenth-Century Poetry

This seminar focuses on poetry and poetics with an emphasis on shorter poems (especially sonnets, elegies, odes, pastoral poems, and devotional and love lyrics) in the 1600s, from William Shakespeare to Andrew Marvell. No previous knowledge of verse or Renaissance literature necessary. The course provides the tools for attending closely to these relentlessly experimental poems in their formal and historical contexts and beyond, in the productive pressures they exert on later poets as various as Emily Dickinson, J. H. Prynne, and Jericho Brown. The poems of the seventeenth century were written during a time of violent revolution and colonialism, new forms of examination of nature, history, and language, and radical shifts in public and private forms of belief. We will examine how these poems explore all of these concerns and more through innovative engagement with the formal, metrical and generic resources available. What do shorter poems mean and do in this period? Why do they matter? How do they organize experience, sensation, thought, and belief? How do they act on readers? And on the world? Prerequisite: One 100-level or 200 level English course, or junior or senior standing.

322 - Renaissance Literature: Punishment and the Passion

This class explores early British literature with an emphasis on literary representations of punishment and the passions. The Renaissance and Reformation in England witnessed the emergence of more centralized institutions to police sin and illegality in society, to tame passions, whether devotional or political, that could unsettle the developing sovereignty of the modern state. We will examine how literary texts represent and respond to such larger political and theological shifts in punishment. Some of the most innovative and exciting works of drama, poetry, and prose in this period struggle with the purpose and effects of confinement, imprisonment, slavery, and penance. Topics will include: the normalization of punishment through legal centralization; the relationship between punishment and the humanistic culture of teaching; the relationship between domestic and colonial punishment; revenge and forgiveness; race, gender, sexuality, and punishment; punishment and class hierarchy; violence and equity; sin and salvation; self-punishment and penance; punishment and spectacle; the ethics of witnessing punishment; slavery and revolt. Authors include: Machiavelli, Thomas More, Anne Lock, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Hobbes, and Aphra Behn. Prerequisite: One 100-level or 200 level English course, or junior or senior standing.

341 - Race, Law, and Literature

This course interrogates the crucial role of the law in British imperial governance by reading colonial legislation and court proceedings alongside works of nineteenth and early twentieth century literature,.  Doing this allows us to examine how dominant legal paradigms were disseminated in the era’s cultural production, and, in turn, how cultural ideals reflected in literature were materially implemented through the law.  In addition, we will look at how literature often provided a viable means of contesting the normative terms of the law. Major requirement met: Group II/IV.

345 - American Literature Before 1990

The Literature of Non-Representation: In the Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions, literature is usually understood as an untrue copy of the “real.” As such, it has often been devalued as morally suspect and materially empty. However, this perspective was itself inverted by some American literature of the 18th and 19th centuries. In this contrarian view, literature is the activity of realization itself and the literal and scientific modalities are fictions lost in their habitual misunderstandings. For these opposing writers, the poetic process constitutes the reader’s dissolving emersion in the real without need of conceptual replica. This class will try to understand this non-representational view with primary concentration on the poems of Whitman and Dickinson bracketed by the previous practices of Bradstreet, Wheatley, Emerson, and Poe. Major requirement met: Group II

347 - 19th Century Novel and Bollywood Cinema

This course will examine nineteenth century British and Indian novels in dialogue with their twentieth century Bollywood adaptations. A product of the largest film industry in the world, Indian cinema is consumed globally. Questions of globalism were also central to nineteenth century novels, which were written during the height of colonial rule. We will examine the films and novels, paying particular attention to representations of cultural subject formation, gender and racial norms, and nationalist sentiment in the era of empire and the postcolonial moment. Prerequisite: Any 100 or 200-level English course or junior or senior standing. Major requirement met: Group II/IV.

365 - Contemporary Literature

Violence and Representation: This course will interrogate Fanon's assertions that the colonized find their freedom only through violence, and that decolonization is always a violent process, by considering the structuring dialectics between violence, the body, and postcolonial narratives of insurgency. If, for Fanon, decolonization is both literally and linguistically an adopted violence so that militancy against colonialism is an answer back in the imported language of destruction that the colonizer best understands, our goal will be to investigate the complex and shifting relations to violence/violation that postcolonial texts elaborate when they represent insurgent anticolonial practices. By looking closely at how postcolonial narratives represent insurgencies against power and their attendant violences, we will arrive at an analytic for addressing the technologies of pain, trauma, brutality, torture, and repression that conditioned regimes of colonial discipline and control. We will also consider the extent to which postcolonial texts appropriate an apparatus of violence in representing bodies in rebellion, while also articulating alternative visions of resistance and social change that specifically refuse the ethics of extremism. Our inquiry will draw from a critical discourse on corporeality (Foucault, Scarry), the nation (Fanon, Anderson) and gender (Butler, Spivak) to illuminate the peculiar charge in narratives of insurgency between the embodied politics of militancy and the body politic. Finally, the texts which we will be reading deal in some way with the problematic of form (how to represent the urgency of politicized violence as a condition of modernity), and in so doing reach beyond realist conventions to reflect aspects of the surreal, the grotesque, the spectacular, and the magically real. We will assess the efficacy of these forms, and their overwrought symbolism, in managing the economy between the public and the private, victims and perpetrators, masculinity and femininity, and whites and blacks, which structured the play of colonial violence itself. Over the course of the term, we will be reading writers as diverse as Roy, Coetzee, Al-Shaykh, Djebar, Salih and viewing films such as The Terrorist, Bandit Queen, and The Battle of Algiers. Prerequisite: Any 100- or 200-level English course, or junior or senior standing. Major requirement met: Group III/IV.

370 - Literary Theory

After a short introduction to Aristotle, this course will present the works of Marx, Freud, and Saussure as the basis for later 20th Century theory. We will then explore the structuralist and post-structuralist movements. This class is recommended to those contemplating graduate study in the humanities, and it is required for students pursuing Honors in English. Prerequisite: Any 100- or 200-level English course, or junior or senior standing.

372 - Major Figures in Literature

Faulkner, Hemingway, and Morrison: Discussion of the major novels of William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Toni Morrison with an emphasis on race and gender in American culture. Prerequisite: Any 100- or 200-level English course, or junior or senior standing. Major Requyirement met: Group III.

377 - Literature and the Other Arts

On Afrofuturism. This course interrogates the intellectual and artistic dimensions of the Afrofuturism movement. From the present-day going at least as far back as Phillis Wheatley's poetry, one finds a robust exploration of black culture's relationship to technology and futurity that diverge from Eurocentric standards of civilizational progress. The course will focus on literature and related genres, including music and film. Students will engage the work of Alondra Nelson, John Akomfrah, Sir Thomas More, Tracy K. Smith, Phillis Wheatley, Will Alexander, Evie Shockley, Sun Ra, Outkast, Octavia Butler, and others. Major Requirement met: Group III/IV.

380 - Creative Writing: Writing Identity

This is a multi-genre workshop, with a focus on autobiographical fiction and memoir. Using students' own work, we will talk about general issues of craft, but here there will be a focus on situating your writing in a particular geographical locale, a particular historical moment, tapping into the experiences and memories from your own lives that can fuel your best writing. We will write what we know in the hopes of discovering what we don’t know. We will “look for the stories that didn’t happen within the stories that did.” (John Gardener) Prerequisite: junior or senior standing. Can be repeated one time for credit.

382 - Advanced Creative Writing

Students familiar with the elements of craft-setting, characterization, plot, dialogue, etc.-will produce several new stories and revise them, and will read and critique the works of their peers. In class writing exercises and outside readings will also be required. Can be repeated one time for credit. Prerequisite: junior or senior standing.

390 - Junior Seminar in English

The Junior Seminar is a small, discussion-oriented seminar required of all majors, emphasizing advanced critical approaches to a literary topic. Enrollment is restricted to English majors, who will pass the College 3rd Year Writing Requirement by satisfactory completion of the course writing requirements. This course may be repeated if the titles are different.

Objects of Beauty: In her recent book, On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry makes the claim that “At the moment we see something beautiful, we undergo a radical decentering.”  Others might suggest that notions of beauty have been used precisely to center certain normative standards, often violently marginalizing those who do not adhere.  Whether dismissed as frivolous, theorized as a philosophical category of inquiry, or politicized in the service of feminist or anti-racist discourse, beauty does many things: it captivates, it incites pleasure and desire, it oppresses and subjugates, and it excludes.  Throughout the course of this term, we will evaluate Scarry’s claim, looking at texts dealing with both theoretical and practical aspects of aesthetic experience.  Beginning with Aristotle, we will evaluate Western theorizations of beauty through the Enlightenment and into the contemporary era.  In addition, we will look at how non-Western writers have responded to aesthetic norms imposed upon them.  Texts such as Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction and Maxine Craig’s Ain’t I a Beauty Queen, will provide a framework for examining how politics of race, class, and gender shape questions of aesthetic value.  Within this theoretical context, we will consider representations of beauty in print and visual culture, including popular cinema and literature.  Throughout the term, we will focus on developing tools of scholarly analysis, written and verbal.  Each student will be expected to engage in detailed and incisive discussions of each work and write a formal research paper. (Fall)

Love and Death in Contemporary American Novels: The study of works by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, Michael Ondaatje and Junot Diaz will enable us to explore the forms that love takes when it is grounded in the tumultuous histories of African American, Native American or Dominican American people.  The theoretical frameworks for reading will be provided by narrative theory and psychoanalytic theory.  The course will give particular attention to the narrative forms of these novels by contemporary writers of color. (Spring)

The Animal: This seminar will examine literary, filmic, and theoretical representations of the animal. Questions about the human as animal, and at the limit of animality, will be implicit in our discussion. Over the course of the semester, we will evaluate how the animal has been theorized and represented from the nineteenth century to the present. We will also consider the ways in which the animal has served as a cypher for exploring the category of the human. While the figure of the animal has provided a counterpoint to visions of humanity for centuries, emerging technologies and ideas about human consciousness have inflected the conversation in new and important ways. In what ways, for example, does contemporary technology compel us to reevaluate the distinctions between animal and human, on the one hand, and animal and object, on the other? The course will consider works such as Jacques Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People, and H.G. Wells The Island of Doctor Moreau.

490 - Senior Seminar: Comprehensive Project

In this course seniors will design and carry out advanced research projects in areas of their own interests. Seminar meetings will be devoted to discussion of a core group of theoretical and/or historical texts (varying from year to year) and to practical issues of sophisticated literary critical work. The course will result in a substantial critical paper, a version of which will be presented at the spring senior symposium in satisfaction of Occidental's comprehensive requirement. Open only to senior English majors

499 - Honors in English

Research, writing, and defense of the honors thesis in ECLS. May be taken for 4 units fall or spring, or for 2 units fall and spring. Prerequisite: permission of department.
2 units (fall and spring) or 4 units (Fall or Spring)


Regular Faculty

Leila Neti, chair

Associate Professor, English

B.A., UCLA; M.A., Ph.D., UC Irvine

Daniel Fineman

Professor, English

B.A., Franklin and Marshall College; M.A., Ph.D., Princeton University

James Ford III

Assistant Professor, English

B.A., Morehouse College; M.A., Ph.D, University of Notre Dame

Ross Lerner

Assistant Professor, English

B.A., Haverford College; M.A., Princeton University; Ph.D., Princeton University

Warren Montag

Brown Family Professor in Literature, English

B.A., UC Berkeley; M.A., Ph.D., Claremont Graduate School

Michael Near

Professor, English, Emeritus

B.A., M.A., Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Eric Newhall

Professor, English; Advisory Committee, American Studies

A.B., Occidental College; M.A., Ph.D., UCLA

Martha Ronk

Irma and Jay Price Professor of English Literature; English, Emeritus

B.A., Wellesley College; Ph.D., Yale University

John Swift

Professor, English

B.A., Middlebury College M.A., Ph.D., University of Virginia

Raul Villa

Professor, English; Advisory Committee, American Studies; Advisory Committee, Latino/a and Latin American Studies

B.A., Yale University; M.A., University of Michigan; Ph.D., UC Santa Cruz

Jean Wyatt

Professor, English

A.B., Pomona College; Ph.D., Harvard University

On Special Appointment

Danzy Senna

Writer in Residence, Non-Tenure Track Faculty Member