Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Gay/Lesbian/Queer & 19th C. Amer. Lit.

ENGL 569.401
R 9-12

This course will combine readings in contemporary critical theories of sexuality and readings in nineteenth-century American literature. The nineteenth century is usually recognized as the crucial period of the historical emergence of modern sexual identities--indeed, of sexuality per se. And while queer studies has turned some attention to this field of research, it has tended to focus instead on contemporary literature and mass culture. A case can be made, however, for the special role of literary texts in consolidating emergent nineteenth-century identities: sexual dissidents who didn't necessarily even know what to call themselves nevertheless exchanged copies of Whitman and Melville as signs of mutually recognized sexual nonconformity. Around facts like these this course will stage an encounter between queer theory and earlier American literature, in the interest both of bringing greater historicity to gay/lesbian/queer studies and promoting critical research on the place of sexuality in the American literary past. Literary readings will likely include Whitman, Melville, Higginson, Twain, Elizabeth Stoddard, Ik Marvel. Critical and theoretical readings may include Gayle Rubin, Michel Foucault, Biddy Martin, Henning Bech, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, James Creech, Michael Moon, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Teresa de Lauretis.