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Gender, Sexuality, and Literature: Orientations

ENGL 090.910
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

“Orientation” typically describes a person’s sexual preference – something that someone “has.” But what if we were to see it not as an attribute or property of individuals, but as a way of characterizing the intensity and directionality of relationships among all sorts of different objects? In this course we will take an expansive approach to orientation, exploring it from three main perspectives: history, nationality, and sexuality itself, considering attractions that cross time, space, and other boundaries, constantly redirecting, rather than fixing, our attention. We will begin by considering gender and sexuality studies itself as a reorientation of academic study, reading foundational texts by Gayle Rubin, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and others. We will then consider two major innovations in the field: the turns to history and to transnationalism. Finally, we will turn directly to sexuality, examining depictions of “disoriented” attractions: between patient and therapist, between children, and across or against sexual identity. Possible texts for this course will include poetry by Susan Howe and Gertrude Stein, novels by Nella Larsen and Virginia Woolf, and films such as Pernille Fisher Christensen’s En Soap and Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston. Assessment will be based on an in-class presentation, a short paper, and a longer paper due at the end of the semester.