English 240 - Fall, 2017

Medieval Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Chaganti, Seeta
CRN: 62690
Time: W 3:10-6:00
Location: 120 Voorhies
Breadth: Earlier British
Focus: Genre, Method, Theory


In the process of learning to be scholars of literature, most of us have been exposed to a fairly wide spectrum of Anglophone literary traditions that include postmodern, modern, and premodern literature; these ideally all work together in our minds to give us a sense of what Anglophone literary culture means. But while many of the modern and postmodern texts we know seem to fit reasonably into familiar generic categories – novel, lyric, drama, etc. – the medieval texts that contribute to our sense of literary tradition – the Canterbury Tales, Arthurian quests – do not. We thus work as scholars in a literary landscape that always implicitly asks us to deal with texts that represent an ill fit with our familiar codes. And if we want to question what generic markers mean in the larger sense, medieval texts offer us a particularly suggestive point from which to stage that inquiry because of their recalcitrance. This class will investigate the meaning of genre by attending to its possibility, or impossibility, across time.
Our strategy will be to pair premodern and postmodern texts that might both appear to inhabit a particular generic category in order to explore how each text – and their interaction with each other – might either reinforce or destabilize such categories. How, for instance, does medieval lyric trouble the postmodern lyric’s self-conception? What do Notley’s “Descent of Alette” and Dante’s Inferno say together as responses to the epic? How do the implications of the dream vision as a generic category change in pre-Freudian and post-Freudian contexts?
PhD students will write a critical paper for the class; interested CW students have the option to produce a generic experiment of their own in response to one of the medieval texts. All students are required substantively to engage with a premodern text in their final papers.