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ENGL 609.75 - Spenser and Posthumanism

Instructor: Dr. Jim Ellis
Schedule: Tuesday 9:30-12:15

Course Description:

Why does allegory seem so alien to our contemporary mindset? There have been no major allegories written in English since the seventeenth century, and this may have something to do with the emergence of forms of subjectivity associated with Cartesian individualism, and the attendant rise of psychological realism in literature.  We can no longer accept that we are not fully autonomous beings, and that our meaning might come from elsewhere. Recent schools of theory grouped together under the label of posthumanism, including most centrally versions of ecocriticism, have challenged the way that Cartesian thinking denies our connection to bodies, animals, plants and things.  Scholars of early modern literature have enthusiastically taken up these theories to explore the transitional zones of thinking where competing notions of embodiment, animism and vitality were in play.

In this course, we will explore posthumanist theories in conjunction with Edmund Spenser’s allegorical romance epic, The Faerie Queene and selected shorter works.  Spenser’s epic is famous for its hybrid nature, a mix of epic, romance and allegory that make any straightforward readings of its characters, actors, objects and actants difficult. The poem teaches the reader to deploy multiple strategies to make sense of any particular episode, in the overall project of refashioning the reader.  Using contemporary theory and theoretically-informed criticism we will explore the strange terrain of Faery Land, and the hybrid beings that inhabit it. We will look at such topics as Lucretian atomism, human/animal relations, talking plants, metal beings, vibrant matter, agent networks, and at the kinds of non-Cartesian thinking that allegory demands. In his shorter works, we will reconsider the way that pastoral constructs nature, and different ways that we might understand the work performed by metamorphic tropes, where youths turn into plants, and maidens into streams.


Theory presentation: 20%
Literature presentation: 30%
Response: 10%
Final essay (20-25 pages): 40%

Course Bibliography:

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene ed. A. C. Hamilton. 2nd ed. (Longmans)
Joseph Campana and Scott Maisano, eds. Renaissance Posthumanism (New York: Fordham UP, 2016).
Stefan Herbrechter and Ivan Callus, eds. Posthumanist Shakespeares (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge: Polity, 2013)
Cary Wolfe, What is Posthumanism? (Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 2010).
Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies trans. Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).
Ayesha Ramachandran and Melissa E. Sanchez, eds, Spenser and the Human, special issue of Spenser Studies 30 (2015).
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke U P, 2010).
Jonathan Goldberg, The Seeds of Things: Theorizing Sexuality and Materiality in Renaissance Representations (New York: Fordham UP, 2009).
Marcie Frank, Jonathan Goldberg and Karen Newman, eds, This Distracted Globe: Worldmaking In Early Modern Literature (Fordham UP, 2016).
Brent Dawson, “Making Sense of the World: Allegory, Globalization, and The Faerie Queene,” NLH 46.1 (2015): 165-186.
Terry Gifford, “Pastoral, Anti-Pastoral and Post-Pastoral as Reading Strategies.”
 Critical Insights: Nature and Environment. Ed. Scott Slovic. Ipswitch: Salam Press, 2012. 42-61. Print.
Elizabeth Jane Bellamy, “Spenser’s Open,” Spenser Studies 22 (2007): 227-241.
Laurie Shannon, The Accommodated Animal (Chicago UP, 2013) [available online]
-----. “Poor, Bare, Forked: Animal Sovereignty, Human Negative Exceptionalism, and the Natural History of King Lear,” Shakespeare Quarterly 60 (2009): 168-196.
-----. “The Eight Animals in Shakespeare; or, Before the Human,” PMLA 124 (2009): 472-9.
Karen Raber, Animal Bodies, Renaissance Culture (U Penn, 2013) [available online]
Bruce Boehrer, Animal Characters: nonhuman beings in early modern literature (2010)
Vin Nardizzi, ed, The Indistinct Human in the Renaissance (Palgrave, 2012)