Monday, November 24, 2014

18th Century and More with Professor Seavey

Michel de Montaigne
GW Students!  Professor Ormond Seavey's courses for spring afford some great opportunities for exposing yourself to a wide range of literature, from its early American beginnings to the classic Education of Henry Adams, published in 1907.

English 3490 Early American Literature and Culture
CRN: 43931, Tue/Thur 3:45-5 PM
Beginning with a Shakespeare text which represents a bridge between the turbulent early modern period in Europe from which Renaissance literature emerged and the domain of uncertainty of the New World, this course considers some of the imaginative costs and benefits of the Euro-African settlement of the Americas between the beginning of the seventeenth century and the end of the eighteenth century.  It is a story filled with problems, accommodations, excuses, and conflicts, with some suggestive successes mixed in.  Although this course deals to an extent with historical materials, its approach is a literary one, assuming that careful interpretive distinctions of the sort used to reveal the meanings of poetry and fiction are needed to answer the most interesting historical questions. 

English 3810.12 Special Topics: Politics, Skepticism, and Literature
CRN: 45497, Tue/Thur 11:10-12:25 AM

Skepticism, the ironic approach to existence, coexists somewhat uncomfortably with the activities of politics, but skeptical approaches to public and personal life emerge in the early modern period with the writings of Erasmus and Montaigne.  In the Eighteenth Century as irony comes to its richest appearance, it can be seen in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and even in the historical writings of Gibbon.  Turning to the American Nineteenth Century, an era when skepticism tended to be discounted as an adequate approach to experience, Emerson revisits Montaigne’s Essays in an effort to incorporate skepticism into an aspect of idealizing affirmation.  The course moves toward the profound negations of Henry Adams, a figure carefully spraddling domains of imaginative expression and public life in Washington, with his Education of Henry Adams. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Politics, Sex, Sentiment! (And a fulfilled GPAC Oral Requirement)

Hogarth, Beggar's Opera
GW Students: another class to consider for Spring 2015.  This class now fulfills the GPAC Oral Requirement.

The Eighteenth Century:  The Theatre of Politics, Sex, and Sentiment

Professor Tara G. Wallace
CRN: 47695
Tuesday-Thursday 9:35-10:50 AM

In 1660, after two decades of Puritan rule, England regained its monarchy and its theatres, and both court and stage enthusiastically embraced the spirit of liberty enabled by the new regime under Charles II, the Merry Monarch.  Theatrical productions took advantage of technological innovations and the availability, for the first time, of actresses to play female roles … and the modern theatre was born.

This course looks at a selection of playtexts produced during the long 18th century (1660-1800), considering both ‘literary’ elements and the cultural information the plays convey.  We will trace the movement from libertinism to sentimentalism, and discuss the culture wars enacted on the 18th-century stage in plays such as Congreve’s The Way of the World, Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, and Shridan’s The Rivals.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Toni Morrison and William Faulkner: Race, Memory and Aesthetics

GW Students: Another great course for Spring 2015! Study Toni Morrison and William Faulkner with Professor Evelyn Schreiber (president of the Toni Morrison Society).

English 3820W.10, CRN 42671, "William Faulkner and Toni Morrison:  Race, Memory, and Aesthetics"

Major Authors: Toni Morrison and William Faulkner: "Race, Memory, and Aesthetics" : This course links authors Toni Morrison and William Faulkner through the ways in which their fictional and discursive practices reflect on each other.  Specifically, we will examine how the texts of both authors reenact and resist racism and patriarchal structures; how they explore the ways in which memory and the past construct identity; and how they experiment with style.  We will consider the ways in which the texts illuminate a continuum in American literature through discussions of socially constructed identity and issues of race, class, and gender.  In addition, the class utilizes cultural studies and psychoanalytic critical approaches to the texts of these authors.  The reading list includes Beloved, Song of SolomonThe Bluest EyeAbsalom, Absalom!The Sound and the Fury, and Light in August.
This course fulfills the Minority or Postcolonial Literatures (d) requirement for English Majors.

The Cultural Memory of Slavery in Literature and Film

GW Students!  We'll be featuring a few of our Spring 2015 courses here over the next week.  Consider signing up for English 3570: The Cultural Memory of Slavery in Literature and Film, taught by Professor Jennifer James.  The CRN is 48139, TR 2:20-3:35.

 The upcoming two hundred-year anniversary of the end of the Civil War has renewed debates about our nation’s complex relationship to the history of slavery. The recent success of major theatrical films about enslavement has given new urgency to enduring questions about the relationship of art to cultural memory. Can a traumatic event like slavery ever be captured in literature, film or other art forms? What can art accomplish that history “proper” can not? Who has the “right” to depict that history? How do artists explain their need to take on this difficult subject? To think through these and other questions, we will read a variety of literature beginning with 19th century slave narratives and ending with examples of 20th century neo-slave novels, such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Octavia Butler's Afrofuturist novel, Kindred and Edward P. Jones' The Known World. Selected films will include Django Unchained, Lincoln, Twelve Years a SlaveJefferson in Paris and Sankofa

Transvisceral: The 2015 EGSA Symposium

The George Washington University
February 6, 2015
Paper Proposal Deadline: December 12, 2014

Keynote speaker: Sharon P. Holland, Professor of American Studies at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Raising the Dead: Reading of Death and (Black)
Subjectitivity (2000) and, most recently, The Erotic Life of Racism (2012).

In this symposium, we hope to explore the interplay of bodies and affects, ideas and
corporealities in literary, artistic, historical, and cultural productions. We acknowledge that
“visceral” refers both to bodily viscera and to deeply rooted emotions and affects, “gut feelings”
that are frequently opposed to intellectual reasoning. But what is the relationship between viscera
and the visceral? What fears, what desires are produced by the translation, transformation,
transition, and transportation of viscera and the visceral? After all, as we have recently seen,
viruses move between and within bodies, but not as quickly as our fears about them do. How
does the transvisceral play into sociopolitical, racial, and gendered anxieties? Moreover, what is
the place of the extra-logical, embodied visceral in the intellectual space of the academy?

With these and more questions in mind, the GWU English Graduate Student Association board is
proud to announce its Fifth Annual Graduate Student Symposium entitled Transvisceral, taking
place on February 6, 2015. We invite papers that explore bodily and affective crossings in the
fields of race, nationality, queerness, disability, animal studies and ecocriticism, and all other
subjects that explore the mingling of bodies and/or emotions. How do bodies cross into each
other, and how do we understand, articulate, and map the visceral feelings those crossings
evoke? Moreover, how do we understand our own transviscerality in the academy? How do we
negotiate the ability of our objects of cultural analysis to evoke visceral reactions in us and our

The English Department of the George Washington University has areas of strength in Medieval
and Early Modern Literature, Crip/Queer Studies, British and Postcolonial Studies, and
American Literature and Culture. To encourage innovative dialogues, we welcome papers from
diverse time periods and disciplines, including, but not limited to the following topics:

Animal Studies
Border Studies
Canon, disciplines, and interdisciplinary
Critical Race Studies and post-raciality
Cultural Studies
Cyborg Studies and virtual reality
Death and Dying Studies
Digital Humanities
Disability Studies
Ecocriticism and ecopoetics
Embodiments and identity
Fat Studies
Gender Studies
Queer Theory

The EGSA board is currently accepting paper submissions for our symposium. Please send your
300 word paper submissions, along with your contact information, to Haylie Swenson at by December 12, 2014. Please include the words “EGSA Conference
Submissions” in the subject line of your e-mail.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Paul Steinberg, JMM Seminar Alum, Publishes A Salamander's Tale

Jenny McKean Moore seminar
alum and author Paul Steinberg
"A Salamander's Tale is about Drugs, Sex, Lust, Rock 'N Roll, Time, and Death"

Paul Steinberg, a longtime psychiatrist in Washington, graduated from GW's Jenny McKean Moore seminar.  His book, A Salamander's Tale: Regeneration and Redemption in Facing Prostate Cancer, comes out next April.  We talked to him about his time at GW, his work life, his relationship to literature, and his forthcoming book.

You were a student of Tilar Mazzeo by way of our department's Jenny McKean Moore seminar, whose focus your semester was creative non-fiction.  What was that experience like?  Had you taken any literature/creative writing courses before this?

 I found the creative non-fiction course extraordinarily helpful, especially in learning the "craft" of writing, also in figuring out timing, the most succinct way to put in a punch-line.  I had never taken a creative writing course previously, although I had taken plenty of English courses in college.  I had wanted to be an English major, but at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1960's, the rigidity of the English Department was striking.  Although I had six years of Latin under my belt, the department chair insisted I had to take six semesters of a modern language.  Fo'get about it!  I ended up majoring in Political Science since it had the least demanding requirements; and it allowed me to take plenty of English courses and also complete the pre-med requirements. 
The seminar with Tilar Mazzeo was fascinating in terms of the dynamics of the group: As a psychiatrist I was struck by the not surprising shame and embarrassment of several of the younger members of the seminar as they read their work.  As a person in his 60's, I didn't give a damn about being revelatory.  Let it all literally hang out and give it a shot.  I have nothing to lose.  The shame component - and some tough critiques from some of the members - made several people run away.  All the more time for my work, I say unashamedly selfishly.

You're a psychiatrist here in Washington.  In what ways did a career spent hearing other people's stories prepare you for intensive reading in creative non-fiction?  Were there particular writers you found especially useful, inspiring?

Every human being has a story; and each of my patients over the years has inspired me with their resilience, their efforts to survive despite significant traumas, severe depression and anxiety, and other conditions created by the environment or one's biology and genetics.  I was fortunate to have been trained as a psychiatrist in what some people have called "the golden age" of psychiatry.  My colleagues and I learned techniques for doing excellent psychotherapy, whether from a psychodynamic and psychoanalytic point of view or from a cognitive-behavioral point of view.  We were not just medication pushers, in the way that many psychiatrists are practicing now.  In the early 1990's, with the advent of managed care, psychiatrists essentially priced themselves out of the psychotherapy market and began to focus on pharmacological treatments.  I was fortunate to have an eclectic and well-rounded training that has allowed me to see all the nuances in most of my patients.

Writers whom I found especially useful and inspiring: I came of age with the great Jewish writers of the 1950's and 1960's - Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Joseph Heller, even relatively unknown writers like Myron Kaufmann (Remember Me to God), with a little John Updike thrown in for the WASPy point of view.    Although I mostly try to read non-fiction these days, I loved the remarkable writers of the first half of the 20th century - Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos.

As a student-health psychiatrist, before I developed prostate cancer diagnosed in 1984, I taught an Honors course at the University of Maryland in College Park in the early 1980's - a course entitled "The Inner Life: The Nature of Dreams and Passions."  More than anything, it was a great excuse to teach some early Philip Roth novels including Portnoy's Complaint (Students loved it - and I still can't get over the punch-line at the end from the previously silent Viennese psychoanalyst, "So now ve may begin").  Also I included Roth's The Professor of Desire, plenty of Kafka, with a few John Updike stories thrown in. These writers did not hold back - they pushed the envelope at the time.  And I've tried to do the same.

Your book, A Salamander's Tale: Regeneration and Redemption in Facing Prostate Cancer, came out of that seminar experience.  In what ways (creatively and pragmatically) did that seminar help in the writing of the book?

As I noted above, I wanted to learn the craft of writing, and the seminar provided all the stuff I was lacking.  I had previously written a number of pieces in the Op-Ed section and the Science section of the New York Times, as well as pieces for the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere.  But making non-fiction into something creative that reads like a novel was a skill I did not have.  Kudos to Tilar Mazzeo for helping me with this skill.

From the summary I've read, you use the salamander's regenerative capacity as a way to talk about human beings and their capacities to overcome injury - physical and emotional.  Can you say something more about that?

 As much as I love the salamander for its regenerative capacities, I love the fact that evolution has taken us from cold-blooded animals like the salamander to warm-blooded animals like ourselves - with the remarkable evolutionary development of the human brain.  A salamander can survive for months while its tail or even part of its heart regenerates; but we human beings, warm-blooded, would have all sorts of bacteria growing in the wound site, and we would not survive.

So, we now have huge brains and enormous cognitive abilities - most of which we do not use as productively as we could.  We lose something special in going from cold-blooded to warm blooded; but we gain something even more remarkable.  The second half of the book, in fact, takes a look at how we can bust and debunk myths about sex and sexuality, about the gods, about time and death.  It may be a bit pretentious, but I often tell friends that A Salamander's Tale is about Drugs, Sex, Lust, Rock 'N Roll, Time, and Death.

Do you have any advice for would-be writers among our students?

Advice for would-be writers: Again, everyone has a story.  Something happens in everyone's life.  After all, none of us get out of here alive.  We're all busy living and busy dying.  There's a story in all of that, whether it's presented in the form of fiction or non-fiction. Life is full of crazy events; and truth can be stranger than any fiction.  Take advantage of the crazy bounces of life; and use them, instead of suppressing and dismissing them.  Then learn the craft, and tell your stories in as entertaining and creative way as you can.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Monstrous Knowledge in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Join GW English and GW MEMSI next week for the Monstrous Knowledge Symposium!  More details available on GW MEMSI's blog here.