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Programs and Advising

 

 2014-2015 English Honors Seminar

 

Conversion/Identity
Professor Steven Kruger

This morning I woke up in another part of my brain…
The “I” of my self had crawled through the thickness of
memory and consciousness to some other place in the
structure of the brain and emerged within a new gray coil.
 – David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives

I have become a problem to myself.
 – Augustine, Confessions


One of the central problems of literary texts in the Western tradition is defined in an early and influential form in Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions: how can one be one’s self and at the same time experience a radical change within that self? What does it mean to have an established identity and yet undergo a conversion? Is it possible, even, to have an identity whose main feature is that it lives its history as non-self-identical? Would this be the identity of the convert, a conversion-identity?

This seminar considers the ways in which a wide range of literary texts engages with such questions about identity, conversion, and their interrelationship. While conversion experience in the tradition initiated by Augustine is often conceived strictly in terms of religious change, we will also consider texts where other categories of identity (race/ethnicity, nationality, gender and sexuality) stand at the center. And we will consider the ways in which a change in one of these identity categories is thought to impinge upon the others: does, for instance, a change in religious status also alter how one’s race or gender or sexuality is conceived?

The seminar will consider primary texts in close relation to a set of theoretical/ critical readings that take up questions of identity: recent work on religion by such writers as Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, and Jean-François Lyotard; feminist and queer theory; postcolonial and critical race theory. Primary texts will include poetry, drama, prose fiction, and memoir and will be drawn from a number of historical moments and from American, British, and Anglophone traditions.

The course will be organized around three broad rubrics: (1) “Confessions (?)” – writing that plays with the first-person confessing voice of the Augustinian tradition, (2) “Dramatic Turns” – texts that represent conversion experiences on stage, and (3) “The Art of Losing/Finding the Self ” – narratives of lives in “identity crisis.”

Readings will include some of the following (texts listed here that don’t ultimately end up on the course syllabus might provide students with ideas for their individual projects):

Confessions (?): The Book of Margery Kempe, Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life, David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives, Jennifer Finney Boylan, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders

Dramatic Turns: The Croxton Play of the Sacrament, Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, Samuel Beckett, Endgame, Tony Kushner, Angels in America

The Art of Losing/Finding the Self: The Middle English Pearl, Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea, James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

Contact Professor Jason Tougaw for more information (jason.tougaw@qc.cuny.edu).

English Honors Program

The Honors Program offers a highly advantageous academic experience for qualified English majors, that is, students who are entering their senior year and have a 3.3 GPA and a 3.3 GPA in English. During the entirety of their senior year, Honors students are given the rare undergraduate opportunity to work together intensively in a small group. Students who meet the program standards are awarded Honors in English—a decided asset in any future endeavor, whether it be graduate study or a professional career.


There are four essential program requirements: (1) a two-semester Honors seminar; (2) a research project resulting in an original 20 pg. scholarly paper; (3) an Honors examination; and 4) participation in a student conference.


The fall semester of the Honors seminar is an intensive study of a particular topic, announced in advance of registration. During the academic year 2014-15, the Honors Seminar topic will be "Identity/Conversion," taught by Professor Steven Kruger (see the reverse side of this for a full description). The spring semester focuses on completion of the research project started in the fall; preparation for and taking of the exam; and design of and participation in a student conference.


For further information or to apply, please see the honors chairperson, Professor Jason Tougaw (Klapper 633), or email him at jason.tougaw@qc.cuny.edu. Application forms are available in the English department office or via email from Professor Tougaw. He will do his best to answer any questions. On acceptance, space will be held for you in next year’s seminar, for which you will register as usual during preregistration week.


NoteStudents must enroll in the first (fall) half of the Honors Seminar during the spring semester of their junior year; it is not possible to join the seminar in mid-course. Participation in the seminar satisfies two of the requirements for the English major: it substitutes for the required Senior Seminar and for one of the required Elective courses.


Fall semester
  

  • Full-class work: Analysis of several fictional and non-fictional works (of any genre) focusing on a common theme--for example, “Dislocating Identities,”  “Dreams and Dreaming”--together with a selection of short theoretical essays. Some of the texts for the fall semester are announced in the preceding spring. (Topics, texts and instructors change each year, but prospective syllabi are reviewed by the Chair of the Faculty Honors Committee, in consultation with Committee members).
  • Guest faculty: On several occasions, faculty with special expertise in the works under study will participate in seminar discussions.
  • Conferences and independent projects: In a series of individual conferences with the seminar instructor, each student will develop an independent research project related to the theme of the seminar. The topics of student projects are subject to the approval of the instructor.
  • Class blog: Much of the work of the seminar is posted on a class blog which allows for ongoing interaction between the instructor and students, and among students themselves.


Spring semester

Full-class work focuses on three tasks:

 

  1. Studying in groups for the Honors Exam, Preparations include class discussions and electronic communications. The exam will be a two-part exam: in Part I, students comment on nine (of eighteen) identified quotations from major British and American literary works; in Part II, students provide a detailed analysis of two or three poems with a common theme.
  2. Completing the independent research paper begun during the fall seminar. The final paper will be from five-to-six thousand words (due early in the semester). 
  3. Designing, organizing, and presenting an academic conference. The culminating event of the Honors seminar, the conference is based on students’ research projects. It is presented to an audience of faculty, students, family and friends. Further, a website may be created to preserve the results of the conference.


Grading and Graduation Status

Honors students who meet the standards of the program will graduate with Honors, High Honors, or Highest Honors.  Reception of honors depends on four criteria: final GPA; final GPAin English; performance on independent research paper; performance on Honors exam.  Two members of the Faculty Committee on Honors grade the essay; four additional members (two for each section) grade the exam.  Grading is done anonymously (essays and exams are identified by social security number rather than by name).  All six faculty graders vote on each student's graduation status. 


 

 Literature and Technology Honors Seminar Participants (2010-2011, evening class)

 
 

 Literature and Technology Honors Seminar Participants (2010-2011, day class)

 

 

 Sample Honors Seminar Websites

 
 

 Sample Honors Seminar Syllabi

 
 
 
     



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