Writing Intensive Seminars in English (WISE)
In these highly regarded, small-group seminars, students explore unique topics in English language literature while also honing their research and writing skills through series of assignments that culminate in a substantial original research essay. Classes are capped at 8 to allow for individualized attention and rich feedback. Enrollment is by permission. English majors must take at least one WISE to fulfill WIM, ideally before senior year, and may take more than one WISE if there is room. (Majors, minors, and prospective majors receive invitations to rank preferences via an online form each year.) Non-majors are welcome, space permitting.
Note: the generic WISE course number changed in 2020 from English 162W to English 5.
Contact the English department’s Faculty Director of WISE, Judith Richardson (judithr [at] stanford.edu (judithr[at]stanford[dot]edu)) for more information.
English 5AA: WISE: Queer(ing) Asian American Literature
Instructor: Christine Xiong
When “inadmissible” desires and “illegible” racial identities intersect, what do their complex entanglements make visible? What histories do they illuminate? What other worlds do they make possible? Thinking with Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh (2000), Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt (2003), and Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019), this course explores queer Asian American literary narratives as imperatives for fuller understandings of Asian American racial and sexual identities—and as critical interventions in the Asian American literary canon. Drawing in supplementary short stories, poetry, and art, as well as readings in criticism and theory, we will also consider: how might the doubly “inscrutable” figure of the queer Asian American destabilize the very boundaries of “Asian America” itself? No previous exposure to Asian American critique or queer theory expected: students of all backgrounds are welcome.
English 5BA: WISE: Reading and Writing in the Digital Age
Instructor: Luca Messarra
In this course, we will ask how acts of reading, writing, and interpretation change across different mediums, softwares, platforms, and contexts. The digital turn has fractured the historical connection between literature and the printed page, and rooted our everyday writing on seemingly immaterial mediums. So, why do we still read physical books in a world where practically all text has been digitized, a world where we have Red Dead Redemption and Wikipedia? What is the book as a literary object doing today? How have digital-age writers—particularly writers of color—reimagined the book as a means for representing historical trauma through experiments in image and typography? How, more broadly, has the digitization of communication transformed or displaced literary forms and experiences? What even is ‘literary writing’ (or, for that matter, ‘academic writing’)? To explore these questions, we will consider various mediums of reading and writing–including letters (Emily Dickinson and Eminem), artists’ books (Edward Ruscha and Rupi Kaur), sound (Amiri Baraka, Kendrick Lamar, Tracie Morris), video games (Emily is Away, Doki Doki Literature Club!), fan fiction, and more–drawing on readings in media studies and reader response theory as critical frameworks for our inquiries. To supplement these readings, we will experiment with writing in several forms and platforms, exploring how different media both constrain and enable unique forms of expression and interpretation.
English 5CA: WISE: Anti-Social Heroes in the Nineteenth Century
Instructor: Ido Keren-Shalit
In this course, we will consider how unsociability, or anti-sociability, became a major literary trope of modernity. Reading texts by three Western European authors from the first half of the nineteenth century—Jane Austen’s Emma, James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and a selection of poetry and prose from Charles Baudelaire—we will encounter such figures as the outcast, the egotist, and the flaneur, and ask how they came to predominate the literary imagination. We will also engage with a variety of critical approaches, including sociology, psychoanalysis, and narratology, as we explore questions about the aesthetics and politics of unsociability and the modern social configurations in which it took shape. Do narratives of social outliers offer unique ways of critiquing power relations? How, if at all, does literature help us process such social phenomena as shame and snobbery? What roles do gender and class play in patterning different forms of unsociability?
English 5DA: WISE: Poetic Intelligences
Instructor: Jonathan Atkins
In a recent column on A.I. chatbots, Ezra Klein writes that their “‘thinking,’ for lack of a better word, is utterly inhuman, but we have trained it to present as deeply human” (The New York Times, March 12, 2023). Implicit in Klein’s argument is the assumption that we do understand human thinking, or at least how to recognize it, and that A.I. confronts us with something radically different masquerading as the familiar. But perhaps the world has long been populated by different kinds of thinkers. That appears to be the claim of a number of critics working on poetry, who posit that poems are their own kinds of thinking machines, with the ability to represent a speaker’s thinking, to facilitate a reader’s thinking, to formulate the structure of thinking, or even to think for themselves. In this course, we’ll examine such claims by close reading poems from a range of writers while also engaging works of criticism that grapple with these questions from formalist, phenomenological, and philosophical perspectives. We’ll ask what it might mean to say that poems think and whether they can help us think about thinking in general, including in the context of recent developments in A.I. technology. We’ll also consider our own role as thinkers and writers in a world in which the practices of thinking and writing are changing faster than ever before.
English 5EA: WISE: Haunted Reading: Intertextuality, Adaptation, and the Gothic
Instructor: Jessica Monaco
What makes a narrative “Gothic”? One defining feature is the way the past seeps into the present, whether as ghosts, crumbling castles, or even old letters left behind for future readers. Across centuries, we see these tropes again and again, reimagined so that each new story is different but, at the same time, seems to remember and respond to the Gothic stories that came before it. This course will explore the relationships that Gothic texts have to each other. What can Frankenstein, with its multiple narrators, show us about how narratives pass from person to person? How does the contemporary bestseller Mexican Gothic address the colonial histories beneath older Romantic and Victorian narratives? And why might one turn a ghost story by Henry James from the end of the 19th century into a 21st-century Netflix series? In all of these cases, the Gothic effects of “haunted reading” allow the past’s hidden ghosts and monstrous meanings to emerge, visibly changed and seeking attention. As we consider how old reading can influence or even “haunt” the new, we will reflect on our own reading habits in both personal and academic contexts while simultaneously investigating how intertextuality and adaptation relate to our own critical writing and original interpretations.
English 5FA: WISE: The Romance and its Readers
Instructor: Vesta Pitts
What does it mean for a text to be “realistic” or “unrealistic”? Why does it feel natural to us, as readers, to evaluate a book based on its ability to represent “reality”? Then again, why attempt to reproduce the real when you could simply put the book down and walk outside? In this course, we will consider these questions through the lens of “the romance.” Though extremely variable across time, the romance emerges time and again as the genre of the unreal or decidedly fictional. Here are the books, we are told, that lead to fantasy and self-delusion. Reexamining such judgments, we will read a selection of “romances”—ranging from saints’ lives to lesbian pulp fiction and the contemporary romance novel—while also devoting attention to the romance-reader (as a supposedly deluded and ineffectual participant in reality) to explore the development of the novel as a category and to trouble our understandings of “real” and “unreal” modes of experience and representation. How has the romance historically been used to reject, distort, or transform reality? What gender—or other—biases inform the perennial devaluation of the romance as escapist fluff? What might it mean–what insights into literary history and politics emerge–if we take the romance and its readers seriously?
5GA: WISE: Shakespeare and his Critics
Instructor: Mattea Koon
In this seminar, we delve into foundational topics in Shakespearean drama, Shakespeare Studies, and literary theory by reading key plays alongside touchstone analyses drawn from the major critical schools of the twentieth century. Each class pairs dramatic verse with academic argument, introducing theatrical characters alongside prominent scholars. Primary texts include Hamlet, As You Like It, and Richard III. Secondary works survey historicist, psychoanalytic, new critical, post-structuralist, and feminist perspectives, among others. By the end of the quarter, students will have expanded their understanding of Shakespeare and of literary criticism and will have developed their competencies as critics in their own rights.