Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Draft Syllabus




Sunday, July 16, 2:00 pm- 6:00 pm; Monday, July 17-Friday, July 21, 9:00 am-1:00 pm.


Dr. Eric Selinger, Ezra Sensibar Visiting Professor, Summer 2006

Course Description

Many of the best contemporary Jewish American writers are fascinated by religion—and not simply by Judaism. Whether "secular," "religious," or somewhere in between, these writers explore the power of spirituality, the dangers of fanaticism, the boundaries of community, and the complexities of modern Jewish identity, often by revisiting deeply traditional questions and texts. In this course, we will read a set of primary texts slowly and deeply, and consider not only what they say about religion and Jewish identity, but also how those ideas are embodied in the formal and literary qualities of the books themselves.

Course Objectives

This course will allow seminar participants to explore some the ways that important contemporary Jewish American authors have represented the relationship between “Jewishness” and Judaism, and how ideas about religion and identity are enacted by an author’s choices of genre, style, and form. We will learn about the religious, historical, and literary references in the primary texts for the class, but our primary focus will be on the development of those interpretive, analytical, and close reading skills which enable us to engage with literature in an increasingly nuanced and sophisticated manner. Poems, novels, and plays treat questions of religion and identity quite differently from argumentative genres like the essay, the sermon, and the op-ed piece. We will pay particular attention to character analysis, literary form, and the appreciation of artistry.

Course Requirements

The reading for this course is primarily focused on a set of primary texts: one novel, one two-part play, and several poems, both short and long. Please read all of the primary texts and as much of the secondary literature as possible before the seminar.

I expect all students to participate actively in seminar discussion. In addition to this in-class engagement with the readings, students will write an analytical essay (approximately 15 pages) on one of the works we have studied. I will give a list of suggested topics, and will be glad to work with students to develop their own topics and approaches to the texts.

Course Materials

· A Reader of photocopied materials, including primary and secondary sources

· Allegra Goodman, Kaaterskill Falls

· Tony Kushner, Angels in America, parts 1 (Millennium Approaches) and 2 (Perestroika)

· Alicia Suskin Ostriker, The Volcano Sequence

[I may want to add one more book here. Maybe one volume of Norman's Track; or, for one more genre, a memoir or a book of essays. Mike's Living Root? That new memoir by Jack Marshall, From Baghdad to Brooklyn: Growing Up in a Jewish-Arabic Family in Midcentury America? Maybe some of Albert Goldbarth's essays, now back in print? Hmmm...]

Course Sessions and Topics

Sunday, July 16: “We Jews Are That Way”: Versions and Aversions of Jewish Identity


“Secular” and “Religious” versions of Jewish identity

Ribboni and Rabbani versions of Jewish identity

Approaches to reading lyric poetry and other poetic forms


Charles Bernstein, “Solidarity is the Name We Give to What We Cannot Hold” (Reader)

Ari Elon, selections from From Jerusalem to the Edge of Heaven

Norman Finkelstein, “Acher” and commentary; “The Master of Turning” (Reader)

Arielle Greenberg, “Synopsis” (Reader)

Kenneth Koch, “To Jewishness” (Reader)

Howard Nemerov, “Debate with the Rabbi” (Reader)

Jacqueline Osherow, “At the Art Nouveau Synagogue, Rue Pavee” (Reader)

Alicia Ostriker, “Entering the Tents” (from The Nakedness of the Fathers, Reader)

Monday, July 17: A Gay (and Jewish) Fantasia on National (and Jewish) Themes


America as a “chosen nation,” a “melting pot,” and other Jewish things

Transformations of religious material in secular Jewish culture

Recalling and restaging the (Jewish) history of leftist politics in America

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) and / as “Jews”

Gay men as “Jews,” Jews as Homosexuals, and other intersections of Gay and Jewish identity


Tony Kushner, Angels in America, parts 1 and 2

“Angels, Monsters, and Jews: Intersections of Queer and Jewish Identity in Kushner's Angels in America,” by Jonathan Freedman (PMLA; in Reader)

Chapters on Mormons in Bloom’s The American Religion

Tuesday, July 18: Religion and Jewish Identity in the Novel


The “Jewishness” of the Realist Novel

The “return to religion” in contemporary Jewish American Fiction

Identity and difference within Jewish community


Cynthia Ozick, TKTK

Allegra Goodman, Kaaterskill Falls

Wednesday, July 19: Kaaterskill Falls, continued (or maybe that additional fourth book)

Thursday, July 20: The Shekhinah Dialogues


Feminist revisions of Jewish tradition

Poetic appropriations of Kabbalah (and pop-Kabbalah)

Apophatic rhetoric and religious poetics

Approaches to reading a long “serial poem”

“Spirituality” and non-Halakhic Judaism


Eric Murphy Selinger, “Shekhinah in America” (Reader)

Alicia Suskin Ostriker, the volcano sequence, sections 1-5

Friday, July 21: the volcano sequence, continued


Alicia Suskin Ostriker, the volcano sequence, sections 6-9 and coda

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