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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Sarah Dowling
BIS 455
Bothell Campus

Literature and Sexuality

Advanced study of the changing definitions and discourses of sexuality in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and their relationship to literary representations. Stresses historical, psychoanalytic, and literary perspectives.

Class description

“Orientation” is typically used to designate a person’s sexual preference – something that someone “has.” But what if we were to see it not as an attribute or property of individuals, but as a way of characterizing the intensity and directionality of relationships among all sorts of different objects? In this course we will take an expansive approach to orientation, exploring it from three main perspectives: history, nationality, and sexuality itself, considering attractions that cross time, space, and other boundaries, constantly redirecting, rather than fixing, our attention. We will begin by considering gender and sexuality studies itself as a reorientation of academic study, reading foundational texts by Gayle Rubin, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and others. We will then consider two major innovations in the field: the turns to history and to transnationalism. Finally, we will turn directly to sexuality, examining depictions of “disoriented” attractions that cross or go against sexual identity. Can the idea of sexuality help us think about interactions between patient and therapist, erotic friendships, and other relationships that do not involve sex?

We will treat both gender and sexuality as dynamic, interactive concepts, exploring the ways in which they are shaped by their interrelationships with other vectors of identity, with the law, and with the artistic forms in which they are represented.

Student learning goals

Students will develop a thorough understanding of the field of sexuality studies and its methods of study.

Students will become familiar with the variety of ways in which sexuality is represented in literary texts, and will understand the different values, beliefs, and ideas that shape the authors' representational choices.

Students will be able to describe major shifts in the concept of sexuality as it has evolved through the twentieth century and beyond.

Students will write advanced-level literary analyses synthesizing ideas expressed in theoretical and artistic works.

General method of instruction

This course will emphasize seminar-style discussion and close analysis of primary sources: literature, theoretical texts, film, and documentary interviews. Course meetings will include in-class writing, small-group and whole-class discussion, and a very small amount of lecturing by the instructor.

Recommended preparation

Some background in literary study is encouraged.

Class assignments and grading

Assignments will include a weekly reading response posted to Canvas, a shorter paper submitted at mid-term (4-6 pp.), and a longer paper submitted during the exam period. Students will develop their own topic for the longer paper, in consultation with the instructor.

Because this is a seminar-style class, the participation grade will be substantial. Because this is a senior-level literature class, good writing will also be important. Students will be encouraged to submit early drafts of both papers to the instructor and to work collaboratively in revising and refining work in order to maximize their grade.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Sarah Dowling
Date: 02/01/2013