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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Ronald Thomas Foster
ENGL 494
Seattle Campus

Honors Seminar

Survey of current issues confronting literary critics today, based on revolving themes and topics. Focuses on debates and developments affecting English language and literatures, including questions about: the relationship of culture and history; the effect of emergent technologies on literary study; the rise of interdisciplinary approaches in the humanities.

Class description

Imitation Games (Tom Foster)

In his famous 1950 essay “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,� Alan Turing proposed a test for whether machines can think, which required machines to imitate social interaction through language. Machines can think when they can, discursively, pass as human. The specific form of the Turing test is a reworking of a party game in which participants try to guess each other’s gender and to confuse the issue by impersonating a member of the opposite sex. This course will focus on the structures of imitation and impersonation, the relations between originals and copies, that are located at the intersection of gender, sexuality, race, and new technologies. What are the connections between the Turing test and Judith Butler’s argument about gender performativity or subversive forms of repetition, within alternative sexual cultures? How do new technologies make these imitative structures more visible? We will situate these questions of cultural politics in relation to a more general postmodern concern with aesthetic styles and techniques organized around parody, pastiche, simulacra, appropriation, remaking, sampling, remixing, or image scavenging. But we will also consider how Turing and Butler’s imitation games play out differently from the perspective of the racial histories invoked by the metaphor of passing for human, given that one of the legacies of slavery is a tradition of reading African-American literature for evidence of humanity. In addition to this historical and theoretical material, our readings will focus on speculative or science fiction in a variety of media, including print, film, TV, and new media, but as time permits we may also consider the production of fan writing and roleplaying practices, along with some examples of contemporary drama and performance art.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


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.
Additional ENGL course descriptions.
Last Update by Ronald Thomas Foster
Date: 05/10/2010