Archive for May, 2011


May 23 2011

Tenative Queer Science Syllabus

by at 4:42 am

Instructor: Cheryl Spinner

Fall 2011

Tu,Th 11:40-12:55 PM

 Queer Science

Paper may combust and digital readers may explode, but what if we were to imagine the novelistic space—that space where words and ideas meet—as the site of an imaginative experiment? Could the novelistic space figuratively bubble and act as the very site where ideas could react with one another? What if novels were laboratories? If so, why do students of science generally avoid literature classes? Was there ever a time when language was valued in the sciences?

Eighteenth-century men of science understood how important language was to their discipline. The eighteenth-century chemical sciences are, thus, deeply invested in what we, in our contemporary moment, might associate with so-called literary concerns. The chemical sciences, which encompass the elemental, atmospheric, and electrical sciences, attempt to give words, and in turn, shape to that which cannot be seen; but,words, it turns out, are often elusive, particularly when trying to describe the invisible.The eighteenth-century chemical sciences are very much invested in the problem of the word.

And what does the word “queer” have to do with any of this? Everything, actually. This is a course that seeks to chart the terrain between and with—the areas of overlap—between science studies and queer studies. We will take queer theory’s broad definition of the term, one that encompasses all that is non-normative, strange, or slightly off and is not reducible only to queer sexualities. In this sense, we will be “queering” (or “estranging”) the traditional sciences by subjecting scientific texts to literary analysis and by reading them alongside the “pseudo-sciences” to begin to question the sharp demarcation we might make between “good” and “bad” science. As mentioned above, we will also be “queering” science by re-thinking the scientific space. As we will see, the experiment may take place in a parlor, around a séance table, in a traditional scientific laboratory, or the experiment may be an actual novel.

            But this course is also very much about queer sexualities and its love/hate (or hate/love) relationship to scientific discourse. We will think about the ways in which chemical laws of attraction and magnetism have been used to naturalize heterosexual love or attraction. Goethe’s Elective Affinities involves a heternormative romantic plot that revolves around electricity and notions of “chemistry.” Here we see the discoursive connections between notions of love and science. Attraction becomes chemical, but it’s a chemical attraction that is distinctively hetero. Male bodies will be attracted to their opposites–magnetic metaphor comes in here too.

But scientific discourse and its imaginative possibilities have been used in literature in queer ways too. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, women are magnetically attracted women, men attracted to men. We will think about the ways in which the novel might then queer scientific concepts that could be used to undermine same-sex attraction. To be clear: the scope of this course will be wide and long. We will look at 19th-century German and American novels (Goethe’s Elective Affinities and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance), a 21st century British novel (Sarah Waters’ Affinity), 18th and 19th century scientific writings, short stories, and numerous theoretical texts. We will define literature in the broadest sense possible, and will apply our analytics to all texts—even scientific ones—because like all texts, science is very much a discipline of language and nomenclature. We will also jump across continents and centuries to create linkages amongst these scientific knowledges, making sure to historicize each moment before we can create these networks of ideas.

In addition, for the purposes of this course, we will be dealing most explicitly with the atmospheric and chemical sciences of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (although we will, of course, be muddying up these distinctions as well). We will explore the ways in which science and religion (namely, the spiritualist movement) have concomitantly dealt with imagining a world that cannot be seen. Our focus will then be on the invisible world and the conceptual limitations it produces. By “invisible,” we will be referring to:

  • the atomistic
  • the molecular,
  • the atmospheric,
  • the gaseous,
  • the ghostly,
  • the unseen or unspeakable (in terms of desire),

 just to name a few. During the course of this class we will be pressing hard against and with the term “invisible.” We will think about what it might mean for an invisible science to be developing alongside a science that was very much based in the empirical, what could be seen, or what also might be referred to as the racist science of the 19th-century. We will try to queer, or estrange, our notion of science as objective and empirical and try to come to terms with this scientific fixation on the knowable or that which can be seen.

 The invisible will also come up in our discussion on queer studies. In a course that seeks to chart the convergences between queer studies and science studies, we will of course be talking about the messy and overlapping history between queer identity formation and scientific discourse. Our primary novels have been chosen with this in mind. We will be looking at the scholarship on gay and lesbian fiction and history that equates the ghosting or invisibility of desire . We will think about the ways in which some of the works we read use the trope of the invisible as a way of making this desire visible, yet at the same time remain messy and intangible. We will also look at the ways in which the notion of the invisible queer desire might have been collapsed discursively with scientific notions of the invisible to reaffirm heteronormative desire.

Required Texts

Ahmed, Sara. Queer Phenomenology: Orientation, Objects, Others. Durham and

London: Duke University Press, 2006. Print.

Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume I. 1978. Trans. Robert

Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Goethe. Elective Affinities. Trans. David Constantine. Oxford World Classics, 1999.


Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Blithedale Romance. New York: The Modern Library, 2001.


Latour, Bruno. Science in Action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987. Print.

Waters, Sarah. Affinity. New York: Riverhead Books, 2000. Print.

*NOTE: The rest of the texts will be available in PDF versions on Blackboard.

General Policies




Students are expected to attend all classes and demonstrate active engagement. Please not that engagement in the classroom does not need to be manifested in vocal participation. I fully understand that some of you may be quieter and not as comfortable with participating in class. This is absolutely fine. You will have plenty of opportunities to talk with me outside of class about your interests/project, so please do not feel obligated to participate in class if you do not feel comfortable. Ideally, by the end of the semester, a safe classroom environment will be generated where everyone will feel welcome to participate.

If you are unable to attend class for whatever reason, please contact me beforehand.

Mandatory Office Hour Meetings


I will require that you meet with me at least two times over the course of the semester: once at the beginning so we can start to talk about your interests/concerns, and a second time after you have received comments on your research proposal. You are welcome to schedule as many meetings over the course of the semester, but I make these two meetings mandatory so I can get to know you better. I will send out a sign-up sheet of times for each meeting.



  • Research Blog: Each student will be given their own research blog that will be collected in a larger blog for the course. Students will be expected to post every two weeks or so (at minimum). The earlier posts will, of course, be more free-form and sketchy. Feel free to blog on topics we discussed in class. Ideally, as the semester advances, you will begin using the blog to help prepare you for the final research paper. These blogs are intended to make your lives easier. There is no word count minimum for posts. Additionally, the posts can be as informal as you like. I would like you to get into the habit of regularly using your blog and using it as a way to document and visualize your thinking. So, remember, this is not intended to stress you out. In creating this research blog community, you will be able to comment on other students’ posts and see what your peers are working on. Research can be isolating and we often forget that there are others working on similar topics. The research blogs will make our research visible to one another so that we can begin creating a community of scholars in our very own class. I will be keeping my own research blog and be a participant in our class’s blog community. Feel free to comment (and tear apart) my posts!
  • Critical Response (2-3 pages): Due at any point in the semester, you will choose a reading from the syllabus and respond to it critically. You will need to summarize the main argument of the piece and engage with it critically (you might discuss the limitations of the argument, etc.) I recommend doing this assignment earlier in the semester, if possible, so you can get feedback from me. us will outline.
  • Research Proposal and Working Bibliography (1-2 pages): You will be required to draft a research proposal that will give a general idea of the topic you would like to pursue for you research paper. Make sure to include with the proposal a working bibliography.
  • Final Paper (15 pages): Your final paper will be on a topic of your choice, loosely and directly related to this course. I am pretty flexible and want you to write about topics you are invested in, so please feel free to be creative.


Aug 30 Introduction


I. Queering Science (Sep 1-8)


Sep 1 18th and 19th Century Primary Scientific Readings

  • Lavoisier, Antione. Preface of the Author to Elements of Chemistry. 1-7.
  • Mesmer, Franz Anton.


Sep 6 Space and the Experiment

  • Latour, Bruno. Chapter 2, “Laboratories,” 63-92


Sep 8 Space and Experiment

  • Weinstein, Shari. “Technologies of Vision: Science and Spiritualism in the Nineteenth-Century.” Spectral America: Phantoms and the National Imagination. 124-140
  • Delbourgo, James. Introduction. From A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders. 1-14.


Sep 13 Speculative Science

  • Child, Lydia Maria. “Hilda Silfverling.”
  • Introduction. Queer Universes: Sexualities in Science Fiction.


II. Heternormative Science (Sep 13-Sep 15)


Sep 15

  • Murphy, Timothy F. Introduction and Chapter 1 of Gay Science: The Ethics of Sexual Orientation Research. Pps. 1-48.


Sep 20 Heteronormative Chemistries

  • Goethe’s Elective Affinities


III. Invisible, Closeted Desires, and Queer Chemistries (Sep 20-Oct 4)


Sep 27 The Life of Matter

  • Ahmed. Sara. Queer Phenomenology. Introduction. 1-24.
  • Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter. Preface. Pps. vii-xix.


Sep 29 Research Blog Set-Up Day: Meet in Library


Oct 4 Queer Friendship

  • Marcus, Sharon. Introduction: The Female Relations of Victorian England. 1-21
  • Marcus, Sharon Marcus. Chapter One, “Friendship and the Play of the System.” 25-66.
  • Vicinus, Martha. Chapter 3, “‘They Venture to Share the Same Bed’: Possible Impossibilites. In Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928. 61-84


Oct 7   BREAK


Oct 11  BREAK


Oct 13 Invisible Sexualities

  • Castle, Terry. The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture. Introduction. 1-20.
  • Jagose, Annamarie. Inconsequence: Lesbian Representation and the Logic of Sexual Sequence. Preface and Introduction. ix-36.

Oct 18

  • Rose Terry Cook, “My Visitation.”
  • Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life.” 14-31


IV. Queer Historiography (Oct 18-Oct 20)


Oct 20

  • Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality V. I
  • Sedgwick, Eve. Epistemology of the Closet.”


Oct 25  

  • Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx.
  • Foucault, Michel. The Archeology of Knowledge. Introduction. 1-17.


V. The Blithedale Romance, Affinity, and Herculine Barbin (Oct 25-Dec 8)


Oct 27

  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Blithedale Romance. Chaps. I-xi. pps. 1-90


Nov 1

  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Blithedale Romance. Chaps. Xii-xxi. Pps. 91-166.


Nov 3

  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Blithedale Romance. Chaps xii-end. Pp. 167-224.


Nov 8 Blithedale Romance Criticism

  • Stein, Jordan Alexander. “The Blithedale Romance‘s Queer Style.”
  • White, Craig. “A Utopia of ‘Spheres and Sympathies’: Science and Society in The Blithedale Romance and at Brook Farm.”


Nov 10

  • Waters, Sarah. Affinity. Part I, 1-120


Nov 15

  • Waters, Sarah. Affinity. Part II, 125-195.


Nov 17

  • Waters, Sarah. Affinity. Part III, 200-281.


Nov 22  BREAK


Nov 24  BREAK


Nov 29 Affinity Criticism

  • Parker, Sarah. “‘The Darkness Is the Closet in Which Your Lover Roosts Her Heart’: Lesbians, Desire and the Gothic Genre” (2008).
  • Llewellyn, Mark. “‘Queer? I Should Say It Is Criminal!’: Sarah Waters’ Affinity (1999).”

Dec 1

  • Watch Affinity (2008)


Dec 6 Herculine Barbin: Medicine, Religion, and Secret Desires

  • Foucault, Michel. Introduction to Herculine Barbin. Pps vii-xvii.
  • Herculine Barbin, My Memoirs, pps 3-75


Dec 8 

  • Herculine Barbin, Memoirs, pps. 76-115
  • Herculine Barbin, medical documents, pps. 119-151



































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