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Elizabeth Cullingford, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Heather Houser

Assistant Professor PhD, 2010, Stanford University

Heather Houser

Contact

  • Phone: 512-471-8766
  • Office: PAR 228
  • Office Hours: On leave 2013-2014
  • Campus Mail Code: B5000

Biography

Heather Houser is an assistant professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, and is a 2013-14 visiting scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.  

She received an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Stanford University, and a B.A. from Reed College. Her first book, forthcoming from Columbia University Press, is Ecosickness in Contemporary US Fiction: Environment and Affect. It argues that contemporary fiction uses affect to bring audiences to environmental consciousness through the sick body. She is working on a new project, provisionally titled Environmental Art and the Infowhelm, that gives an account of the aesthetics of information management across environmental media. An invited proposal for a composition reader, tentatively titled The Architecture of Ideas, is under review at Oxford University Press.

Her essays appear or will appear in American Literary History (forthcoming 2015),  Los Angeles Review of Books (forthcoming 2014), Time: A Vocabulary of the Present (NYU Press, forthcoming 2014/15), Public Culture (Spring 2014), American Literature (2012), The Legacy of David Foster Wallace (University of Iowa Press, 2012), Contemporary Literature (2010), and American Book Review (2010).

She has received fellowships from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, UT Austin, the Mellon Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the US Department of Education's Jacob K. Javits Program, and Stanford University. 

Interests

20th- and 21st-century Anglophone fiction (US focus); environmental literature and criticism; science, technology, and culture; the medical humanities; affect studies; data in narrative and new media

E 349S • David Foster Wallace

35800 • Fall 2014
Meets TTH 1100am-1230pm CBA 4.342
(also listed as LAH 350 )
show description

Instructor:  Houser, H

Unique #:  35800

Semester:  Fall 2014

Cross-lists:  LAH 350

Flags:  Writing

Restrictions:  English Honors

Computer Instruction:  No

Prerequisites: Six semester hours of upper-division coursework in English.

Description: This course covers the truncated career of David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), one of the most obsessed-over and lauded authors of his generation. We will read some of Wallace's essays and short stories, and all of Infinite Jest. The following questions will motivate the course: 1. What is Wallace's place in US literary history? What is his project for a new fiction? 2. What are his polemics about 20th-century US culture and media forms? Can particular novels and reading practices intervene in these domains? 3. How can fiction enter and change our lives?

We will avail ourselves of the Harry Ransom Center's rich Wallace archive which includes his manuscripts, letters, and personal library. The course culminates in a final project of the student's own design. Students are encouraged to use HRC resources in developing their project questions but are not required to do so.

Texts: Infinite Jest, and selections from Broom of the System, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Consider the Lobster, Oblivion, Girl with Curious Hair, and The Pale King.

Requirements & Grading: 15% participation (including discussion leading), 10% blog posts, 30% 2 short essays, 5% project proposal, 30% final project, 10% project presentation.

E 360S • Global Environment Lit & Film

35890 • Fall 2014
Meets TTH 200pm-330pm WAG 308
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Instructor:  Houser, H

Unique #:  35890

Semester:  Fall 2014

Cross-lists:  BDP 329

Flags:  Ethics and Leadership; Writing

Computer Instruction:  No

Prerequisites: Nine semester hours of coursework in English or rhetoric and writing.

Description: Environmental change is everyone's concern, but populations in different parts of the world—and, indeed, within the U.S.—bear different burdens associated with it. This course approaches the environmental issues facing nations and individuals through novels, memoirs, and film from North America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. We will examine fiction as a unique form of environmental inquiry that:

  • addresses large-scale ethical challenges through individual experiences;
  • introduces multiple, sometimes unresolved, perspectives on environmental threats;
  • uses age-old narrative forms such as fantasy, realism, the coming-of-age story, and science fiction to stage environmental and social dilemmas.

A central question of the course is how the books and films balance human justice, especially for the poor, and the welfare of the more-than-human world.

We begin by studying the place of nature and social justice in "First World" environmentalism and "the environmentalism of the poor" since the mid-20th century. We then focus on literature and film of the past thirty years, when globalization, resource extraction, technology, and environmental risks have spread in tandem. Possible units on food systems and politics, waste and toxicity, climate change, and resource wars. Across these topics we'll be concerned with how artists use narrative strategies, images, and generic conventions to shape global environmental consciousness.

Texts may include books and films by Margaret Atwood,J.M. Coetzee, Amitav Ghosh,Helon Habila, Keri Hulme,Michiko Ishimure, Hayao Miyazaki, Louie Psihoyos, Alex Rivera, Indra Sinha, Lucy Walker, and Karen Tei Yamashita.

Scholarly essays by Rachel Carson, William Cronon, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Ursula Heise, Ramanchandra Guha and Juan Martínez-Alier, Rob Nixon, and Vandana Shiva.

Visual art integrated into class discussion.

Requirements & Grading: Participation: 15%. Course blog posts: 10%. Two 3-5-page writing assignments: 40%. One final project: 35% (collaboration may be required).

E 324 • American Novels After 1960

35327 • Spring 2013
Meets MWF 200pm-300pm PAR 204
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Instructor:  Houser, H            Areas:  Elective / U

Unique #:  35327            Flags:  n/a

Semester:  Spring 2013            Restrictions:  n/a

Cross-lists:  n/a            Computer Instruction:  No

Prerequisites: C L 315, E 603B, 316K, or T C 603B.

Description: What is U.S. fiction now? What are the recent literary traditions and social and cultural changes with which it's in dialogue? These questions will guide the course, and we'll answer them by examining American novels and short stories from the 1960s to the present. We'll begin with works in the canon of literary postmodernism and define for ourselves what this elusive but pervasive cultural concept means. The majority of the course then traverses less charted terrain: the contemporary. We'll consider the legacies of postmodernism and innovations in storytelling that have emerged over the past decades. Throughout the course, we'll cross novelistic genres and engage issues central to post-1960 fiction: technological and media change, pop culture, globalization, and forms of memory/forgetting and belonging/alienation.

Texts: Authors may include Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed,Donald Barthelme (stories), Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo, Ursula Le Guin, David Foster Wallace (stories), Richard Powers, Colson Whitehead,William Gibson, Marilynne Robinson, Gary Shteyngart, and Alison Bechdel (graphic memoir). And just maybe a digital/hypertext fiction…

Requirements & Grading: The class will be run as a seminar. 20% participation; 10% reading quizzes; 40% 2 four-page text explorations; 30% eight- to ten-page argumentative essay.

E 395M • The Postmodern Novel & Beyond

35880 • Spring 2013
Meets M 600pm-900pm PAR 210
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This course will introduce students to theories and practices of US postmodern fiction and will develop an account of where US fiction stands now. The first part of the course will focus on the formal and thematic signatures of American "high" postmodernism of the 1960s and 1970s as well as the social, cultural, and technological developments it engages. We'll then read up to the present and assess how contemporary fiction carries postmodernism's legacy forward and how it innovates other ways of storytelling. To concentrate our inquiry, we'll examine works that don't only present worlds but that also theorize how we come to know our worlds (rationality and empiricism, affect, the body, place, religion, historical and cultural memory, media and technology).

Authors may include: Donald Barthelme (stories), Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, William Gibson, Ursula Le Guin, Tom McCarthy, China Miéville (non-US outlier), Lydia Millet, Toni Morrison, Ruth Ozeki, Richard Powers, Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, Marilynne Robinson, David Foster Wallace (stories), Colson Whitehead, and Karen Tei Yamashita. We'll also read theoretical and critical texts by Elias, Gates, Harvey, Heise, hooks, Hutcheon, Jameson, Lyotard, McHale, and others. Evaluation based on participation, short writing assignments for blog and class meetings, prospectus, presentation, and longer writing assignment.

E 349S • David Foster Wallace

35465 • Fall 2012
Meets TTH 1230pm-200pm CAL 419
(also listed as LAH 350 )
show description

Instructor:  Houser, H            Areas:  I / H

Unique #:  35465            Flags:  Writing

Semester:  Fall 2012            Restrictions:  English Honors

Cross-lists:  n/a            Computer Instruction:  n/a

Prerequisites: Six semester hours of upper-division coursework in English.

Description: This course covers the truncated career of David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), one of the most obsessed-over and lauded authors of his generation. We will read some of Wallace's essays and short stories, and all of Infinite Jest. The following questions will motivate the course: 1. What is Wallace's place in US literary history? What is his project for a new fiction? 2. What are his polemics about 20th-century US culture and media forms? Can particular novels and reading practices intervene in these domains? 3. How can the novel and the individual navigate the onslaught of information in the 20th/21st centuries?

We will avail ourselves of the Harry Ransom Center's rich Wallace archive which includes his manuscripts, letters, and personal library. The course culminates in a final project of the student's own design. Students are encouraged to use HRC resources in developing their project questions but are not required to do so.

Texts: Infinite Jest. Possible selections from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion, and Girl with Curious Hair, and The Pale King. Short critical readings and prose comparisons.

Requirements & Grading: 20% participation, 10% discussion leading, 15% 5-page close textual analysis, 5% prospectus, 15% bibliographic essay, 35% 12-15 page essay.

E 379R • Environmntl Fiction/Criticism

35520 • Spring 2012
Meets TTH 1230pm-200pm PAR 302
show description

Instructor:  Houser, H            Areas:  VI / I

Unique #:  35520            Flags:  Writing; Independent Inquiry

Semester:  Spring 2012            Restrictions:  n/a

Cross-lists:  n/a            Computer Instruction:  No

Prerequisites: Nine semester hours of coursework in English or rhetoric and writing.

Description: Environmental criticism—or, ecocriticism—is a vibrant area of literary scholarship that seeks to understand the cultural origins of environmental relations and responses to ecological threat. This course starts from the premises that 1) to understand emerging environmental issues, we must look beyond facts and data to the stories that literature tells and 2) to understand contemporary cultural production, we must analyze texts' environmental imagination. Thus, we'll explore the role of fiction—on page and screen—in creating environmental consciousness in the late 20th and 21st centuries. As we develop a critical vocabulary for interpreting recent eco-fiction, we'll sort out recent trends in environmental representation and criticism.

The following questions motivate our study: How do the ways that stories are narrated affect understanding of environmental issues? Are there more or less "successful" genres and formal strategies for addressing eco emergencies? What stance do contemporary authors take towards scientific developments? Towards activism? How do writers and filmmakers balance the demands for human justice and the welfare of ecosystems? Students will explore these questions and others in seminar discussions, and informal and formal writing assignments, including a self-defined research project.

Texts: Novels: Atwood, Oryx and Crake; Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Powers, Gain; Silko, Ceremony; Sinha, Animal's People

Films: Dunn, The Unforeseen; Kennedy, The Garden; Stanton, Wall-E

Essays & scholarship by: William Cronon, Annie Dillard, bell hooks, Kate Soper, Evelyn White.

Requirements & Grading: participation (20%), course blog (10%); project prospectus (5%); 2 short essays (25%); bibliographic essay (10%); research essay (25%); presentation (5%).

E 379R • Environmntl Fiction/Criticism

35517 • Fall 2011
Meets TTH 1100am-1230pm PAR 302
show description

Prerequisites: Nine semester hours of coursework in English or rhetoric and writing.

Description: Environmental criticism—or, ecocriticism—is a vibrant literary research area that seeks to understand the cultural origins of environmental relations and responses to ecological threat. This course will introduce you to the cultural and political contexts within which recent environmental thinkers have defined "nature" and expanded our understanding of the environment. Debates about whether to embrace or reject modernization and science, and about the proper modes for mediating the environment inform ecocriticism. We will analyze the terms and stakes of these debates along with the currents that cut across them: gender, race, and class positioning; the category of the human vis-à-vis the machine and animal; post- and neocolonialism; and urbanism.

The following questions motivate our study: How do literature, film, and cultural theory shape environmental issues? Are there more or less "successful" narrative strategies for addressing environmental decline? How do eco-thinkers and -artists balance the demands for human justice and the welfare of ecosystems? Students will develop a critical vocabulary for the study of environmental fiction as they sort out the history and futures of environmental representation.

Texts: Texts may include fiction by: Susanne Antonetta, Philip K. Dick, Barbara Dowdy, Amitav Ghosh, Alexis Rockman (painter), Ridley Scott (filmmaker), Vincenzo Natali (filmmaker), and data visualization artists. Key theorists may include: Giorgio Agamben, Raymond Williams, Lawrence Buell, Rachel Carson, Donna Haraway, Evelyn Fox Keller, Bruno Latour, and Peter Singer.

Requirements & Grading: participation, including course blog (20%); project prospectus (5%); short essay (15%); source annotations (10%); research essay (40%); presentation (10%).

Publications

Ecosickness in Contemporary US Fiction: Environment and Affect. Columbia University Press (May 2014)

"The Aesthetics of Environmental Visualizations: More Than Information Ecstasy?," Public Culture 26.2 (Spring 2014)
 
"Wondrous Strange: Eco-Sickness, Emotion, and Richard Powers's The Echo Maker," American Literature 84.2 (2012): 381-408.

"Comic Crisis." Review of Solar, by Ian McEwan. American Book Review (Nov./Dec. 2010).

"'A Presence almost Everywhere': Responsibility at Risk in Don DeLillo's The Names." Contemporary Literature 51.1 (Spring 2010): 124-51.

Review of Teaching North American Environmental Literature, eds. Laird Christensen, Mark C. Long, and Fred Waage. ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 17.1 (Winter 2010): 209-11.

FORTHCOMING: 

"Managing Information and Materiality in Infinite Jest and Running the Numbers," American Literary History (forthcoming 2014)

"'Geologic Time from Now On': Lorine Niedecker's Lake Superior," invited essay for Los Angeles Review of Books (forthcoming 2014)

"Human/Planetary." In Time: A Vocabulary of the Present, eds. Amy Elias and Joel Burges. NYU Press (forthcoming 2015)

IN PROGRESS:

Environmental Art and the Infowhelm (book manuscript in progress)

The Architecture of Ideas: A Reader (proposal invited by Oxford University Press. Under review)

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