The list below includes courses that originate in Comparative Literature as well as a large number of courses that originate in other departments and are cross-listed here in in Comp Lit. If you are a student looking for a literature or film course taught in English, this list should cover most of the available options, with the important exception that we have not tried to cross-list all the courses taught in the English department, so be sure to check their course list as well.

Students majoring in the program should consult with the chair or their advisor during registration period to learn which courses satisfy specific requirements for the major, particularly which courses count for core credit.

The Comp Lit section of the current course catalog contains a list of the Comp lit courses that are offered this year or (when the new catalog comes out each spring) next year. For a list of all our courses–current and recent–expand the list at the bottom of this page.

  • COMP 101(F) LEC Greek Literature: Performance, Conflict, Desire

    In the Iliad, Paris' desire for the famously beautiful Helen leads to the Trojan War, the devastating conflict between the Trojans and the Greeks retold and reimagined time and again in ancient Greek literature. The stories of Troy and its aftermath were performed not only as epic poems (as in the Iliad and the Odyssey), but also re-enacted by singing and dancing choruses, dramatized on the tragic stage, and recounted in oratory. Beginning with the Homeric epics, this course explores the recurring and ever-shifting debates, longings, hostilities, and aspirations that drive Greek literature and shape its reception, with a particular focus on questions of performance context and audience. Our attention to sound, movement, and staging will be enriched by consideration of select examples from the rich reception history of Greek myth in modern theater and dance. The nexus of performance, conflict, and desire will also give us a distinct perspective on many important topics within the study of Greek culture, including the embodiment of personal and collective identities, the workings of Athenian democracy, and the development of literary genres. This course will include readings from, e.g., Homer, Sappho, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Thucydides, and Plato, as well as viewings of relevant performance works. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 104 TUT Telling Tales in Ancient Greece

    Last offered Fall 2023

    One-eyed monsters, magical spells, and trips to the moon: Greek literature is replete with tales of fantastic creatures and wild adventures. These ancient stories give us valuable opportunities to explore early understandings of "fiction," the development of narrative, and the construction of the storyteller in both poetry and prose. In this course, we will read texts from Homer's Odyssey (8th cent. BCE) to Heliodorus' Aethiopica (4th cent. CE), alongside a range of scholarly approaches to them. We will pay particular attention to the prose fiction of the Roman imperial era, including both the texts traditionally called the "ancient novel" as well as the various forms of biography, ethnography, and mythography adjacent to them. Throughout, we will explore narratives and representations of gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, class, and cultural identity, reflecting on how our primary sources engage with their complex social and political contexts. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

    COMP 106(F) SEM Temptation

    We want most those things we can't--or shouldn't--have. Or, to put it another way, it is when limitations are placed on our actions by law, religion, or the facts of our own biology that we experience desire most acutely. In this course, we will examine fictional narratives, lyric poems, and philosophical meditations in which people are tempted to act against their better judgement. Free will, ambition, temperance, suspense, despair, and repression will be our conceptual preoccupations. We will get to know such writers and artists as Homer, Euripides, Ovid, Augustine, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Laclos, Mozart, Freud, Frost, and Scorsese. [ more ]

    COMP 107(S) SEM Advanced French: Danger and Desire in French Film and Fiction

    This is an advanced course in French language designed to help you improve your speaking, comprehension, reading, and writing, through the dynamic study of short literary texts and films focusing on danger and desire in nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-first-century France and the Francophone World. Through active discussion and debate, textual and cinematic analysis, grammatical review, and careful writing and revision, you will improve your command of spoken and written French, strengthen your ability to express complex ideas, expand your vocabulary, and deepen your understanding of French and Francophone fiction, film, and cultures. This is an ideal course to prepare for study abroad or for more advanced coursework in French and Francophone literature and cinema. As a focus for improving your French, we will examine a broad range of texts and films on danger and desire in France, Québec, and Algeria from 1820 to 2025, with an emphasis on passion and ambition, infatuation and seduction, betrayal and vengeance, courage and cruelty, warfare and resistance. Works to include nineteenth-century texts by Chateaubriand, Duras, Balzac, Mérimée, Flaubert, Maupassant, Zola; twentieth-century texts by Colette, Camus, Sartre, Beauvoir, Duras, Ernaux, Guibert, Quint, Lindon, Vilrouge; and twenty-first-century films by Caron, Ozon, Ducastel, Martineau, Dercourt, and Becker. Conducted in French. [ more ]

    COMP 108 SEM Roman Literature: Gender, Virtue, Empire

    Last offered Spring 2023

    In the first book of Vergil's Aeneid, the god Jupiter prophesies the foundation and the greatness of Rome: "I place no limits on their fortunes and no time; I grant them empire without end." Yet elsewhere in this epic account of Rome's origins, this promise of unlimited power for the descendants of Romulus seems to be seriously abridged. Some readers have seen, not only in the Aeneid but throughout classical Roman literature, a persistent tendency to inscribe the decay and disintegration of Roman power into the very works that proclaim and celebrate Roman preeminence. This course explores the ancient Romans' own interpretations of their past, their present, and their destiny: the humble beginnings of their city, its rise to supreme world power, and premonitions of its decline. Related topics for our consideration will include Roman constructions of gender, the location and expression of virtue in the public and private spheres, the connections and conflicts between moral probity and political success, the exercise of individual power versus action on behalf of the commonwealth, the absorption of foreign customs and peoples into Rome, the management of literal and imaginary frontiers, and other anxieties of empire. We will read selections and complete works by a wide variety of Roman authors, including Cicero, Catullus, Caesar, Vergil, Sallust, Horace, Ovid, Seneca, and Tacitus. All readings will be in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 109 TUT Spies Like Us: Espionage, Surveillance, and Protest in German Cinema and Literature

    Last offered Fall 2021

    This First Year tutorial, available in English, investigates the mutual mistrust between the two Germanies in the Cold War period up until the peaceful popular protests that brought down the Berlin Wall. The political tensions between communist East Germany, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and its capitalist Western counterpart, the Federal Republic (FRG), created a fascinating culture of governmental spying, but also led to aggravated periods of state surveillance of its own citizens. How were families affected across generations by these divisive politics, including the two states' differing treatment of the Nazi legacy? What was the involvement of the KGB and the CIA? How did East German intelligence try to destabilize the West from inside? Which locations in Berlin served as centers for spying, given that the city's terrain is quite flat and exposed? High-profile cases of conflicting loyalties include the Guillaume spy affair that brought down Willy Brandt as Chancellor of the FRG in 1974, and the Brasch family in the GDR, where the father, a communist true believer, turned his three sons over to the Stasi for their dissident activism and engaged art. We will debate filmic treatments of the recruitment of spies as double agents (Coded Message for the Boss, 1979), the chilling effects of police surveillance during the Baader-Meinhof radical left terrorist attacks (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1975; Knife in the Head, 1978) the afterlives of former terrorists who were offered new identities as 'ordinary' East Germans (The legend of Rita, 2000), to the effects of the Stasi files becoming accessible to their victims after the fall of the wall (Es ist nicht vorbei, Anderson). We will also discuss popular film representations of spying in Lives of Others (2007) and Bridge of Spies (2015), and selected episodes from the popular TV-series Germany 83 and 86 (2018). Literature will likely include: Thomas Brasch, The Sons Die Before the Fathers (1977), Christa Wolf, What Remains (1993), Monika Maron, Flight of Ashes (1981), Heinrich Böll, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1974). All texts in English, films have English subtitles. [ more ]

    COMP 111(F, S) SEM The Nature of Narrative

    Narrative--storytelling--is a fundamental human activity. Narratives provide us with maps of how the world does or should or might work, and we make sense of our own experiences through the narratives we construct ourselves. This course examines the nature and functions of narrative using texts from a wide range of literary traditions, media, and genres. Readings may span classics (e.g. Homerian epic, The Tale of Genji, and/or the Popol Vuh), fiction ranging from nineteenth-century realism to postmodern experimentation (possibly including Kafka, Tolstoy, Toni Morrison, and/or Emile Habibi), and visual literature from film and drama to graphic memoir (possibly including Mizoguchi Kenji, Art Spiegelman, Alison Bechdel, and/or Joe Sacco). We may also read some short works of literary theory from around the world to help us broaden our idea of what literature can be and do. All readings in English. [ more ]

    COMP 117(F) SEM Introduction to Cultural Theory

    This course has a clear purpose. If you had signed up for a course in biology, you would know that you were about to embark on the systematic study of living organisms. If you were registered for a course on the American Civil War, you would know that there had been an armed conflict between the northern and southern states in the 1860s. But if you decide you want to study "culture," what exactly is it that you are studying? The aim of this course is not to come up with handy and reassuring definitions for this word, but to show you why it is so hard to come up with such definitions. People fight about what the word "culture" means, and our main business will be to get an overview of that conceptual brawl. We will pay special attention to the conflict between those thinkers who see culture as a realm of freedom or equality or independence or critical thought and those thinkers who see culture as a special form of bondage, a prison without walls. The course will be organized around short theoretical readings by authors ranging from Matthew Arnold to Laura Mulvey, but we will also, in order to put our new ideas to the test, watch several films (mostly of the class's choosing) and listen to a lot of rock and roll. Why do you think culture matters? Once you stop to pose that question, there's no turning back. [ more ]

    COMP 118 TUT Animal Subjects

    Last offered Fall 2018

    Nonhuman animals constitute the limit against which humans define themselves; at the same time, they challenge such boundaries. Thinking about animals, then, always also means exploring our own humanity. In this tutorial, we will draw on the vast archive of literature, philosophy, and art that engages animals in order to reconsider what and how these representations mean. Bringing philosophers and poets into conversation with one another, we will critically examine common assumptions about other beings as we probe the categories that structure our perceptions. Considering our complex relationships with other animals, we will address questions of ontology, aesthetics, and ethics: What makes an animal? Can animals be represented? How should animal suffering affect us? In order to approach such questions, we will focus on the intricate entanglements that constitute human and nonhuman lives, emphasizing moments of contact and conflict. [ more ]

    COMP 128 SEM Reading Asian American Literature

    Last offered Spring 2020

    Though the category and term "Asian American" came about as a result of political struggle in the 1960s, what we now call Asian American writing in English began in the nineteenth century and has played a significant role in every American literary "movement" from Modernism, realism, protest literature to various avant-gardes, the graphic novel, and digital poetries. This course closely reads a sampling of texts in a variety of genres and styles-produced by writers from various Asian American ethnic groups-from the late nineteenth century to the present and contextualizes them historically, both domestically and globally. We will examine the material, cultural, political, and psychic intersections of larger structural forces with individual writers and texts. Along the way, we will interrogate the notion of "Asian American"--its contradictions, heterogeneous nature, and our assumptions--and its relation to the idea of "American." Some questions we will ask: "Why have Asian Americans and Asian American writers and writing so often been viewed as 'foreign' or 'alien' to the American body politic and the English-language literary tradition?" "How might Asian American writing be linked to other English-language texts in the Asian diaspora?" [ more ]

    COMP 129(S) TUT James Baldwin's Song

    "It is only in his music [. . .] that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story. It is a story which otherwise has yet to be told and which no American is prepared to hear," wrote James Baldwin in Notes of a Native Son in 1955. In this course, we strive to listen more closely to racialized experience through James Baldwin's musical literature. Through analysis and creation of music, we hope to better understand cultural difference and collective humanity. In this course, we closely analyze James Baldwin's use of song names, creation of musician characters, and replication of musical elements in his writing. Baldwin's musical word play crosses historical and genre boundaries. So we will explore texts from his early to late career, such as the gospel music of his youth in the semi-autobiographical novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, the metaphor of the blues in the play written during the civil-rights movement Blues for Mr. Charlie, the jazz musician protagonist in "Sonny's Blues" written after World War II in Paris, and his only musical recording in A Lover's Question set down near the end of his life. In addition to closely analyzing James Baldwin's attention to music throughout his literature, students will learn basic music writing and production skills. The tutorial will draw on a range of musical resources, including playlists, music workshops, guest lectures and performances. All of these resources will guide students to a more attuned hearing not only of music but also of the African American experience it reflects. By the end of the course, students will have written several short 1-2 page close analysis essays and song lyrics. For their final project, students will produce an original song based on key insights from the course. No musical experience is required, though an openness to learn and practice songwriting is expected. [ more ]

    COMP 13 On Stupidity

    Last offered NA

    This course is guided by what is perhaps the wisest question in literary-cultural criticism: "What is stupidity?" Since the early modern period, the pursuit of knowledge by means of reason has redefined what it is to know and to be knowledgeable. But what about the other side of the coin - what can we glean from not knowing, or refusing to know? In this course, we will consider the stupidest books, the stupidest authors, and the stupidest readers in the Germanic and Slavic literary traditions. Looking at opera, film, and theater, we will discuss the role of media in the expression of stupidity. We also will reflect on which freedoms stupidity allows cultural expression, especially under oppressive regimes. Engaging with philosophical writings on stupidity (Kant, Bakhtin, Horkheimer and Adorno, Kristeva), literary representations of stupidity (Rilke, Hölderlin, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Erofeev, Kafka, Walser), operatic depictions of the buffoon (Mozart and Schnittke), we will consider the many variations on the trope of stupidity such as idiocy and poetic courage, sublime dumbness and speechlessness, willful ignorance and notions of the "sheep", resistant and alternative forms of knowledge in stock figures such as the buffoon and the holy fool. Class meetings will consist of mini-lectures, free writing opportunities, discussions, and activities. Outside of the classroom, students will write three mini essays applying terms and ideas from our theoretical materials to literary works of their choice. The course will culminate in a final project shared in a class reception in the last session. The language of instruction will be English, but students with a reading knowledge of Russian and German will have the opportunity to read and discuss our materials in the original language. By the end of the course, students will have mastered stupidity and will have the ability to apply it to their remaining undergraduate coursework. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 130 Writing for the Humanities

    Last offered NA

    Compelling academic prose is a rare beast. In this course we will investigate what makes for good academic writing and how we can produce it ourselves. We will begin with words, then progress to sentences, paragraphs, and essays. Our reading will be close, our writing closer. Topics include the following: Are adverbs incredibly important? When is less more, and when isn't it? Is your garden English, or is it Chinese? What is the "uneven U" and why does it work? How does your audience affect how you write? In addition to reading writing about writing by Orwell, Fish, Tufte, Hayot, and (inevitably) Strunk and White, we will look closely at academic prose out in the wild, both good and bad. This course is for anyone who is interested in exploring in more depth the craft of writing, whether you have always considered yourself a "good writer" or struggle to fill a single page (or both). Our focus will be on academic writing for the humanities, but the skills we will develop are relevant to many other contexts as well. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 134 TUT Leaving the World Behind: The Literature of Reclusion

    Last offered Spring 2020

    Living in a time of political and social turmoil, Confucius told his followers: "When the realm has the Way, show yourself; when it lacks the way, hide." Reclusion here is a moral choice, justified by the ethical decline of the state. But it could also be a mortal necessity in a period in which government service was a distinctly hazardous pursuit. In other contexts becoming a hermit could instead be figured as aesthetic stance meant to preserve one's artistic integrity against the dominant claims of society. This course looks at the literature of reclusion-living a life of seclusion from society-in a range of different cultures and periods, from ancient China to contemporary America. With sources that include poems, essays, novels, and films, we will investigate a set of issues surrounding radical seclusion. What different forms does reclusion take? Can one be a hermit without being completely separated from society? What is the relationship between hermits and the state-to what extent does one depend on the other? What are the philosophical and moral implications of eremitism? Is separating oneself from human society an inherently immoral act? What is the relationship between reclusion and technology in the contemporary world? What is the nature of solitude and can it be experienced in a group (for example, in contemporary "intentional communities")? While most of our work will focus on textual analysis, there will be an experiential component to the course as well. Each student will design and implement their own experiment in (short-term) eremitism. [ more ]

    COMP 139 SEM Living a Feminist Life

    Last offered Spring 2020

    The course invites students to consider the range of ways in which "knowledge" about women's, femme's and non-binary lives has been constructed in text, and how this knowledge determines and impacts the we have and make. The first half of the course is organized around a deep reading of Sara Ahmed's recent theoretical book, Living a Feminist Life, while the second half of the course will examine a spectrum of women's life writing-poetry, music, journalism, theory, and memoir-to discover how text continues to shape feminist lives, and how femmes' lived experience in turn shapes feminist discourse. Course materials for the second half of the semester will be generated in part through discussion and students' suggestions. Key texts will include Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider, Djamila Boupacha's memoir, Ana Lily Amirpour's film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Sara Ahmed's Living a Feminist Life, Valerie Solanas's SCUM Manifesto, and bell hooks's Teaching to Transgress. In their writing for this course, students will consider how their own intimate relationships-with parents, partners, children, neighbors, or friends-can become sites of feminist activism, and sources of strength and knowledge to be carried into the broader world of public engagement and intervention. In the final weeks of the course, we will collectively interrogate the (false) boundary between writing and living as modes of feminist praxis. [ more ]

    COMP 140 LEC Introduction to Traditional Chinese Literature

    Last offered Fall 2017

    With a written record stretching over 3000 years, China's literary cultures are some of the richest and most varied in human history. Their influence continues to be felt not only in modern China, but also throughout much of the world. This course examines the origins and development of the different literatures of China from their earliest stages up until the end of the imperial system in 1911. We will read texts ranging from the Analects of Confucius to the medieval poetry of the Tang dynasty, from Buddhist sutras to plays about prostitutes and singing girls. An invulnerable monkey god may make an appearance to sow chaos as well. He's difficult to pin down. Some important themes will include: the role of the individual versus that of the community, responses to catastrophe and disorder, the fantastic, the articulation of the self through literature, and ways of dealing with historical and literary legacies. All readings are in English translation. [ more ]

    COMP 141 LEC Black Autobiography

    Last offered Spring 2018

    Autobiography--whether slave narrative, memoir, or semi-fictional life account-has served as a primary form of writing for people of African descent. Although primarily understood as a textual means for articulating selfhood, Black autobiographies also ask other questions like: How do Black reflections on the self necessitate critiques of society and culture? How have Black autobiographies been utilized for political mobilization? And, what might a collective analysis of Black autobiographies reveal about changes in conceptions of Black selfhood over time? We will explore these concerns by reading autobiographies across time and space by authors like Ottobah Cugoano, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Alice Walker. [ more ]

    COMP 15 Comics and Visual Thinking

    Last offered NA

    What can we learn by reading comics or other examples of "sequential art?" Even more interesting, what can we teach others by creating sequential drawings? We will study comics that use a series of drawn images to convey a narrative--whether that is a fictional story (Frank Miller's Batman, Tezuka Osamu's manga), a factual history (Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother?), a scientific experiment (Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion, Henry Reich's Minute Physics), or a critical argument (Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics). Logistics permitting, we'll also take an optional field trip to The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont to meet with comic artists and instructors. Students will have a choice of final projects: write a paper analyzing a favorite comic or produce an original narrative comic of their own. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 151(F) SEM The Art of Playing: An Introduction to Theatre and Performance

    This is an introduction to the global art and practice of making theatre. Students will learn about the history, aesthetics, and approaches to the performer's labor associated with select performance forms from around the world. Emphasis will be on the analysis of embodied practices and the relationship between the stage and everyday life. Through readings, audiovisual materials, performance exercises, and discussions we will engage with theatre as a constantly evolving art form, sharpening our analytical skills through theoretical approaches from performance studies. Central to our exploration will be excavating the Eurocentric assumptions that conventionally shape the practice and study of theater in the United States. We will seek ways to decolonize our perspectives and ask critical questions about performance's potential to enact strategies of anti-racism and anti-imperialism. This course, open to all students, is a gateway to the major in Theatre, and is a prerequisite for THEA 201, THEA 204, THEA 301, and THEA 401. [ more ]

    COMP 153 LEC Japanese Film

    Last offered Fall 2023

    From the swashbuckling samurai films of Kurosawa and delicate family dramas of Ozu to edgy cinematic experiments and a breathtaking range of animation, Japan has one of the most varied and exciting film traditions in the world. This course will introduce you to major periods, genres, and directors in that tradition. We will read film criticism that represents a range of approaches, but we'll focus particularly on learning and practicing the kind of close visual analysis that will allow you to build your own original descriptions of how a given scene "works." Throughout the course we will consider the relationship between classic cinema and popular genres like sword flicks, melodramas, psychological thrillers, and anime, focusing particularly on directors whose work seems to borrow equally from genre film and the artistic avant-garde. All texts are translated or subtitled. All levels welcome. [ more ]

    COMP 155 SEM Contemporary Mexican Cinema and the World

    Last offered Spring 2022

    This expository writing course is grounded in an exploration of contemporary Mexican cinema and develops students' ability to critically write about film. We will focus on feature-length films, documentaries, and short films that not only grapple with Mexican history and identity but also those that travel beyond the borders of Mexico. The list of directors whose work will be considered includes Natalia Beristáin, Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alejandra Márquez Abella, Kenya Márquez, Jorge Pérez Solano, and Patricia Riggen. [ more ]

    COMP 161(F) SEM Metafiction

    This course will examine ways in which literary works reflect on their status as written texts. We'll look at the formal pleasures and puzzles generated by techniques including frame narratives, recursion, and self-reference, in novels, films, and stories by Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Kelly Link, Paul Park, and others. Ultimately, we will use our study of metafiction to focus inquiry into the socializing force of self-consciousness in human development. Note that students will be required to use, as well as interpret, metafictional techniques in their assigned writing, and will write one or two essays in collaboration with a Chat AI. [ more ]

    COMP 166 SEM Being Muslim, Being American: American Muslim Literature in the 21st century

    Last offered Fall 2022

    Islam and Muslims in the United States are the subject of extensive public scrutiny and media coverage in broader public discourses. It is less common, however, to hear Muslims' own voices speak about their lives, experiences, beliefs, and commitments. This course will take a literary approach to exploring American Muslims' own narratives about themselves, which will serve as an introduction to religion in contemporary U.S. culture. We will address questions such as: How do American Muslims attempt to fashion their identity in the wake of 9/11? What are the pressures and demands of American national belonging and cultural citizenship that Muslims must navigate? How are race, gender, ethnic heritage, and immigration definitive of Muslim experiences and self-understandings? How are Muslims approaching the tensions between communal belonging and individuality? What are the competing claims and contestations about authentic expressions of Islam? We will be engaging such themes through an analysis of popular memoirs, autobiographies, novels, short stories, poetry, films, and comedy. [ more ]

    COMP 186 LEC Japanese Popular Visual Culture

    Last offered Fall 2021

    The phrase "Japanese popular culture" often calls to mind comics and animation, but Japan's earliest visual pop culture dates back to the 17th century and the development of arts like kabuki theater and woodblock prints that could be produced for a mass audience. This course traces Japanese popular culture through a range of visual media: kabuki and puppet theater, premodern and postmodern visual art (ukiyoe, Superflat), classic film (Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa), manga/comics (Tezuka, Otomo, Hagio), and animation (by Oshii, Miyazaki, and others). We will develop visual reading skills to come up with original interpretations of these works, and compare different media to make them shed light on one another. [ more ]

    COMP 200 LEC European Modernism--and Its Discontents

    Last offered Spring 2018

    What is/was Modernism? An artistic movement? A new dynamic and sensibility? A transformative response to changed conditions? All these and more? This course will attempt to deal with such issues via examination of certain key works spanning the years 1850-1930. Topics to be considered: the rise of industrial capitalism and the literary market, advances in science and technology, urban alienation and social conflict, anti-"bourgeois" stances, the displacement of religion, the fragmented self, the proliferation of multiple perspectives, the breaks with the past and privileging of the present, and the horrors of war. To be studied: poetry by Baudelaire, Yeats, and Neruda; prose fiction by Dostoevsky, Kafka, Proust, Joyce, and Woolf; drama by Beckett; Futurist and Surrealist manifestoes; German Expressionist films; and theoretical writings by Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Ortega y Gasset, and Benjamin. In addition, select portions of Bell-Villada's Art for Art's Sake and Literary Life and Peter Gay's Modernism will serve as general background to the course. All readings in English. [ more ]

    COMP 201(F) LEC The Hebrew Bible

    The Hebrew Bible is perhaps the single most influential work in the history of Western philosophy, literature, and art. But the overwhelming presence of the text in nearly every aspect of modern culture often obscures the sheer brilliance of its narrative technique as well as the complex interplay between law, history, prophecy, and poetry. This course offers a comprehensive introduction to the literary, historical, and theological aspects of the Hebrew Bible with an eye towards developing a sophisticated understanding of the text in its ancient context. Through the close reading of substantial portions of the Hebrew Scripture in translation and the application of various modern critical approaches to culture and literature, students will explore fundamental questions about the social, ritual, and philosophical history of ancient Israel, as well as the fundamental power of storytelling that has resonated across two millennia. [ more ]

    COMP 202(S) SEM Modern Drama

    An introduction to major plays and key movements in European and American theatre since the late nineteenth century. Our focus will be on close reading, with attention also to questions of performance and production. Plays to be discussed will likely include: Ibsen, Hedda Gabler; Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest; Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard; Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author; Brecht, Mother Courage; Miller, Death of a Salesman; Beckett, Waiting for Godot; Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun; Pinter, Betrayal; Churchill, Cloud Nine; Stoppard, Arcadia. [ more ]

    COMP 203 SEM Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature in Translation

    Last offered Fall 2023

    Description: Nineteenth Century Russian literature is well known for its exploration of extreme states of consciousness. Because of this, it also contains some of the most compelling diagnoses of the illnesses and malaise of the modern condition: alienation, loss of meaning, suffering in face of the abuse of power, and the destructiveness of hyperrationality. Covering Russian literature's first modern treatments of madness up to the Silver Age, we will take this theme as a path to explore 19 th century Russian literature as a whole. We will read works by Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and others in order to better understand the Russian response to modernity and cast our glance along with them into the depths of the human soul. [ more ]

    COMP 204(S) SEM To See the Past: Russian and Soviet Cinema on History

    This course surveys Soviet and Russian cultural history of the 20th- and 21st-centuries through the history of the cinematic medium. We will watch and analyze key films of this period--films by Eisenstein, Vertov, Tarkovsky, Muratova, Balabanov, Zviagintsev, and Fedorchenko among others--from a double perspective. On the one hand, we will study the cultural and historical contexts of the Soviet Union and Russia; on the other hand, we will learn the formal and stylistic aspects of the cinematic medium as it developed historically (from silent, to sound, to color, to digital etc.). From this double perspective, we will try to answer a larger question that underlies this course: What kind of historical thinking can we learn through cinema as a medium? In other words, we will take cinema neither simply as a direct reflection of state ideology nor as pure aesthetic form or entertainment for the masses. Rather, we will approach the films of this period as audio-visual texts that are rich in historical content and require our informed and attentive interpretation. [ more ]

    COMP 205(S) LEC Magical Realists, Fantasists, Experimentalists: The Latin-American Novel in Translation

    A course specifically designed to enable students who have no knowledge of Spanish to read and discover those Latin-American authors who, in the twentieth century and after, have attracted world-wide attention. Among the texts to be discussed: Borges, Labyrinths; Cortázar, Blow-up and Hopscotch; Lispector, the Hour of the Star; lesser works by Fuentes and Puig; and by Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Conducted in English [ more ]

    COMP 206(S) SEM The Book of Job and Joban Literature

    The Book of Job has often been described as the most philosophical book of the Hebrew Bible. The story of one man's struggle to understand the cause of his suffering and his relationship to God represents the finest flowering of the Near Eastern wisdom literature tradition. Through its exploration of fundamental issues concerning human suffering, fate and divinity, and the nature of philosophical self-examination, Job has served as a touchstone for the entire history of existential literature. At the same time, the sheer poetic force of the story has inspired some of the greatest artistic and literary meditations in the Western tradition. This course will engage in a close reading of the Book of Job in its full cultural, religious, and historical context with special attention to its literary, philosophical, and psychological dimensions. We will then proceed to investigate key modern works in several genres that involve Joban motifs, themes, and text both explicitly and implicitly. These texts will include Franz Kafka's The Trial, Archibald MacLeish's J.B., Robert Frost's "Masque of Reason," Carl Jung's Answer to Job, and William Blake's Illustrations to the Book of Job. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 207 SEM Genesis: The Family Saga

    Last offered Spring 2020

    The Book of Genesis has rightly been described as the masterpiece of Hebrew biblical narrative. In particular, the continuous tale that begins with Abraham and Sarah and extends four generations to the children of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel is one of the most extraordinary examples of literary artistry in any time or tradition. As one family wrestles with the promise of becoming a chosen people, the narrative explores themes of marriage, parenthood, sibling rivalry, land, violence, wandering, and, above all, the complex relationship between humanity and God. This course will examine those themes through a close reading of Genesis in translation, from Abraham and Sarah's first appearance on the scene to the death of Jacob. We will consider the text from multiple perspectives with an eye toward understanding the literary, philosophical, and psychological dimensions that continue to amaze and perplex readers to this day. [ more ]

    COMP 208 SEM Through the Looking Glass: Comparative Children's Literature

    Last offered Spring 2023

    Oh, the reads we will read, if you follow my lead!
    We will amble at first and then soon pick up speed,
    And we'll bury our noses in books thick and thin.
    This I vow by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.
    There'll be picture books, fairy tales, primers, and verse,
    Tales of joy, fun, and laughter; and, alas, the reverse.
    Some were written in English, but most of them not.
    Though we'll read in translation: sign on up, polyglot!
    For example, there's Lindgren, Yumoto, and Grimm,
    Tonatiuh, and Sendak. Surely, you've heard of him?
    We'll critique illustrations, we'll wonder, we'll ponder,
    And by turns we'll divine what defines this grand genre.
    Is it mere fun and games, pixie dust, sweet as pie?
    Does it ask to be read with a serious eye?
    Books appeal to our puzzler--our minds--after all,
    And a child is a thinker, no matter how small.
    You'll reflect, cogitate, then you'll write, write, write, WRITE!
    And your thoughts will become this instructor's delight.
    [ more ]

    COMP 209(S) SEM The Outsider in French & Francophone Film Adaptations of Literary Texts

    In this course students will examine the figure of the outsider (queer, black, woman, intruder, loner) in several French and Francophone literary texts and their film adaptations and will explore questions such as: how are such outsiders translated onto the screen? To what extent does outsider status help maintain, challenge, or reveal hegemonic discourse? In what ways do non-Western and Western filmmakers (re)cast power and privilege through the figure of the outsider in their film adaptations (of Western canonical texts)? Students will read original French and Francophone literary texts and apply theories of film adaptation to their analyses. [ more ]

    COMP 210(S) SEM Latinx Language Politics: Hybrid Voices

    In this interdisciplinary course we focus on questions of language and identity in the contemporary cultural production and lived experience of various Latinx communities. We consider the following questions and more: In what ways does Spanish shift as it crosses over to the US from Latin America and the Caribbean? How does Latinx identity challenge traditional notions of the relationship between language, culture, and nation? How does careful attention to language elucidate the dynamics of gender and sexuality in the Latinx community? How are cultural values and material conditions expressed through Latinx linguistic practices? In what ways might Latinx literary and linguistic practices serve as tools for social change? Departing from an overview of common linguistic ideologies, we will examine code-switching or Spanglish, bilingual education, linguistic public policy, the English Only movement, and Latinx linguistic attitudes and creative responses to linguistic colonialism. In addition to a consideration of language and identity grounded in sociolinguistics, anthropolitical linguistics, Latinx studies, and cultural studies, we will survey a variety of literary genres including memoir, novel, and poetry. Both directly and/or indirectly, these texts address Latinx language politics, as well as the broader themes of power, difference, and hybridity. [ more ]

    COMP 211(S) SEM The Literature of Early China

    From poems on forbidden trysts and tales of bloody battles to aphorisms about filial piety and essays on moral governance, the literature of early China spans a wide range of topics and genres. In this course we will read, discuss, and write about literary works from the period stretching from approximately 600 BCE to the end of the Han empire in the third century CE, including poems, narratives, and philosophical works. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

    COMP 212 SEM Moving While Black

    Last offered Spring 2022

    Opening your apartment door, driving down the highway, taking a knee, raising a fist, sitting at the lunch counter then or sitting in a café now, these movements have historically and presently prompted fear at a minimum and in the most grave cases death for black people. Whether in the U.S. or globally, moving in the world as a black person often means being perceived as different, foreign and threatening. Crawling, dancing, running and boxing, these movements have countered fear and articulated the beauty, pride, creativity and political resistance of black people. In both cases, black movement matters and means much. While many consider movement to be just organized dance moves, this course expands students' definitions of black movement and teaches them to analyze multiple perceptions, uses, and reactions to it. "Moving while Black" offers examples of physical movement in improvised and practiced performance, quotidian movement, geographical movement across national borders and symbolic, politicized gestures. Students will investigate black movement via interdisciplinary sources that reflect various time periods and locations. Students may analyze such texts as Jacob Lawrence's visual art in The Migration Series, the movement of the rumba dance form between Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's "Revelations," William Pope.L's choreographed crawls, the 1995 World Rugby Cup in South Africa, and the 2018 case of a Kansas resident arrested while moving into his own home. Additionally, this course features an important practice element, in which students experiment with in-class movement exercises and workshops, engage with dance archives at Jacob's Pillow, interview participants of Kusika, and create and perform their own choreographies. While no previous experience in performance is required, curiosity and openness to learning through one's own body movement is expected. [ more ]

    COMP 213 SEM Reading the Qur'an

    Last offered Spring 2022

    In the nearly 1500 years of Islamic history, the Qur'an has been a central source of spiritual insight, ethical and legal guidance, sacred stories, and theological principles. Considered the divine word of God, the Qur'an is central to devotional life. This course will explore the Qur'an as a text that is always in a state of production. We will focus significantly on close readings of the text of the Qur'an, in addition to pre-modern and modern Qur'anic exegesis. The course will begin with a historical account of the revelation and collection of the Qur'an, placing the form and content of the text in the context of 7th century Arab society and the life of the Prophet. We will then study Qur'anic commentaries to discuss how Muslims have drawn theological, legal, philosophical, and mystical meaning from the Qur'an. We will pose some of the following questions: What do the different exegetical methods tell us about the intertextual nature of the Qur'an? How have these shifting notions affected the meaning made from Qur'anic verses and passages? What role do interpretive communities play in determining what the Qur'an says? Lastly, through an exploration of the art of Qur'an recitation, calligraphy, and Qur'an manuscripts, we will explore the ways in which the Qur'an is also an object of devotion in Muslim life. [ more ]

    COMP 214 SEM Moses: Stranger in a Strange Land

    Last offered Spring 2019

    As chieftain, priest, prophet, and lawgiver all in one, Moses occupies the central place in the history of Israelite and Jewish leaders. However, he is a somewhat unlikely candidate for such an important role. He is God's chosen leader among the enslaved Israelites, but he is raised as an Egyptian prince. He is a spokesman for his people, but he is slow of speech. He is the lawgiver and first judge of his nation, yet he is quick-tempered and impatient. The story of the most revered figure in the Jewish tradition, who nevertheless remains an outsider to the very end, has fascinated commentators and inspired countless artistic and literary interpretations. This course will engage in a close study of the figure of Moses by examining the biblical narrative of his life and career from Exodus through Deuteronomy with an eye towards understanding the complex and often contradictory portrait of this self-described "stranger in a strange land." We will also examine some of the ancient legendary and folkloric accounts about Moses, as well as philosophical and allegorical treatments in Hellenistic Jewish, early Christian, and Muslim biographies. We will then proceed to investigate key modern reconfigurations and critiques of Moses in several genres, which may include renaissance visual depictions, literary works by Sigmund Freud, George Eliot, Thomas Mann, and Zora Neale Hurston, and even musical and cinematic renditions. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 215 TUT Cults of Personality

    Last offered Fall 2022

    First uttered by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1956, the phrase "cult of personality" was formulated to discredit the hero-worship that accompanied Joseph Stalin's iron-fisted rule of the Soviet Union. Since then, the phrase has gained currency as a condemnation of a variety of seemingly all-powerful leaders in oppressive political regimes, including China's Mao Zedong, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, and the ruling Kim family in North Korea. In this course, we will examine the phenomenon of the cult of personality from a variety of perspectives, beginning with the cult surrounding Stalin and ending with that of Vladimir Putin. Our course material will encompass scholarship from multiple disciplines, including history, sociology, political science, cultural and media studies, as well as artistic expression typically labeled propaganda in literature, the visual arts, and film. Although our course will begin in the Soviet Union and end in contemporary Russia, we will explore how the cult of personality has been adapted and updated for different cultural and political purposes in fascist Germany and Spain, China, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba. All readings will be in English, and all films will have English subtitles. [ more ]

    COMP 216(S) SEM Folk and Fairy Tales in Literature and Beyond

    From cannibalistic crones in sugary cottages to frogs who can be transformed with a kiss, the English term "folktale" covers a broad range of stories that been beloved and belittled, transmitted and transformed for hundreds of years. This course will look broadly at folktales from different traditions, ranging from medieval China to early modern Europe and contemporary America. We will approach the folktale from a number of perspectives, including typologies; moral lessons embedded in tales; nationalism and the origins of folktale studies; modern transformations of old tales in new media such as film; and the often porous borders between the natural and the supernatural, the animal and the human, and the living and the dead. We will explore the way normative gender and ethnic roles are portrayed and sometimes undermined. We will also consider the complex literary histories of folktales, looking at sources, the interplay of oral and written traditions, folktales as alternative histories, notions of authorship, and the ways stories transform over time. [ more ]

    COMP 217 SEM Ancient Wisdom Literature

    Last offered Spring 2022

    The Biblical books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job are often grouped together under the Hebrew category of hokhmah, 'wisdom.' Although these books are very different in content, they can all be interpreted as meditations on ethical and practical philosophy. In this way, they represent the Hebrew Bible's canonical embrace of a widespread Near Eastern literary phenomenon. From the instructional literature of Egypt and Mesopotamia to Greek didactic poetry and fables, ancient Mediterranean cultures offer a wide range of texts that engage the issues of personal behavior, leadership, and justice. Starting with the central wisdom books of the Hebrew Bible and moving through relevant material from the Apocrypha, New Testament, and the Egyptian and Babylonian traditions, this course will examine the literature of wisdom throughout the ancient world with an eye toward understanding its various social, political, and philosophical contexts. We will then consider the Greek wisdom tradition in such texts as Hesiod's Works and Days, Aesop's fables, and fragments from the pre-Socratic philosophers. Finally, we will explore the influence of these ancient sources on later expressions of wisdom in medieval European literature, as well as more recent examples such as Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 218 SEM Nordic Nights: Scandinavia and the Second World War

    Last offered Spring 2024

    In April 1940, the Nazis invaded Denmark and Norway. In the lands of the Aurora Borealis and the Midnight Sun, the Nordic lights gave way to what seemed like one endless night of Nazi brutality. As the Danish and Norwegian peoples began five long years of occupation, Sweden remained neutral, walking the dangerous line between its role as a safe haven for Allied operatives and refugees (including Norwegian Resistors and Danish Jews) and its concessions to Nazi demands (for natural resources and troop movement across its borders). At the same time, Finland fought for its survival, first against the Soviet Union and then against the Nazis, in the boreal forests of its eastern border and the winter snows of its arctic north. In the Atlantic, the Danish colonial territories of Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands remained insulated from Nazi control in faraway Denmark, but struggled to maintain their autonomy, amid the occupation of their islands by Allied forces. While some Danes and Norwegians (like the writer Knut Hamsun and traitor Vidkun Quisling) collaborated with the Nazis, others risked their lives in the Resistance to carry out sabotage, espionage, and rescue others. Even as hundreds of Norwegian Jews were deported and murdered in Auschwitz, thousands of Danish Jews escaped to neutral Sweden with the help of their neighbors. Some Scandinavians continued this struggle beyond Nordic borders, like the Swedish diplomats Raoul Wallenberg (who saved thousands of European Jews in Budapest) and Raoul Nordling (whose careful diplomacy saved the city of Paris from total destruction). In this course, we will examine some of the most powerful literature and film on Scandinavia and World War II, and their representation of soldiers and civilians, invasion and occupation, collaboration and resistance, atrocities and genocide, cruelty and courage, survival and sacrifice. All readings and discussions in English. [ more ]

    COMP 219 SEM Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ? Race, Gender, and Political Power in Eighteenth-Century France

    Last offered Spring 2023

    The French Revolution of 1789 was, to a large extent, inspired by Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot who promoted ideas on individual liberty, scientific progress, religious freedom, and secularism. The Revolution brought with it promises of a society freed from the abuses of an absolute monarchy. Yet as feminist thinker Olympe de Gouges would note, when France redefined its notion of citizenship after 1789, it did not include women and people of color. This course examines Enlightenment ideas that led to the French Revolution, while analyzing how those ideas failed to bring true equality. Voltaire, Buffon, and Montesquieu all advocated for the abolition of slavery, but they also held racist and sexist views, justified by pseudoscientific discourse. By further juxtaposing these thinkers with feminist and abolitionist authors such as Olympe de Gouges and Claire de Duras, we will examine how eighteenth-century female authors advocated for the rights of women. Finally, we will analyze artworks such as Marie-Guillemine Benoist's Portrait d'une négresse (1800) and discuss how France is using such works today to reckon with its history of discrimination. [ more ]

    COMP 220 SEM Greek Tragedy

    Last offered Spring 2024

    Ancient Greek tragedy was a cultural phenomenon deeply embedded in its 5th-century Athenian context, yet it is also a dramatic form that resonates powerfully with 21st-century artists and audiences. This course examines tragedy on both levels. We will read such plays as Aeschylus' Agamemnon, Sophocles' Electra, and Euripides' Medea in English translation, considering their literary and dramatic features as well as their relationship to civic, social, and ritual contexts. We will discuss such topics as the construction of gender and identity on the dramatic stage, the engagement between tragedy and other literary genres, and the distinctive styles of the three major Athenian playwrights. We will also survey a set of recent productions and adaptations of these plays, with a particular focus on how modern playwrights and producers use Greek tragedy to explore justice, power, race, gender, status, and sexuality. We will consider how a dramatic form largely produced by and for Athenian citizen men became a creative resource for a remarkably diverse range of 21st-century artists, and explore how modern productions offer fresh perspectives on ancient material. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 221 SEM Dante and the Medieval World

    Last offered Spring 2024

    This course explores Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy vis-à-vis the medieval world. Through a close reading of this epic poem, students will consider Dante's use of language, allegory, and cultural knowledge to depict the afterlife and assess medieval society's social, political, and religious systems. The course will also examine the poem's relationship with global literature, art, and culture. We will read the Divine Comedy (with a focus on the Inferno) along with selections from the Aeneid, the Apocalypse of Saint Paul, the Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot, the Kitab al-Miraj, Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness, and other texts that will help us depict a better idea of the global Middle Ages and the exchange of ideas. By the end of the course, students will have a deep understanding of Dante's contributions to global cultural and literary traditions and how his work continues to inspire contemporary artists and thinkers. Students will develop critical analysis and research skills through class discussions and writing assignments. [ more ]

    COMP 222 SEM Detective Fiction

    Last offered Spring 2015

    Despite the genre's comparative youth, detective fiction has proven unusually adaptable and stunningly prolific. In the less than 200 years since its birth, detective fiction has traveled to virtually every region of the globe and into countless languages, found a home in both high art and popular culture, penetrated media including print, cinema, the internet, and the iPhone app, and spawned subgenres as sundry and specific as the police procedural, cooking detective fiction, medieval monk detective fiction, and lesbian detective fiction. This class seeks to understand the genre's explosion in the wake of Edgar Allan Poe's seminal stories by surveying the diverse material that falls within its capacious generic boundaries, as well as work by those who theorize detective fiction. In addition to reading classics by Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie, we will read detective fiction from outside the Anglo-American world, discover what separates men from women detectives, explore both Hollywood and television's fascination with the detective, and see what happens when the detective gets self-consciously conceptual in works by writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Paul Auster. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

    COMP 223 SEM Japanese Food Culture in a Global Context

    Last offered Spring 2023

    The bourgeoning popularity of Japanese food on a global scale has resulted in a surge of new research, literature, and films. Conversely, the effects of globalization have transformed the dining experience within Japan to be ever more multiethnic. This interdisciplinary course explores the complex relationship between food and culture in Japan, and the emergence of Japanese cuisine as a global phenomenon, referring to a variety of materials and practices. Topics to be addressed include modernization, nation-building, militarization, globalization, the environment, and popular culture. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 224 SEM Remembering the Great War: The First World War in Literature and Film

    Last offered Fall 2023

    From 1914 to 1918, the First World War ravaged Europe and slaughtered millions of soldiers and civilians from across the globe. Known as the "war to end (all) war(s)," World War I set the stage for an entire century of military conflict and carnage. New technologies led to unprecedented violence in the trenches, killing and wounding as many as 41 million soldiers and civilians. Beyond the slaughter at the front, the Great War also led to the global influenza pandemic that claimed up to 50 million lives, and the Armenian genocide that presaged the later atrocities of the Holocaust. The war also led to massive political transformation, from the Irish Rebellion and Russian Revolution, to the collapse of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires, and the redrawing of national borders across Europe and the Middle East. Even the end of the war with the Treaty of Versailles lay the groundwork for new animosities that would lead to the Second World War just two decades later. However, the First World War also inspired great social change, from the emergence of the United States as a global leader and the founding of the League of Nations, to growing discontent with colonial rule in Asia and Africa, and greater power for women whose wartime labor influenced the post-war passage of their right to vote in countries across Europe and North America. In our study of the Great War, we will examine texts and films that bear witness to the suffering and courage of soldiers and civilians, and consider the legacy of the war in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. Readings to include memoirs and novels by Barbusse, Barker, Brittain, Cocteau, Graves, Hemingway, Jünger, Remarque, Wharton, Woolf; poetry by Apollinaire, Brooke, Mackintosh, McCrae, Owen, Sassoon; films by Attenborough, Boyd, Carion, Chaplin, Jeunet, Ozon, Renoir, Trumbo, Walsh, Weir; and archival materials on the roles of Williams students and faculty during the First World War. Readings and Discussions in English. [ more ]

    COMP 225 LEC Introduction to Comparative Literature

    Last offered Spring 2024

    Comparative literature involves reading and analyzing literature drawn from different times, movements, cultures, and media. In this class, we will study English translations of texts from eras spanning the ancient to the contemporary; literary movements including romanticism, realism, and postmodernism; national traditions arising in Europe, Asia, and the Americas; and media from prose fiction to theater, comics, and film. Throughout the course, we will consider what it means to think about all these different works as literary texts. To help with this, we will also read selections of literary theory that define literature and its goal in abstract or philosophical terms. Assignments will focus on close, creative reading of relatively short texts by authors like Homer, Sei Shônagon, Kleist, Lermontov, Zola, Borges, Wilde, Bechdel, and others. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

    COMP 226 SEM The Ancient Novel

    Last offered Spring 2019

    Pirates, prostitutes, witches, and donkeys: the novels of ancient Greece and Rome often surprise their modern readers with a striking blend of humor, violence, and eroticism. From damsels in distress and daring rescues to impossible journeys and magical transformations, this course will consider these remarkable and varied texts within their own literary and cultural contexts. By reading the works of such authors as Longus, Lucian, Apuleius, and Heliodorus, we will survey the different forms of extended prose fiction that have traditionally been called the ancient "novel." We will confront the challenges of defining the genre itself, and consider both its ancient literary heritage and its later reception and afterlife. We will also explore the ways in which these texts engage with the complex and diverse world of the ancient Mediterranean, paying close attention to the representation of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and cultural identity. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 227(F) TUT Outdoor Pools: Where Eros Meets Thanatos

    In an outdoor swimming pool is where Eros meets Thanatos: in both F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby (1925) and Billy Wilder's movie Sunset Boulevard (U.S.A., 1950), the protagonists are shot dead in their pool, and in his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (U.S.A., 1996) Baz Luhrmann transposes the balcony scene to an outdoor pool where romance unfolds. What is it about outdoor swimming pools that they irremediably capture our imagination? This interdisciplinary tutorial explores the function and significance of outdoor swimming pools in French, German, and U.S. culture through literature, painting, photography, and film. Whether we regard them as a symbol of status and wealth, the remnants of Hollywood's Golden Age era, the embodiment of order and discipline, or a major environmental impact factor, they nevertheless fascinate us. Because outdoor swimming pools, whether private or public, are a microcosm of society and a metaphor for human civilization, they have also been at the center of discussions about racial segregation and religious discrimination in Europe as well as in the U.S.A.. Although pools are mostly governed by tacit rules, such as respect for personal space and the desexualization of encounters, visitors have often disregarded and broken these regulations. That explains why outdoor swimming pools have often served as the perfect backdrop for literature and cinema's steamiest and most violent scenes. We will start the course with a brief social history of pools and read a few sociological studies of swimming pools by experts (Jeff Wiltse, Kate Moles, Susie Scott) to lay the theoretical ground for our analysis. In the course of the tutorial, we will explore through novels, photographs, paintings, and films the various functions assigned to outdoor swimming pools depending on the time period. We will also delve into the genre of summer pool side literature (the satirical Summer House with Swimming Pool (2011) by Hermann Koch, the thriller The Swimming Pool (2018) by Clare Mackintosh, and Julie Otsuka's latest novel, The Swimmers (2022)) and try to explain its great popularity. While the outdoor pool functions as a mirror of excess and decadence in the 1920's as evidenced by the lavish pool parties thrown by The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925), it becomes the epitome of white middleclass suburban life in the 60's as John Cheever's short story The Swimmer narrates. During the 1970's, the pool advances as a symbol of sexual liberation as the erotic thriller The Swimming Pool (France, 1969) by Jacques Deray, the sexually charged pool paintings Peter Getting Out of Nick's Pool (1966) or Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972) by David Hockney, or the male nudes by Tom Bianchi in his Fire Island Pines: Poloroids 1975-1983 attest. In the 1980's the outdoor pool becomes once more the mirror of opulence and eroticism, which Helmut Newton's photographs of Hollywood celebrities (Liz Taylor swimming in her jewels) and for Playboy magazine capture as well as Paul Thomas Anderson's film Boogie Nights (U.S.A.,1997) about the booming porn industry during the Reagan-era. Starting in the late 90's, the outdoor swimming pool takes on greater political significance, largely due to the emergence and increasing visibility of female and gay filmmakers. In François Ozon's thriller Swimming Pool (France, 1996), the pool is the setting of female solidarity and feminist revenge. In her character study movie Everyone else (Germany, 2009), Maren Ade carefully examines how gender roles and stereotypes play out and get reinforced during a pool party. At last, in her recent comedy Freibad, (Germany, 2022) Doris Dorrie chooses a women-only public outdoor pool as the backdrop to raise questions of racial segregation and religious discrimination [ more ]

    COMP 228(S) SEM Boys Love

    Originating in Japanese manga of the 1970s, the genre of yaoi, boy love, or BL has expanded into other media and around the globe during the last half century. Created mostly by women for women, BL transposes classic tropes of popular romance into a male homosocial environment, depicting the inevitable love of young, attractive, and typically androgynous men. The growing popularity of BL begs several questions: Why do women create and consume romances that tend to exclude female characters? Why do they enjoy a fictional universe that deliberately downplays homophobia yet ostensibly preserves heteronormativity by showing powerful, protective tops who repeatedly fall for vulnerable, passive bottoms? And how has BL changed global perceptions of and expectations for masculinity? This course explores these and other questions by examining key examples of BL from Japanese manga to Thai television, as well as shipping culture, BL's robust fandom, and adjacent genres such as slash fiction and girl love. [ more ]

    COMP 229 LEC Japanese Culture and History from Courtiers to Samurai and Beyond

    Last offered Spring 2017

    This course will introduce students to the history, literature, and artistic culture of premodern Japan, from the time of the first recorded histories in the 800s through the abolition of the samurai class in the late 1800s. We will focus on the politics and aesthetic culture of the ruling elites in each period, from the heyday of the imperial court through the rise and eventual decline of the samurai warrior and the growth of Edo (Tokyo), with its new mode of early modern government and new forms of literature, theater, and art. Team taught by faculty from History and Comparative Literature, the course will examine historical texts alongside works drawn from literature, visual culture, and performing arts, and will ask students to consider how these different kinds of texts can shed light on one another. What is the difference between reading history and reading literature, or is it even meaningful to distinguish the two? [ more ]

    COMP 230(S) SEM The Renaissance in England and the European Continent: Self and World

    At the same time as the individual human being in possession of a distinctive personality was taking on enormous importance in politics, philosophy, literature, and the visual arts, early modern Europeans were encountering unprecedented levels of cultural diversity. In this interdisciplinary course, we will consider these two developments both separately and together. As Renaissance humanists were acquiring a sophisticated understanding of the distance between the present and various European pasts (the recent medieval past and the remote history of antiquity), they were also coming into contact with non-European cultures in Africa, the Americas, and Asia via trade and economic development, imperial expansion, and religious conversion. Always at stake in these encounters was the question of who counted as an individual; the self was not considered to be intrinsic to human nature but rather the product of historical and cultural developments. Themes will include religious pluralism, the sacred and the secular, vernacularity, exploration and empire, the relationship between mind and body, slavery, trade, wealth, gender, self-fashioning, and style. We will consider such English writers as the Pearl poet, More, Marlowe, Spenser, Shakespeare, Browne, and Milton; such continental intellectuals as Descartes, Erasmus, Las Casas, and Castiglione; and such continental artists as Michelangelo, Velázquez, Bruegel, and Rembrandt. [ more ]

    COMP 231(F) TUT Postmodernism

    In one definition, postmodernism in art and literature is what you get when you combine modernism's radical experimentation with pop culture's easy appeal. This term has been used to describe works from Andy Warhol's paintings of Campbell's soup cans and Jean Baudrillard's critical essays on Disneyland to Murakami Haruki's euphoric conspiracy novels. Theorists of the postmodern have argued that it represents not only a radical change in aesthetic sensibilities, but a fundamentally new relationship between art, language, and society. In this tutorial, we will read some of the most important theoretical essays defining the postmodern (essays which themselves often embrace this playful and sometimes ironic style), and we will pair them with artistic texts that are said to illustrate the features of postmodernism. The latter will be mainly novels and short stories from around the world, but one feature of this theory is a flattening of the distinction between high and low culture as well as between the written and the visual, so we will also examine examples from architecture, visual art, and/or broader pop culture. Texts will include essays by critics like Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, Jean-François Lyotard, and Azuma Hiroki; novels and short stories by writers like Don DeLillo, Italo Calvino, and Murakami Haruki; painting and sculpture associated with Pop Art and Superflat; the architecture of Williamstown-area museums; etc. Writing assignments will focus on reading the theoretical texts closely and applying their ideas to the artistic texts in creative and interesting ways. Open to sophomores as well as advanced students. [ more ]

    COMP 232 SEM Nordic Lights: Literary and Cultural Diversity in Modern Scandinavia

    Last offered Spring 2021

    Mythologized as the land of the aurora borealis and the midnight sun, Scandinavia's five distinct nations--Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland--are often mistakenly associated with blond-haired and blue-eyed uniformity. Modern Scandinavia, however, is a place of great social and cultural diversity. From medieval Viking sagas to contemporary Nordic rap, the Scandinavian literary tradition is rich in tales of global exploration, childhood imagination, sexual revolution, and multicultural confrontation. Through readings of nineteenth-century drama, twentieth-century novels, and twenty-first century cinema, we will investigate a wide range of issues on class, ethnicity, and identity, including the indigenous reindeer-herding Sámi people, Danish colonialism and the Greenlandic Inuit, Norwegian collaboration and resistance during World War II, and Nordic emigration (to North America) and immigration (from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East). Discussion will also focus on Scandinavia's leadership in gender equality and sexual liberation, Scandinavian political isolation and integration (into both the UN and the EU), and the global effects of Nordic pop (ABBA to Björk), glamour (Greta Garbo to Alicia Vikander), technology (Volvo to Nokia), design (IKEA to H&M), and activism (Alfred Nobel to Greta Thunberg). Readings to include works by Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Hans Christian Andersen, Karen Blixen, Astrid Lindgren, Halldór Laxness, Reidar Jönsson, and Peter Høeg. Films to include works by Ingmar Bergman, Lasse Hallström, Bille August, Colin Nutley, Lukas Moodysson, Josef Fares, Tomas Alfredson, and Tomas Vinterberg. All readings and discussions in English. [ more ]

    COMP 233 SEM Love and Strife

    Last offered Fall 2020

    In one of the earliest known attempts to explain the universe, the philosopher-poet Empedocles wrote that everything in existence is moved by love and strife. This fundamental pair of forces has shaped accounts of human experience for over two millennia. Are these principles simple opposites, complements, or even two aspects of a single concept? What happens when they fall out of balance or both are absent? Can love consume strife, or strife destroy love? Artists and writers have taken up these and similar questions in myriad forms, from nursery rhymes to epic poems, from philosophical contemplation to popular song, from the tragic stage to the silver screen. This course will use Greek and Latin works as touchstones for exploring ancient and modern representations of love and strife. Our ancient sources may include Homer, Sappho, Sophocles, Horace, Catullus, and Seneca, as well as architecture, graffiti, and epitaphs. Later sources may include Shakespeare and screwball comedies, Broadway standards and the Beatles, Renaissance fresco and modern sculpture, and literary professions of love from the silly to the sublime. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 234(S) SEM Saharan Imaginations

    Deconstructing reductive Saharanism, which the course conceptualizes as a universalizing discourse about deserts, this course seeks to critically examine the myriad assumptions that are projected upon deserts across times and cultures. In addition to their depiction as dead and empty, deserts have become a canvas for the demonstration of religiosity, resilience, heroism and athleticism. Cultural production, particularly literature and film, do, however, furnish a critical space in which important questions can be raised about deserts' fundamental importance to different cultures and societies. Drawing on novels, films, and secondary scholarship, the course will help students understand how myth, memory, history, coloniality/postcoloniality, and a strong sense of ethics are deeply intertwined in the desert sub-genre of African, Euro-American, and Middle Eastern literatures. Whether grappling with transcontinental issues of climate change, cannibalization of biodiversity or overexploitation of natural resources, desert-focused cultural production invites us to interrogate the politics of space and place as well as mobility and spatial control as they relate to this supposedly dead nature. [ more ]

    COMP 235 SEM The Garden in the Ancient World

    Last offered Spring 2022

    Drawing on the literature, art, and archaeology of ancient gardens and on real gardens of the present day, this course examines the very nature and experience of the garden and the act of gardening. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, we will explore the garden as a paradise; as a locus for philosophical discussion and religious encounter; as a site of labor, conquest, and resistance; and as a place for solace, inspiration, and desire. This course will be grounded in crucial readings from antiquity, such as the Hebrew Bible, Homer, Sappho, Cicero, Lucretius, Vergil, Horace, Columella, and Augustine, and in the perspectives of more modern writers, from Jane Austen and Tom Stoppard to contemporary cultural historian George McKay. Ultimately, our goal is to analyze conceptions and expressions of beauty, power, and love-in the garden. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 236(S) TUT Narrating Color: Black Women Sing and Write About Complexion

    Colorism, skin color discrimination where light skin is privileged over dark skin, is not a new phenomenon, but globally entrenched in our society and one of the many vestiges of white supremacy. For Black Americans of all backgrounds, colorism is a familiar and a living legacy concretized by the institution of slavery in the Americas. Although some believe that we are "post-color," similarly to those that naively believe we are "post-race," one can look to the recent example of misogynoir (misogyny directed at Black women) and skin color politics that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, has faced at the hands of the British Monarchy, that her light-skinned color, biraciality, and class privileges couldn't protect her from. Alternatively, we can look at the numerous examples of colorism and anti-Black racism that tennis icon Serena Williams is subjected to because of her dark-brown skin complexion and body shape. One cannot fully understand the issue of colorism without understanding that it is an outgrowth or an extension of anti-Black racism firmly rooted in white supremacy, and so insidious that it impacts all aspects of Black life. Examining colorism through literary texts and music, provides a depth of understanding that both compliments and expands these empirical studies. Literature and music provide the narratives and rhythm that paint a vivid picture of the many ways that colorism impacts the lives of Black people. Through the methods of literary and rhetorical criticism we will examine the works of five Black women authors and music artists that take up issues around colorism and passing. We will explore, Toni Morrison's, The Origins of Others (2017), Brit Bennett's, The Vanishing Half (2020), Tressie McMillian Cottom's, Thick (2019), Marita Golden's, Don't Play in the Sun (2004), Yaba Blay's, One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race (2021), Nina Simone's, "Four Women" (1966) and "Young, Gifted and Black" (1958), Sara Martin's, "Mean Tight Mama" (1927), India.Arie's, "Brown Skin" (2001), Azealia Banks' "Liquorice" (2012), and Beyoncé's "Creole" (2012), "Formation" (2016) and "Brown Skin Girl" (2020). By examining colorism in both literature and music, it will give first year students a foundational and nuanced understanding of skin tone bias and equip them with the tools to critically engage literary and music texts. [ more ]

    COMP 237(F) SEM Medieval Worlds

    While the word "medieval" was first used to designate the period in European history between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, historians and literary scholars frequently use the term to label periods in other regions and cultures that not only overlap chronologically with the European Middle Ages, but also appear to share similarities in terms of technology, social structures, and religious orientation. In this course we will focus on how medieval literary works from multiple traditions represented past events both public and personal, from conflicts that impacted huge swaths of society to the minutiae of an individual's daily life. Readings will range from European verse epics such as the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf and a Chinese civil servant's poem on the destruction wrought by war to the memoirs of a Japanese court lady and a set of narratives about influential women of the past by the first professional female writer in Europe. We will explore the stories these works tell about historical (or purportedly historical) events and their claims to historicity or truthfulness, asking questions such as: In an age where information traveled very differently from how it does today, how did people form an understanding of recent and historical events? How did people create, experience, and transmit literary texts in different medieval cultures? What roles did religion play in texts that are not explicitly religious? What does it mean to think of the medieval as a category across different cultures? [ more ]

    COMP 238 SEM Europe and the Black Diaspora

    Last offered Fall 2023

    This course provides an overview of the relationships and interactions between the Black diaspora and the European continent in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Drawing from biographies, autobiographies, reports, literature, creative arts and academic articles, we will consider the different relationships that have evolved between Black people and Europe over the course of time. Focusing on Central Europe, we will discuss the relationships established between Europe and the Black diaspora, such as Africans, African-Americans, Afro-Latinx and Afro-Caribbeans. Some of the themes we will address include the influence of cultural contact on intellectuals, writers, artists, soldiers, politicians and asylum seekers and their works, factors that established and influenced their relationship with Europe, as well the ways in which these selected people did or did not exert influence on European cultures. We will conclude by looking at some of the current discussions that still revolve around the relationship between the Black diaspora and Europe. Reading and Discussion in English. [ more ]

    COMP 240 SEM Introduction to Literary Theory

    Last offered Fall 2019

    This course introduces students to some of the most significant and compelling trends in modern criticism-such as gender and postcolonial theory, deconstruction, sociological analysis, and psychoanalytic criticism-in an applied, hands-on way. The course will engage a range of primary texts from Shakespeare to Hitchcock by way of varied theoretical approaches. Can Othello , for instance, be read as a feminist text? A site of class struggle? A staging of the relationship between language and the unconscious? The course aims both to make familiar some of the critical methods students are likely to encounter in the field of literary studies these days, and to show how such methods can transform our understanding of a text, opening surprising possibilities even in familiar works. In the process, the course will also raise broader questions about the imperatives and usefulness of literary theory in relation to texts and worlds. [ more ]

    COMP 241 TUT Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece and Rome

    Last offered Spring 2024

    From the household to the marketplace, from sacred spaces to the political arena, sexuality and gender shaped a broad range of attitudes and actions in the ancient Mediterranean world. This course investigates a variety of discourses and practices around sexuality and gender in ancient Greece and Rome with the aim of promoting students' capacity to evaluate claims and dismantle false assumptions about the continuity of the "classical" past with contemporary norms and values. We will carefully analyze, contextualize, and compare a variety of texts, including selections from tragic and comic drama, epic and lyric poetry, handbooks, epitaphs, novels and biography in order to better understand how gender and sexuality were expressed, experienced, and regulated in Greece and Rome. Our emphasis will be on ancient texts, but selections from contemporary criticism and theory will enrich the methodological frameworks through which we approach the primary sources. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 242(S) SEM Americans Abroad

    This course will explore some of the many incarnations of American experiences abroad from the end of the 19th century to the present day. Materials will be drawn from novels, short stories, films, and nonfiction about Americans in Europe in times of war, peace, and pandemic. We will compare and contrast the experiences of novelists, soldiers, students, war correspondents, jazz musicians, and adventurers. What has drawn so many Americans to Europe? What is the difference between a tourist, an expat, and an émigré? What are the profound, and often comic, gaps between the traveler's expectations and the reality of living in, say, Paris or a rural village in Spain? What are the misadventures and unexpected rewards of living, working, writing, or even falling in love in translation? How did recent lockdowns and border closings impact and/or interrupt these complex experiences? Authors may include: Edith Wharton, Henry James, Langston Hughes, Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, Elaine Dundy, Richard Wright, and Ben Lerner. Additional reading will be drawn from historical and critical works. All readings will be in English. This comparative course is designed to highlight the challenges and benefits of cultural immersion abroad. It will focus on the linguistic, emotional, intellectual, and social adaptation skills that are required to understand others, and oneself, in new contexts. Many of the authors and artists we will study chose, or were forced to, leave oppressive situations in the United States where their futures were limited due to factors related to politics, gender, race or class (and combinations thereof). We will study their dislocation, and freedom, and struggles to reshape their (and our) concept of "home" into something that reflects individual identity, and not one imposed by any national culture--American or foreign. [ more ]

    COMP 243 Performance Practices of India

    Last offered NA

    This course explores ancient and contemporary performance practices in India. Our objects of study will include the text and performance of Sanskrit plays, contemporary and experimental theater productions, as well as forms of dance and ritual. We will discuss dramaturgical structure, staging, acting conventions, gender representation, performer training, the experience and role of the audience, as well as mythological and political themes. Thinking historically and ethnographically, we will seek to understand the aesthetics and social purposes of these practices, in addition to the relationship that performance has with everyday life, contested concepts of the nation, and caste. Throughout the semester we will interrogate the ways in which Western categories such as "classical," "folk," "religious," "traditional," and even the distinction between "dance/theater/music/visual arts" are not indigenous or accurate concepts for organizing thinking about performance in this part of the world. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 244(S) SEM On Monsters, Demons, and Dragons: The Supernatural in the Middle Ages

    Medieval literature overflows with supernatural creatures. They populate travel accounts, religious texts, chivalric quests, and descriptions of dreams and the afterlife. Some of them are unique to certain traditions, while others encompass different areas of the world. This course aims to address the presence of the supernatural in Medieval literature, in texts such as the Legenda Aurea, Saint Brendan's Voyage, Wonders of the East, Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness, the Divine Comedy, and the Decameron, among others. Students will analyze the supernatural in different kinds of medieval texts (written between 900 and 1500 CE in Europe and Asia) and its intersection with art, history, and science, trying to understand its purpose and literary wealth while exploring the audience's expectations and its reception in contemporary media. [ more ]

    COMP 246 SEM Bloody Vampires: From Fiction to Film and Fashion

    Last offered Spring 2017

    This course explores the figure of the vampire and seeks to explain the popular appeal such a fictive creature has been enjoying for over two centuries. What kind of fears and fantasies does it crystallize? And what kind of discourse about sexuality, death, and disease does it validate? What does its mere existence reveal about gender and ethnicity? We will examine the emergence of the vampire in gothic literature of the late 18th and 19th centuries, its omnipresence in cinema in the 20th century and investigate its resurgence in 21st-century pop culture. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the figure of the vampire, we will read poems by August Bürger and Goethe, the first vampire story by John Polidori, novels by Sheridan LeFanu and Bram Stoker, and contemporary vampire fiction by Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer. We will watch the films Nosferatu by Murnau and Herzog, Dracula by Browning and Coppola, the Dance of Vampires by Polanski, The Hunger by Scott, Blade by Norrington, Twilight by Hardwicke, and Daybreakers by Spierig, as well as episodes of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries. We will also discuss music video clips by Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson, and fashion shows by Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood. [ more ]

    COMP 247 TUT Feminist Theatres: A Global Perspective

    Last offered Fall 2023

    What makes a work of theatre "feminist"? How do plays and performances across global networks engage with different models of feminism: liberal, radical, materialist, and intersectional? Why has feminism mattered to theatre-makers of the past? Should it still matter now? If so, what forms might future feminist theatres take? In this tutorial course, students will work in pairs to examine the social and political relation of feminism to the art and practice of theatre. Taking a global and comparative perspective on the subject, we will focus on the intersectionalities of gender, race, class, ethnicity, nationality, and sexual identity in the production of feminist-driven theatrical practices. Artists, companies, and movements to be considered may include: Spiderwoman Theatre, Adrienne Kennedy, Caryl Churchill, Sphinx Theatre Company, Ntozake Shange, Griselda Gambaro, Manjula Padmanabhan, Cherríe Moraga, Lisa Kron, Arethusa Speaks, Maya Krishna Rao, Tracie Chima Utoh-Ezeajugh, Alexis Scheer, Tori Sampson, Clare Barron, and others. Close analysis of source material will be informed by critical and autobiographical writings by: Audre Lorde, Judith Butler, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldúa, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Eve K. Sedgwick, Gayatri Spivak, Jill Dolan, José E. Muñoz, and Donna Haraway. This course will follow a standard tutorial format, with students taking turns presenting or responding to their peer every other week; for their presentations, students will write a 5-page paper or, in up to two cases if they choose, offer their argumentation through more performance-driven methods (such as an oral argument, spoken-word monologue, or activist prompt). [ more ]

    COMP 248 SEM Performing Greece

    Last offered Spring 2021

    Modern readers often encounter Homer, Sappho, Sophocles, and the Greek orators through written texts, yet their first ancient audiences experienced the words of these authors not in silence and solitude, but in live performance contexts. This course, therefore, will take up performance as a critical lens for interpreting ancient Greek literature, situating these works within a rich culture of song, dance, speech, and debate. We will survey the evidence for the musical, visual, and embodied aspects of Greek literature, and also reflect on the rewards and limits of enlivening the ancient world through the reconstruction and re-imagination of its performative dimensions. Our attention to performance will give us a distinct perspective on many important topics within the study of Greek culture, including the construction of personal and collective identities, the workings of Athenian democracy, and the development of literary genres, and it will also enable us to consider the reception and reperformance of Greek myth and literature from new angles. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 249 SEM Trauma and Memory in Maghrebi and Middle Eastern Literatures

    Last offered Fall 2019

    Arabic literature produced in the Maghreb and the Middle East has always engaged with the socio-political concerns of different Arab societies. Whether caused by the colonial state(s) or by post-independence leadership, trauma has been a central theme in Maghrebi and Middle Eastern literature for a long time. Using a combination of memoirs, films, and fictional works, this course aims to raise students' critical awareness and aesthetic appreciation of literary representations of the multiple traumas inflicted on people and societies in the Maghreb and the Middle East. The different novels and films assigned in this course will be read against seminal literature on memory and trauma studies to answer the following questions: how does Arabic literature remember? In what ways does Arabic literature engage with the past sequelae of colonialism, dictatorship, war, and displacement? How do Arabic novelists and memoirists dialogue with memory and trauma theory even though Arabic scholarship has given short shrift to trauma and memory ethics and aesthetics? What events or experiences are pivotal to collective and individual traumas represented in Maghrebi and Middle Eastern literature(s)? [ more ]

    COMP 250 SEM From Adam to Noah: Literary Imagination and the Primeval History in Genesis

    Last offered Fall 2020

    How long did Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden? What was the mark of Cain? Why did Enoch not die? Who was Noah's wife? How did Giants survive the Flood? These are only a few of the fascinating questions that ancient readers and interpreters of the Book of Genesis asked and attempted to answer. The first ten chapters of Genesis present a tantalizingly brief narrative account of the earliest history of humankind. The text moves swiftly from the Creation to the Flood and its immediate aftermath, but this masterful economy of style leaves many details unexplained. This course will explore the rich and varied literary traditions associated with the primeval history in the Genesis. Through a close reading of ancient noncanonical sources such as the Book of Enoch, Jubilees, and the Life of Adam and Eve, as well as Jewish traditions represented in Josephus, Philo, and Rabbinic literature and other accounts presented in early Christian and Gnostic texts, we will investigate the ways in which the elliptical style of Genesis generated a massive body of ancient folklore, creative exegesis, and explicit literary re-imagining of the early history of humankind. We will then turn to some continuations of these variant traditions in medieval literature, with particular attention to the material on the figures of Cain and Noah. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 251 SEM Dolls, Puppets and Automatons

    Last offered Fall 2020

    Since their origin, humans have always made anthropomorphic representations, first in the form of idols, fetishes, or statues for religious worship, later in the shape of puppets, dolls, or automatons for their entertainment qualities. And yet, these objects have always played multiple roles in human society; modernity in particular shows a great interest paired with great ambivalence towards dolls, puppets, and automatons, regarded both as uncanny Doppelgänger or threatening machines. In order to comprehend the scope of our modern fascination with these figures, we will explore their haunting presence in literary texts by ETA Hoffmann, Achim von Arnim, Theodor Storm, Felisberto Hernandez, discuss theoretical texts by Sigmund Freud and Heinrich von Kleist, look at paintings by Oskar Kokoschka and at photographs by Hans Bellmer & Cindy Sherman, watch a ballet by Andreas Heise and films by Fritz Lang and Alex Garland, and watch fashion shows by Alexander McQueen and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Conducted in English. [ more ]

    COMP 252 SEM Arab Women Memoirs: Writing Feminist History

    Last offered Fall 2021

    This course reviews selected autobiographical writings by Arab women writers from the wave of independence in the 20th century to the contemporary Arab uprisings, passing through all the transformations that globalization and the technosphere have instigated. We will examine the role that first-voice narrative plays in shaping literature, history and thought, while providing a space to reclaim cultural, social and political agency. Focusing on the different articulations of self-representation, our discussion will address how these women reflect on the shifting discourses of identities, gender, nationalism, religion, feminism, sexuality, politics, borders and their histories. Questions we will address include: How did these memoirs contribute to the development of Arab feminist consciousness? In addition to the memoirs, we will look at women's blogs and watch films that focus on first-person narrative to discuss related topics, such as, visual testimonies, virtual political participation and feminist resistance in the technosphere. Required texts may include: Fadwa Tuqan (A Mountainous Journey: An Autobiography), Fatima Mernissi (Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood), Radwa Ashour (The Journey), Fadia Faqir and Shirley Eber (In the House of Silence: Autobiographical Essays by Arab Women Writers), and Assia Djebar (Fantasia), as well as critical essays and selections from autobiographical writings that reflect the diversity of Arab women in the Middle East and the diaspora. [ more ]

    COMP 253 SEM Travel in the Ancient Mediterranean

    Last offered Spring 2021

    The ancient Mediterranean was a vast yet deeply interconnected world, not unlike our own. In spite of difficulties, people traversed it as traders, explorers, colonial invaders, refugees, pilgrims and even tourists. In this course, we will study both the practical realities of travel in the ancient Greco-Roman world and how the idea of journeys shaped and was shaped by these cultural contexts. We will navigate from Ithaca to Italy, from the depths of the underworld all the way to the Moon, as we read foundational travel narratives from Homer, Apollonius of Rhodes, Vergil, Lucian, and Apuleius. We will discuss how these texts represent cultural interactions, and in particular how they construct foreign "others" as well as local identities, and how they interrogate the limits and possibilities of human knowledge. Finally, we will observe how these texts themselves contribute to the emergence of a genre of travel narratives, with influences stretching to the modern day. All readings will be in English [ more ]

    COMP 254 SEM "Illness" in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature and Culture

    Last offered Spring 2022

    From early modern anxieties about China's status as the "sick man of Asia" to contemporary concerns regarding the prospect of transnational pandemics, "illnesses" and their related stories have played a critical role in making and contesting individual psychologies and Chinese modernity in the 20th and 21st centuries. Actual illnesses, from tuberculosis to AIDS to the Novel Coronavirus, constitute not only social realities that trouble political and popular minds in their own right; but further provide powerful metaphors for exploring issues of human rights, national identity, and transnational circulation. This course examines how Chinese literature in the 20th and 21st centuries writes and visualizes "illness"--a universal human experience that is nevertheless heavily bounded by culture and history. Specifically, we examine the cultural and social meaning of "illness"; the relationship between illness on the one hand, and the politics of body, gender, and class on the other; we ask how infectious disease, and mental illness are defined, represented, and understood in both male and female writers' analytical essays and fictional writings in the 20th century; we examine how metaphorical "illness" such as infectious cannibalism and fin-de-siècle "viruses," are imagined and interpreted by key culture figures ranging from the founding father of modern literature (Lu Xun), to the winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature (Mo Yan). Throughout the course, we will focus on the interplay between literature canons (fictions, essays, and dramas) and popular media and genres: blockbuster cinemas and art house films, popular novels, photographs and posters, etc. [ more ]

    COMP 255(F) SEM Love and Death in Modern Japanese Literature and Visual Culture

    Modern Japanese literature is filled with compelling love stories that are variously passionate and poignant, tragic or uplifting, heartwarming or twisted, and sometimes all of the above. This course offers a survey of modern Japanese fiction and visual culture through the lens of the love story, beginning with tales of doomed lovers that were popular in the eighteenth-century kabuki and puppet theaters, and moving through a range of other relationships, including parental love and sacrifice, sex and the occult, and romance at an advanced age. We will focus on novels and short stories by canonical modern authors like Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima, as well as contemporary popular fiction by writers like Murakami Haruki and Murakami Ryu. We will also give significant attention to popular visual culture, including puppet theater, comics, animation, and film. The class and the readings are in English. [ more ]

    COMP 256 TUT Stop Making Sense: Absurd(ist) Theatre in Historical Context

    Last offered Spring 2024

    We want to make sense of things. In nearly all of our academic pursuits, the point of analysis is to find meaning, to explain intricate or confusing phenomena, to provide clarity from complexity. What happens when we can't do this, indeed, when the objects of our analytical attention seem willfully designed to thwart the attempt? Such is the challenge of "understanding" the traditions of the absurd. In this tutorial course, we will engage this challenge within the realm of Western theatre and performance from 1900 to the present. Beginning with selected readings from writers who have engaged the absurd in theoretical fashion (Albert Camus, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Esslin), the course will move swiftly to original artworks for contemplation and analysis. Some questions we will grapple with include: How do we, can we, should we respond to art that specifically defies meaning? Can art that seems pointless have a point? Playwrights will range from canonical (Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco) to more obscure but equally engaging (as well as baffling) artists (Peter Handke, Slavomir Mrocek). We will follow standard practice in tutorial pairs, as each week one student will prepare original analysis of the assigned reading, and the other will craft a response to prompt an hour-long discussion. Whether we "make sense," or perhaps discover different ways of appreciating the varied works of art, will depend on the nature of those weekly attempts. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 257 SEM Why do Pussies Riot and What is "Homosexual" Propaganda? Gender and Sexuality in Putin's Russia

    Last offered Fall 2019

    Since Vladimir Putin's rise to power, the media has highlighted events in Russia that at first glance resemble oddly sexualized jokes. At the same time that the Kremlin has reinstated authoritarian policy reminiscent of the Soviet Union, the Western press has chronicled Putin's topless vacations in Siberia, protests by the feminist collectives Pussy Riot and Femen, a 2011 ban on women's lacy underwear, federal legislation from 2013 prohibiting "homosexual" propaganda, and a 2017 court decision that outlawed a meme of Putin as a "gay clown." This course examines the Putin regime's ongoing attempts to police gender expression and private sexual behavior, as well as how Russian citizens' performance of gender and sexuality has changed in the past twenty years. We will consider gender and sexuality as distinctive features of Putinism, which have contributed to a biopolitical turn in official policy and inspired resistance and protest among Russian feminists and queers.All readings will be in English, and all films with have English subtitles. [ more ]

    COMP 258(S) LEC Gnosis, Gnostics, Gnosticism

    Reality is not what it seems. Salvation by knowledge, arch-heresy, an eternal source of mystical insights and experiences, secret esoteric teachings available only to a few. All these and more have been claims made about gnosis, Gnostics, and Gnosticism. This course will introduce you to the key ancient texts and ideas associated with Gnostics in modern forms of esotericism and spiritualities. We shall explore how claims about gnosis offer modes of critiquing and seeking to transform unjust social and political systems. [ more ]

    COMP 259 TUT Adultery in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

    Last offered Spring 2017

    In this tutorial, we will read four novels written between 1850 and 1900, all of which focus on the figure of the adulteress: Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856), Lev Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (1873-77), Leopoldo Alas y Ureña's La Regenta (1884-85), and Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest (1894). For each week of class, students will read one of these primary texts, as well as a selection of secondary literature that will allow us to understand, over the course of the semester, how and why the adulteress played a key role in the cultural imagination of Europe during this time. All works will be read in English translation. [ more ]

    COMP 260(F) SEM Francophone Graphic Novels

    In this class we will read contemporary graphic novels and bandes dessinées from Côte d'Ivoire, Morocco, Guadeloupe, Lebanon, France, and Québec to analyze how they approach subjects such as colonial history, migration and discrimination, gender and sexuality, and representations of disability and the racialized body. We will pay particular attention to the visual form and the critical theory of the graphic novel to further understand why this hybrid genre has become so popular and widespread, and how it is shaping conversations about difference and power in the Francophone world. Conducted in French. [ more ]

    COMP 261 SEM Comparative Postcolonial Narratives: Novels from the Arab World, Latin-America and the Caribbean

    Last offered Spring 2016

    In this introductory course to the global postcolonial novel, we will examine novels in translation from the Arab world, Latin America and the Caribbean that are in conversation with each other. Through textual and formal analysis of selected novels in translation, we will ask questions concerning the legacy of the different forms of European colonialism in these distinct geographies. This course has two goals: First, to familiarize students with classical, canonical and popular Arabic, Latin American and Caribbean novels that deal with the history of European colonialism and/or its aftermath. Second, to introduce student to some of the critical trends and theoretical debates concerning the potential and limits of reading these novels as resistance and/or postcolonial literature. In addition to selected critical essays, the readings for this course may include novels by the following writers: Assia Djebar (Algeria), Gamal al-Ghitani (Egypt), Sahar Khalifah (Palestine), Tayyib Saleh (Sudan), Alejo Carpentier (Cuba), Rosario Castellanos (Mexico), Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua), and Gabriel García Marquez (Colombia). [ more ]

    COMP 262 LEC Japanese Theatre and its Contemporary Context

    Last offered Fall 2018

    Japan's rich and varied performance traditions, old and new, born of different historical settings, coexist to this day and compete for the attention of audiences, domestically and abroad. The forms to be considered (nohgaku, kabuki, bunraku, shingeki, butoh, and Takarazuka all female revue among others) are all dynamic. Each has transformed itself in response to evolving social conditions. This course examines these performance traditions, considers how each reflects the social, cultural, and political context of its birth, and poses the question, "of what relevance is each to a contemporary audience?" Some of the other questions we will explore are: How have these performing traditions transformed themselves throughout history, including after 3.11? What do we mean by traditional? contemporary? How are traditional and contemporary performance genres interacting with each other? How have the central themes of these works evolved? All readings and discussion will be in English. [ more ]

    COMP 263 SEM Reading Jesus, Writing Gospels: Christian Origins in Context

    Last offered Spring 2024

    What were the religious and cultural landscapes in which Christianity emerged? How did inhabitants of the ancient Mediterranean world speak about the concept and significance of religion? How have scholars of early Christianity answered these questions? What are the implications of their reconstructions of early Christian history? The course is divided into four parts. The first part establishes the courses's interpretive approach. The second part of this course explores aspects of the formation of Christianity from its origins as a Jewish movement until its legalization. The third part of the course focuses on the earliest literature produced to memorialize Jesus. The final part of the course emphasizes modern interpretations of Jesus and the movement of which he was a part; here we shall be examining how scholars make use of ancient materials to frame their arguments and the modern contexts and legacies of making meaning out of biblical and other ancient materials. [ more ]

    COMP 264 LEC The End of the World in Japanese Literature and Visual Culture

    Last offered Spring 2019

    From the endemic warfare of the medieval era to the atomic bombing and the violent explosion of technology in the last century, the end of the world is an idea which has occupied a central place in almost every generation of Japanese literature. Paradoxically, the spectacle of destruction has given birth to some of the most beautiful, most moving, and most powerfully thrilling literature in the Japanese tradition. Texts may be drawn from medieval war narratives like The Tale of the Heike; World War II fiction and films by Ibuse Masuji, Imamura Shôhei, and Ichikawa Kon; fantasy and science fiction novels by Abe Kôbô, Murakami Haruki and Murakami Ryû; and apocalyptic comics and animation by Oshii Mamoru, Ôtomo Katsuhiro, and others. The class and the readings are in English; no familiarity with Japanese language or culture is required. [ more ]

    COMP 265(S) SEM Theories of Language and Literature

    This course is made up of questions: What is literature and why would anyone want to study it? What can you figure out by examining language that you can't figure out by studying history or psychology? Do students of literature have distinctive ways of asking questions about the world? Why do we call some language literary? Can any language be literary if it appears in the right kind of book? Is there a difference between verbal forms of art and visual or auditory ones? Can novels do things that plays and poetry cannot? Why does anyone read poetry anyway? [ more ]

    COMP 266 SEM Confession and Deception in Japanese Literature

    Last offered Spring 2024

    Situated at the origins of Japanese literature are the beautiful and revealing diaries of ladies in waiting at the tenth-and eleventh-century court. Yet one of the most famous of these women turned out to be a man. For the next thousand years, Japanese literary tradition would place a premium on confessional writing, but the distortions and concealments of these narrators (and the authors hiding behind them) would always prove at least as interesting as the revelations. This course examines several centuries of Japanese literature to ask whether you can ever put your true self into writing; along the way I will ask you what you reveal, conceal, discover, or reinvent about yourself when you write about literature for a class like this. Texts will range from classical and medieval court literature by Sei Shônagon and Lady Nijô, through autobiographical and confessional novels by Sôseki, Tanizaki, Mishima, and Abe Kôbô, to documentary and subculture films like The New God and Kamikaze Girls. The class and the readings are in English; no familiarity with Japanese language or culture is required. [ more ]

    COMP 267 SEM Performance Studies: An Introduction

    Last offered Spring 2020

    Since the 1980s, performance studies has emerged as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry, with origin tales in theater and anthropology, in communications and philosophy. What might theorizing "performance" as mode, analytic, and object of study have to offer scholarship in the interdisciplinary humanities? In this seminar, we will read texts formative of performance studies, paired with multimedia performance examples, where performance speaks to staged theatrics as well as the presentation of everyday life. We will ask, how are race, gender, sexuality, and nation produced as the effects of legal, political, historical, social, and cultural scripts? And--an important partner question--how do discourses and practices of race, gender, sexuality, and nation in fact produce legal, political, historical, social, and cultural effects? This seminar is an introduction to performance studies, an interdisciplinary field in conversation with theater studies, gender studies, anthropology, philosophy, literary theory, visual studies, dance studies, ethnic studies, queer theory, and postcolonial studies. Students will study and experiment with performance while reading theoretical texts to grapple with concepts including ritual, restored behavior, performativity, mimicry, liveness, the body, objecthood, archive, movement, matter, and affect. [ more ]

    COMP 268(S) TUT The Contemporary African American and Latin American Novella

    This tutorial examines how the novella has been deployed in the African American and Latin American contexts in our present century. Throughout the term, we will grow a vocabulary to understand how, from the perspective of craft, an elongated brevity can often lend itself, perhaps counterintuitively, to such an immersive reading experience. We will also contemplate why so many of the texts appear focused on countering established historical narratives. What unique possibilities does the form of the novella offer in this regard? In these explorations, we will encounter novellas from, among others, César Aira, Yuri Herrera, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, Gayl Jones, John Keene, Bruna Dantas Lobato, Toni Morrison, and Alejandro Zambra. These readings will be paired with brief critical texts that will frame the essays to be written each week. [ more ]

    COMP 269 Stop Making Sense: Absurd(ist) Theatre in Historical Context

    Last offered NA

    In most academic work the point of analysis is to make sense, to find meaning, to explain intricate or confusing phenomena, to provide clarity from complexity. What happens when we can't do this, indeed, when the objects of our analytical attention seem willfully designed to thwart the attempt? Such is the challenge of "understanding" the traditions of the absurd. In this tutorial course, we will engage this challenge within the realm of Western theatre and performance from 1900 to the present. Beginning with selected readings from writers who have engaged the absurd in theoretical fashion (Albert Camus, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Esslin), the course will move swiftly to original artworks for contemplation and analysis. Some questions we will grapple with include: How do we, can we, should we respond to art that specifically defies meaning? Can art that seems pointless have a point? How and when have strategies of nonsense, circular reasoning, linguistic obfuscation, and intentional theatrical absence been employed to disguise, or deflect attention from, specific didactic (even political) agendas? What role specifically does theatre, theatricality, or performativity play in the presentation of art that refuses understanding? Playwrights will range from canonical (Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco) to more obscure but equally engaging (as well as baffling) artists (Peter Handke, Slavomir Mrocek, Richard Foreman). We will follow standard practice in tutorial pairs, as each week one student will prepare original analysis of the assigned reading, and the other will craft a response to prompt an hour-long discussion. Whether we "make sense," or perhaps discover different ways of appreciating the varied works of art, will depend on the nature of those weekly attempts. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 270 SEM Divas and Dervishes: Introduction to Modern Arab Music and Performance

    Last offered Spring 2024

    From Sufi rituals to revolutionary uprisings, music has long played a central role in the social, political, and religious life of the Arab world. This is especially audible in the modern era, when new technologies and institutions began to record, amplify, and broadcast the region's sounds, preserving centuries-old traditions while also producing new forms of popular music. This course introduces students to Arab musical genres and practices as they developed from the late nineteenth century. We will cover a broad geographical range, exploring the classical Andalusian repertoires of Algeria, ecstatic dervish chants in Egypt, patriotic pop tunes from Lebanon, and other topics. To highlight connections between musical traditions as well as their unique local features, we will ask questions such as: What can music tell us about interactions between sacred and secular life? How is music used to define social groups and negotiate identity, gender, and class? Which musical characteristics are associated with Arab "heritage" and "modernity," and how are these performed? In what ways does music shape everyday life in the Arab world? Class sessions and discussion will be based on academic readings and at-home listening assignments. No previous knowledge of Arabic or Arab music are required. [ more ]

    COMP 271(S) SEM Acting Out: Performativity, Production, and Politics in East Asian Theatres

    "Asian Theaters," for those in the West, can conjure up a variety of exotic impressions: spectacle and cacophony, mysterious masks and acrobatic bodies, exquisite styles and strangely confusing conventions. Although Asian theaters have been studied systematically in the West for at least a century, the West has never truly left its "othering" look at them. Yet, what is "different" for the West is bedrock for Asian cultures. Theatre, one of the most important and dynamic forms of cultural production and communication, has actively involved all strata of Asian societies for a millennium. How to explain theatre's continued presence and relevance for Asian nations? What do the traditions of Kun, Kabuki, and P'ansori reveal about the cultures and communities in which they were created? This course seeks to understand from the Asian perspective, rather than "exoticize" and "other," musical and dance theatres from China, Japan, and Korea. Examining the evolving presentations of signature dramas dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, we will act out Asian theatres in the following ways: (1) by reading the original plays in translation in tandem with their contemporary and intercultural reproductions, we will explore how Asian theatres fare in the era of globalization within and beyond national borders; (2) by revealing the "technologies" of writing, reading, acting, and staging these plays in different cultural milieus, we will consider what kinds of language and rhetoric, forms of music and movement, as well as visual components are deployed to convey evolving messages; (3) by considering key performances held outside of the proscenium stage, we will gain exposure to alternative theatrical spaces in Asian and diasporic communities that reform performing conventions, reconfigure staging environments, and renegotiate cultural values. In this manner, we will together gain an appreciation for the aesthetic devices, thematic concerns, and production politics of East Asian theatres and their global reproductions. Class materials include drama, production videos, and invited zoom sessions with Asian theatre practitioners and directors who live in the U.S. and other diasporic communities. All materials are in English. No language prerequisite. Funded by the Global Initiatives Venture Fund, this course includes an all-expense-paid travel component, a cultural and academic exchange project titled "Redefining Amateurism: Experientail Learning with Student Theatre in Contemporary China," which will bring up to eight Williams students to Nanjing, China during the Spring Break (3/23-4/3/2025). Students will participate in workshops with playwrights and theater-makers in contemporary China and engage in black-box theater productions with students from Nanjing University and Shanghai Theatre Academy. This travel component is OPTIONAL for students taking this course. However, students enrolled in this class will receive priority consideration to be included in the free travel project. Selection criteria include active participation, excellent performance in the course, etc. [ more ]

    COMP 272 LEC The History and Mythology of Chinese Scripts

    Last offered Spring 2020

    Written scripts using what are most often called "Chinese characters" have an attested history of over 3000 years and have been used all over the world to represent a range of different languages. In this course we will examine the history and development of Chinese characters from their earliest extant examples on sacrificial animal bones to their often amusingly misguided use for contemporary tattoos. We will look at historical evidence and mythology, carefully constructed grammatological studies and wild orientalist imaginings. Some topics will include: comparisons between the development of Chinese characters and other written scripts, the relationship between Chinese characters and the languages of China, the use of Chinese characters to write non-Chinese languages, Chinese characters in art and calligraphy, theories of connections between Chinese characters and Chinese philosophy and literature, issues of education and literacy, and the future of Chinese characters in the digital age. [ more ]

    COMP 273(S) SEM The Humanities: A Literary and Cultural History

    This course will start with a history of the curriculum of Williams College, and will include a research project students will complete through the course catalogues and other materias in the college archives. From that point of departure we will read several novels and articles, see films, listen to music, and study cultural moments in the United States and abroad when the Humanities have peaked (for example, the GI Bill) and others when their value has been questioned, censored or come under threat (from the McCarthy era to AI). [ more ]

    COMP 274 TUT Confronting Japan

    Last offered Fall 2017

    This tutorial looks into confrontations, within Japan and across its borders, how such confrontations are perceived, handled and narrated, and what they tell us about Japanese society. Through literature and other media, we will probe domestic issues, such as gender/economic disparities, aging, minorities, suicide, reclusion and post 3-11 recovery, and international issues, related to Japan's shifting roles within East Asia and beyond. Discussions will untangle the conflicting perspectives, and elaborate the thoughts and feelings of the various contestants. All readings and discussions will be in English. Some course materials will also be available in Japanese, for those interested. [ more ]

    COMP 275(S) LEC Digital Humanities in Art History and Literary Studies

    This course introduces students to critical topics, techniques, and methods related to digital scholarship in the humanities. Students will learn how to critique the reliability of published case studies that use digital methods, and how to construct basic projects that use digital techniques, including text analysis, digital mapping, 3d modeling & imaging, and data analysis with both quantitative and qualitative data sources. They will also explore different ways of sharing research through digital methods, including virtual storytelling and best practices of data communication. Digital Humanities in Art History and Literary Studies provides a foundation to encourage student exploration of digital projects in a variety of disciplines at Williams, whether students wish to incorporate digital methodologies into a humanities discipline or to understand the ways humanities materials require different approaches to data and digital projects in the sciences. While trying different tools and approaches, we will discuss the larger ramifications of using digital techniques in humanistic disciplines. What kinds of ethical questions should we consider? What sorts of environmental footprint or sustainability issues do our projects raise? What kinds of power structures do they create, reflect, sustain, or dismantle? [ more ]

    Taught by: Beth Fischer

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    COMP 276 TUT Black Europeans

    Last offered Spring 2020

    This course explores the in/visibility of Black Europeans from the Enlightenment to the present with a particular focus on French, German, Austrian, Dutch, British, and Russian history. With the European Enlightenment as point of departure, the tutorial investigates the large presence of Blacks as objectified subjects in paintings and decorative artifacts of the 18th and 19th centuries while interrogating their century-long absence from European historiography until fairly recently. In this tutorial, we will start discussing the significance of the Code Noir (1685) as well as the major economic impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on European countries such as Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands. We will read historical biographies about a handful of outstanding Black Europeans in France (composer Monsieur de Saint George), Germany (Prussian officer Gustav Sabac el Cher, philosopher Wilhelm Anton Amo), Austria (royal tutor Angelo Soliman), Holland (Prince Kwasi Boachi), and Russia (military leader Abram Petrovitch Gannibal) during the 18th and 19th centuries, study paintings and decorative artifacts of the 18th and 19th centuries depicting black servants--such as Hyacinthe Rigaud's Portrait of Marquise de Louville (1708), Nicolas Lancret's The Escaped Bird (1730), and Manet's Olympia (1863) to name a few--and watch the biopic Belle by Amma Asante (2013), narrating the life of black heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle in 18th-century England. We will also do a quick survey of 20th-century European cinema, that has until now cast very few black actors in supporting and leading roles, and we will ponder the representation of black people in recent films that were commercially successful at the box office (such as Les Intouchables by Nakache/Toledano, France 2011). Finally, we will reflect on the deep roots of European colonialism that takes the form of national debates surrounding the naming of chocolate-coated treats and licorice sweets (Têtes de nègre, Mohrenkopf, and Negerkuss) or of a controversy around cultural identity resulting from the grotesque depiction of black men in folkloric tradition (like Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands). [ more ]

    COMP 277 SEM The Examined Life: Ancient Ethical Literature at Rome

    Last offered Fall 2021

    The philosophical schools of classical antiquity had in common a commitment to eudaemonia; that is, they considered human flourishing as a chief goal of life. This aim was not limited to professional philosophers, however. Rather, the question of how humans should live was a widespread and deeply felt concern, and ethical considerations pervade ancient texts across many genres. This course will focus on works of literature that consider how to live wisely, happily, and well, whether through seeking pleasure or acting justly, whether through political engagement or by retreating from society. We will analyze a wide variety of texts, but all are animated by an ethical premise most famously enunciated by Socrates, namely, that the unexamined life is not worth living. Readings may include dialogues, speeches, correspondence, plays, and poems, among them the Satires and Epistles of Horace, Seneca's On Leisure and On the Happy Life, and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. All readings will be in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 278 LEC Premodern Japanese Literature and Performance

    Last offered Spring 2017

    Some of Japan's performance traditions, which developed in different historical settings, have survived to this day and continue to coexist and compete for the attention of audiences both domestically and abroad. This course examines the Japanese literature of three major periods in Japan's history, focusing on how literary and performance traditions have been interrelated in the unfolding of Japanese literary history. We will begin by looking into the Heian period (794-1185), when the work of female authors occupied center stage and some of the canonical texts of the Japanese literary and cultural tradition were born. Next we will consider the medieval period (1185-1600), which saw the rise of the samurai class and the consequent shift in the domain of artistic creation. Then we will look at the Edo period (1600-1867), when a new bourgeois culture flourished and audiences were greatly transformed. We will also explore the continuing force of premodern literary traditions in contemporary performing arts. All readings and discussions will be in English. [ more ]

    COMP 279 SEM Erotic, Grotesque, Sublime: Ghosts and Monsters in East Asian Religion and Popular Culture

    Last offered Fall 2016

    "Ghosts and monsters" (Chinese yaoguai, Japanese yokai, Korean yogoe) have long figured prominently in East Asian cultural history. In medieval East Asian chronicles, wrathful demons attacked the imperial palace, ghosts haunted abandoned temples, and shape-shifting foxes infiltrated the bedrooms of royal concubines. These creatures persisted into the modern era when nineteenth century tabloids reported the existence of demon-foxes, giant serpents, and vengeful spirits. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, monsters began crossing over into the realm of fiction, and Japanese, Chinese, and Korean popular novels and films continue to crawl with images of traditional dark beasts. The opening contention of this course is that ghosts and monsters signify deviancies from "the normal" as it is constructed in a given culture and time period--they often come to represent transgressions of nature, gender, sexuality, race, morality, or to subvert distinctions such as those between human and animal, man and woman, animate and inanimate, present and past, or living and dead. This course will analyze East Asian ghosts and monsters in their historical cultural context, thinking about how they come to embody particular cultural fears and desires. We will use a range of East Asian materials in translation--including folktales, medieval bestiaries, short stories, and films, alongside a heavy dose of theory including works by feminist scholars Julia Kristeva, Ilka Quindeau, Susan Sontag and various others who attempt to understand the monstrous and the uncanny. Students will undertake an extended research project on a ghost or monster of their choice and locate it in its broader cultural context. Doing so should put us in a position to explore central themes, such as the connection between the grotesque and the erotic, the cultural performance of gender, the social construction of illness, the trauma of memory, the commodification of the supernatural, and the boundaries of the human. [ more ]

    COMP 280 SEM Art at its Limits: Representing the Holocaust

    Last offered Fall 2019

    The Holocaust poses unique challenges to art: it is an event that unsettles the very notion of representation while, at the same time, also demanding it. Art, after all, is a mode of witnessing as well as a form of commemoration; it allows survivors to record their testimony and later generations to remember. Yet the representation of suffering can all too easily become exploitative or aestheticizing, it can turn pain into entertainment and history into fiction. How, then, do writers, artists, and filmmakers navigate the representation of the Shoah if it resists comprehension and undermines traditional forms of narrative? In this course, we will ask if and how art can do justice to a catastrophe of such magnitude as the Holocaust by analyzing different forms of media from a variety of cultural backgrounds. What can poetry offer that remains foreclosed to prose? Was Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus really in bad taste? How should documentaries approach the Shoah, and is there a place for Hollywood films in the archives of commemoration? Texts among others by Tadeusz Borowski, Tadeusz Ró'ewicz, Art Spiegelman, Paul Celan, Primo Levi, Sylvia Plath, Hannah Arendt, Theodor W. Adorno, Jacques Derrida, and Maurice Blanchot; films by Quentin Tarantino, Claude Lanzmann, Pawe' Pawlikowski, and Steven Spielberg. [ more ]

    COMP 281 Animals in Ancient Literature

    Last offered NA

    Humans are animals, but we tend to view animals as the ultimate other. They delight and terrify us, providing infinite vehicles for the imagination: ways of being other than human and other than civilized, ways of confronting that which seems inhuman in ourselves. In this class, we will read a selection of ancient texts that approach animals in different ways: as inverted humans, as predators, as prey, as agents of the gods, as laborers, as friends, and as a revelation of the ugly truth about our own "human" nature. Primary source readings will be paired with modern scholarly works from classics, comparative literature, and animal studies. We will think about why ancient authors used images of animals in such diverse ways and about our own relationships with animals in modern life, enriching our study with field trips. This is a seminar and will be conducted through discussion and writing workshops, with little to no lecture. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

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    COMP 282 SEM Introduction to Francophone Literatures

    Last offered Fall 2016

    What is the Francophone world comprised of? Who speaks French today and why? What does the idea of Francophonie really mean? Is this term really relevant? Why, how, and by whom is this idea being criticized? How does the littérature-monde manifesto fit within these interrogations? Is the French-speaking world merely a linguistic community or is it also a political, cultural, and economic project? Last but not least, why is the idea of Francophonie so important for France? We will answer these questions through the lens of literary and cinematic texts from Québec, Sénégal, Vietnam, France (l'hexagone), and Haiti among others. [ more ]

    COMP 283 SEM Haitian and French Caribbean Literatures and Films

    Last offered Fall 2016

    Over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, authors and filmmakers have questioned prevalent representations of the Creole and French-speaking Caribbean such as the idea of Haiti as the First Black republic and the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere and and of Martinique and Guadeloupe as the "French" Caribbean. They have also interrogated their forebears by reclaiming modernity, reframing History, and telling "intimist" stories (Ferly). This course focuses on the diverging paths by Haitian and French Caribbean literatures (short stories, play, poem, novels) and film (short, feature and documentaries) as critical interventions that bring into focus gender, slavery, identity, exile, migration, imperialism, culture, and (non) sovereignty. [ more ]

    COMP 284 SEM Athletics and Literature in Ancient Greece

    Last offered Spring 2023

    The modern Olympic games are one of the most visible traces of ancient Greek influence on contemporary culture. Less well-known, however, are the complex and challenging poems (originally songs) of Pindar and Bacchylides that celebrated the victors of the archaic Greek games. These victory odes are a rich source for the study of Greek culture, from their vivid descriptions of heroic feats to their philosophical claims about human life and divine favor. Athletic competition provides the impetus for these songs and constitutes one of their major themes, yet their significance extends far beyond a single athlete or festival. In this course, we will interrogate the relationship between athletics and literary production in the ancient Greek world. We will use both primary and secondary sources to develop familiarity with major festivals, games, events, and figures, and use that knowledge to contextualize our analysis of Greek literature. Ancient Greek athletic discourse will thus provide an entry point to broader reflections on the literary construction and representation of the body and its movement, as well as the interplay between literature and its cultural contexts. [ more ]

    COMP 285 SEM The Nature of Work

    Last offered Spring 2023

    Work is something that touches the lived experience and historical realities of almost every human being in every time and place. But how did ancient Mediterranean societies and cultures define and deploy the concepts of "work" and "working," as both an activity and as discourse? This is a question that has received remarkably little attention, in part since modern scholars have all too often followed the lead of elite authors, who obscure the nature of work through their focus on its products: agricultural prosperity, material luxury, urban grandeur, etc. In this course, we will seek to shed light on the world of work in antiquity, to better understand both the experiences of those who worked for a living across an array of spheres and professions, and the value of work as a cultural, aesthetic, and literary concept. Special topics will include: the place of work in conceptions of a "golden age"; the literary topoi of work (like the idle shepherd or the virtuous peasant); representations of "heroic work" (most famously, the Labors of Hercules); the elision or erasure of non-elite labor for elite audiences in art and text; the iconography of work in painting, mosaic, and sculpture; and investigations into specific trades, crafts, and other forms of "making" (from midwifery to shoe making). Readings will be a combination of primary and secondary sources. All readings will be in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 286 LEC Women's Contemporary Cultural Production in Latin America

    Last offered Spring 2019

    In Latin America, women have been largely displaced as historical subjects and reduced, in many ways, to symbolic figures or icons whose trajectories have been depicted as essential to the construction of diverse social projects within the context of patriarchal nation-states. Each country has formed a specific idea of what a woman is, and can be, through its cultural production, and this constant erasure/objectification has led to a complex problematic when it comes to addressing women as cultural producers. Keeping this in mind, in this course we will explore the concept of "Woman" as a representation and women as cultural producers in contemporary Latin America. We will address intersections of race/ethnic positioning, sexual identity, and social class to explore their role in the reception and understanding of the work of these female artists. Through the analysis of varied cultural production, the syllabus will present an interdisciplinary approach to the contributions of female artists to the cultural representation of race/ethnicity, masculinity, femininity, violence, sexuality, gender identity, nationalism, citizenship, and social movements. We will explore the work of artists such as Sara Castrejón, Nahui Ollin, Citlali Fabián, Amparo Dávila, Alejandra Pizarnik, Rosario Castellanos, Reina Roffé, Ana Tijoux, Lucrecia Martel, Chavela Vargas, Graciela Iturbide, Celia Cruz, Lucía Puenzo, Cecilia Barriga, Cristina Rivera Garza, María Novaro, Cristina Peri Rossi, Maruch Sántiz Gómez, Leonora Carrington, and Maris Bustamante, among others. In addition, we will read theoretical texts on diverse subjects corresponding to each specific cultural product. [ more ]

    COMP 287 SEM Russian and Soviet Cinema

    Last offered Spring 2019

    In this course, we will survey over a hundred years of Russian and Soviet film to explore how cinema has reflected and, at times, created the country's most important historical events and cultural myths. We will pay close attention to Russian filmmakers' varied reactions to Hollywood cinema, as well as to the lively body of cinema theory that these reactions generated. Our survey will begin in the pre-Revolutionary era and include representative films from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalinism and World War II, the Thaw and Stagnation, Glasnost, and the Putin era. In addition to studying films by auteur filmmakers, such as Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Aleksandr Sokurov, we will watch movies made for the masses, which have helped to form Russians' understanding of their country and themselves. All readings will be in English and all films will be viewed with English subtitles [ more ]

    COMP 288 SEM The Art of Friendship

    Last offered Fall 2016

    The idea of friendship has captivated poets, philosophers, and their audiences for over three millennia. The subtle dynamics of this fundamental relationship between humans have been a source of inspiration, consolation, and consternation for countless writers and readers. What are the different types of friendship? How does one make a friend, and what makes a good friend? How does a friend differ from an acquaintance, an ally, an accomplice, an enemy? Can the beloved also be a friend? Ancient Greek and Latin writers took up these and other questions about friendship in philosophical dialogues and treatises, epic and lyric poems, tragic and comic plays, oratory, and correspondence. This course will explore ancient theories and representations of friendship through readings from many of the most important texts and authors of antiquity, including Gilgamesh, the Hebrew Bible, Homer, Sappho, Euripides, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, Seneca, and the Epistles of Paul. We will also consider the wide-ranging responses to these meditations and depictions in later traditions from the Middle Ages to modernity, in such writers as Heloise and Abelard, Aelred of Rievaulx, Aquinas, Montaigne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Jack Kerouac, and Susan Sontag. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 289 TUT Theorizing Magic

    Last offered Fall 2017

    This is a course about magic. It is not about stage magic, sleight of hand, or the art of pulling rabbits out of hats. You will learn no card tricks. But instead we will learn about those people who believed in the reality of certain powers; from the ability to summon good or evil spirits, transform base metals into gold, predict the future, or manipulate matter by thought alone. The problem of how to theorize magic has long been a cause of concern for the natural and social sciences. Many a sociologist and anthropologist has imagined that belief in magic should have vanished with modernity (despite much evidence to the contrary). Meanwhile, philosophers of science have been long fascinated with the demarcation problem-figuring out grounds by which to distinguish legitimate sciences (like astronomy) from their magical or pseudoscientific cousins (like astrology). We will trace these discussions and problematize them by looking at the beliefs of self-defined witches and magicians. This should put is in a position to interrogate the construction of concepts of magic, science, and religion and show how the boundaries between these categories emerged historically. Topics to be discussed will include: the rationality of magic, the fine lines separating magic, science and religion, the persecution of witches, and the role notions of magic and superstition played in European modernization and colonization projects. The tutorial sessions will be customized to student interests, but texts will likely include selections from primary works in translation, such as Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy, Giordano Bruno's On Magic, Aleister Crowley's Magick Liber Aba, as well as selections from secondary literature, perhaps including Marcel Mauss, A General Theory of Magic, Max Weber, "Science as Vocation," Tanya Luhrmann, Persuasions of the Witches' Craft, Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Larry Laudan, "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem," E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft and Oracles, and Magic among the Azande, and/or Kelly Hayes, Holy Harlots: Femininity, Sexuality and Black Magic in Brazil. [ more ]

    COMP 291 TUT Red Chamber Dreams: Reading China's Greatest Novel

    Last offered Fall 2023

    Since it first began to circulate in manuscript in the mid-eighteenth century, Cao Xueqin's novel Story of the Stone (Shitou ji), also called Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng), has captured the imaginations of readers young and old with its sprawling story of the coming-of-age of members of a wealthy family on the cusp of ruin. As critically acclaimed as it is beloved, Story of the Stone is widely regarded as China's greatest novel due to the intricacy of its narrative, the complexity of its characters, and the sophistication with which it deals with themes as varied as romance, enlightenment, sexuality and gender identity, and the construction of public and private spaces. The focus of this tutorial will be reading the 120-chapter novel. Students will have the option to read either in Chinese or English (though papers and class discussion will be in English). We will also read scholarly literature to learn about some of the major critical approaches to the novel, and about its enduring importance in the Chinese literary tradition. [ more ]

    COMP 292 SEM War and Resistance: Two Centuries of War Literature in France (1800-2015)

    Last offered Fall 2021

    In 1883, Maupassant called on his fellow war veterans and writers to join him in speaking out against warfare and violence, crying "Let us dishonor war!" From the Gallic Wars against Caesar (during the first century BC) to recent terrorist attacks in France (at the opening of the twenty-first century), the French literary tradition is rich in texts that bear witness to war and speak out against its monstrous inhumanity. While war literature in France can be traced back to ancient and medieval texts on Vercingétorix, Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, and Joan of Arc, this course will focus specifically on literary representations of war during the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, from the Napoleonic Wars, to the First and Second World Wars, to the Algerian and Cold Wars, and the "War on Terror." Discussions will examine the impact of war on soldiers and civilians, patriotism and pacifism, history and memory; the implications of war as invasion and conquest, occupation and resistance, victory and defeat; the relationship of war to gender, sexuality, and ethnicity; and the role of war in colonialism and genocide. Readings to include novels, short stories, and poems by Balzac, Stendhal, Hugo, Rimbaud, Daudet, Maupassant, Zola, Cocteau, Wiesel, Duras, Camus, and Fanon. Films to include works by Resnais, Renoir, Carion, Jeunet, Malle, Angelo, Pontecorvo, and Duras. Conducted in French. [ more ]

    COMP 293 SEM Great Big Books

    Last offered Fall 2022

    Some of the greatest novels are really, really long--so long that they are too seldom read and taught. This course takes time to enjoy the special pleasures of novels of epic scope: the opportunity to immerse oneself in a wide and teeming fictional world; to focus sustained attention on the changeable fortunes of characters and societies over a long span of time; to appreciate the detailed grounding of lives in their social environment and historical moment; to experience the leisurely and urgent rhythms, with their elaborate patterning of build-ups and climaxes, that are possible in such works. We will read but two novels, both preoccupied with the disruption and evolution of lives and loves at moments of historic upheaval: War and Peace (1869), Leo Tolstoy's epic of the Napoleonic Wars, and Parade's End (1924-28), Ford Madox Ford's modernist masterpiece about World War I and its traumatic impact on English social life. Set a century apart, the novels are distinguished by vivid and scrupulous representation of their respective wars, by their shrewd accounts of political and social pressures informing the crises, and by their insight into the struggles of those whose lives are engulfed in global crisis. Tolstoy's and Ford's approaches to fictional representation, however, provide intriguing contrasts: one favors the lucidity of classic realism, the other the challenges of modernist innovation; one deploys a single multiplot novel, the other a tetralogy of shorter novels developing a single plot. We will discuss the differing strategies and effects of these two approaches, as well as the more general difficulties of reading and interpreting long fiction. [ more ]

    COMP 294 TUT Philosophy and Narrative Fiction

    Last offered Spring 2017

    What is it for a novel, a story, a play or a film to be a philosophical narrative? It is not enough for it merely to be about a character who happens to be a philosopher; nor is it just that philosophical positions are reviewed in the narrative, as in Gaarder's Sophie's World. Milan Kundera tried to answer this question by saying that a good philosophical novel does not serve philosophy but, on the contrary, tries to "get hold of a domain that (...) philosophy had kept for itself. There are metaphysical problems, problems of human existence, that philosophy has never known how to grasp in all their concreteness and that only the novel can seize." If Kundera is right, fictional narratives (such as novels) sometimes do the philosophical work that philosophy cannot do for itself. What kind of work is that, and how is it accomplished? Why can't argumentative prose--philosophers' preferred form of expression--clearly say, and moreover prove, what literature, theatre and film illustrate, show and display? One possible answer which we will examine is that, while many philosophers recognize that there are intimate connections between what we believe, feel and do, philosophical argumentation by its very nature appeals to belief alone; narrative art, by contrast, can simultaneously engage our reason, emotions, imagination and will, thus resulting not only in deepening our understanding, but also in transformation of the self. To properly address a number of interrelated questions concerning philosophy in literature and film, and philosophical problems of meaning, interpretation and evaluation of narrative fiction, we will discuss both narrative works of art and theoretical approaches to their analysis. We will consider the ways in which narrative fiction presents and engages its audience in philosophical reflections on personal identity, nature of the self, interpersonal relationships, memory, time, human existence, freedom, and the meaning in life. The choice of literary works and films to be discussed will to some extent depend on students' interest. Most of the authors will come from this list, however: Sartre, de Beauvoir, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Thomas Mann, Camus, Ecco, Kundera, Borges, Charlie Kaufman, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Resnais, Kurosawa, Bunuel, Kubrick, Godard, Visconti and Guillermo del Toro. The theoretical aspect of the course will involve close readings of selected articles in contemporary aesthetics, philosophy of literature and philosophy of film. [ more ]

    COMP 295 SEM Utopia and the Idea of America(s)

    Last offered Spring 2023

    What value does the utopian/dystopian text hold in the development of alternative thought? This course, primarily grounded in science fiction and the African American and Latin American contexts, will address this question via the thoughtful examination of a range of theoretical, fictional, and cinematic texts from, among others, Thomas More, John Akomfrah, Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Jorge Luis Borges, Alfonso Cuarón, José Vasconcelos, Eduardo Urzaiz, and Fredric Jameson. [ more ]

    COMP 296(F) SEM Chinese Film and Its Significant Others

    From the first "wows'' that the short films invoked at a Shanghai teahouse in 1896, Chinese films have made successive wonders that straddle reality and fantasy, technological modernity and shadow-making craft, aesthetic experiments and monetary yearnings, global investments and local interest. This seminar will explore the evolving relationships between Chinese films and five "significant others" that are central to film and film-making. Roughly following a chronological order, this course will examine 1) the effect of new technological developments (such as photography, sound, color, special FX) on film; 2) the tension between film and traditional modes of public entertainment (such as operas and shadow plays); 3) film's social role to affirm and contest gender, national, and class identities; 4) the need to garner differing sources of financial support (state funding, cultural entrepreneurs, and transnational capital); and 5) the circulation of Chinese films in the global market. Class materials include various genre films (melodrama, horror, martial arts, comedy, etc.), directors' notes, contemporary reviews, and scholarship in China and media studies. All materials and discussions are in English. [ more ]

    COMP 297 TUT Present Pasts: The Politics of Memory in Contemporary Chinese Literatures and Films

    Last offered Spring 2023

    What happens when memories, already slippery, are further massaged by literary and cinematic narrative strategies? How is the historical "pasts" remembered, forgotten, and subverted in a literary "presence"? This tutorial explores the politics of memory in contemporary literatures and films from the People's Republic of China (post-socialist era, 1978), Taiwan (post-martial law, 1987), and Hong Kong (postcolonial era, 1997). We will look at how literary and cinematic works in each of these "post" societies represent state-sponsored narratives of remembrance, dissidents' collective amnesia, and at the popular level, a playful yet cynical flirtation with politics. With close- and distant- readings of textualized and visualized memories, we will examine themes of nation and locality, public and private, mesology and mythology, amnesia and nostalgia, and diaspora and settlement in the PRC, Taiwan, and Hong Kong from the late 1980s until to today. Course readings include "root-seeking", "new realist", "avant-garde" and "hooligan" novels, examples from the Taiwanese small theater movement, and the transnational cinemas made by the fifth, sixth, and second new wave filmmakers from these three "post" societies. This tutorial is conducted in either Chinese or English. Students wishing to take the course in English should register under ASST or COMP and language learners wishing to take the course in Chinese should register under CHIN. [ more ]

    COMP 298 SEM Introduction to French and Francophone Film

    Last offered Spring 2018

    In this course, we watch and examine seminal French and Francophone films. Starting with early French cinema and silent movies of the end of the nineteenth century, we continue with landmark films from the 1920s, '30s and '40s. World War II serves as a point of rupture to explore how the advent of Francophone film parallels postcolonial theory. Throughout the semester, we discuss film as spectacle, the emergence of narrative forms, innovative technical practice and their connection to aesthetics. We also look at the role of film in addressing larger questions that include acts of rebellion, decolonization, the radical rejection of societal values, colonialism, dislocation, alienation, French collaboration during the German occupation, and the intersection of history and biography, as well as migration, in between-ness, and transnationalism. Films from the Lumière brothers, Méliès, Guy-Blaché, Vigo, Truffaut, Sembene, Mambety, Malle, Varda, Palcy, Peck, and Sissako. Conducted in French. [ more ]

    COMP 299(F, S) SEM On Occupations: Work, Colonization and Contemporary Life

    Reading political essays, critical theory, historiography, and literary works, in this course we will ask what thinking through the different senses of "occupation" can teach us about contemporary life. The course wagers that there is a connection between why some nations are or were "under" occupation and why, as individuals, all of us must "have" occupations. On the one hand, we will think about work: What does it mean to have an occupation today? There was a time when most people could distinguish between the time of work and that of leisure. But we live under a different regime. What now is the difference between work and leisure for those working "gigs"? In the case of "creatives," Bifo Berardi says, it is the soul itself that has been put to work. And then there are those who are unemployed, i.e., those occupied by the most widespread form of work there is--looking for work. On the other hand, we will ask questions about colonialism: Did not Europe's occupation of the globe birth this world in which the only way to live is to be occupied in a narrow sense, i.e., to always be working or looking for work? And isn't one economic function of the occupation of peoples in our own times to create a cheap workforce? Finally, we will ask what art and political organizing can teach us about a "de-occupied" life--a life after work, a life without colonization. Writers will include Marx, Jyotiba Phule, Du Bois, Raymond Williams, Premchand, M. E. O'Brien and Eman Abdelhadi, Bifo Berardi, David Graeber, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Mahasweta Devi, Edward Said etc. [ more ]

    COMP 301 SEM Sublime Confusion: A Survey of Literary and Critical Theory

    Last offered Fall 2022

    Which is more appealing, a roller coaster or a rose? For much of its history, art and literary theory has conceived itself as a science devoted to explaining and defining "beauty." But running alongside this is an edgier countercurrent that worships something else: an experience of excitement, fear, suspense, or thrilling confusion often described as "the sublime." The sublime interested early critics, from classical rhetoricians to the German Idealists, as a way to make aesthetics more scientific paradoxically by identifying the doorway through which art and literature escaped the realm of reason. More recently the notion of literature's exciting confusion has played a key role in modern critical theory from Russian formalism to new criticism, deconstruction, postmodernism, and posthumanism. (In fact, poststructuralist criticism itself has a thrillingly confusing quality that we will not ignore.) We will take up a cross section of critical theory from classical times to the present, focusing on careful reading of relatively short texts by Plato, Aristotle, Addison, Burke, Schiller, Nietzsche, Shklovsky, I.A. Richards, Barthes, Derrida, Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, Haraway, and others. Case studies ranging from opera to Xbox will enlighten, thrill, and confound you. Written assignments will encourage you to parse these theories carefully and apply them to the literary texts that most interest you: prose, poetry, or drama from any time and place; film, visual art, or architecture; music, new media, or digital media, and beyond. [ more ]

    COMP 302 TUT Latino Writing: Literature by U.S. Hispanics

    Last offered Spring 2017

    Writing by U.S. Hispanics constitutes a new voice in American letters. In this tutorial, we will read and discuss work by U.S. Latinos and examine the social backgrounds to their texts. The experiences of immigration and assimilation, and the specific complexities of being both Hispanic and North American will be addressed. Authors to be studied: Jose Antonio Villarreal, Tomas Rivera, Richard Rodriguez, Sandra Cisneros, Rudolfo Anaya, Piri Thomas, Oscar Hijuelos, Cristina Garcia, Junot Diaz and historical texts by Carey McWilliams, and Rodolfo Acuña. Given the absence of a critical consensus around these recent titles, our task is to gain some sense of their common traits as a tradition, and place them within the larger body of literature of the Americas and the world. The tutorial will examine one work or set of authors per week. A student will bring, written out in full, an oral presentation focusing on the artistic features and sociocultural content of the assigned reading. Questioning of the presenter, on the part of the second tutee and the tutor, will follow. The course is designed to accommodate both Spanish and English speaking students. A student able to read and speak Spanish will be paired with another student of similar proficiency. Students who neither read nor speak Spanish will be paired together. [ more ]

    COMP 303 STU Embodied Archives: Global Theatre Histories, From Antiquity to 1900

    Last offered Fall 2021

    A survey of global theatre and performance, spanning from antiquity to 1900. Students will engage with the archives and repertoires of the theatrical past, approaching subjects both critically and creatively. Topics to be considered may include: Indian Sanskrit drama; ancient Greco/Roman theatre; pre-Columbian Mesoamerican dance/drama; Japanese Noh and Kabuki performance; Medieval and Renaissance English theatre; West African masquerade; French Neoclassicism; Spanish "golden age" theatre; and American melodrama. In addition, we will consider receptions of such traditions in the present, examining how contemporary theatre makers have engaged with (adapted, appropriated, recycled, or re-appropriated) historical sources. As a major project in the class, students will develop and share their own artistic approaches to selected archival works. While attending to theatre's formal aspects, we will at the same time focus on the relationship of performance to politics and society, as well as to the enduring legacies of empire, state power, colonialism, and private capital in which theatre is historically embedded. If and when possible, we will encounter archival sources housed in College Archives and WCMA. This course is required for Theatre majors and is a prerequisite for THEA 401. [ more ]

    COMP 304 SEM Confusion of Tongues and Intermediate Areas: Ferenczi, Winnicott, and Literature

    Last offered Spring 2021

    In a reference to the story of Babel, Hungarian psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi (1873-1933) described in poignant detail the operation of sexual abuse in terms of a profound disjunction on the level of language, in the broadest sense--a problem of translation, so to speak. Indeed, Ferenczi dedicated his entire life to learning the language of his patients' trauma in all its nuances, making himself vulnerable in multiple ways in the process. D. W. Winnicott (1896-1971), too, immersed himself in the lives of his patients, many of them children or adults who had grown up experiencing the death and displacement of wartime England. The theories of these two psychoanalysts, much less known in the humanities than Freud, Lacan, or Klein, dovetail in significant ways with the workings of literature. In this course, we will investigate the ways in which the spaces, configurations, and dynamics of literature from several national traditions align with Ferenczi's explorations of the "confusion of tongues," as well as Winnicott's interest in the "intermediate area of experiencing, to which interior reality and external life both contribute." Texts may include, in addition to articles by Ferenczi and Winnicott, work by Kafka, Kincaid, Baldwin, Bachmann, Bechdel, and others. Modified tutorial format, with groups of three students meeting weekly with the instructor. [ more ]

    COMP 305(F) SEM Dostoevsky and the Meaning of Life

    This course surveys the works of the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose oeuvre represents a life-long quest to uncover the meaning of life. Readings include Dostoevsky's major novels, Crime and Punishment, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov, as well as several shorter works, including Notes from Underground. We will also examine Dostoevsky's journalism, so that we understand how he answers life's most troubling questions in the social and political context of his day, as well as what role artistic representation plays in these answers. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

    COMP 306 SEM Tolstoy and the Meaning of Life

    Last offered Spring 2024

    This course examines the works of the great Russian writer Lev Tolstoy, whose stories and novels represent a life-long quest to uncover the meaning of life. Readings include Tolstoy's two major novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, as well as several shorter works, such as The Death of Ivan Ilych and Hadji Murad. We will also examine Tolstoy's aesthetic and didactic writing so that we understand precisely how Tolstoy answers life's most troubling questions, as well as what role artistic representation plays in these answers. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

    COMP 307 SEM Aesthetic Outrage

    Last offered Spring 2024

    In this course we will explore interdisciplinary ways of understanding and theorizing the outraged reception of provocative works of film, theater, and fiction. When riots, censorship, trials, and vilification greet such works in moments of political and social upheaval, the public outrage is often strangely out of proportion to either the work's aesthetic nature or its overt commentary on the political crisis. Something powerfully symptomatic is at work, then: a set of threatened investments, unacknowledged values, and repressed ideas which surface explosively, but indirectly, in the aesthetic outrage. In an attempt to understand the strange logic of public outrage against works of art, we will explore the respective works' historical contexts, and use theoretical models--aesthetic, political, psychological, social--as a means of illuminating the dynamics of outrage and exposing understated linkages between a work's figurative logic and the political passions of its historical moment. We will study instances of outrage in the context of the French Revolution (Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro), the wave of anarchist terrorism in turn-of-the-century Paris (Jarry's Ubu the King), the trials of Oscar Wilde for "gross indecency" (The Picture of Dorian Gray), the Irish Revolution (Synge's The Playboy of the Western World and O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars), and Stalinist collectivization (Eisenstein's suppressed film Bezhin Meadow). Non-literary reading will include historiographic work on these crises, as well as essays and excerpts by theorists from various disciplines, such as Kristeva, Foucault, Freud, Girard, Arendt, Sedgwick, Bakhtin, Douglas, and Rancière. [ more ]

    COMP 308 SEM Building Francophone Cities: Literature, Art and History

    Last offered Fall 2022

    Through literature, visual art, and urban history, this class will engage with the remarkable histories, presents and imagined futures of five Francophone cities: Casablanca (Morocco), Algiers (Algeria), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Fort-de-France (Martinique) and Port-au-Prince (Haiti). We will learn about their colonial foundations and postcolonial transformations while paying attention to how these urban spaces and their people and histories are represented and imagined by poetry, novels, and visual art. (Conducted in French) [ more ]

    COMP 310 SEM Transcending Boundaries: The Creation and Evolution of Creole Cultures

    Last offered Fall 2023

    Born out of a history of resistance, Creole cultures transcend racial boundaries. This course provides a comprehensive framework for understanding the creation of Creole nations in various parts of the world. Beginning with an examination of the dark history of slavery and French colonialism, we will reflect upon the cultural transformation that took place when people speaking mutually unintelligible languages were brought together. We will then delve into the study of how deterritorialized peoples created their languages and cultures, distinct from the ones imposed by colonizing forces. As we journey from the past to the present, we will also explore how international events such as a worldwide pandemic, social justice, racism, and police brutality are currently affecting these islands. Potential readings will include prominent authors from different Creole-speaking islands, including Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire from Martinique, Maryse Condé from Guadeloupe, Ananda Devi from Mauritius and Jacques Roumain from Haiti. Conducted in French with introductions to different creoles. [ more ]

    COMP 311 SEM Environmental Literature and Film in Latin America

    Last offered Spring 2024

    What use are aesthetics when the world is (literally) on fire? We will take up this question and others in a critical engagement with Latin American cultural production of the twentieth and twentieth centuries, especially works of literature and film that directly or indirectly engage with environmental crisis. Students can expect to explore a variety of media, forms and genres, including works that range from (more or less) mainstream to cutting edge. Our examinations of literature and film will be supported by theoretical writings produced in the Americas and other places. Writers and directors whose work may be considered include, but are not limited to: Lucrecia Martel, Ciro Guerra, Rafael Barrett, Samanta Schweblin, Ernesto Cardenal, Juan Rulfo, María Luisa Bombal, Eduardo Gudynas, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Isabelle Stengers. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 313(S) TUT Disinterest in the Bhagavad Gita

    In this course, students will read the Bhagavad Gita alongside selected responses to it. These responses range from philosophical and theological commentaries written in Sanskrit by Shankaracharya, Abhinavagupta, and Ramanuja, to later "Bhakti" poetic responses in other Indian languages, to 18th and 19th century European aesthetic and political commentary (Herder, Schlegel, Hegel), to the work of 20th century commentators like M.K. Gandhi, B.G. Tilak, B.R. Ambedkar and D.D. Kosambi. We will examine the Gita's theory of action and the place of disinterest in this theory. We will inquire into the social, metaphysical, and political conditions of possibility of such disinterestedness, and think about disinterestedness itself as a condition for political action and aesthetic experience. Finally, we will reflect on how such a comparative history of interpretation might help us model a dialectical history of thought. [ more ]

    COMP 314(F) SEM Paris on Fire: Incendiary Voices from the City of Light

    During the 1830s, Honoré de Balzac described Paris as a "surprising assemblage of movements, machines, and ideas, a city of one hundred thousand novels, the head of the world," but also characterized the French capital as a "land of contrasts," a "monstrous wonder," a "moral sewer." Similarly, writers from Victor Hugo to Émile Zola have simultaneously celebrated Parisian elegance and condemned the appalling misery of Paris's urban poor. Since 1889, Paris has been fêted as the "City of Light" for its Enlightenment legacy, Eiffel Tower modernity, and luminous energy, captured in countless paintings, photographs, and film. However, Paris is also the site of revolution, resistance, and riots. From revolutionary revolt (1830, 1848, 1871), to wartime resistance (1870, 1914-18, 1940-44), to reformist and race riots (1968 and 2005), Paris has repeatedly sparked with incendiary passion and political protest. As fires raged during the 2005 riots, many heard the echo of Hitler's 1944 question, "Is Paris burning?" and asked: why was Paris burning again at the dawn of the twenty-first century? Following the 2015 terrorist attacks, many wondered yet again what the future would hold for the City of Light. To answer these questions, we will examine the social, political, and literary landscape of Paris during the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, from urbanization and modernization, to occupation and liberation, to immigration and globalization. Readings to include poetry, short stories, and novels by Hugo, Balzac, Baudelaire, Maupassant, Verne, Zola, Apollinaire, Colette, Duras, Perec, Rochefort, and Charef. Films to include works by Clair, Truffaut, Godard, Minnelli, Clément, Lelouch, Luhrmann, Kassovitz, Besson, and Jeunet. Conducted in French. [ more ]

    COMP 315(S) SEM Social Construction

    "Social construction" can often seem like the great collegial insight. By now, you've all heard that categories such as race, gender, and sexuality are in some sense not part of nature, but instead are created and maintained socially or culturally. The idea of social construction has been vital to critical race theory and queer theory, and, in this course, we will push ourselves into philosophy of science to see whether or not these same insights apply to everything. If we know that "Whiteness," "heterosexuality," and "masculinity," for instance, are all socially constructed, we will ask if the same is true of "electrons," "money," "the solar system," and "climate change." Can it be that all of our reality is socially constructed? Or does social construction have limits? If so, what are they? We will also ask more fundamental questions, such as: What does it mean to say something is socially constructed? How does social construction relate to claims that an aspect of the world is "real" or "not real?" Is social construction a theory about language, power, culture, societies, human perceptions, or the limits of science? What kind of political, ethical, ontological, or epistemological work do theories of social construction do? We will begin with different accounts of the social construction of race, gender, and sexuality. In the second part of the course, we will dig deeper into philosophical debates about social construction as such. Then we will explore constructionism about natural science. In the last part of the course, we will change gears and explore look at cutting-edge work in the theory of social science aimed at explaining the construction and ontology of social worlds. The class will culminate in a project in which students will put their social construction theories into practice. [ more ]

    COMP 316 SEM Kafka and His/Our World

    Last offered Fall 2020

    "It's so Kafkaesque!" We love to use the most famous Austro-Hungarian-Czech-Jewish writer of all time to characterize puzzling and dispiriting situations. But close examination of Franz Kafka's work and life reveals a multi-dimensional world that goes far beyond the cliché. Jewish in an increasingly anti-Semitic environment, German-speaking surrounded by Czech-speakers, deeply alone in a family that didn't understand him, Kafka produced texts that simultaneously demand and refuse to be interpreted. In this tutorial we will begin with intensive readings of selected short stories and parables, then move on to an exploration of the Kafka's own words from diaries and letters, as well as secondary sources. The course will conclude with discussions of how Kafka's texts and their contexts might relate to contemporary conditions and/or to students' own lives and thoughts. This will be a modified tutorial, with five groups of three students apiece. Students may take the tutorial in either German or English; groups will be formed accordingly. [ more ]

    COMP 318 SEM Twentieth-Century French Novel: From Adversity to Modernity

    Last offered Fall 2023

    In his futurist novel Paris in the Twentieth Century (1863), Jules Verne envisions an era of technological superiority, complete with hydrogen cars and high-speed trains, televisions and skyscrapers, computers and the internet. But in Verne's vision of modernity, technological sophistication gives way to intellectual stagnation and social indifference, in a world where poetry and literature have been abandoned in favor of bureaucratic efficiency, mechanized surveillance, and the merciless pursuit of profit. To contest or confirm this dystopic vision, we will examine a broad range of twentieth-century novels and their focus on adversity and modernity. In a century dominated by the devastation of two World Wars, the atrocities of colonial empire, and massive social and political transformation, the novel both documented and interrogated France's engagement with race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, colonialism and immigration. Within this historical context, we will discuss the role of the novel in confronting war and disease, challenging poverty and greed, and exposing urban isolation and cultural alienation in twentieth-century France. Readings to include novels by Colette, Genet, Camus, Duras, Ernaux, Guibert, Begag. Lectures to include discussions of Gide, Proust, Sartre, Beauvoir, Cixous, Foucault, Jelloun, Djébar. Films to include works by Fassbinder, Annaud, Lioret, Ducastel, Martineau, Téchiné, Charef. Conducted in French. [ more ]

    COMP 319 SEM Black Migrations: African American Performance at Home and Abroad

    Last offered Fall 2023

    In this course, students will investigate, critique and define the concepts migration and diaspora with primary attention to the experiences of African Americans in the United States and Europe. Drawing on a broad definition of performance, students will explore everything from writing and painting to sports and dance to inquire how performance reflects, critiques and negotiates migratory experiences in the African diaspora. For example, how did musician Sidney Bechet's migration from New Orleans to Chicago to London influence the early jazz era? How did Katherine Dunham's dance performances in Germany help her shape a new black dance aesthetic? Why did writer James Baldwin go all the way to Switzerland to write his first novel on black, religious culture in Harlem? What drew actor/singer Paul Robeson to Russia, and why did the U.S. revoke his passport in response to his speeches abroad? These questions will lead students to investigate multiple migrations in the African diasporic experience and aid our exploration of the reasons for migration throughout history and geography. In addition to critical discussions and written analysis, students will explore these topics through their own individual and group performances in class. No prior performance experience is necessary. [ more ]

    COMP 320 TUT Kafka

    Last offered Spring 2023

    "It's so Kafkaesque!" We love to use the most famous Austro-Hungarian-Czech-Jewish writer of all time to characterize puzzling and dispiriting situations. But close examination of Franz Kafka's work and life reveals a multi-dimensional world that goes far beyond the cliché. Jewish in an increasingly anti-Semitic environment, German-speaking surrounded by Czech-speakers, deeply alone in a family that didn't understand him, Kafka produced texts that simultaneously demand and refuse to be interpreted. In this tutorial we will begin with intensive readings of selected short stories and parables, then move on to an exploration of Kafka's own words from diaries and letters, as well as secondary sources. The course will conclude with discussions of how Kafka's texts and their contexts might relate to contemporary conditions and/or to students' own lives and thoughts. This will be a modified tutorial, with five groups of three students apiece. Conducted in English. [ more ]

    COMP 321 LEC Groovin' the Written Word: The Role of Music in African American Literature

    Last offered Fall 2016

    In an interview with Paul Gilroy, Toni Morrison once said, "Music provides a key to the whole medley of Afro-American artistic practices." Morrison is not the only one who believes that music speaks to numerous aspects of the African American experience. From Sterling Brown and Zora Neale Hurston to John Edgar Wideman and Suzan Lori-Parks, many African American authors have drawn on music to take political stands, shape creative aesthetics, and articulate black identity. In this course, students will explore the work of these authors and more, investigating music's ability to represent and critique African American culture in their literature. Texts will cover a range of literary forms including poetry, plays, short stories and novels alongside theoretical and critical essays. Students will discuss such key issues as assimilation into mainstream culture, authenticity claims on black music, and music used as a tool for protest. Additionally, class assignments will include musical examples in spirituals/gospel, blues, jazz, and rock/rhythm and blues. While this class requires students to practice in-depth literary and performance analysis skills, students are not required to have technical musical knowledge. [ more ]

    COMP 322(S) SEM Comic Lives: Graphic Novels & Dangerous Histories of the African Diaspora

    This course explores how the graphic novel has been an effective, provocative and at times controversial medium for representing racialized histories. Drawing on graphic novels such as the late Congressman John Lewis' March and Ebony Flowers' Hot Comb, this course illustrates and critiques multiple ways the graphic novel commingles word and image to create more sensorial access into ethnic traumas, challenges and interventions in critical moments of resistance throughout history. Students will practice analyzing graphic novels with the help of critical essays, reviews and film; the chosen texts will center on Africana cultures, prompting students to consider how the graphic novel may act as a useful alternate history for marginalized peoples. During the course, students will build comic creation and analysis skills through short exercises, eventually building up to the final project of a graphic short story that illustrates historical and/or autobiographical narratives. No art experience is required, only an openness to expanding one's visual awareness and composition skills. This course is often taught in collaboration with the Williams College Museum of Art's Object Lab program, which allows the class to have its own space and art objects that are directly related to the course topic. This class may feature Object Lab participation, film screenings, and collaborations with guest speakers. [ more ]

    COMP 324 TUT Japanese Art and Visual Culture: Private/Public/Pop

    Last offered Fall 2022

    This tutorial offers a survey of Japanese art and visual culture across time and media, with particular attention to two areas: the links between different artistic media, and the relationship between art and its audience. We'll begin with early court diaries and related scroll paintings as examples of "private" art. Then we'll move through progressively more public visual media of the 17th through 21st centuries: Kanô screen painting; nô, kabuki, and puppet theater; premodern architecture; popular woodblock prints; turn-of-the-century photography; and finally some examples of contemporary popular culture like comics, animation, and/or film. We will focus on the specificities of each medium while simultaneously developing formal visual reading skills that can work across different media. [ more ]

    COMP 325 SEM American Social Dramas

    Last offered Fall 2016

    As Shakespeare wrote memorably in As You Like It, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Sociologists have heeded Shakespeare's wisdom, arguing that social and political events are "performances" that take shape in accordance with familiar cultural scripts, and indeed that social actors implicitly interpret real-world events using plot structures from literary and dramatic genres such as romance, irony, comedy, and tragedy. We will explore this thesis through the lens of contemporary American political events, including the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, September 11, Hurricane Katrina, the 2012 presidential election, and current debates over Confederate symbolism. We will also pay careful attention to the unfolding drama associated with the 2016 presidential election. How do social performances and struggles to "control the narrative" shape the meanings and outcomes of political events? Are they merely "spectacles," or wellsprings for genuine civic participation? What role do political comedy, satire, and social media play in shaping the trajectory of contemporary events? Major authors will include Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, J.L. Austin, Erving Goffman, and Jeffrey Alexander. Throughout the semester, each student will develop a significant project on a political event of their choosing. [ more ]

    COMP 326 TUT Queer Temporalities

    Last offered Spring 2017

    Birth, childhood, adolescence, college, adulthood, career, marriage, family, mid-life, old age, death, afterlife. How are all these facets of being human imagined as stages in time, as axes on certain progressive lines that delineate human social relations? How do we experience and represent time, and what factors might account for both our experiences and our representations? What are some of the ways that people experience and mark the passing of time? What are some of the different ways that people have made sense of time and themselves in time? How have our conceptions of time and our demarcations of lifecycles shifted historically? How do people whose experiences do not align with dominant cultural social stages negotiate ideas of lifecycle and timing? Especially for individuals and peoples who have been denied self-representation and narratives of place, how do competing notions of time, history, space, and location get negotiated? In this course, drawing from within the broad corpus of queer theory (including theorists such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Elizabeth Freeman, J. Halberstam, and José Esteban Muñoz) we will examine some non-linear, non-normative, and interruptive approaches to making sense of time, space-time, and self within time. [ more ]

    COMP 327 SEM Romanticism, Belatedly

    Last offered Fall 2023

    What is Romanticism? Instead of searching for an answer at the movement's supposed point of origin (1790-1830, in Germany, England, and France), we will begin in early twentieth-century South Asia. In the nineteenth century, English Romantic poetry and, to a lesser extent, ethico-political and aesthetic ideas associated with German Idealism circulated in South Asia as part of a colonial education aimed at producing "a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect" (Macaulay). The intentions of this plan of education aside, it unwittingly opened channels for literary, philosophical, and political exchange that were harmful to colonial rule, and essential to how we understand worlds of literature today. Behind the backs of its homegrown, self-anointed inheritors, Romanticism in the "colonies" led multiple other lives and was transformed in encounters that must--belatedly--be read back into its originary texts. Hence, in counter-chronological fashion, in this class we will begin with important postcolonial works by Faiz Ahmad Faiz (Urdu), Suryakant Tripathi Nirala (Hindi), Mahadevi Verma (Hindi), Sarojini Naidu (English), Mohammad Iqbal (Urdu and Persian), and Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali), to move on to Karl Marx and Heinrichs Heine (German), Charles Baudelaire (French), and George Eliot (English), to end with John Keats (English), William Wordsworth (English), and G.W.F. Hegel (German). In considering these texts with an eye to poetics and interpretation, we will pay close attention to concepts that they bring to the fore, key among them "belatedness" (Nachträglichkeit), "allegory", "critique," "non-identity." We will read non-English language texts in translation, though we will have occasion to discuss originals. [ more ]

    COMP 329(S) SEM Literary History: Shakespeare, Dickinson, Celan, Knausgaard

    This course will consider literature as a distinctive kind of historical object, one that emerges within a specific linguistic, cultural, and political context and that, nevertheless, travels far beyond its point of origin into unknown and, indeed, unknowable futures. The four figures who will concern us this semester are interested in one another - the later writers are careful readers of the earlier ones - but our thinking will go beyond reception history and the dynamics of literary influence. Instead, we will focus on the way in which literature's own temporality structures its history and, indeed, the way in which history itself might be conceived in literary terms. We will read a lot of lyric poems, but we will end the semester with perhaps the most important contemporary European novel. We will also read a significant body of theory and criticism, including works by Theodor Adorno, Giorgio Agamben, Maurice Blanchot, Martin Buber, Sharon Cameron, Anne Carson, Jonathan Culler, Joel Fineman, Virginia Jackson, Boris Maslov, and Sianne Ngai. [ more ]

    COMP 330 SEM New Orleans as Muse: Literature, Music, Art, Film and Theatre in the City

    Last offered Spring 2020

    This course will look at the representation of a city and how it has influenced artists. Students will read, listen to, and view a selection of the literature, music, film and art that represent the city from both pre-flooding and current re-building. Reading selections will include examples such as Harper's Weekly (Lafrcadio Hearn), The Awakening (Kate Chopin), A Streetcar Named Desire (Tennessee Williams), The Moviegoer (Walker Percy), Why New Orleans Matters (Tom Piazza), A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy O'Toole), New Orleans Sketches (William Faulkner), One Dead in the Attic (Chris Rose). Film examples such as A Streetcar Named Desire, An Interview with a Vampire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, When the Levees Broke, Treme, Waiting for Godot (in the 9th Ward). Music selections from examples such as Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, The Meters, Kermit Ruffins and the Rebirth Brass Band. Art selections will come from a variety of sources such as THE OGDEN Museum of Southern Art and Prospect 1, 2, & 3. [ more ]

    COMP 331 TUT The Brothers Karamazov

    Last offered Fall 2023

    Widely hailed as one of the greatest novels ever written, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov contains a series of enigmas, not the least of which is precisely who murdered the Karamazov father. In addition to exploring the shared guilt of all four of the brothers Karamazov in the crime of patricide, Dostoevsky poses the most probing questions of his day: Are families tied together merely by blood or by deeper spiritual bonds? Is religious faith possible in an age of reason, science, and technology? Can man's earthly laws ever carry out divine justice? Is humanity prepared to bear the burden of responsibility that comes with freedom? This tutorial will spend an entire semester exploring Dostoevsky's masterwork, and we will read a variety of secondary sources alongside The Brothers Karamazov, including history, philosophy, and literary theory. Our goal will be to understand Dostoevsky's answers to these so-called "accursed questions" through the unique artistic form of The Brothers Karamazov. [ more ]

    COMP 332 SEM Popular Culture in the Arab World: Youth, Populism, and Politics

    Last offered Fall 2022

    Since the uprisings in the Arab world in 2011 and the counter-revolutions that followed, much attention has been paid to the significant role of the "popular" in creating social and political transformations. The voice of the youth and "the street," in particular, emerged as massive sources and sites for political mobilization. But, are these categories identical? Does youth culture equal popular culture? This survey course is designed to provide students with an introduction to the different layers that constitute popular culture in the Arab world since the decolonization of Arab states in the 1950s. Questions that we will ask include: What constitutes "popular culture" in the Arab world? How is it different than folk culture, mass culture, or "high" culture? Who are the key players in the creation and dissemination of "popular" culture? Besides globalization, for example, what other social, political and economic dynamics engulf the definition of the "popular"? What are modes of self-fashioning and representation of Arab identity that characterize this culture? To answer these questions we will examine original sources (with English translation) that include a graphic novel, political cartoon and graffiti, documentaries, TV shows, soap operas, video clips, music, comedy, blogs, news and social media. A selection of essays from anthropology, Arab culture studies, political science, journalism, and online videos will be used to provide historical and critical context for the material discussed in class. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    COMP 333 SEM Fanaticism

    Last offered Fall 2023

    From the early modern period on, writers of literature and political philosophy have repudiated fanaticism, whether as a religious, political, or amorous posture. But what is fanaticism, and why should it be considered such a threat? In this course, we will examine these questions by considering literary texts that dramatize fanaticism in light of accounts by philosophers and historians. Readings will draw on literary works by Spenser, Swift, M. Shelley, Hogg, Dickens, Eliot, Conrad, among others, and political philosophy and historical writings by Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Kant, Diderot, Burke, Hume, Carlyle, Adorno, and a range of recent critics. We will also watch films by Riefenstahl, Hitchcock and Pontecorvo, and look at paintings, drawings and sculpture by Fragonard, Goya, and Shibonare. Since fanaticism has recently had considerable political currency, we will also examine contemporary accounts that reanimate the debates and concerns of the course. [ more ]

    COMP 334(S) SEM Imagining Joseph

    Beloved son, rival brother, faithful servant, dreamer, seer, object of desire, lover, husband, bureaucrat, Joseph is one of the most fully-limned and compelling figures in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptural traditions. The story of Joseph unfolds over fourteen chapters in the Hebrew Bible, and is the subject of the fourth longest sura in the Qur'an. Through millennia, the story of Joseph has inspired a wealth of interpretations, commentary, apocrypha, re-tellings, and back-story, including an apocryphal book of scripture about Joseph and his wife, Asenath, Sufi poetry about Joseph and Zuleikha (Potiphar's wife), a trilogy by the 20th century German novelist Thomas Mann, a musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber, and many expressions in Western visual art. The course will explore these various expressions, looking to them for the ways in which Joseph has captured the imaginations of peoples and cultures across time and space. The course will be organized as a collaborative seminar in which the class will read the foundational scriptures together, followed by thematic discussions to which students will contribute insights from their own readings of particular peripheral texts. Students will learn the pleasures of close and intense exegetical reading in approaching the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, as well as the more expansive pleasures of linking post-scriptural expressions together. [ more ]

    COMP 335(F) SEM Poetry of Indignation: Poetics and Transnational Liberation

    Poetry is usually associated with beautiful, metered, and charged language. However, beyond its poeticity, poetry has also functioned as a tool of liberation and transnational construction of identities and solidarities. States have national poets, and, in many countries, national anthems were written by famous poets. From Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi and Claude McKay to Pablo Neruda, poetry has acted as a space for life, rebellion, resistance, revolution, and the defense of a common humanity that transcends the barriers of language and national aesthetics. This course draws on a variety of materials from the Caribbean to Africa and from the Middle East to India to conceptualize a "poetics of indignation" against slavery, social injustice, colonization, authoritarianism, capitalism, and globalization. The students in this course will read poets, such as Okot p'Bitek, Derek Walcott, Tsitsi Jaji, Mahmoud Darwish, and Pablo Neruda, among many other poets, to examine how poetics changed and shifted across times and geographic boundaries while retaining a commitment to indignation, rebellion, and anger at almost the same recurring oppressive forces. [ more ]

    COMP 336 SEM The Banlieue in Literature, Music, and Film

    Last offered Spring 2022

    The banlieue looms large in the French collective imagination. From its origins in medieval law, the term banlieue at the end of the 20th century has taken on multiple, at times overlapping, but almost exclusively negative meanings. It designates a peripheral geographical space often in contrast to its city center, social exclusion, "urban culture"--as in Hip Hop-produced within that space, and last but not least the symbolic bias through which its inhabitants are viewed (Vieillard-Baron). In this course, we will examine various constructions of the banlieue in French music, a manifesto, film, blogs, and literature to focus on the analytical, contestatory and affirmative dimensions of these narratives. Two decades after the film La haine, and ten years after the riots, how are filmmakers, artists, authors, and scholars of the banlieue reimagining and reframing the banlieue? What do current depictions of banlieues in the French media tell us about the State, French politics, and the state of French politics? What do "banlieue films" and "banlieue lit" tell us about the banlieue? In this course, conducted in French, we will read, watch, and listen to various constructions of the banlieue in French music, film, and literature to focus on the contestatory and affirmative dimensions of these narratives. [ more ]

    COMP 338 STU The Culture of Carnival

    Last offered Fall 2018

    Carnival is a regenerative festival as well as a transgressive one. It is a time for upheavals and recreating for one day, a new world order. Men dress as women, women dress as men, the poor become kings; drink and sex and outrageous behavior is sanctioned. We will look at festivals in such places as New Orleans, Venice, and Rio. Central to this course are the cultural and religious lives of these societies, and how these festivals exist politically in a modern world as theatre and adult play. A variety of sources will be used, such as newspaper accounts, films, photography, personal memoirs and essays on the subject. [ more ]

    COMP 340 SEM Literature and Psychoanalysis

    Last offered Spring 2019

    The British psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott once wrote: "It is a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found." This course will explore the many ways in which writing enacts this paradox, examining in the process several main strands of psychoanalytic thought in relation to literature that precedes, accompanies, and follows it in history. Approximately the first three-fourths of the course will involve close readings of theoretical and literary texts, which will be shared in a seminar format. In the latter portion of the course, students will work with each other and with the instructor on analyzing the processes of reading and writing as they produce original psychoanalytic readings of texts of their choice. All readings in English. [ more ]

    COMP 341 SEM Cinematic Representations of Work and Migration after the Wall

    Last offered Fall 2017

    The increased flow of migrants from East to West and from South to North into the center of Europe and the simultaneous tightening of restrictions against illegal migration have brought to the forefront issues of labour, gender, and precarity, citizenship and cultural belonging. We will analyze feature films and documentaries that trace the changing face of work and migration, with an emphasis on flows from countries the former east bloc and Africa to Europe. We will discuss negative effects of globalized capitalism, such as the monetization of feeling and personal relations (Harvey), the concept of intensification and the disembodied state (Nealon and Foucault), but also ask what new opportunities might arise, and for which groups. We will study the depiction of manual labour, illegal migration, women as caregivers, Internet marriage, sex work, and the migrant as a raced and othered body. Theory by Dina Iordanova and William Brown, Ewa Mazierska, Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, Jeffrey Nealon, Lara Águstin, Angela Melitopoulos, Lauren Berlant and Mieke Bal. Films will likely include: Illegal, Working Man's Death,, Lichter (Lights), Code Unknown, The Flower Bridge, Occident, Since Otar Left, Losers and Winners, Whore's Glory, Le Havre and Time Out. [ more ]

    COMP 342 SEM Elizabeth Bishop in the Americas

    Last offered Spring 2020

    Elizabeth Bishop has emerged as one of the most important poets of the 20th century. She is admired not only for her dazzling mastery of the craft but also her adventurous life as a world traveler. Her more than two decades living in Brazil and translating the culture and literature of that country for a North American audience, for instance, make her life and work a rich focal point for cross-cultural study. At the center of the course will be Bishop's stunning meditations on childhood, memory, travel, lesbian sexuality, gender identity, ecology, and race and class in the U.S. and Brazil. We will look at how Bishop intertwines personal and global historical encounters in order to raise serious ethical questions about our shared history of conquest and sense of place in the Americas from the 16th century to the Cold War period of the twentieth. What is ultimately at stake in our claiming of a "home"? We also read a number of the writers in North and South America who were closely connected to Bishop, from Robert Lowell and Ernest Hemingway in North America, to Pablo Neruda and Clarice Lispector in South America. Ultimately, we study how craft, poetic process, and an ethical eye on the world can open up the study of poetry and poetics in the 21st century. [ more ]

    COMP 343(F) SEM Shakespeare on Page, Stage and Screen: Text to Performance

    Four centuries on, Shakespeare still challenges us. How should we weigh the respective claims of our own era's concerns--with matters of gender, sexuality, race, class, or materiality, for instance--against historicist attention to the cultural, political and theatrical circumstances in which his plays were actually written? And when it comes to realizing the texts in dramatic performance, such challenges--and opportunities--multiply further. Critical fidelity to Shakespeare's times, language and theatrical milieu prioritizes a historical authenticity that can be constraining or even sterilizing. At the other extreme, staging the plays with the primary aim of making them "speak to our times" risks revisionary absorption in our own interests. We will read six plays, of different genres and written at different periods of Shakespeare's career. These will likely be Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Close reading of the texts will be the priority, but we will also attend to the demands and opportunities of performance, and assess a range of recent film and stage productions. [ more ]

    COMP 344 SEM Love and Revolution

    Last offered Fall 2021

    "Love" is here a kind of shorthand for questions of sexuality and gender: why do novels, plays, and films about contemporaneous political revolutions so often get caught up in seemingly superfluous and unrelated disturbances in the field of sexuality and gender relations? In this course we will study such works, which are especially responsive to social currents whose logic they cannot fully articulate. In these texts a state of political revolution almost irresistibly touches off sexual subversiveness as well, inviting the reader or spectator to interpret just what sexual upheaval has to do with political revolution. We will take up this problem in the setting of several historical revolutions and some literary and cinematic works that represent them: for example, the French Revolution (Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro and the Marquis de Sade's Philosophy in the Bedroom); the Irish Revolution (plays by Synge, O'Casey, and Yeats); the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 (Bely's Petersburg, Babel's Red Cavalry); the revolution constituted by Nazism (Hitler's Mein Kampf, the films Triumph of the Will and The Damned); the Prague Spring (Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being); and the Algerian Revolution (Pontecorvo's film The Battle of Algiers). We will confront such questions as why an author might suggest that revolution can only be sustained through incest and libertinism; why passionate nationalist revolutionaries should be scandalized by the idea of oedipal violence and take refuge in myths of female purity; how to interpret revolution and gender relations in the context of disparate cultures. We will examine historical and social texts as well as artistic ones, learning how literature and history might be read together and inversely: that is, learning to read literature or film as a kind of political event, and to read history literarily, with an eye to its rhetoric and figuration. [ more ]

    COMP 345(F) SEM Wonderland(s): Alice in Translation

    "What do you mean by that?" said the Caterpillar, sternly. "Explain yourself!" "I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, Sir," said Alice, "because I'm not myself, you see?" The confusion around personal identity, which Alice is seen to experience as she makes her way through Wonderland, can be examined productively as an allegory of translation. Beyond its representation of the developmental and socio-cultural transitions of a child, what happens to Alice, a seminal text in children's literature, when it travels down the rabbit hole to a new linguistic wonderland? For starters, the seven-year-old girl becomes Marie in Danish, Arihi in Maori, Ai-chan in Japanese, and Paapachchi in Kannada. Then there are the highly idiosyncratic humor, word play, embedded English nursery rhymes, and iconic illustrations by Tenniel. How do they fare in new linguistic, cultural, and even genre contexts? Lewis Carroll told his publisher in 1866: "Friends here seem to think the book is untranslatable." And yet. Over 200 translations later, including Kazakh, Shona, Papiamento, Braille, and Emoji, Alice continues to delight and confound readers all over the world and to pose myriad challenges as well as opportunities for translators. This course will serve as an introduction to the theory and practice of translation using Carroll's Alice as an anchoring primary text. We will examine key disciplinary issues and concepts, such as equivalence, domestication, foreignization, and autonomy, and challenge the old canard that translation leads ineluctably, and exclusively, to loss. [ more ]

    COMP 346 SEM Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions: Narratives from the Arab World, Latin America and the Caribbean

    Last offered Spring 2019

    This course offers a South-South comparative reading of revolutions and counter-revolutions in the second half of the 20th century in the Arab World, Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout we will read novels and watch films that focus on histories of social movements, post-independence revolutions, indigenous autonomies, dictatorship, and counter-revolutions with the aim to investigate narratives of people power vs. absolute power, insurgency vs. neocolonialism, utopias and dystopias. A comparative and critical reading of these texts will introduce you to the complex histories of national liberation, state terrorism and democratic imagination in two geographies in the Global South that share similar struggles against Euro-American imperialism. These texts will also familiarize you with an alternative, yet foundational, canon of Arabic, Latin American and Caribbean literatures and cinema, particularly from the post-Sixties generation in the Arab world and the post-Boom Latin American generation. Although this course is conceptualized as a South-South comparative reading of revolution and counter-revolution, it does not adhere to strict geographical parallels between the Arab World, Latin America and the Caribbean. It is mapped, however, according to major critical questions and thematic tropes that inform this topic. For example, how do contemporary Iraqi and Chilean writers and filmmakers write an aesthetic of evil in narratives that investigate the legacy of prolonged dictatorship? How do national novels in Mexico and Palestine depict parallel movements of indigenous resistance and anti-capitalist struggles? What motifs of dystopia are illustrated in narratives about post-revolution civil wars in Argentina and Syria? What histories of popular nationalism and socialism are revealed in feminist memoirs from Egypt and Cuba from the 1960s and 1970s? [ more ]

    COMP 347 TUT Silence, Loss, and (Non)Memory in Austria 1900-the Present

    Last offered Fall 2018

    One hundred years after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I, Austria is a tiny fragment of its former self. Since that signal loss, Austria's identity has been closely tied to its ghostly past, for better or for worse. Think of Austria and glittering Klimt paintings come to mind, or the majestic Alps of The Sound of Music, or perhaps a melody from Mozart or Strauss plays in the ear. And no wonder: tourism is one of the largest industries in Austria; the nation lives on being seen and heard. But a great deal is invisible and inaudible to the tourist in Austria. In this course we will explore the hidden core of Austrian culture from 1900 to the present. We'll begin with the tremendous intellectual ferment surrounding Sigmund Freud's elaboration of the unconscious at the turn of the century, from Hofmannsthal's paralysis of language through Schnitzler's streams of consciousness to Kafka's carefully crafted renderings of inner worlds. Then we will turn to an examination of the phenomenon of loss at the end of World War I: loss of empire, loss of relevance, loss of hierarchical certainty. Stefan Zweig documents this phenomenon timelessly. The second half of the course will focus on the driver of Austrian identity from 1938 on, the so-called Anschluss (annexation) by the Nazis, and the (non)memory of the horrors that ensued. We will probe the idiosyncratic mixture of trauma and guilt that characterizes Austria today through the work of contemporary authors and filmmakers. Psychoanalytic theory, especially recent discussions of the transgenerational transmission of trauma and perpetrator guilt, will provide a conceptual framework for the literary works. Austria will serve as a case study of the psychology of right-wing populism and the resistance against it in the early 21st century; at the end of the course, we will compare the situation there with the United States. [ more ]

    COMP 348 SEM Drawing Democracy: Graphic Narratives as Democratic Ideals

    Last offered Spring 2022

    This course examines the graphic narrative in terms of how each author/illustrator employs narrative elements (plotting, structure, characterization, text, and visuals) to express social realities within the context of democratic ideals. Regular assignments and in-class exercises throughout the course offer students the opportunity to create their own graphic narratives. [ more ]

    COMP 349 SEM Max Weber & Critical Theory or Rationalization & Its Discontents

    Last offered Spring 2017

    We live in an age characterized by unprecedented technological and scientific progress--we have unraveled the building blocks of life, witnessed the birth of stars at the edge of the galaxy, and harnessed the power of the atom--and yet modern life often appears fundamentally meaningless and lacking in ultimate value--we work, we eat, we excrete, we die, perhaps in the interim shuffling paperwork, sucking up to our boss, and asking ourselves, "What kind of dining set defines me as a person?" Few thinkers have explored the roots of this modern ennui as thoroughly as Max Weber, a German sociologist often regarded as the single most important social theorist of the twentieth century. Weber wanted to know why it was European civilization in particular that gave birth to the grand trifecta of rationality, science, and capitalism and how we have become enslaved by the very things that were supposed to have set us free. Weber's key innovation was to trace the grand trajectory of Western "rationalization"--the historical attempt to produce a world in which "one can, in principle, master all things by calculation." Further, he demonstrated how this rationalization produced not just mastery over nature, but also "the disenchantment of the world" - value fragmentation, hyper-specialization, bureaucracy, and ultimately the "iron cage" of modernity. The first part of this course will follow in Weber's footsteps by studying his theory of rationalization and by exploring it in different social spheres, such as the economy, the law, the professions, and the secularization of religion. The second half of the course will look at Weber's legacy in Critical Theory. It will show how thinkers such as Theodor Adorno, Georges Bataille, Jürgen Habermas, Max Horkheimer, Michael Löwy, and Alasdair MacIntyre suggested various lines of flight from the iron cage of modernity. [ more ]

    COMP 350(F) SEM Separation: An Introduction to Postcolonial Literature

    Few themes in the history of human societies have produced as much writing as that of separation--from a lover, from one's homeland, from God(s). In the past two centuries, this theme has been essential to representing experiences of exile and migration in the wake of the colonially mediated transition to world capitalism. In this course, we will take up the theme of separation as a privileged point of entry into postcolonial literature and towards understanding the multiple meanings of "postcoloniality." We will encounter examples in which this theme shapes critical thought and helps imagine new modes of existence, as well as those in which the grief of separation shades into such overpowering melancholy that writing becomes impossible. We will also look at what the preoccupation with separation can tell us about the ways human beings relate to human and non-human objects, and how they make and experience history. To think through these issues, we will read nineteenth and twentieth century works dealing with experiences of love, ecstasy, migrancy, and exile, composed in diverse geographical, socio-political, and linguistic contexts. We will read works (novels, poems, memoirs, essays) and watch films from South Asia, Egypt, the Caribbeans, the US, and Europe, composed in multiple languages (English, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, French, Arabic, Bengali and Malyalam). [ more ]

    COMP 351 SEM Friedrich Nietzsche: Philosophizing with a Hammer

    Last offered Spring 2018

    In one of his last major writings, Twilight of the Idols (Götzen-Dämmerung, 1889), Friedrich Nietzsche described his project as an attempt to sound out various established philosophical truths or intellectual "idols," saying, "they will be touched here with a hammer as with a tuning fork, these are the oldest, most convinced, puffed-up, and fat-headed idols you will ever find...And also the most hollow." To be sure, Nietzsche directed his often combative prose against everything from traditional religion to philosophy itself. Nietzsche is one of the most frequently cited and most frequently misunderstood philosophers of our current era. By reading Nietzsche's writings in context, this course will attempt to liberate Nietzsche from his later reputation. We will think with and sometimes against Nietzsche, focusing on his notions of religion, mythology, power, morality, and enlightenment, and we will pay special attention to his reflections on the limits of reason/knowledge. Along the way, students will get a new sense of Nietzsche's most famous theoretical formulations including "the death of God," the Übermensch, and the split between Dionysian/Apollonian modes of thought. [ more ]

    COMP 352 TUT Mysticism: Vision, Writing, History

    Last offered Spring 2020

    The promise of God's real presence in the world lies at the heart of Christianity as a messianic and scriptural faith. But mystics, who seek out and bear witness to their own experiences of the divine, have often been viewed with suspicion by church and state authorities. At stake in these confrontations between orthodoxy and the individual witness are questions of knowledge and power. To whom does God speak, who speaks for God, and how can anyone, whether mystic or priest, be certain? We will learn how these questions have inflected certain passages in the history of Christian belief and practice: the flourishing culture of mystical writing by medieval women, the efforts of some Protestant sects to distribute authority more horizontally, and early modern philosophers' criticisms of prophecy and fanaticism. But our deepest concerns will be literary and aesthetic. What modes of writing did mystics use to express what was, in fact, inexpressible? What role did visual art play in visionary experience? And how has mysticism influenced the work two of the twentieth century's most significant theorists of language, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jacques Derrida? [ more ]

    COMP 354 SEM The Literary Afterlife

    Last offered Fall 2017

    What do writers mean when they say that they will live on after death through their books? In this course, we will explore the long history of thinking about literature as a way to compensate for mortality, and we will compare the literary afterlife to religious and philosophical versions of eternity. Many of the writers on our syllabus were anxious about the compatibility of the pursuit of worldly fame with the desire for Christian salvation. We will study how their sense of a conflict between the two afterlives changed over time: from the recovery of pagan antiquity during the Renaissance, across the theological transformations of the Reformation, to the consequences of print. The course deals with some of literature's greatest ambitions--to cheat death, to make a lasting contribution to human culture--but we will often find ourselves caught in an undertow of skepticism. Is writing any less susceptible to decay than human bodies are? If so, is literary accomplishment worth the risk of one's soul? Authors and texts will include Sappho, Ovid, Lucretius, Ecclesiastes, Augustine, Petrarch, Julian of Norwich, Montaigne, Shakespeare's Hamlet and Richard II, Jonson, Donne, and Milton. [ more ]

    COMP 356 SEM The Myth of Venice and its Modern Aftermath

    Last offered Spring 2018

    The Republic of Venice existed for over a millennium, during which time its historical image came to be enmeshed with mythical representations, such as the image of the city rising out of the waters of the lagoon, or the personification of the city itself as a Queen of the Adriatic. This course begins in the year 1797, at the end of the Republic, and the emergence of an extensive body of literature centered on Venice and its mythical facets. Readings will include Romantic views of Venice and the 20th century reshaping of the literary myth surrounding the city. A journey into this fascinating tradition will shed light on how the literary and visual representation of Venice, rather than the focus on a nostalgic evocation of the death of the Republic, became a premise of exploration for literary modernity. Toward the end of the course we will leave the lagoon to explore the postmodern recreations of Venice around the world (from Los Angeles and Las Vegas, to Macao, Yongin, and beyond) Readings will include excerpts from Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, John Ruskin's Stones of Venice, as well as full readings of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, Marinetti's Futurist manifestos, Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, and more. We will also examine movies, such as Luchino Visconti's Senso and Death in Venice and Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now. This course is offered in English; all texts are provided in translation. [ more ]

    COMP 359 SEM Foucault: Confessions of the Flesh

    Last offered Spring 2022

    The French philosopher, historian, and social critic, Michel Foucault (1926-1984) has had a massive influence across a range of disciplines. Indeed, in 2019, Google Scholar ranked Foucault as the number one most highly cited scholar in the Humanities and Social Sciences. While many of his contemporaries have faded in importance, Foucault's writings on power, madness, the history of sexuality, and the structures of domination and governmentality have become central to the theoretical canon of a range of academic disciplines. To be a scholar in the humanities today is often to be in Foucault's shadow. But despite the many references to his work, Foucault is frequently misunderstood and subsequent scholars often attribute to him positions he would have repudiated. Now almost forty years after his death, his work is also long overdue for a reappraisal as we come to understand Foucault better as a person and especially as the final, and posthumous, volume of his History of Sexuality, Confessions of the Flesh, has only just appeared and been translated into English. In this course we will mainly read Foucault supplemented with occasional contextual readings. Although we will touch on his earlier writings, this seminar will emphasize his middle-to-late period (beginning with The Archaeology of Knowledge) and including selections from his later monographs, lectures, interviews, and short writings. It will culminate in the unfinished intellectual and political project that occupied Foucault in his last days. We will think with and often against Foucault, focusing primarily on questions of power, knowledge, truth, and addressing his later emancipatory gesture toward "technologies of the self." We will also appraise the methodologies that Foucault described as "archaeology" and "genealogy." We will historicize Foucault in his life and cultural context and ask how much of his arguments still apply today. What blind-spots did he have? Which of his ideas are worth consolidating and which need repudiating? How might we go beyond Foucault? [ more ]

    COMP 360 SEM Boucicault to McDonagh: Irish Theatre, 1870 to the present

    Last offered Fall 2023

    During the Irish Literary Revival of c.1885-1920, Irish writers sought to assert "Irishness" as culturally distinctive, and resisted the marginalizing impacts of British colonial rule. The achievement of Independence in 1923 brought years of insularity and censorship, but over the past three decades Ireland's embrace of globalization and the hybridizing impacts of postmodernism has led to a remarkable flowering of creative vitality. This course will trace the evolution of Irish theatre over the past century-and-a-half. We will read plays by Dion Boucicault, Oscar Wilde, W.B.Yeats, J.M.Synge, Augusta Gregory, George Bernard Shaw, Douglas Hyde, Sean O'Casey, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Brian Friel, Marina Carr, Frank McGuinness, Christina Reid, Conor McPherson, and Martin McDonagh, and also chart the course of the founding and history of the Abbey Theatre, one of first National Theatres in Europe. [ more ]

    COMP 361(F) SEM Repairing a Broken World: Intro to North African Contemporary Art

    How do artists respond to a world in crisis? How does visual art engage violent histories, injured bodies, social injustice and ecological disaster? In this course we will explore the political and ethical concept of repair as it emerges in the work of contemporary North African visual artists. Repair is both a material and symbolic transformational practice of putting together something that is torn or broken. It is never complete, nor does it redeem a history of harm or violence. Rather repair is an invitation: a bringing of people, histories, objects, buildings, feelings and geographies into relation with one another in order to link worlds that have been splintered and separated. It is also a call to imagine other futures. North African contemporary artists have deeply engaged in this type of repair work, attending to colonial history, economies of extraction and environmental damage, race and slavery, housing inequity, gender identity and broken transmission of memory. We will dive into the work of individual artists as well as collectives while reading theoretical texts about broken-world thinking, reparative epistemology, alternative archives, and material reparations. [ more ]

    COMP 362(S) SEM Stories We Tell

    From The Moth to StoryCorps to Williams College's own Storytime, stories are ubiquitous in contemporary society. Indeed, sociologists have argued that social life is itself "storied"--that we locate ourselves within familiar narrative structures, using them to "construct" identities and "tell" our lives. Stories, in this view, are not only the stuff of literature, but also the very fabric of social life: the foundation for individual and collective identities. This course grapples with the role of stories and storytelling in modern social life. What role do stories play in constituting personal identity? What cultural templates structure the stories we tell? Why are memoirs so popular, and how can we explain the more recent resurgence of interest in oral forms of storytelling? What role does storytelling play in politics and social movements? Specific topics will include confessional culture, podcasts, memoir, politics, and social change. Along the way, we will pay explicit attention to medium, and consider how sociologists might learn from journalists, documentarians, and memoirists to convey stories from their own research. [ more ]

    COMP 363 SEM Where are all the Jews?

    Last offered Spring 2024

    Until four decades ago, many Maghrebi and Middle Eastern cities and villages teemed with Jewish populations. However, the creation of the Alliance Israelite Universelle's schools (1830s), the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the decolonization process in the Maghreb and the Middle East, and the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War accelerated the departure of Arab and Berber Jews from their homelands to other destinations, including France, Israel, Canada, the United States, and different Latin American countries. Arab and Berber Jews' departure from their ancestral lands left a socioeconomic and cultural void that Maghrebi and Middle Eastern cultural production has finally started to address, albeit shyly. The course will help students understand the depth of Jewish life in the Maghreb and the Middle East, and interrogate the local and global factors that led to their disappearance from both social and cultural memories for a long time. Reading fiction, autobiographies, ethnographies, historiographical works, and anthropological texts alongside documentaries films, the students will understand how literature and film have become a locus in which amnesia about Arab/Berber Jews is actively contested by recreating a bygone world. Resisting both conflict and nostalgia as the primary determinants of Jewish-Muslim relations, the course will help students think about multiple ways in which Jews and Muslims formed communities of citizens despite their differences and disagreements. [ more ]

    COMP 364 SEM Aestheticism & Decadence

    Last offered Spring 2018

    "Fin de Siècle": Despair over a seemingly perilous decline in moral standards, scandalous forms of art and writing, anxieties brought on by Britain's uneasy relation to its colonies, and the emergence of new dissident sexual and social identities, led some to fear (and others to celebrate) that the ways of Victorian Britain were not long for this world at end of the 19th century. This course will consider two loosely affiliated artistic movements, aestheticism and decadence, as responses both scandalized and scandalizing to this exhilarating period. The terms themselves are elusive; so, much of our work will entail tracing out the multiple and often contradictory uses of them. Do they designate a distinct cultural and historical moment, a loose set of writers and artists, a set of thematic preoccupations? Or, might we better understand aestheticism and decadence as a style of writing, or even of the self--one we are as likely to find in 21st-century New York as 19th-century London? We'll read writers such as Oscar Wilde, who reveled in amoral manifestos like "art for art's sake" by elevating artifice and shallowness to first principles of life; as well as Sherlock Holmes, who pursued something like "detection for detection's sake". Our reading will range across novels, plays, poetry, essays, and works that seem to exceed or fall short of those genres, all in the period that gave us both science fiction and the detective story. We'll be especially interested in attempts to rethink traditional social bonds in works that value solitude over sociality, the transient encounter over the enduring relationship, new forms of affective communities, and to think about how literary form might relate to those efforts. Along with fiction, essays, and drama, we'll explore their interrelation with the broad and compelling range of visual art produced in this period. Likely authors include: Huysmans, Wilde, H.G. Wells, Darwin, Conan Doyle, RL Stevenson, Kipling, Edith Wharton. [ more ]

    COMP 365 SEM Beckett, Pinter and Stoppard

    Last offered Fall 2017

    Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard have been amongst the most influential playwrights of the anglophone theatre over much of the last six decades. This course will explore their mutual concern with the capacities and dysfunctions of language, their questioning of Art's value and the scope for originality in the post-nuclear and postmodern era, and, above all, their collective focus on the extent to which selfhood may be realized in and through performance. Besides reading major plays, we will also give some consideration to the dramatic work crafted by these writers for radio, television and film, and to the political and social commitments animating and counterpointing their literary careers. Readings may include: Endgame, The Caretaker, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Krapp's Last Tape, The Homecoming, No Man's Land, Betrayal, Waiting for Godot, Dogg's Hamlet, The Invention of Love, Arcadia, Rock 'n' Roll, Not I, Rockaby, A Kind of Alaska, Catastrophe, The Real Thing, Indian Ink, Artist Descending a Staircase and One for the Road. Throughout, we will give consideration to these works as both literary and theatrical texts. [ more ]

    COMP 366 SEM Joyce, Woolf, and Proust

    Last offered Spring 2023

    This seminar focuses on novels by three of the most important writers of modernist fiction: Marcel Proust (Swann's Way, the first novel of his sequence In Search of Lost Time); Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse); and James Joyce (Ulysses, read in slightly abridged form). By juxtaposing these pathbreaking texts, we will examine the distinctive yet related ways in which they explore crucial preoccupations of modernism: the threat and the exhilaration of cultural loss in face of social and political transformations in the early twentieth century; the turn to memory, to art, and to objects as stays against de-stabilized subjectivity and as means of re-thinking value; the emergence of new forms of political and sexual identity; the heightening of consciousness to the verge of transport or disintegration; and the roots and perversities of desire. Students who have studied Ulysses in a previous course are welcome. [ more ]

    COMP 368 SEM Arab Women Writers: Remapping Urban Narratives

    Last offered Fall 2017

    In "The Lover of Blue Writing above the Sea," (1995) a poem written to console a lover after the death of his beloved, Syrian poet, Ghada al-Samman, pens: "If you are sad and burn the edge of my book/I shall come to you/like the genie in my grandmother's Damascene stories..." As these lines imply, the fantastic grandmother's Damascene stories have the power to equally amend broken hearts and restore memories of loss. In this course, we will adopt "the grandmother's Damascene stories" as a conceptual metaphor that guides our line inquiry into the intersection of Arab women's narrative and the city. We will read novels and short stories by Arab women writers about cities and capitals in the Arab world and the diaspora. The goal of this course is not only to familiarize students with prominent Arab women novelists, such as Hoda Barakat, Radwa Ashur, Liana Badr, Raja'a Alem, Alia Mamdouh, and Ahlam Mosteghanemi, among others, but also to introduce them to the literary and visual cartography of Beirut, Granada (via Cairo), Ramallah, Mecca, Baghdad, and Constantine, respectively. We will also read short stories about other cities in the world, such as New York, Paris, London, Buenos Aires and Tokyo among other world metropolis. Questions we will address include: How does the city appear as a protagonist? How do Arab women novelists represent nationhood, modernity, memory, love, war, sexuality and religion, among other themes, in their construction of urban narratives? How do these narratives map an Arab feminist metropolis? How do Arab women writers represent cities beyond the Arab world? To answer these questions, we will also look at Arab women's blogs and watch films that focus on the city as a site for spatial articulation of national histories, popular revolutions, and feminist public spheres. [ more ]

    COMP 369(F) SEM Indigenous Narratives: From the Fourth World to the Global South

    In the late 20th century, world literature has witnessed a "boom" in indigenous literature. Many critics and historians describe this global re-emergence of the subaltern and the indigenous in terms of literary justice fostered by post-colonial studies and the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, by the UN General Assembly on December 18, 1992. In this course, we will investigate this "indigenous boom" by reading novels and short stories from the Americas, the Middle East and North Africa from the 1970s to the present. Through these trans-regional and trans-historical peregrinations, our principal goal will be to examine and compare narratives about conquest, settler colonialism, colonial nationalism, indigeneity, sovereignty, indigenous epistemology and philosophy. At the same time, we will consider the following questions: How did pioneering indigenous women writers, such as the Laguna Pueblo Leslie Marmon Silko in the US and the Mayan playwrights of La Fomma in Chiapas, Mexico lead the feminist front of the indigenous literary renaissance? How did Palestinian folktales, Amazigh poetics in the Maghreb, and Mayan dream narratives in Mexico and Guatemala produce narratives of decolonial history? What does the aesthetics of magical realism in Arabic, Quechua and Spanish, respectively, as evident in the works of the Kurdish writer Salim Barakat (Syria) and the mestizo writer José María Arguedas (Peru) tell us about the intersection of race, ethnicity, and indigenous epistemology? What is the connection between the recent "boom" of English translations of Indigenous texts and neoliberalism, multiculturalism and neo-colonialism? Ultimately, our goal is to trace how these texts contributed to global indigenous literature and the trans-historical and trans-geographical connections between them. [ more ]

    COMP 370 TUT Archives of Global Solidarity: Records of Collective Memory of Emancipation

    Last offered Spring 2022

    Departing from the Arabic notions of takaful and taddamun as interlinked expressions of social and political solidarity, this course seeks to investigate the textual and visual cultural production of solidarity in the Arabic-speaking world. While both terms have informed the shaping of modern Arab politics in the mid 20th century--from the birth of the socialist state to the rise of pan-Arabism--their instrumentalization as key principles of internationalism, Third Worldism, trans-nationalism, and global camaraderie since the 1990s is parallel to the emergence of social movements and popular resistance across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. What is the meaning of solidarity and how it mobilized collective emancipation is the guiding question of this course. To interrogate this question we will read novels, poems, memoirs, labor unions and feminist manifestos, and essays that feature multidirectional solidarity and alliance building across borders of East-East and South-South. We will also examine visual and digital archives that documents particular historical moments that marked a turning point of global solidarity, such as the Spanish Civil War, the Cuban Revolution, the Algerian War, the Prague Spring, the Palestinian Intifada, the Zapatista Uprising, and most recently, the Arab Uprisings. As we approach these historical moments through a variety of texts and genres, we will identify encounters between activists and writers who established cross-regional movements and the cultural exchange between artistic collaborations. [ more ]

    COMP 377 SEM Legacies of the Gothic Novel: Feminism and Horror in the Transatlantic World

    Last offered Fall 2019

    Much maligned as a popular or "low" genre at its inception in the late eighteenth century, the gothic form has persisted in its popularity as well as crossed into "higher" forms of modernism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism. In this course, we will read key texts in the gothic mode-Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights among others-and follow the ways in which they are revisited and rewritten by contemporary American and Caribbean writers, filmmakers, and artists. Particularly, we will examine how these texts subvert the realist leanings of Anglo-American narrative fiction and its assumptions of enlightenment rationalism by way of two main processes: narrative hypertrophy and feminist revisions of horror. The class will take up select contemporary criticism on the gothic and horror in literature, film, and art. This course will be of interest to students curious about feminism, postcolonialism, cultural criticism, horror, and comparative literature. [ more ]

    COMP 378 SEM Proust's "In Search of Lost Time"

    Last offered Spring 2024

    In this seminar we will study Marcel Proust's novel-sequence In Search of Lost Time, widely regarded as one of the most transformative works of 20th-century fiction. The first-person narrative chronicling the life of a fictional figure bearing a close relationship to Proust himself spans several decades from the late 19th to the early 20th century, centering on French high society as it enters the modern world, shaped by historical events such as the Dreyfus Affair and the First World War. Proust's exploration of the consciousness of the protagonist, an aspiring writer, has led readers to see him as a philosopher of aesthetics, of the psyche, of time and memory, and of the nature of desire. His narrative ranges from meditations on such subjects to social satire to absorbing and sometimes soap opera-like plots exploring upward and downward social mobility and a wide array of sexual entanglements, straight and queer. Through his fluent prose, Proust renders the vicissitudes of desire, loss, and joy, of betrayal and emotional intransigence, and tests the power of memory and the imagination to recapture the past. Because of the length of In Search of Lost Time, the emphasis of the course will be more on reading (about 7 to 7½ hours per week) and less on writing (four or five 1½-page journal entries and a final paper of 8-10 pages) than the average 300-level course; and approximately one-third of the sequence will be bracketed as optional reading. [ more ]

    COMP 380 SEM Literary and Critical Theory in the Twentieth Century

    Last offered Fall 2023

    From the rise of modern literary criticism around 1900 to the explosion of high theory in the 1980s and 1990s, the twentieth century witnessed an international flowering of new ideas about how to interpret art and literature: Russian Formalism, American New Criticism, French Structuralism and Deconstruction, and a welter of post- prefixed concepts that claim to transcend national boundaries: the poststructural, the postmodern, the postcolonial, the posthuman. What are the ideas associated with these different movements, and how are they connected? Does each represent a radical break with previous ways of reading, or do they actually build on one another and evolve in a systematic way? And given the entanglement between criticism and teaching, which are the theories that seem to define the work we do (and want to do) here at Williams? This course will focus on a very careful reading of essays representing major 20th-century critical schools (and a couple of their earlier precursors), by critics like Plato, Schiller, Shklovsky, Richards, Barthes, Derrida, de Man, Beauvoir, and Butler. Written assignments will encourage you to parse these theories carefully and apply them to the literary texts that most interest you: prose or poetry from any time and place; film, visual art, or architecture; music, new media, or digital media, etc. [ more ]

    COMP 386 SEM Fiction of Beckett and Sebald

    Last offered Spring 2018

    This seminar explores the work of two of the most original and influential fiction-writers of the last half of the 20th century, Samuel Beckett and W. G. Sebald. The work of both writers was profoundly influenced by World War II and the Holocaust, and their fiction centers on issues of loss and memory, of decay (of bodies, things, cultures, traditions), of reason and imagination as fragile means of enduring privation. Yet material so sobering and often bleak has rarely been rendered so absorbingly, or with such unorthodox forms of beauty. Their methods for reinventing fiction differ. Beckett increasingly strips his fiction of details of time, place, and even event, and ultimately struggles to free his speaking voice from the burdens of narration itself, the better to focus attention on the simple but logically rigorous, brilliant, often comic effects of his spare language. Sebald, who sometimes called his novels "documentary fiction," fashions a blend of recollection, fiction, geo-cultural history, and dream-like meditation, focused on the decline of European civilizations; his more chromatic prose, marked by obliquity, melancholy, and dry wit, is filled with curious facts and haunting anecdotes. We will read some of Beckett's short fiction and his great trilogy, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable; Sebald's major works of fiction, Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz; and a few short stories and novellas by precursors or successors such as Kafka, Borges, and Thomas Bernhard. [ more ]

    COMP 387 TUT Ibsen, Chekhov and the emergence of Modern drama

    Last offered Spring 2022

    This course will center on the plays of Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov, key figures in the development of Modern European drama. Prospective readings will include Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879), The Wild Duck (1884), Rosmersholm (1886) and Hedda Gabler (1890); Chekhov's The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1900), Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904): along with August Strindberg's Creditors (1889) and Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband (1894). We will chart the development of dramatic realism and naturalism, and situate these plays in the context of the late-nineteenth century "ache of modernism", with supplemental readings that highlight changing conceptions of identity and subjectivity, emerging strains and contestations over gender and sexuality, and the wider sociological, political and technological changes of the period. The course will also be centrally concerned with these playwrights' innovative explorations of the investigations of theatre's capacities and limitations in representing social reality and the 'performance' of selfhood. [ more ]

    COMP 390(F) SEM Feminist and Queer Horror Films

    This course focuses on pairing theoretical readings with a variety of horror films with feminist or queer themes. Many tropes are associated with this genre - "the final girl" in slasher movies, "the transvestite murderer," femme lesbian vampires, supernatural BDSM figures, vampires as allegories for HIV/AIDS, werewolves as metaphors for FTM gender transitions or puberty, lonely mothers in creaky houses as unreliable narrators, Satanic spawn, and creepy long-haired girls. Some films reinforce gender stereotypes while others snap on more explicitly feminist and queer lenses. This course functions as a survey of many different genres, introducing students to classic 1970s films and working up to the present day and we will learn how these tropes developed and then were subverted by more modern day films such as those by A24 Studies and the new renaissance of Black horror, etc. Most films will focus on the US, with some notable exceptions in Japan, Spain, and elsewhere globally. There will be graphic content. You must be 18 or over to take this class. [ more ]

    COMP 401 SEM Senior Seminar: Rethinking the Public: the Arts Take on Neoliberalism

    Last offered Fall 2019

    Western neoliberalism is a predatory excrescence of late capitalism that overvalues competition, transferring the laws of the market to human relationships. It deliberately creates instability not only in the economic sphere but, more generally, in the social collective by encouraging dangerous risk-taking, fomenting crises and cementing systemic inequity, while suggesting to those under its sway that they are corporate 'entrepreneurs of self.' This model of self-management also extends into the sphere of intimate relationships. Of course, because predatory neoliberalism heavily favors a white investor model and is premised on white norms, the racialized body is considered a priori subaltern and subservient. Humanistic and artistic approaches (while not per se immune or outside of neoliberal constraints) effectively polemicize against neoliberalism, and suggest practices that resist its technocratic mindset. Looking at literature, cinema, and critical theory from a range of regions and disciplines, we will focus on Europe and the United States. Moreover, we will ask how forms of neoliberalism affect different regions of the world: Southeast Asia, Russia? Where and how can solidarity be reimagined beyond identity politics? Where is the boundary between animal and human in the neoliberal collective? [ more ]

    COMP 404 SEM Senior Seminar: The Art of Minor Resistance: Advanced Readings in Race, Gender, Performance

    Last offered Spring 2020

    This seminar will study stagings and aesthetic theories of dissent in feminist, queer, anti-colonial, and anti-racist performance. An attunement to performance and to the minor is also a turn toward minoritarian knowledges and lifeworlds. Of interest will be modes of sensing and relating that are not often legible as political--including aesthetics of opacity, quiet, disaffection, aloofness, and inscrutability--but could be understood as critiques of political recognition. Performance is a capacious rubric in this class that will include performance art, social media, photography, music videos, poetry, street protest, and everyday life. Students will learn to describe, interpret, and theorize performance through discussion, writing, and creative form. [ more ]

    COMP 406 SEM The Historical Novel

    Last offered Spring 2024

    Setting a novel in a prior time period risks estranging a reader, yet the genre has roused deep-rooted interest, intense critical debate, and aesthetic daring. In this course, we will explore the complex and layered uses of a historical past in literary works of the seventeenth through twenty-first centuries, by way of novels by Madame de Lafayette, Scott, M. Shelley, Dickens, Eliot, Ford, Woolf, Morrison, Sebald, and Roy. Exploring the uses of gothic and sensational effects, dystopian and utopian possibilities, and fractured time, we will consider the aesthetic and political experiments historical novels have spawned. We will do so in context of the sustained critical engagement with the genre by such thinkers as Lukacs, Benjamin, Adorno, Jameson, McKeon and Moretti. [ more ]

    COMP 407 SEM Literature, Justice and Community

    Last offered Fall 2019

    Can we imagine possibilities of justice not dictated by already determined norms? What would a community founded on such a conception of justice look like? Can we imagine a version of community not founded on exclusion? What would the members of such a community look like-what version of subjectivity would that community imply? And might literature in particular have something to say about the possibilities for such versions of community, selfhood, and justice? This course will look at recent, theoretically-oriented writing on justice and community, with an emphasis on the work of Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy and Giorgio Agamben. We will place this challenging and exciting philosophical work in relation to fiction from Euripides to Kafka, Farah and Kushner, films (Almodovar, Farhadi), photography (Silva, Badlands and worldly examples of competing claims to justice. The course pursues the aims of the DPE initiative by engaging works in which cultural difference and power differentials reveal the limits of universalizing accounts of law and justice, works such as Euripides' Bacchae , Nuruddin Farah's Maps , Louise Erdrich's poetry, and Farhadi's A Separation . But the course will equally suggest that such contingency is inherent in the concept of justice as such, insofar as the problem of justice is bound up with forms of constituting indebtedness that define humans as communal beings. In that sense, contingency, and differentials of power mark justice even in its most familiar instances-intimately and close to home, as it were. [ more ]

    COMP 410 SEM Black Literary and Cultural Theories

    Last offered Fall 2016

    This course will examine the writings of black twentieth- and twenty-first-century Anglophone and Francophone literary and cultural theorists in the African diaspora. We will begin with Sojourner Truth and W.E.B. Du Bois and end with current debates between the "Afro-Pessimists" and "Afro-Optimists." We will be reading writers from the United States, Britain, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe, moving through the writings of the Harlem Renaissance, Négritude, Pan-Africanism, the Black Arts movement and Black Panthers, the Black Atlantic, and black feminism and queer studies. We will come to see that there is no easy separation between questions of politics (e.g., anti-colonialist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist) and those of aesthetics and poetics. [ more ]

    COMP 412(S) SEM Senior Seminar: Nineteenth-Century French Novel: Desperate Housewives and Extreme Makeovers

    In 1834, Honoré de Balzac wrote that "Paris is a veritable ocean. Sound it: you will never know its depth." The same can be said of the French nineteenth-century novel and its boundless ability to echo the past and illuminate the present. From the Romanticism of Stendhal and Hugo, and the Realism of Balzac and Flaubert, to the Naturalism of Zola and Maupassant, the novel became a forum for examining illicit sexuality, institutional misogyny, social injustice, criminal passions, revolutionary struggles, and Parisian pleasures in nineteenth-century France. Characters such as the miserable housewife Emma Bovary, the reluctant revolutionary Jean Valjean, the social climber Julien Sorel, the ambitious undergraduate Eugène de Rastignac, and the domestically abused Gervaise Macquart became synonymous with France's turbulent social and political landscape from the 1830s to the 1880s. As recent film adaptations make clear, these desperate housewives and extreme makeovers continue to haunt our twenty-first century present. Reinterpreted by such actors as Gérard Depardieu, Isabelle Huppert, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes, and Jennifer Aniston, the nineteenth-century novel continues to sound out the scandalous and sensational depths of our own century. Readings to include novels by Balzac, Stendhal, Hugo, Flaubert, Maupassant, Zola. Films to include adaptations by Clément, Berri, August, Arteta, Lelouch, Chabrol. Conducted in French. [ more ]

    COMP 414 SEM Senior Seminar: Coming of Age: French and Francophone Childhood and Adolescent Film

    Last offered Spring 2023

    Like the bildungsroman in literature, the coming of age story is a genre in itself in cinema. In this senior seminar, we will watch, discuss, and analyze French and Francophone childhood and adolescent narrative films whose protagonists bring into focus larger issues such as racial discrimination, class, gender, sexual identity, social mobility, repression from the state, regime change, delinquency, justice, bereavement, and human trafficking. We will watch seminal films by Euzhan Palcy, the Dardennes brothers, Céline Sciamma, Férid Boughédir, François Truffaut, Faiza Ambah, and Raoul Peck. [ more ]

    COMP 415 SEM Breaking the Silence: Women Voices, Empowerment and Equality in the Francophone World

    Last offered Spring 2024

    How have Francophone women challenged the historical and current effects of colonialism and gendered racism in France and the Francophone world? How have Francophone women writers challenged the status quo of patriarchy and advocated for change? Beginning with political activist Olympe de Gouges, who published Le droit de la femme et de la citoyenne (1791) challenging gender inequality in France, we will then examine Claire de Duras' portrayal of the intersection between race and gender, Simone de Beauvoir's challenge to traditional femininity and gender roles, and Ananda Devi's intimate portrayal of violence against women in post-colonial societies. Throughout the course, we will use a feminist and intersectional lens to analyze how Francophone women writers have broken the silence then and now. [ more ]

    COMP 416 SEM Postcolonial Theory and the World Literature Debates

    Last offered Spring 2019

    When publishers, scholars, reviewers, and critics talk about the massive, beautiful, prismatic literary and cultural traditions outside of Western culture, they sometimes refer to them by their geographical provenance--African literature, say, or Sumerian art--or perhaps by their historical moment--Ottoman architecture, or postcolonial Indonesian poetry--but more and more, the catch-all category of World Literature has begun to hold sway in influential places, and is changing the shape of how we think, learn, and write about non-Western aesthetics, as well as how we participate in our "own" cultures in all their complexity. If we can imagine a kind of literature that truly goes under the headings of "World Literature," or "Global Literature," what can we possibly exclude? Doesn't all literature belong to the world? What might we gain by using this term, and what might we lose? What histories are attached to the various names and classifications we assign to culture and how does cultural "othering" uphold or resist forms of economic, political, and military dominance? In this advanced seminar, we will work carefully through the history and influential writings of postcolonialism as a particular challenge to hegemonic forms of representation, cultural production, and naming, starting with a close consideration of the writings of the movement's founders and key commentators, including Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Robert J.C. Young, Gauri Viswanathan, Partha Chatterjee, and Homi Bhabha, and consider their influence on later postcolonial writers and critics around the world. In the second half of the semester, we will turn our attention to the historical underpinnings and current firestorm of debates about World Literature, beginning with Goethe, Marx, Adorno, Frederic Jameson, Franco Moretti, and Pascale Casanova and shifting finally to critics of the ideas of World and Global Literature. [ more ]

    COMP 421 SEM Fanaticism

    Last offered Fall 2021

    Eighteenth and nineteenth-century writers of literature and political philosophy repudiate fanaticism, whether as a religious, political or amorous posture. But what is fanaticism, and why should it be considered such a threat, particularly during a period that embraced an enlightened secular rationalism? In this course, we will examine these questions by considering literary texts that dramatize fanaticism in light of accounts by philosophers and historians. Readings will include novels by M. Shelley, Hogg, Dickens, Eliot, Conrad, among others, and political philosophy and historical writings by Voltaire, Kant, Diderot, Burke, Hume, Carlyle, Adorno, and a range of recent critics. We will also watch films by Riefenstahl, Hitchcock and Pontecorvo, and look at paintings, drawings and sculpture by Fragonard, Goya, and Shibonare. Since fanaticism has recently had considerable political currency, we will also examine contemporary accounts that reanimate the debates and concerns of the course. [ more ]

    COMP 422 SEM Art, Architecture, and Poetry: Islamic Devotional Culture in South Asia

    Last offered Spring 2019

    How have scholars interpreted and classified terms such as "Islamic art" and "Muslim culture," and how have these classifications affected the interpretation of the arts in South Asia? There are different points of view regarding what constitutes as "Islamic" art and culture. Is an imperial wine cup with "God is Great" inscribed on it an "Islamic" object? How is an erotic epic narrating the romance of a Hindu prince understood as embodying the principles of Muslim devotion? This interdisciplinary seminar, focusing on South Asian Muslim devotional culture as articulated through the material culture, the arts of the book, architecture, and poetry, will navigate these questions from two perspectives. The first is to understand how Muslim devotional cultural expression in South Asia circumscribes and interprets itself. The second viewpoint is that of scholarship and the various interpretive voices that have framed the field over the last century. [ more ]

    COMP 456 SEM Topics in Critical Theory: Hegel and the Dialectic

    Last offered Fall 2018

    This course is for students of any major who wish to continue studying critical, cultural, or literary theory. Students will give close attention to a single theorist or philosophical school or perhaps to a single question as taken up by several theorists. Prior coursework in critical theory or continental philosophy, no matter the department, is strongly recommended. The subject of this semester's seminar is the dialectic. "Dialectical" is one of those collegiate words, the kind of word that some people use a lot without knowing for sure what it means. That said, there are a couple of different ways of making sense of dialectics. The word's nearest synonym is "dialogue." Broadly, then, "dialectics" is a name for any philosophy that incorporates into itself the back-and-forth of conversation. Modern dialectics, meanwhile, sets out from two ideas: first, that it is impossible to think about anything in isolation, that we understand all things via relation and contradistinction, that we couldn't call any person "female" if we weren't also compelled to call some people "male"; and second, that all such conceptual pairs (male/female, black/white, east/west) are less settled than they look. You can't not divide the world into oppositions, and all such oppositions will collapse. This is an idea that, systematically pursued, can change the way we think about language, ethics, politics, literature, and art. We will read key texts from major dialectical thinkers: Hegel, Marx, Adorno, but mostly Hegel. [ more ]

    COMP 483 SEM Representing History

    Last offered Spring 2023

    Moments of political turmoil expose the highly charged ways in which a culture structures itself around a narrative past. In this course, we will read literary and cinematic works that invoke such moments of upheaval -- the French and Russian Revolutions as well as those of 1848, the rise of fascism and the Great Depression of the 1930s, the battle for Algerian independence, and the AIDS crisis -- in order to explore those fraught narratives of the past. We will consider such issues as the aesthetics of fascism and of democracy under pressure, fantasies of decolonization, representational clashes of culture, forms of affective and sexual disorientation, and the uses of melancholy in representing historical loss. Readings will be drawn from literary works by Mary Shelley, Balzac, Eliot, Conrad, Kafka, Borges, Stoppard, Kushner, Morrison, Pamuk, Bolano, Sebald, and Philip, and essays by Kant, Burke, Marx, Benjamin, Adorno, Foucault, Jameson, Lefort, and Ahmed. Films will include such works as Eisenstein's October, Riefenstahl's The Blue Light, Wellman's Nothing Sacred, and Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers. [ more ]

    COMP 490(S) IND Senior Portfolio

    This is a required, non-credit, pass/fail course for Comparative Literature majors in their final two semesters at the college who are not writing a senior thesis. [ more ]

    COMP 493(F) HON Senior Thesis: Comparative Literature

    Comparative Literature senior thesis; this is part of a full-year thesis (493-494). [ more ]

    COMP 494(S) HON Senior Thesis: Comparative Literature

    Comparative Literature senior thesis; this is part of a full-year thesis (493-494). [ more ]