Courses

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. (For the current or coming semester, you can download a list of courses that count for core credit from the Majors page on this site.)

Shaded courses below are not offered in the current academic year.

COMP 104Critical Approaches to Theatre and Performance

Not offered this year

This introductory critical survey course will explore a variety of theatre and performance traditions from around the globe, from antiquity to the present day. Through close analysis of select texts and performance practices in a seminar format, the course will consider what role theatre plays in the establishment and growth of culture, politics, and aesthetics. Topics may include: Ancient Greek theatre, Classical Indian performance, Renaissance English theatre, Japanese Noh and Kabuki, popular American traditions, modern European theatre, and postmodern performance. Films and other media will be utilized when relevant. Regular in-class visits to the Williams College Museum of Art will occur, as well. This course meets the criteria of the Exploring Diversity Initiative as it engages in a cross-cultural investigation of performance and explores how theatre is deeply embedded in power relations. [ more ]

COMP 106(F)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)The Trojan War

The Trojan War may or may not have taken place near the end of the Bronze Age (c. 1100), but it certainly provided poets, visual artists, historians, philosophers, and many others in archaic and classical Greece (750-320) with a rich discourse for engaging questions about gender, exchange, desire, loss, and remembrance, and about friendship, marriage, family, army, city-state and religious cult. This discourse of "The Trojan War" attained a remarkable coherence yet also thrived on substantial variations and changes over the 300-400 years of Greek literature we will explore, a dynamic of change and continuity that has persisted through the more than two millenia of subsequent Greek, Roman, Western, and non-Western participation in this discourse. More than half of the course will be devoted to the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey; we will also read brief selections from lyric poetry (e.g. Archilochus, Sappho of Lesbos), some selections from the historians Herodotus and Thucydides, and several tragedies (e.g. Aeschylus' Oresteia, Sophocles' Ajax, Euripides' Trojan Women). We may briefly consider a few short selections from other ancient Greek and Roman authors and/or one or two modern poets. We will also watch several films, e.g. Troy, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?Gods and Monsters, Fight Club, In the Bedroom,Grand Illusion. [ more ]

COMP 108Roman Literature: Foundations and Empire

Not offered this year

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(S)Observing Writing

There are many ways to write stories about the planet that we live on. Beautiful ideas can be expressed in fiction, in journalism, and in formal scientific writing. In this course we will investigate the earth by reading about it, by writing about it, and by analysing the writings of others. We will think about the ways in which fiction can be true, how journalism can be both clear and correct, and how scientific articles can be made accessible and interesting. All these things are in the hands of the writer. We will focus on both the act of writing (writing about observations) and analysis of the writings of others (observations about writing). We will write in and about the natural world, thinking about how to do so in ways that are evocative, interesting, and true. And we will read the writings of others, asking ourselves whether and how the writers have succeeded in being evocative, interesting, and true. [ more ]

COMP 110(F)Introduction to Comparative Literature

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 Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America; and media including prose fiction, graphic memoir, 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 Shonagon, Kleist, Lermontov, Zola, Borges, Wilde, Mamet, Bechdel, and others. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

COMP 111(S)The Nature of Narrative

This course focuses on the nature and function of narrative using a wide range of texts from different periods, traditions and genres. We will analyze the ways in which several first-rate works of fiction communicate their concerns; in other words: how do they say what they say? And why does "how" matter as much as, if not more than, "what"? We will also look at film, blogs, and articles, and accompany the readings with a few pertinent theoretical texts. The authors we will study may include Marie de France, Cervantes, Austen, Gogol, Flaubert, Kafka, Zweig, Garcia Marquez, Farhadi.All readings in English, although those with foreign language competency are invited to make comparisons with the original where possible. [ more ]

COMP 111(F)Nature of Narrative

This course examines the nature and workings of narrative using texts drawn from a wide range of literary traditions, media, and genres. Readings will include Greek and Chinese classics (Homer and others), 19th-century French, German, and Russian fiction (Zola, Kleist, Lermontov), Latin American magic realism (Marquez), and visual literature from stage drama to film and graphic memoir (Oscar Wilde, Sam Mendes, Alison Bechdel). We will 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, S)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 Constance Penley, but we will also, in order to put our new ideas to the test, watch several films (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Silence of the Lambs, The Lord of the Rings) and listen to a lot of rock & roll. Why do you think culture matters? Once you stop to pose that question, there's no turning back. [ more ]

COMP 128(S)Reading Asian American Literature

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 writing-intensive 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 134Myth in Music

Not offered this year

Orpheus, Prometheus, Faust, and Don Juan--these figures have captured the imagination of writers, artists, and composers throughout history. This course explores how prominent myths of western civilization have found expression in a broad variety of musical works, e.g., operas by Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jacques Offenbach, and Richard Wagner; songs by Franz Schubert, Hugo Wolf, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Adam Guettel; ballets by Ludwig van Beethoven and Igor Stravinsky; symphonic poems by Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss and Alexander Scriabin; Broadway musicals by Richard Adler and Randy Newman; and mixed-media projects by Rinde Eckert. Our inquiry will lead us to ponder an array of questions: Why have certain myths proven especially appealing to composers? What accounts for these myths' musical longevity? How have myths been adapted to different musical genres and styles, and for what purposes? How do the works reflect the historical cultures in which they originated? How have they engaged with different social, political, artistic, and intellectual concerns? [ more ]

COMP 151(F)Introduction to Theatre

This introductory course serves as a general gateway to the study of Theatre. The course investigates principal areas of Theatre practice, including the Play and Playwright, Actor, Director, Designer, Audience, and Company. Through lectures, class discussions, performance practice, and hands-on laboratory sessions, students will encounter dramatic texts and theatrical contexts from a variety of traditions around the globe. Dramatists covered may include: Sophocles, Shakespeare, Zeami, Moliere, Chekhov, Beckett, and Parks. Students are expected to complete reading and writing assignments, as well as to participate in practical projects in the labs. This course is open to all and welcomes non-Theatre majors. For students interested in the Theatre major, this course fulfills a primary requirement and should be taken during one's first or second year. [ more ]

COMP 153Japanese Film

Not offered this year

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 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 156Thirteen Ways of Looking at Jazz

Not offered this year

Taking its title from the Wallace Stevens poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," which interprets the blackbird in different ways, this course similarly explores a more complex, multi-layered perspective on jazz, from jazz and American democracy to jazz in visual art. Accordingly, the course introduces students to several genres, including historical documents, cultural criticism, music, literature, film, photography and art. The course does not draw on a musicological method but rather a socio-cultural analysis of the concept, music and its effect--so students are not required to have any prior musical knowledge or ability. In this writing intensive course, students will write and revise short close analyses of multiple types of media, ultimately honing their writing skills on one form of media for a polished, original analysis that weds their increased critical thinking skills. This EDI course explores the musical expressions of the culturally diverse peoples of African descent in the New World, as well as the myriad ways in which representations of jazz signify on institutional power, reaffirm dominant U.S. and/or European hierarchies of race, gender and class, and signal inequality in order to contest it. [ more ]

COMP 200European Modernism--and Its Discontents

Not offered this year

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)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)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, Uncle Vanya; Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author; Brecht, Mother Courage; Beckett, Waiting for Godot; Miller, Death of a Salesman; Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun; Pinter, Betrayal; Churchill, Cloud Nine; and Stoppard, Arcadia. [ more ]

COMP 203Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature in Translation

Not offered this year

This course introduces students to landmark texts of 19th century Russian literature, exploring their aesthetic, social and philosophical implications and significance. We will begin by reading Pushkin, Lermontov and Gogol's innovative realist variations on pre-existing Romantic literary tropes. We will then trace how these initial themes and ideas are expanded upon and given new dimensions by subsequent "giants" of Russian realism: Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Additional literary and ideological issues of the century will be addressed in the works of Turgenev and Goncharov, two other representative authors of the "Golden Age". Finally, we will turn to the works of Chekhov, which accentuate ambiguity and uncertainty within the realist method of portrayal, thus anticipating modernist sensibilities of the 20th century. Knowledge of Russian is not required; all course readings will be in English. [ more ]

COMP 204(S)Revolution and its Aftermath: A Survey of 20th-Century Russian Literature

We are fast approaching the one-hundredth anniversary of Russia's Great October Revolution, a political event that had prodigious cultural consequences and eventually polarized artists and intellectuals alike. Nowhere is this struggle more prominently played out than in the pages of Russian/Soviet literature. In this course, we will read a variety of works by canonical and non-canonical writers and consider the many forces-historical, political, spiritual, ethnic, and cultural-that shaped national belles lettres in the course of the 20th century. [ more ]

COMP 205The Latin-American Novel in Translation

Not offered this year

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, have attracted world-wide attention. Among the texts to be discussed: Borges, Labyrinths; Cortazar, Blow-up and Hopscotch; Lispector, the Hour of the Star lesser works by Fuentes and Puig; and by Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. [ more ]

COMP 206(S)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 TTolstoy: The Major Novels

Not offered this year

This tutorial will focus on Lev Tolstoy's four novelistic masterpieces--War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Resurrection, and Hadji Murat--placing them in their appropriate historical, social, and philosophical context. For each week of class, students will read a significant portion of a novel by Tolstoy, as well as a selection of secondary literature taken from those works that inspired the author, reactions that arose at the time of the novel's publication, and scholarship that seeks to explain the power and enduring significance of these novels. Students will meet with the professor in pairs, with one student writing a five-page paper for each class session and the other student providing a critique of the paper. For those students without Russian language skills, all works will be read in English translation. Those students who have completed at least three years of college-level Russian may take the course in Russian. [ more ]

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

Not offered this year

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 Poortvliet, Collodi, and Grimm, Machado, 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 209Dolls, Puppets and Automatons

Not offered this year

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 Doppelganger 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, watch a ballet by Kurt Joos and films by Fritz Lang and Ridley Scott, and watch fashion shows by Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Viktor & Rolf. Conducted in English. [ more ]

COMP 210(F)Latina/o Language Politics: Hybrid Voices

In this course we will focus on issues of language and identity in the contemporary cultural production and lived experience of various Latina/o communities. As such, how are cultural values and material conditions expressed through Latina/o language and literature? How does Latina/o identity challenge traditional notions of the relationship between language, culture, and nation? In what ways might Latina/o literary and linguistic practices serve as tools for social change? Departing from an overview of common linguistic phenomena such as code-switching (popularly known as "Spanglish") and Latina/o English, we will examine bilingual education, recent linguistic legislation, and the English Only movement. Throughout the course we will survey texts culled from a variety of literary genres as well, including theatre, autobiography, novels, and poetry. Both directly and/or indirectly, these texts address Latina/o language politics, as well as the broader themes of power, community, ethno-racial identity, gender, sexuality, class, and hybridity. [ more ]

COMP 211Introduction to Latina/o Literatures

Not offered this year

This discussion course serves as an introduction; the reading list is not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive, but will rather provide a sampling or range of texts for students to engage. We will explore a number of readings across different genres (the novel, play, poem, short story, graphic novel). Students will endeavor to understand how each author defines Latinidad. What characterizes Latina/os for each of these writers and how do their works articulate the historical conditions out of which they emerge? How is Latina/o literature marked by notions of language, nationality, gender, sexuality, class, race, politics, form, and genre? The readings will provide both a survey of general ideas in the study of Latina/o literatures as well as specific case studies and historical examples from which we will extrapolate about the larger field. Readings include works by Tomas Rivera, Cristina Garcia, Cristy C. Road, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Junot Diaz, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, and more. This course fulfills the Exploring Diversity Initiative requirements as it offers students a comparative study of cultures and societies by examining the U.S. racial project of constructing a Latina/o people out of various peoples. Additional attention is given, under the rubric of power and privilege, to the specific economic and political institutions that structure Latina/o cultural production. [ more ]

COMP 212Nordic Lights: Literary and Cultural Diversity in Modern Scandinavia

Not offered this year

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 Sami 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 Bjork), glamour (Greta Garbo to Helena Christensen), technology (Volvo to Nokia), and design (IKEA to H&M). Readings to include works by Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Hans Christian Andersen, Karen Blixen, Astrid Lindgren, Halldor Laxness, Reidar Jonsson, and Peter Hoeg. Films to include works by Ingmar Bergman, Lasse Hallstrom, Bille August, Colin Nutley, Lukas Moodysson, Josef Fares, Tomas Alfredson and Tomas Vinterberg. All readings and discussions in English. [ more ]

COMP 213The New Testament: Purpose, History and Method

Not offered this year

The New Testament is the most important collection of documents in the Christian religion. This course offers overviews and discussions of the origin and purpose of the writings, their influence throughout history, and the development of methods of readings of the texts. We start with the origin of the writings before they became collected into the New Testament, and ask: what forms of writings (genres) in Greco-Roman culture were available to the authors of the new scriptures, and how they were used for the purpose of shaping faith in Jesus Christ and creating communities? Why just these scriptures were included, and not others, for instance, the Gospel of Thomas, is another much discussed question. The impact of the New Testament writings upon society is a problematic history; for instance, they have been used to support negative attitudes to Jews, women and homosexuals. This raises the issue of how to read the New Testament. There are many different ways of reading the New Testament; perhaps the most common way to read it is as Scripture, important for one's religious faith. In this course, however, we will focus on scholarly and academic readings of the New Testament. But they, too, have gone through many changes, influenced by contemporary methods, e.g. historical-critical ones in the 19th and into 20th century, more recently, by literary, feminist and post-colonial readings. Through extensive readings of New Testament writings in their cultural and historical context, documentations of their use in history, and recent theories of interpretation, the aim is to gain an independent position on the New Testament as a historical and religious document. [ more ]

COMP 214Moses: Stranger in a Strange Land

Not offered this year

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 215Experimental Asian American Writing

Not offered this year

Asian American literature did not begin in the 1980s with Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Nor has the writing primarily been confined to autobiographical accounts of generational conflict, divided identities, and glimpses of Chinatown families. Asian American literature in English began with poetry in the late nineteenth century, and has encompassed a variety of aesthetic styles across the last century--from Modernism to New York School poetry to protest poetry to digital poetics. This course will explore Asian American writings that have pushed formal (and political) boundaries in the past 100+ years, with a particular focus on avant-garde writers working today. We will look at such authors as Jose Garcia Villa, Chuang Hua, Wong May, Theresa H., Cha, John Yau, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Tan Lin, Prageeta Sharma, Bhanu Kapil, and Tao Lin. [ more ]

COMP 216Folk and Fairy Tales in Literature and Beyond

Not offered this year

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 in many cultures. This course will look broadly at folktales from different traditions, ranging from early China to medieval Europe and contemporary America. In this course we will approach the folktale from a number of perspectives, including typological approaches; moral notions embedded in such tales; and the often porous borders between the natural and the supernatural, the animal and the human, and living and dead. We will consider 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 in the course of transmission. [ more ]

COMP 217Ancient Wisdom Literature

Not offered this year

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 218Gnosis, Gnostics, Gnosticism

Not offered this year

What is gnosis and Gnosticism? Who were the Gnostics? 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 as well as to the debates over and claims made about Gnosticism in modern times. We shall explore neoplatonic, Jewish, and Christian thought, as well as modern spiritualism and esotericism. We shall also ask about how ancient Gnostics relate to later religious groups such as the Knights Templar and modern Theosophists. Readings include: Nag Hammadi writings in English, Irenaeus, Against All Heresies; David Brakke, The Gnostics; Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels; Karen King, What is Gnosticism? and The Secret Revelation of John. [ more ]

COMP 219The Monkey King: Transformation of a Legend

Not offered this year

The devious and irascible Monkey King, born of stone, defying all authority yet compelled to behave by a dubious Buddhist magic, is one of the most beloved figures in Chinese culture. This course will trace the transformation of the Monkey King legend from its origins in early representations of monkeys in folklore and a seventh-century Chinese monk's arduous journey to India in search of Buddhist learning, through its maturation in the sixteenth century, and into works of the Asian diaspora in the U.S. We will examine textual and visual representations of the Monkey King in popular culture, folklore, and literature, to explore topics including ideas about conformity and individual autonomy, morality and law, and the cultural negotiations necessitated by travel and contact with people (or monkeys) of other civilizations. [ more ]

COMP 220Contemporary Russian Culture and Politics

Not offered this year

This course explores contemporary Russian society and politics through an analysis of literary works and films of post-Soviet Russia. We will study the social and political settings of particular plots and opportunities not only in fiction but in the real lives of Russians. In addition to novels and short stories by some of the best contemporary Russian authors, we will read scholarly materials explaining the social and political trends characteristic of Russia's post-socialist transformation under Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin's leadership. All course readings will be in English. Knowledge of Russian is not required. [ more ]

COMP 221(F)Hollywood Film

For almost a century, Hollywood films have been the world's most influential art form, shaping how we dress and talk, how we think about sex, race, and power, and what it means to be American. We'll examine both the characteristic pleasures provided by Hollywood's dominant genres--including action films, horror films, science fiction and fantasy, thrillers and romantic comedies--and the complex, sometimes unsavory fantasies they mobilize. We will do this by looking carefully at a dozen or so iconic films, probably including Psycho; The Godfather; Schindler's List; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King;Bridesmaids; and 12 Years a Slave. In addition to the assigned reading, students will be required to attend free screenings of course films on Sunday evenings at Images Cinema. [ more ]

COMP 222Detective Fiction

Not offered this year

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(S)Japanese Food Culture in a Global Context

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. This is an EDI course, as this course explores issues of diversity in socio-cultural, historical, and political contexts. [ more ]

COMP 224(S)The Cookbook Through History

More than a compilation of recipes and instructions, a cookbook is a means of cultural transmission. This course will read between the recipe lines, exploring cookbooks as important documents that reveal a surprising amount about history and society. As Arjun Appadurai has noted, cookbooks "tell unusual cultural tales, combining the sturdy pragmatic virtues of all manuals with the vicarious pleasures of the literature of the senses." We will begin by examining the cookbooks of antiquity for what they can tell us about social status, global trade, and the distribution of foodstuffs and wealth. Moving into the medieval period we will look at cookbooks-cum-medical texts and consider the importance of diet and nutritional advice. Many early modern cookbooks were also agricultural and household primers, so we will touch on garden and table design and also discuss how the recipes reflect the great shifts of the Columbian exchange. The "receipt" books kept by many women were often their sole means of expression; these manuscripts will lead to discussions of gender and class. As we progress to the 19th century, we'll look at cookbooks intended to assimilate immigrant groups, as well as the cookbooks those groups published to keep their culinary traditions intact. We will see how nutrition becomes ever more prescriptive, as do "domestic science" and "home economics" as ways of validating women's kitchen labors. The 20th century brings a proliferation of culinary instruction in new forms, including artists' books, TV shows and videos. Because cookbooks engage with issues still pertinent today--gender, race, immigration, global trade, national identity, health, and religious and cultural tensions--we will approach the books through many different disciplines, from culinary history to sociology and anthropology, to the visual arts, gender studies and nutrition. Students will actively use the rich collection of rare cookbooks in Chapin Library. [ more ]

COMP 225Traditional Chinese Poetry

Not offered this year

Poetry was the dominant form of literature in China for most of the pre-modern period. It could be used to justify the overthrow of dynasties or to court a beloved; Chinese poets sang about communing with the gods and about brewing ale, sometimes in the same poem. In this course we will read and discuss poems from the first 2000 years of the Chinese literary tradition. Some of the issues we will explore include the ways in which poems present the world and make arguments about it; how Chinese poets construct different notions of the self through their poems; and how poetry can give voice to conflicts between aesthetics and morality, between the self and the community, and between the state and other sources of social capital. We will also look at Chinese theories of literature and poetry and compare them with dominant Western models. This is an EDI course and we will be concerned throughout with differences in the way Chinese and other cultures thought about and utilized poetry. We will examine the implicit biases inherent in the ways Western scholars in particular have analyzed and translated Chinese poetry. All readings in English translation. [ more ]

COMP 226 TThe Ancient Novel

Not offered this year

In this course we read and closely analyze long works of fiction composed in the ancient Mediterranean between the first century BCE and the fourth century CE. To call these ancient works "novels" might be misleading, if our definition depended on the historical conditions that fostered the emergence of the modern novel (e.g., industrialization and widespread literacy). On another definition, however, the novel is that genre which, more than any other, devours and incorporates other genres. Judged by this standard, the works we will deal with in this course are quintessentially novels. They afford new perspectives on the diverse, cosmopolitan culture of the Hellenistic and late antique Mediterranean world in which they were originally written and read. Replete with spectacular tales of true love, death, danger, miracles, stunts, conversions, triumphant recognitions and happily-ever-after reconciliations, they access other classical genres such as history, tragedy, and epic by means of parody, allusion, and homage. [ more ]

COMP 227(S)Made in China or Making "China"?: Twentieth-Century Chinese Performative Culture

This course explores the ways in which twentieth-century Chinese performative culture fashioned our contemporary understanding of "China." Starting with Chinese hybrid theatres staged in the US, Japan, and semicolonial Shanghai in the early 1900s and ending with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremonies, this course examines performative works drawn from the breadth of an expanded 20th century; including film, spoken drama, intercultural reproductions of Peking and Kun Operas, revolutionary and avant-garde theatre, Chinese Rock concerts, and global mass mediated performances. Emphasis will be placed on how performances (encompassing the performance onstage and the performance-making backstage) placed "China" on the global stage; and shaped racial, gender, and national identities among play-makers and audiences. We will also explore how Chinese operas were reinvented as "traditional culture" and a "national essence" in the early 20th century; and how agents of Chinese performance, as makers of imaginary worlds, serve as both assets and threats to real-life arbiters of power. The class will be structured around the themes of "Inventing Tradition on the World Stage," "Acting the Right Part," and "Performing the Nation." Students will learn to engage performances as cultural texts embedded in national and global histories. By gaining knowledge about major playwrights, directors, artists, networks, and ideas, students will also become fluent in the landscape of performance culture in China. All class materials and discussions are in English. [ more ]

COMP 228Modern Arabic Literature in Translation

Not offered this year

In this course we will study prominent texts and authors of the modern Arab world. The range of genres and themes of this literature is vast. In particular, we will analyze the debates around modernity and the importance given to social engagement in these texts. Our readings may include works by authors that have received some notoriety outside of the Arab world such as Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988. We will also read the Iraqi poets Nazik al-Malaika and Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, the Palestinians Ghassan Kanafani and Mahmoud Darwish, and Tayyib Salih from the Sudan. Included in our readings are the famous autobiography by the Moroccan Muhammad Shukri as well as women's literature by Hanan al-Sheikh, Huda Barakat and Nawal Sadawi. All readings are in English. This literature course fulfils the requirements of the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI), as it engages the Arab world from a humanistic perspective that aims to promote cultural awareness. A fundamental goal of the course is to engage the diversity of approaches to sexuality, religion, gender and politics that are so prominent in contemporary literature from the Arab world. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

COMP 229(S)Japanese Culture and History from Courtiers to Samurai and Beyond

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? By critically engaging in various kinds of textual analysis, this EDI course not only considers the relationship between politics, culture, and society in premodern Japan but also explores how we can attempt to know and understand different times and places. Primary texts will include court diaries, war tales, and fiction; laws and edicts; essays and autobiographies; noh, kabuki, and puppet theater; and tea ceremony, visual art, and architecture. Students should register under the prefix specific to the Division in which they want to receive credit. [ more ]

COMP 230(S)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, Velazquez, Bruegel, and Rembrandt. The course will contribute to the College's Exploring Diversity Initiative by examining the role of historical and cultural difference within and beyond Europe at the very beginning of globalization. [ more ]

COMP 231 TPostmodernism

Not offered this year

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 Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and others; 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 TReading and Writing the Body

Not offered this year

Am I a body, or do I have one? The western tradition of favoring our intellectual and spiritual experience over the physical has long informed, and indeed limited, our sense of self as human beings. While some writers maintain that the creative impulse is a gift of the muse and that it is rooted entirely in the mind or spirit, there are those for whom the human body, frequently their own, plays a central role, both in the process of creation and as a subject of artistic inquiry and contemplation. In their writing, these authors tell a very different tale with regard to the human experience, and it is focused on the primacy of the body. This course will consider the work of, among others, Maupassant, Kafka, Tanizaki, Tolstoy, Dinesen, Collodi, Babel, and Atwood in order to examine how writers from different cultural and aesthetic perspectives either present or use the body as a vehicle of expression. We will also consider other areas of study that are intimately related to the life of the body, such as asceticism, pathology, prostitution, and disability. [ more ]

COMP 233Introduction to Classical Arabic Literature

Not offered this year

In this course we will examine the rich, complex and diverse texts of Classical Arabic Literature. The readings include works that have achieved notoriety outside of the Arab world (such as the Quran and One Thousand and One Nights) as well as works by authors largely unknown outside of the Arab world but canonical in Arabic-language culture such as Imru al-Qays, al-Jahiz, al-Ma'arri, Abu Nuwas, al-Hallaj, al-Ghazali and al-Mutannabi. Women's literature in this course includes works by al-Khansa', known for her elegies, and by Wallada bint al-Mustakfi of Cordoba, who contributed to the courtly love poetry of both Europe and the Arab world. Topics for discussion include theological and philosophical queries, erotica, wine, bibliomania and avarice. Our primary texts represent such varied regions as the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Abbasid Baghdad, North Africa and Islamic Spain. Chronologically, the texts range from the sixth century CE to the fourteenth century. All readings are in English. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

COMP 234(F)Sexuality and Imperialism

This course takes as its central premise that the definition and experience of modern sexuality are intimately bound to nineteenth-century imperialism and its legacies. How did imperial power relations help to constitute racial and sexual categories and classifications? To what extent did sexual norms in both the colonies and European metropole contribute to the "management of empire"? In what ways can this historical and intellectual framework help us understand contemporary phenomena such as homonationalism and pink-washing? We will explore these questions through the study of novels, films, and a variety of other cultural and historical texts, ranging from Freud's Totem and Taboo and Foucault's History of Sexuality to Andre Gide's accounts of sexual tourism in colonial Algeria and Fanon's analysis of the devastating psychological effects of colonialism. As part of the Exploring Diversity Initiative, this class will foster an awareness of how the economic and political structures of imperialism affected sexual diversity (and vice versa), and how colonial social hierarchies created differing and unequal sexual expectations, restrictions, and freedoms in individual lives. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

COMP 235(F)The Qur'an and Literature

This course explores the rich and multifaceted relationship between the Qur'an and literature from several different perspectives. The first part of the course will examine Qur'anic stylistics through primary readings in translation and scholarship on the question of whether the Qur'an is literature. Readings will consider how the Qur'an sheds light on the category of literature through attention to such features as sound, figurative language, and genre. Students will also discover what the Qur'an has to say about poets and stories. We will then turn to the classical discourse on Qur'anic inimitability (i`jaz al-Qur'an), with an emphasis on stylistic/rhetorical inimitability and its relationship to Arabic literary theory. We will make use of recent translations of i`jaz treatises, manuals of literary criticism, and historical readings on the status of the Qur'an in early Islamic history. Finally, we will read a selection of later literature that takes up Qur'anic themes and language in Islamic history, in order to explore questions of intertextuality, rewriting, and the guises that commentary can take. [ more ]

COMP 236 T(F)She Speaks in Color: Examining the 'Color Complex' in Toni Morrison's Writings

The practice of colorism, or skin color discrimination, is very familiar to people of color globally. Often described as intra-racial racism, colorism within the Black American context is part of the colonial legacy of institutionalized slavery where the vestiges of white supremacy have created color castes among Blacks that still, to this day, have serious consequences for those on the darkest end of the color spectrum. The impact of this practice is far-reaching, influencing everything from romantic partnering, economic and educational attainment, and perceptions of beauty, attractiveness, and criminality. Although the vast majority of colorism scholarship is empirically based, there is much that we can glean from a literary investigation of this practice by analyzing the works of renowned writer, theorist, and folklorist Toni Morrison. Her work is particularly useful in examining issues of skin color, as this topic has been persistent yet underexplored in Morrison's writings. Employing the methods of literary and rhetorical criticism, this tutorial will investigate five Morrison novels, The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Love (2003) and God Help the Child (2015). In our discussions of each text, we will examine the problem of the "color complex" at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class and sexual violence, and how the characters manage these overlapping issues. We will bring the novels into conversation with social science articles on the practices of colorism in daily life. Because the tutorial blends different kinds of investigations into colorism, it will equip first year students with tools to critically engage and interrogate fictional literature; help them identify the real and nuanced ways that color discrimination affects Black communities; and consider how Morrison, one of our foremost writers, bridges literary creativity with ethnographic observation. [ more ]

COMP 237(S)Love, Desire, and Longing in Classical Arabic Poetry

The genre of ghazal, or love poetry, has a long and fascinating history in classical Arabic literature. In its various guises, it has been a vehicle for expressing many forms of desire, including erotic passion, "platonic" yearning from a distance, and mystical love for the Divine. This course will explore the development of ghazal, beginning with pre-Islamic odes, continuing through the rise of the ghazal as an independent genre, and then taking up its adaptations across the classical and pre-modern Arabic-speaking world. We will pay close attention to aesthetics, tone, emotional effect, and features particular to certain sub-genres of ghazal. Background readings about historical, cultural, and literary contexts will shed further interpretive light on the poetry. Through these sources, which come from lands as diverse as Iberia, North Africa, the Levant, and the Arabian Peninsula, we will investigate how classical Arabic-language love poets expressed issues of gender, class, sexuality, existential despair, hope and loss, and living in relationship to God. [ more ]

COMP 239Introduction to Ecocriticism: North-South Dialogues on Nature and Culture

Not offered this year

This course will introduce students to the study of the relationship between literature and the environment, often referred to as 'ecocriticism,' through careful examination of Jean de Lery's 1577 History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil and related texts. Lery's fascinating account of a yearlong stay among the 'cannibals' of Brazil gets at many of the themes and debates taken up by ecocritics today: How do political, economic, religious and philosophical factors influence individual and collective conceptions of 'nature' and its value? How do acts of reading and writing inform (or deform) our understanding of the 'natural' world? What is the role of aesthetics in environmental politics, and how can unspoken assumptions about race, gender, and cultural difference influence representations of global environmental issues like deforestation and global warming? Envi 239/Comp 238 fulfills the goals of the Exploring Diversity Initiative by contextualizing current questions of international environmental policy within the long history of colonialism, challenging students to think about cultural diversity as well as economic inequality as relevant to contemporary debates about the value and distribution of natural resources. In addition to Lery's History, we will also read landmarks of ecocritical theory by scholars including Lawrence Buell, William Cronon, Candace Slater and Jorge Marcone, as well as more recent literary interventions into environmental issues in the Americas. [ more ]

COMP 239(F)The Novel in Theory

What is a novel? Where did it come from? Why would anyone invent such a thing in the first place? In spite of its title, this is not a course about merely theoretical novels, unwritten or dreamily imagined works of fiction. Rather, this is an introduction to the ways literary critics have attempted to give a genre as hard-to-pin down as the novel a theoretical framework. For a long time, nobody thought the novel needed a theory---too popular, too loose and baggy to be thought of as one thing. Today, novel theory is legion. To only name a few, one can find theories of the novel that identify themselves as formalist, psychoanalytic, post-structuralist, Marxist, historical, and post-colonial, as well as accounts that emphasize sexuality and gender, for example, or the novel's trans-national development. Rather than try for an encyclopedic survey of either the novel or its theories, this course will use two or three novels as a means of testing out a range of representative works of novel theory. We will move back and forth from the theory of the novel to its practice in order to see how novel theory has developed over the past century, as well to see how the novel's own academic and popular fortunes relate to its theoretical accounts. Theorists are likely to include Henry James, Shklovsky, Benjamin, Lukacs, Barthes, Watt, McKeon, Jameson, Franco, Eve Sedgwick, Edward Said, & Franco Moretti. Novelists may include Austen, Dickens, Conrad. [ more ]

COMP 240(S)Introduction to Literary Theory

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 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 TSex and Gender in Ancient Greece and Rome

Not offered this year

In the ancient Mediterranean world, sexuality and gender shaped a broad range of attitudes and actions. These categories created and reinforced difference in virtually every aspect of life, from the household to the political arena. This course examines the diverse discourses and practices around sexuality and gender in the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, while also dismantling false assumptions about the continuity of the "classical" past with our own contemporary norms and values. We will carefully analyze, contextualize, and compare a variety of texts, including selections from tragedy and comedy (Euripides, Terence), epic (Homer, Ovid) and lyric poetry (Sappho, Catullus), novels, epitaphs, and early saints' lives, in order to gain a deeper and more complex understanding of 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 framework through which we approach those primary sources. The course fulfills the EDI requirement by providing sufficient context for students to make independent investigations of how literary and religious texts and practices engaged with political and social institutions to maintain different life courses and different systems of reckoning for the value of men's lives, women's lives, and the lives of individuals who didn't fit easily into either category. Additionally, the course will promote students' capacity to critically evaluate two past cultures that have long been important sources for intellectual and cultural traditions in the West, and which are still invoked today, sometimes misleadingly, to explain or justify positions and practices of privilege or oppression. [ more ]

COMP 242(S)Americans Abroad

This course will explore some of the many incarnations of American experiences abroad between the end of the 19th century and the present day. Materials will be drawn from novels, short stories, films, and nonfiction about Americans in Europe in times of war and peace. 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 emigre? 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? Authors may include: 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 fulfills the EDI requirement because it 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. [ more ]

COMP 243Modern Women Writers and the City

Not offered this year

Ambivalence has always been a vital part of literary responses to city life. Whether they praise the city or blame it, women writers react to the urban environment in a significantly different way from men. While male writers have often emphasized alienation and strangeness, women writers have celebrated the mobility and public life of the city as liberating. We will look at issues of women's work, class politics, sexual freedom or restriction, rituals of consumption, the conservation of memory by architecture, and community-building in cities like London, New York, Berlin, Paris. We will examine novels and short stories about the modern city by writers as diverse as Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Anzia Yezierska, Ann Petry, Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, Margaret Drabble, Ntozake Shange, Verena Stefan and Jhumpa Lahiri and Edwidge Danticat. We will consider theoretical approaches to urban spaces by feminists (Beatriz Colomina, Elizabeth Wilson), architectural historians (Christine Boyer) and anthropologists and sociologists (Janet Abu-Lughod, David Sibley, Michael Sorkin). Several contemporary films will be discussed. All readings in English. [ more ]

COMP 245(F)Red Chamber Dreams: China's Greatest Novel as Literature and Legacy

The eighteenth-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber, also known as Story of the Stone, is widely regarded as China's greatest novel due to the intricacy of its narrative 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. We will read the novel through a variety of critical approaches, addressing it both as a work of literature and as a cultural phenomenon. [ more ]

Taught by: Sarah Allen

Catalog details

COMP 246(S)Bloody Vampires: From Fiction to Film and Fashion

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 Burger 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 T(F)Gender, Sexuality and Modern Performance

This interdisciplinary tutorial explores aspects of gender, sexuality, performativity, race, class, and representations of the body in modern theatre and performance in America. While attention will be given to the still understudied role of women in the arts, we will focus primarily on the transsecionalities of social identities under interrelated systems of oppression. Close analysis of works by dramatists--such as Adrienne Kennedy, Caryl Churchill, Wendy Wasserstein, Ntozake Shange, Tony Kushner, Naomi Iizuka, Paula Vogel, Suzan-Lori Parks, David Henry Hwang, Tarell McCraney, Gina Gionfriddo, and Taylor Mac--will occur alongside consideration of works by artists such as Karen Finley, Ron Athey, Tim Miller, E. Patrick Johnson, and Young Jean Lee. Our approach to this varied material will be comparative and will be enriched by readings of critical works by writers such as: Judith Butler, bell hooks, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Eve K. Sedgwick, Jill Dolan, Jose Esteban Mu?oz, David Roman, and Donna Haraway. This course meets the criteria of the Exploring Diversity Initiative as it draws focus towards the diversity of race, class and ethnicity represented by the subjects of our study as well as towards the political power of theatre and performance. [ more ]

COMP 248The Modern Theatre: Plays and Performance

Not offered this year

This seminar will examine major trends in global theatre and performance from the turn of the nineteenth century through the postwar period. We will explore a variety of national traditions, comparing and positioning works in the context of revolutionary transformations of theatre practice. Artists to be considered may include: Strindberg, Ibsen, Wilde, Chekhov, Shaw, Pirandello, Treadwell, Artaud, O'Neill, Hughes, Stein, Williams, Hansberry, Al-Hakim, Brecht, Beckett, Abe, Genet, Soyinka, Pinter, Albee, Wilson, Gambaro, and Fornes. Although emphasis will be given to textual analysis and close reading, we will also consider trends in acting, directing, design, theatre architecture and the actor/audience relationship whenever possible. [ more ]

COMP 249(S)Chinese Science Fiction: Origins and Promise

What is Chinese Science Fiction? What makes it Chinese? What is science when it is fictionalized? Where does it stand in the Chinese literary tradition and in the arena of contemporary world literature? This course offers an introduction to Chinese science fiction, ranging from the grotesque to the sublime, from the apocalyptic to the transcendent, from the human to the posthuman. It is organized as a historical survey of the genre from its inception at the beginning of the 20th century to the present-day boom with the Hugo Award winners. Centering on utopia and dystopia, it approaches Chinese science fiction as a genre that provides reflection on reality and conveys hope or despair for the future. It examines how "China Dreams" are reconsidered and reconstructed under different socio-political and techno-scientific contexts. It questions China's century-long program of national development, social revolution, and cultural reform. Readings in Chinese science fiction are juxtaposed with classical Chinese tales of fantasy, science fiction in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and science fiction in Asian American literature, in order to map out the origins and promise of the genre. No prerequisite. All readings in English. [ more ]

Taught by: Mingming Liu

Catalog details

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

Not offered this year

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 several continuations of these variant traditions in medieval and early modern literature, with particular attention to the extensive material on the figures of Cain and Noah. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

COMP 251Popular Culture in the Arab World: Youth, Populism, and Politics

Not offered this year

Since the uprisings in the Arab world in 2011, 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 watch several documentaries about music, politics and youth in the Arab world. We will also read a selection of essays from anthropology, Arab culture studies, political science, and journalism to provide historical and critical context for the material discussed in class. Required graphic texts include Naji Al-Ali's A Child in Palestine and Majdi Shafi's Metro: A Story of Cairo. [ more ]

COMP 252Arab Women Memoirs: Writing Feminist History

Not offered this year

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), Leila Ahmed (A Border Passage: From Cairo to America--a Woman's Journey), Fadia Faqir and Shirley Eber (In the House of Silence: Autobiographical Essays by Arab Women Writers), and Jumanah Haddad (I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman), 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 253Narratives of Placement and "Dis-placement" from the Global South

Not offered this year

This seminar deals with the theme of placement and "dis-placement" in literature from different sites in the Global South in the late 20th century. Situating the question of placement and uprootedness within multiple historical and cultural contexts in different sites in the Southern hemisphere, the location of much of the "developing world," including the Middle East and North-Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, the African Diaspora and the US-Mexico borderland, we will address the following questions: What distinguishes exile from Diaspora? What constitutes "dis-placement"? How do the experiences of up-rootedness and forced migration among Palestinian refugees and Mexican migrant workers (within Mexico and the US; with or without documents) inform our notion of home and belonging? How do the legacy of French colonialism in North Africa and the rise of globalization in Latin America, for example, shed light on the ongoing massive immigration of subjects from the Global South to the North? Our emphasis will be on working together to find avenues for expressing yourselves in writing and other media, such as creating your own blog entries about these topics. In addition to a course reader with selected stories, poems, and critical essays, readings will include: Benyamin's Goat Days, Aime Cesaire's Return to My Native Land, Ghassan Kanafani's Men in the Sun, Mamud Darwish's Journal of an Ordinary Grief, and Laila Lalami's Hope & Other Dangerous Pursuits. [ more ]

COMP 254(F)"Disease" in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture

From early modern anxieties about China's status as the "sick man of Asia" to contemporary concerns regarding the prospect of transnational pandemics, "diseases" 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 diseases, from tuberculosis to AIDS, 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 "disease"--a universal human experience that is nevertheless heavily bounded by culture and history. Specifically, we examine the cultural and social meaning of "disease"; the relationship between diseases on the one hand, and the politics of body, gender, and class on the other; we ask how infectious (sexual) 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 "diseases," such as infectious cannibalism and fin-de-siecle "virus," 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), to the "Second New Wave" film director of Taiwanese Cinema (Tsai Ming-liang); and we explore how Freud's psychoanalysis and post-Freudian psychotherapy are "practiced" in literature circulated in both print and internet cultures. 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. This course meets the aims of the Exploring Diversity Initiative by fostering an empathetic understanding of various groups within China and their relationships with "disease," and by questioning the power and privilege inherent within such categories as "rural" and "urban," "science" and "literature," and "East" and "West". [ more ]

COMP 255Love and Death in Modern Japanese Literature

Not offered this year

One thing that surprises many first-time readers of modern Japanese fiction is its striking similarity to Western fiction. But equally surprising are the intriguing differences that lie concealed within that sameness. This course investigates Japanese culture and compares it with our own by reading Japanese fiction about two universal human experiences--love and death--and asking what inflections Japanese writers give these ideas in their work. The course begins with tales of doomed lovers that were popular in the eighteenth-century kabuki and puppet theaters, and that still feature prominently in Japanese popular culture, from comics to TV dramas. From there we move on to novels and films that examine a range of other relationships between love and death, including parental love and sacrifice, martyrdom and love of country, sex and the occult, and romance at an advanced age. We will read novels and short stories by canonical modern authors like Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima as well as more contemporary fiction by writers like Murakami Haruki; we will also look at some visual literature, including puppet theater, comics, animation, and Japanese New Wave film. The class and the readings are in English. [ more ]

COMP 256Arab and Anglophone: Narratives Beyond Nation and Diaspora

Not offered this year

This course takes a close look at contemporary Anglophone Arab writings. The objective is to familiarize students with major Arab writers, and/or writers of Arab descent who live in the Anglo-Saxon diaspora, especially the UK, North America and Australia. We will investigate the work of these writers with special attention to the history of Arab migration to these geographies, and the emergence of hyphenated Arab identities and literatures. At the heart of this course is a desire to not only shed light on what it means to be an Arab or an immigrant producing English literature, but also to understand the multiple ways in which we conceptualize and seek to define what transnational literature means. Texts for this course may include novels by the following writers: Rabih Alameddine (Lebanon/USA), Mohja Kahf (Syria/USA), Leila Aboulela (Sudan/UK), Hisham Matar (Libya/UK), and Randa Abdel-Fattah (Palestine-Egypt/Australia). There will also be a course reader that includes critical essays, poems, as well as a number of films and selections of music that shed light on the different articulations of being Arab and Anglophone. [ more ]

COMP 257From Putin to Pussy Riot: Discourses of Post-Soviet Gender

Not offered this year

Before 1991, Russians typically appeared in the Western media as macho villains in the nuclear arms race or a James Bond film. Today, however, news from the Former Soviet Union often sounds like a bizarrely gendered media stunt. For example, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been photographed topless while fishing on vacation in Siberia, while the feminist punk-rock collective Pussy Riot protested Putin's regime by performing in day-glo balaclavas in Russia's largest cathedral. This course examines related post-Soviet media spectacles in the attempt to understand the Western press's fascination with Russia, as well as key social trends defining the post-Soviet era. We will focus on the ways in which gender and sexuality have come to mark post-Soviet culture and discourse as different from those in the West. In addition to Vladimir Putin and Pussy Riot, we will consider the so-called crisis of masculinity in post-Soviet Russia, the trafficking of women from the Former Soviet Union, the Ukrainian feminist collective Femen, the Eurovision Song Context, and the 2013 legislation in the Russian Federation banning homosexual propaganda among minors. We will try to understand how concepts, such as feminism, tolerance of sexual minorities, and performed gender, have been deemed dangerous in the post-Soviet East at the very time they have attained normative status in the West. This course is part of the Exploring Diversity Initiative because it engages in cultural comparison, explores how power and privilege are allocated differently in post-Soviet societies than in Western liberal democracies, and engages in the critical theorization of post-Soviet culture and discourse. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

COMP 258(F)Film and Media Studies: An Introduction

This team-taught interdisciplinary course introduces students to concepts and skills central to the study of moving images. After familiarizing ourselves with the basic elements--visual, narrative and auditory--necessary for formal analysis, we will develop critical tools for understanding film and media in their historical and social contexts. We will discuss influential ideas, theories, and methods in the discipline of film and media studies. Students will learn to respond to works drawn from a wide range of forms: fiction and nonfiction film, animation, television, video games, and emerging forms of virtual reality. Throughout, our emphasis will be on the diverse ways in which moving pictures create meaning. How can we best think about the reciprocal relations between film, new media, and contemporary life? This course will be presented through a mixture of lectures, discussions, and exercises. [ more ]

COMP 259 T(S)Adultery in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

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 Ure?a'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 260Reading Comics from the French-Speaking World

Not offered this year

From political cartoons and satire of the 19th century to contemporary graphic novels, the bande dessinee has a long history in the French-speaking world. We will read early political cartoons, classics such as Asterix and Tintin, and contemporary BD from France, Quebec, Cote d'Ivoire, Morocco, Rwanda, and Guadeloupe to analyze how they tackle subjects such as nation, empire, sexuality, biography, war and human rights. We will pay attention to the visual form and critical theory of the genre. Conducted in French. [ more ]

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

Not offered this year

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 Garcia Marquez (Colombia). [ more ]

COMP 262Japanese Theatre and its Contemporary Context

Not offered this year

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

COMP 263 TColonial Landscapes: Latin America's Contemporary Environmental Literature

Not offered this year

"It is not by coincidence that our societies are both racist and anti-ecological," wrote the Chilean sociologist Fernando Mires in his now-classic study, The Discourse of Nature. This tutorial explores works of contemporary literature that implicitly and explicitly link Latin America's ongoing environmental crisis to the region's long and multi-layered history of colonialism: novels by Sylvia Iparraguirre (Argentina), Mayra Montero (Puerto Rico), Giaconda Belli (Nicaragua), Luis Sepulveda (Chile); poetry by Homero Aridjis (Mexico); essays by Octavio Paz (Mexico), Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Brazil), and more. Representing a wide variety of geographies, literary styles and ideological perspectives, these writers nevertheless converge in challenging us to consider the effects of environmental crisis within structures of power that are radically unequal at the local, national, and global levels; and to recognize that consciousness of environmental vulnerability can prompt new forms of inclusion and community as well as exclusion. Topics to be explored also include the role of indigenous cosmologies in contemporary environmental politics, the place of urban ecologies within the environmental imaginary, and the ongoing debates among academic critics and others regarding the scope and methodologies of ecocriticism as an approach to Latin American literature. Students have the option of tutorial in Spanish or in English; partners will be assigned accordingly. Each tutorial pair will meet with me for one hour during the week, during which time we will discuss a 5-page paper that one of the partners has submitted the night before. This adds up to a substantial amount of (reading and) writing for each student in the course, i.e., six 5-page essays over the course of the semester. This tutorial meets the goals of the Exploring Diversity Initiative by challenging students to position themselves, intellectually and imaginatively, in the space of those excluded from modernity's material benefits as they struggle to brace themselves against its catastrophic environmental effects. [ more ]

COMP 264Beauty, Danger, and the End of the World in Japanese Literature

Not offered this year

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 Shohei, and Ichikawa Kon; fantasy and science fiction novels by Abe Kobo, Murakami Haruki and Murakami Ryu; and apocalyptic comics and animation by Oshii Mamoru, Otomo Katsuhiro, and others. The class and the readings are in English; no familiarity with Japanese language or culture is required. [ more ]

COMP 265(F)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 266Confession and Deception in Japanese Literature

Not offered this year

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 Shonagon and Lady Nijo, through autobiographical and confessional novels by Soseki, Tanizaki, Mishima, and Abe Kobo, 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(F)The Art of Friendship

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 268(F)Caribbean Women Writers

This course is designed to explore the issues and themes commonly found in literatures of the Caribbean written by women. We will consider prose and poetry published in English in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, reading the texts from several different angles - including colonialism, globalization, and migration - with feminism as the overarching/organizing theme of the course. In addition to the general literary study of author, genre and discourse, our methodology will include strategies of close reading, contextualization, and a range of interdisciplinary critical approaches utilized to assess the significance and role of Caribbean women's writings as part of national and women's literatures and to explore questions of identity formation and/or disintegration, gender, social status, and ethnicity. We will be examining the well-known "forerunners" of the genre - possibly writers such as Paule Marshall, Jamaica Kincaid, Jean Rhys, and Lorna Goodison - although not necessarily their most famous texts. We will also read works from relative newcomers - possibly Zadie Smith, Edwidge Danticat, and Patricia Powell - to determine how they continue old trends while blazing new trails. [ more ]

COMP 269Transitional Japanese Literature into the Twentieth Century

Not offered this year

After more than two centuries of National Seclusion, Japan's modern era began suddenly in the middle of the nineteenth century, with the unexpected arrival of Commodore Perry, the destabilization of the 250-year old shogunal government, and the violent restoration of Imperial rule. Rapid and radical changes followed in every aspect of society, from fashion to philosophy. This course will explore how such changes have been expressed through literature, film and performance. We will trace how the authors of literary and other artistic works perceived, integrated and at times rejected experiences of the new and the foreign. All readings and discussions will be in English. [ more ]

COMP 270Performing Greece and Rome

Not offered this year

This course explores the fluidity of genres by focusing on tragedy and comedy. Each began as a grafted thing, a hybrid, a fusion of poetic, musical and dance genres previously developed for a variety of occasions outside the Theater of Dionysus. Fusion continued to energize both genres, and we will attend to its effects as we read several tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides and comedies by Aristophanes from fifth-century Athens; a comedy by Menander from the early post-Alexandrian Greek world; comedies by Plautus and Terence from republican Rome; and a tragedy by Seneca from the imperial Rome of Nero. We will also read short selections from (or read about) the genres out of which tragedy and comedy were created and re-created, and into which they sometimes made their own incursions (e.g., heroic epic, women's laments, choral and solo lyric poetry, wisdom poetry, oratory, philosophical texts, histories, mime, farce, various kinds of dance, music and visual arts). We will especially attend to the ways tragedy and comedy inflected one another. Critical readings, along with modern productions of ancient tragedies and comedies, will guide us as we consider all these generic exchanges in light of changing conditions and occasions of theatrical performance, other public spectacles shaping the expectations of theater audiences, and the development of writing and reading as modes of performance. [ more ]

COMP 271From Kleist to Kafka

Not offered this year

Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) and Franz Kafka (1883-1924) wrote some of the most puzzling and intriguing work in European literary history. From Kleist's drama Penthesilea, which culminates in the consumption of the hero by the heroine (literally!), to Kafka's "A Hunger Artist," profiling a man who starves for a living, the texts in the course attempt to access the most profound--and at times bizarre--regions of the human mind. Works we will read include Kleist's dramas Prince Friedrich of Homburg, Amphitryon, and Penthesilea, and his short stories "The Marquise of O...," "The Earthquake in Chile," "The Foundling," "St Cecilia and the Power of Music," and "The Betrothal in Santo Domingo." By Kafka we will study "The Judgment," "The Metamorphosis," "A Hunger Artist," "In the Penal Colony," "The Burrow," "A Country Doctor," and others. Literary readings will be supplemented by selected letters and essays by Kleist, and by excerpts from Kafka's diaries. Readings and discussion in English. [ more ]

COMP 273Beyond Tonto: American Indians in Film

Not offered this year

In 1893, Thomas Edison unveiled the kinetoscope and allowed audience members to glimpse the Hopi Snake Dance by peeking into the device's viewing window. Since the birth of the motion picture, films portraying Native Americans (often with non-Native actors in redface) have drawn upon earlier frontier mythology, art, literature, and Wild West performances. These depictions in film have embedded romanticized and stereotyped ideas about American Indians in the imaginations of audiences throughout the United States and around the world. In this course, we will critically examine representations of American Indians in film, ranging from the origins of the motion picture industry to the works of contemporary Native filmmakers who challenge earlier paradigms. We will reflect upon revisionist narratives, the use of film as a form of activism, Indigenous aesthetics and storytelling techniques, reflexivity, and parody. Throughout the semester, we will view and discuss ethnographic, documentary, and narrative films. This course will satisfy the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI) requirement as we will examine power relations, cross-cultural interaction, and Indigenous social experiences. [ more ]

COMP 274 TConfronting Japan

Not offered this year

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. As this tutorial actively explores diversity of human thought, and the contexts that create such diversity, this is an EDI course. [ more ]

COMP 275 TAmerican Drama: Hidden Knowledge

Not offered this year

The Buddha is said to have identified three things that cannot stay hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. What's the secret? Who is lying? Who is breaking the rules? American drama abounds with hidden knowledge and false representations. (This is not surprising: theatre is always on some level a deceptive practice, a place where one person pretends to be another, and where what is spoken is always open to skeptical scrutiny. We might say theatre is always lying as much as lying is always theatre.) This tutorial course will examine what lies hidden in American plays from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first. Beginning with excerpted critical and historical writings on secrecy and lying (The Adventures of Pinocchio, Machievelli's The Prince, Thomas Carlson's Lying and Deception: Theory and Practice, among others), we will proceed to a set of American plays from across a wide spectrum of playwrights, including Edward Albee, Suzan-Lori Parks, Sarah Ruhl, Sam Shepard, Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Amy Herzog, and others. Student papers will explore how hidden knowledge structures dramatic action, how different characters create and respond to untruths, and what can we learn in particular from American drama about a national relationship to honesty and its opposites. [ more ]

COMP 277Dangerous Minds/Endangered Minds in the German Tradition

Not offered this year

"When we are missing ourselves, we are missing everything." So spoke young Werther in Johann Wolfgang Goethe's groundbreaking novel from 1774. The Sorrows of Young Werther exploded into high Enlightenment Germany, with its emphasis on rationality, on universal human values and on optimism about the future, a bestseller that instead exposed the volatile inner world of an extraordinary individual. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Germany and Austria, profound interiority surfaced frequently to challenge--and even threaten--what was touted as the triumph of objective, scientific thought. At the same time, the writers and thinkers who explored the deepest recesses of the mind were beset by alienation and despair as they were drawn into inevitable conflict with dominant paradigms. This course will examine literature and thought at the moments when the tectonic plates of reason and supposed unreason converge and collide most forcefully: around 1800 (Goethe, Kleist, and the Romantics), around 1900 (Nietzsche, Freud, Kafka, Hofmannsthal), the mid-twentieth century with its disastrous consequences (Hitler, Boll, Bachmann) and the end of the millennium (Roth, Jelinek). Some theoretical work (psychoanalytic theory, Adorno, Benjamin) will aid in the process of understanding the literature and philosophy we read. All readings and discussion will be in English translation. [ more ]

COMP 278(S)Premodern Japanese Literature and Performance

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

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

"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 280History of the Book

Not offered this year

From ancient clay tablets, bamboo strips, and papyrus rolls to modern hardbacks, paperbacks, and e-readers, no object has so broadly and deeply represented the capacity for humans to create, preserve, and transmit knowledge, information, and ideas as the book. Books have been worshiped and condemned, circulated and censored, collected and destroyed. From works of art to ephemeral trash, they have been public and private, sacred and profane, magical and commonplace. Likewise, notions of the book have influenced every subsequent form of communication and transmission, whether we are browsing film and song "libraries" or "scrolling" down "pages" on the web. This course will explore aspects of the material, social, cultural, and intellectual history of the book, from the invention of the earliest writing systems through the modern development of digital media. Our inquiry will span the globe and the millennia, but we will pay special attention to the ancient and medieval Chinese, Greek, and Latin traditions and their enduring influence in the modern world. Topics will include orality and literacy, manuscript production, the invention and spread of printing, typography, reading culture, notions of authorship, libraries and collections, censorship, and the digital book. Through a variety of readings, hands-on exercises, and interactions with our abundant library resources, we will investigate how the changing form and function of the book interact across its long and diverse history. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

COMP 281(S)The Banlieue in literature, Music, and Film

In this course 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 282(F)Introduction to Francophone Literatures

In this course we will read a wide range of literary and visual texts from the francophone world. We will also examine the idea of francophonie and the ways in which it has been interrogated and redefined. [ more ]

COMP 283(F)Haitian and French Caribbean Literatures and Films

This course focuses on Haitian and Francophone Caribbean literature and film as critical interventions that bring into focus slavery, identity, imperialism, culture, and (non) sovereignty. [ more ]

COMP 284The Concept of Bildung: the Literature and Philosophy of Self-Discovery

Not offered this year

This course traces the influential concept of Bildung, or self-discovery, through the literature and philosophy of Germany, England, France, and other traditions, from the Enlightenment to the present. At the time of the French Revolution and amid the general fervor for democratic self-rule that it represented, a handful of German philosophers asked themselves a simple and yet profound question: If modern individuals could free themselves from dogmatic belief and from the political and cultural institutions that such belief supported, what new aesthetic, social, and political forms could express and support this freedom, and how might these new forms be discovered and maintained? The famously untranslatable concept of Bildung, whose meaning spans notions of education, cultivation, self-discovery, and self-actualization, was a response to this question that would inform joint projects of scientific discovery, artistic self-expression, and political self-determination well beyond the borders of Germany, and to the present day. Through careful analysis of key texts from this tradition, students will explore how representations of Bildung reflect changing ideas about identity, agency, pleasure, knowledge, and power. Readings will include literary works by writers like Goethe, C. Bronte, Wordsworth, Flaubert, Wilde, Equiano, Fanon, and Coetzee, in combination with critical and philosophical texts by figures like Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Freud. [ more ]

COMP 285(S)World War II in Russian Culture

This course traces the development of state-sponsored collective memory of the Great Patriotic War, as the Eastern front of World War II is called in Russia, and its counter-narratives. The veritable cult of the war, as it was shaped by the late Soviet period, took decades to coalesce and went through multiple stages. The relative disregard in the immediate post-war years under Stalin was followed by the striking re-enactments in literature and film of the period of Khruschev's Thaw. The memory of the war for new generations was further defined in state-sponsored memorials, museums and public events under Brezhnev. While Soviet ideology was discredited in the wake of the USSR?s collapse, ordinary Russians and politicians alike continue to this day to see Russia?s victory over Nazi Germany with pride and as part of their national identity. This course explores the contradictory elements that make up the images and narratives of the war -- in novels, short stories, feature films, and oral histories -- which bring together state violence and individual freedom, patriotism and oppression, remembrance and forgetting. After an initial acquaintance with the colossal human cost of the war, we will examine the artistic, cultural and political traditions of addressing the national trauma that have evolved in the official and unofficial discourses of the war. The search for a "usable past" of the war continues in contemporary Russia, breaching previously suppressed topics yet also obfuscating public attempts to critically examine people?s experiences of the war beyond the inherited Soviet myths. [ more ]

COMP 287(S)Introduction to Postcolonial Studies

This course asks: What does the term "postcolonialism" mean? Is it a historical notion or an ideological term? When exactly does the 'postcolonial' begin? What are the theoretical and political implications of using such an umbrella term to designate the ensemble of writings and artworks by those subjects whose identities and histories have been shaped by the colonial encounter? We will situate the "postcolonial" historically, aesthetically, and conceptually across multiple time periods, geographic regions. We will read such authors as Rudyard Kipling, Salman Rushdie, Tsitsi Dangaremba, Chinua Achebe, and Jamaica Kincaid and work with such theorists as Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Stuart Hall, Homi Bhabha, and Gayatri Spivak. The course will contribute to the College's Exploring Diversity Initiative by examining cultural difference and distributions of power across the world during the colonial, postcolonial, and globalized eras. [ more ]

COMP 288(S)Insult to Injury: Satire and Comic Abuse in Ancient Greece and Rome

Glutton, pervert, demagogue, sycophant, social climber, spendthrift, witch: these insults can tell us a great deal about the social structure, gender norms, values, and anxieties of the societies that use them. In this course, we will consider verbal attacks from ancient Greece and Rome, covering a variety of abuse ranging from the everyday to the most elaborately stylized: graffiti, curse tablets, law-court invective (Lysias, Demosthenes, Cicero), iambic and satiric verse (Archilochus, Hipponax, Catullus, Horace, Martial, Juvenal), and abuse on the comic stage (Aristophanes, Plautus). How do these attacks differ according to genre and performance context? Conversely, what cultural patterns unite this diverse body of material? Who is targeted, and what behaviors do the insults attempt to police? What does the person casting blame stand to gain? How does the rhetoric of insult intersect with the construction of gender? To what extent is it helpful or misleading to think of Greek and Roman invective in terms of modern genres such as the political campaign attack ad or the rap battle? We will hone our analyses with secondary readings drawn from classics, comparative literature, and anthropology. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

COMP 290(F)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 text 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, while, 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 focus on six Shakespeare plays, from different genres and periods of his career: Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Proceeding with each from close reading of the text, we will attend to the demands and opportunities of performance, and assess a range of recent film and stage productions. [ more ]

COMP 291(F)Humor in Classical Arabic Literature

Party-crashers, misers, fools, and so-called ignoramuses inspired litterateurs in medieval Arabo-Islamic society to compose various texts that detail the antisocial habits and roguish behaviors of such figures. These litterateurs employed humor and satire in these texts that depict a pluralistic, egalitarian society antithetical to prevailing contemporary depictions of "medieval Islam" and compel us to rethink the image of the uptight Muslim and the discourse of civilizational clash.This course will be devoted to a close reading of a selection of humorous classical Arabic texts that treat such figures. We will consider how stories of these figures might be received, their effect on the audience, and their possible functions in a cosmopolitan society that placed a premium on hospitality and generosity. All readings in English, although those with Arabic language competency are invited to make comparisons with the original where possible. [ more ]

COMP 292(S)Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions: Narratives from the Arab World, Latin America and the Caribbean

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. Focusing mostly on novels that depict histories of social movements, post-independence revolutions, indigenous autonomies, dictatorship, and counter-revolutions, our aim is to investigate narratives of people power vs. absolute power, insurgency vs. neocolonialism, utopias and dystopias. To familiarize students with an alternative, yet foundational, canon of modern Arabic, Latin American and Caribbean literatures, we will focus on novels from the post-Sixties generation in the Arab world and the post-Boom Latin American generation. Questions that we will ask: How do these novels configure narratives of the nation and its fragments? What can we learn about the rise and fall of Communist rebellions in Oman and Cuba? How memories of traumatic lives under dictatorship in Syria and Chile shaped the genre of the political novel? How did novels about the 'revolution' contribute to the rise of realist experimental literary movements Arabic and Latin American literatures? In addition to selected films and critical essays, the readings for this course may include novels by the following writers: Sahar Khalifeh, (Palestine), Sonallah, Ibrahim (Egypt), Dima Wannous (Syria), Sinan Antoon (Iraq), Zoe Valdes (Cuba), Subcomandante Marcos and Paco Ignacio Taibo III (Mexico), Roberto Bola?o (Chile), and Luisa Valenzuela (Argentina). [ more ]

COMP 294 T(S)Philosophy and Narrative Fiction

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 295Philosophy of Film and Film Theory

Not offered this year

Philosophy of film is a relatively young, but very rich and rapidly growing field. Its central question--What is film?--has been approached and framed in many different ways; naturally, the answers to that question, and the theoretical assumptions that underlie the answers, differ as well. This course will offer a selective overview of the debates that characterized philosophy of film since the early 20th century. Starting with early film theorists (such as Munsterberg, Arnheim, Bazin, and Soviet formalists), we will examine how their insights and disagreements influenced later developments in continental and analytic philosophy of film, and in film theory. While looking at film as art, as document, as experiment and as entertainment, we will always keep in sight specific theoretical assumptions that underlie different understandings of film, and different critical approaches to the medium. Some of the questions we will ask are: What is the nature of filmic representation? Does film accurately capture reality, as no other art does? Does it advance our thinking and increase our knowledge of the world? Or is it a supreme illusion, a dream-like escape, the domain in which the viewer's unconscious wishes are magically fulfilled? How does film generate meaning? Is film a creation of a single artist - the director, the author - or is it a result of a loosely synchronized and not quite coherent collaboration of many different people, each guided by her or his particular vision? Is there a room for the notion of collective intention in filmmaking? What is the nature of audience's response to film? Why do we seek to experience through film fear and anguish that we avoid in our daily lives? Are there ethical considerations that should govern both film production and spectatorship? Finally, is there a reason for philosophy of film and film theory to exist as a separate field? Is philosophy of film really autonomous, independent from traditional philosophical disciplines which help generate its central questions, such as aesthetics, philosophy of art, epistemology, ontology, semiotics, ethics, social and political philosophy? Is film today really distinct from a number of new, emerging visual media? How should we think about the boundaries and methods of theorizing about film? [ more ]

COMP 301(S)Sublime Confusion: A Survey of Literary and Critical Theory

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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

COMP 302 T(S)Latino Writing: Literature by U.S. Hispanics

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 Acu?a. 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 304Queer of Color Critique: Race, Sex and Urban Life

Not offered this year

This seminar is an introduction to queer of color critique, a field of scholarship that seeks to intervene in the predominantly white canon of queer studies. We will examine the history of this line of critique, beginning with Black and Chicana feminisms and extending into present day issues and activism highlighting intersectionality, exploring how and why QOCC became a necessary intervention into the then still emerging field of queer studies. Our texts include scholarly works as well as science fiction novels, plays, films, diaries, and graphic novels. Methodologically, we draw on many fields of study, including anthropology, literary studies, feminist studies, and ethnic studies. We focus primarily but by no means exclusively on US contexts, paying particular attention to the role that urban environments have served for queer communities of color. Topics include: feminisms of color, inter-racial desire and fetishization, orientalism and colonial fantasy, black queer science fiction, transgender subjectivities, and the political economy of sexual desire. A key feature of this course will also be the inclusion of numerous and diverse authors to appear on Skype or in person to answer questions about their work as we read it in class. [ more ]

COMP 305(F)Dostoevsky: Context and Interpretation

This course examines some of the best-known works of Fedor Dostoevsky by exploring the richness of their possible interpretations. On the one hand, we will situate the novels in the Russian social and ideological context of the author's time. On the other, we will study the ways in which Dostoevsky's texts engage universal questions of human existence in a post-traditional and fluid society of the modern age. Key works of Dostoevsky criticism are assigned alongside the following novels: Poor Folk, The Double, Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov. All readings are in English. [ more ]

COMP 306Tolstoy and His Age

Not offered this year

This course will examine the life and works of the great Russian writer Lev Tolstoy in the context of Western intellectual history. Readings will include Tolstoy's two major novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, as well as a number of shorter works, such as The Kreutzer Sonata and Hadji Murat. We will also examine some of Tolstoy's aesthetic and didactic works. Ultimately, we will develop an understanding of the writer's environment and his impact on the numerous social movements calling for change in the second half of the nineteenth century. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

COMP 307Asian American Writing and the Visual Arts

Not offered this year

This course examines the intersection of Asian American writing and the visual arts in a range of works: graphic novels, art criticism, collaborative projects between poets and visual artists, works that combine textual and visual elements, ekphrastic poetry, poetry "inspired by" paintings, video work, digital poetry, among others. Writers and artists to be discussed include Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Theresa Cha, Patty Chang, Mel Chin, Bhanu Kapil, Janice Lee, Tan Lin, Yoko Ono, Adrian Tomine, and John Yau. [ more ]

COMP 308Everyday Life in Literature and Film

Not offered this year

To bring the all too familiar everyday to our attention, artists and writers have made it strange. What happens when we view everyday life from elsewhere? While everyday culture has often been experienced as repressive and alienating in modern Western societies, a new importance assigned to everyday life made it liberating in Japan during the twenties and in contemporary China. The contours of the everyday are delightfully vague, and it always exceeds theorizing. For instance, is its privileged place the street or the home? Is it lived largely in institutions that regulate our daily lives, or is it lived between and outside them? Everyday objects and commodities like the potato, the postcard, the car, clothes, housing, etc., will be analyzed. Fiction by Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, Georges Perec, Manil Suri, Ha Jin, and Banana Yoshimoto. Films by Chantal Akerman, Pedro Almodovar, Benoit Jaquot, and Pierre Jeunet. Art projects that transform the everyday will also be discussed, including those of Sophie Calle, Mary Kelley, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, and Christine Hill. Short theoretical excerpts from Freud, Kracauer, Goffman, Lefebvre, de Beauvoir, Friedan, Debord, Foucault, and Bourdieu. All works not originally in English will be read in English translation. [ more ]

COMP 309(S)Complexion Complexities: Colorism in Literature, Lyrics & Everyday Life

Often viewed as the "dirty laundry" of the Black American past, colorism, or skin color bias, is a pervasive force within modern global society. Although it is not a new issue, its impact is far reaching and continues to have damaging effects on people of color-especially members within the African Diaspora. From skin bleaching creams like "Whitenicious" to rap music's fetishization of light-skinned women, colorism is a very real and present issue affecting Black life. From the literary works of Wallace Thurman and Toni Morrison, to the lyrics of blues crooner Big Bill Broonzy and rapper Lil Wayne, we will analyze the many ways that the politics of color influence standards of beauty and attractiveness, perceptions of behavior and criminality, and economic attainment and stability. [ more ]

COMP 311Experimental African American Poetry

Not offered this year

Contemporary African American poets in various cities and towns across the nation--from New York City to Los Angeles, from Berkeley to Durham, N.C.--are currently producing a vibrant and thriving body of formally experimental work, yet this poetry is largely unknown to readers both within and outside the academy. This formally innovative poetry defamiliarizes what we normally expect of "black writing" and pushes us to question our assumptions and presumptions about black identity, "identity politics," the avant-garde (for example, is it implicitly raced?), formalism, socially "relevant" writing, the (false) dichotomy of form versus content, the black "community," digital poetics, and other issues of race and aesthetics. We will examine the writings of living poets, who range widely in age, and those of their avant-garde predecessors in the twentieth century. We will also be making links between this poetry and African American music and visual art. [ more ]

COMP 312Francographic Islands

Not offered this year

Utopia, paradise, shipwreck, abandonment, exile, death. Man's fascination and obsession with the island as place of discovery, beauty and imprisonment stretches across the centuries. In this class, we will read French literary and imagined islands alongside islands constructed by Francophone Caribbean, Indian Ocean and non-Western writers in French. What does the island symbolize in individual, community, national, and imperial imaginations? And how does the island become an agent in discussions of gender, race, modernity and history? Readings will include works by Paul Gauguin, Pierre Loti, Aime Cesaire, Michel Tournier, Ananda Devi, Maryse Conde, Patrick Chamoiseau and Edouard Glissant. Conducted in French. [ more ]

COMP 314 TEnlightenment and its Discontents

Not offered this year

"Sapere Aude," declared Immanuel Kant in his essay "What is Enlightenment?" (1784): "Have the courage to make use of your own capacity to reason." Kant's exhortation sums up the mood of the high Enlightenment, a trend in Western thought that gave birth to most of the ideals that we still hold dear: the primacy and universality of reason, the autonomy of the individual, the educative and restorative powers of the nuclear family. Today we are confronted daily with the tensions and gaps hidden inside Enlightenment thinking; in fact, the fissures in the edifice of the Enlightenment were subtly present from the beginning. This course will trace the development of Enlightenment assumptions through German literature and theory. Our reading will move through several stations of the development of Enlightenment thinking, from its most fervent proponents (Kant, Lessing), through those who put it to a severe test (Kleist, Hoffmann, Buchner), to the outright subversion of its premises (Nietzsche, Freud, Kafka). Readings and discussion in German for those who know German, in English for those who do not. [ more ]

COMP 316An American Family and "Reality" Television

Not offered this year

An American Family was a popular documentary series that featured the Loud family from Santa Barbara, California, whose everyday lives were broadcast on national television. The series generated an enormous amount of media attention, commentary, and controversy when it premiered on PBS in 1973. Today, it is regarded as the origin of so-called "Reality TV." In addition to challenging standard rules for television programming, the show challenged social conventions and asked viewers to think seriously about family relations, sexuality, domesticity, and the "American dream." Documenting the family's life over the course of eight months, the series chronicled the dissolution of the Louds' marriage and broadcast the "coming out" of eldest son Lance Loud, the first star of reality television. In this class, we will view the An American Family series in its entirety, research the program's historical reception, and analyze its influence on broadcast and film media, particularly on "reality" television. A final 16- to 20-page research paper will be prepared in stages, including a 6- to 8-page midterm essay that will be revised and expanded over the course of the semester. [ more ]

COMP 318(F)Twentieth-Century French Novel: From Adversity to Modernity

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 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, Djebar. Films to include works by Fassbinder, Annaud, Lioret, Ducastel, Martineau, Techine, Charef. Conducted in French. [ more ]

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

Not offered this year

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 TEnchantment and the Origins of Poetry

Not offered this year

Since the earliest period of Greek literature, poems have been intimately bound up in the notion of enchantment, or thelxis. The power of song to alter the mental and physical states of the audience and the world at large is intertwined with the wide variety of uses to which ancient magic was applied. Similarly, the idea of divine or supernatural inspiration can be interpreted as a reflexive enchantment that binds the poet to the transformative power of language. This tutorial course will explore the fundamental ways in which ancient Greek and Roman poetry, and its later offspring, are configured and understood as a kind of enchantment or incantation. By examining works that explicitly depict acts of enchantment as well as those that represent themselves as spells, dreams, charms, and curses, we will attempt to understand the structural and semantic relationships between song and magic across several genres. We will also consider the role of inspiration, enthusiasm, memory, truth, and falsehood in shaping both the poems themselves and discourses about poetry. Finally, we will investigate the reception and elaboration of these concepts in later European poetic traditions from the middle ages through modernity. Readings may include selections from Homer, Hesiod, Sappho, Pindar, Aeschylus, Euripides, Plato's Ion and Phaedrus, Theocritus, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Roman love elegy, Old English charms, Old Norse poetry, Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, Coleridge, Shelley, Mallarme, Valery, T.S. Eliot, and various other poets and critics. All works will be read in English translation, but students who have studied ancient Greek will be expected to read significant portions of the early material in the original. [ more ]

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

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(F)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 Jeremy Love's Bayou and Ho Che Anderson's King: A Comic Biography, 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 and comic strips, 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 keep a journal with images, themes and reflections and will use Comic Life software and ipads to create their own graphic short stories based on historical and/or autobiographical narratives. [ more ]

COMP 323 TReason, Unreason and Anti-Reason from the Enlightenment to the Third Reich

Not offered this year

From its inception in the eighteenth century, modern German art and thought have probed the nature of human reason. At every turn, the celebration of rationality as triumphing over the irrational has brought with it a resistance to the rational: Lessing's Enlightenment dramas find their counterpart in those of the Sturm und Drang movement; Kleist's preoccupation with reliable justice and predictable happiness can't hide an unblinking knowledge of life's randomness; Freud's search for ultimate knowledge is constantly shadowed by the unknowable; in the acts and "theories" of the Nazis, we see the ultimate horror of rationality reduced to rigid mechanics, in the service of the unthinkable. The course will involve reading closely and writing intensively about texts by, among others, Lessing, Goethe, Kleist, Buchner, Nietzsche, Freud, Kafka, and the Nazi propagandists.
Offered in English or German: Reading, discussion and writing will be in German for German-speakers, in English for non-German speakers.
[ more ]

COMP 324(S)The Digital Caribbean

In its rhizomatic structure and development, the internet is analogous to Caribbean culture: born out of disparate pieces and peoples; always already predicated on an elsewhere as home or authority; always already working to ignore geography and physical space as barriers to connection. This course probes the various epistemological, political and strategic ways in which cyberspace intersects with the formation and conceptualization of the Caribbean. What constitutes the Caribbean is, of course, not a new question. As we explore the digital media productions that continue to reconfigure the social and geographic contours of the region, we will build on familiar debates surrounding study of the Caribbean. Issues to be addressed include: Geography: What challenge, if any, might cyberspace pose to our geo-centered conceptualization of Caribbean cultures? Community: In what ways do online spaces that claim (or are claimed by) the Caribbean struggle, together or individually, to articulate a cohesive culture? Archival history and voice: Does the ephemerality of online life and the economics of access endanger or enable what we may call the Caribbean subject? Identity and representation: What indeed comprises "the Caribbean subject"? How do questions of authenticity get deployed in crucial moments of tension involving diasporic subjects, particularly in the sped-up world of digital production? These questions, framed by Caribbean Studies, will be our primary focus, but they will be articulated with questions and theories from new digital media studies about knowledge production and circulation, digital boundaries and the democracy of access and usage. [ more ]

COMP 325(F)American Social Dramas

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 his or her choosing. [ more ]

COMP 326 T(S)Queer Temporalities

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 Anzaldua, Elizabeth Freeman, J. Halberstam, and Jose Esteban Mu?oz) we will examine some non-linear, non-normative, and interruptive approaches to making sense of time, space-time, and self within time. [ more ]

COMP 327Theory after Postmodernism: New Materialisms and Realism

Not offered this year

Since the 1970s much of the academy has labored under a particular form of linguistic skepticism (often called postmodernism or poststructuralism) that is directed at the destruction of stable conceptions of subjectivity and meaning. It is often said that everything is a text and that all knowledge is power. But just as the typewriter has given way to the computer and disco to dubsteb, as we exit postmodernity new philosophies are appearing on the conceptual horizon. This course will layout this challenge to postmodernism by exploring the work of cutting edge theorists in French and American movements known as new materialism, speculative realism, and actor-network theory. Often drawing on work in ecology, feminism, science studies, neuroscience and complexity theory, these thinkers aim to reclaim knowledge of the real world, to suture the separation between the sciences and the humanities, and to overturn what they see as the dualism between matter (as dead or inert) and mind (as the locus of life and agency). By so doing, they claim to empower the object-world and dethrone humanity from the center of philosophy. Thinkers to be considered may include: Karen Barad, Jane Bennett, Bruno Latour, Catherine Malabou, Quentin Meillassoux and Bernard Stiegler. While the relevance of these movements to the study of religion will be discussed, this course is intended for students of any major who wish to study critical, political, or philosophical theory. [ more ]

COMP 328(F)California: Myths, Peoples, Places

Crosslisting Between Paradise and Hell, between environmental disaster and agricultural wonderland, between Reagan and Berkeley, between a land of all nations and a land of multiracial enmity, a diversity of myths have been inscribed onto and pursued within the space we call California. How did certain narratives of California come to be, who has imagined California in certain ways, and why? What is the relationship between certain myths, the peoples who have imagined them, and the other peoples who have shared California dreams? In this course, we will examine some of the myths that surround California by looking at a few specific moments of interaction between the peoples who have come to make California home and the specific places in which they have interacted with each other. Of special interest will be imaginations of the Spanish missions, the Gold Rush, agricultural California, wilderness California, California as "sprawling multicultural dystopia," and California as "west of the west." [ more ]

COMP 329(F)Political Romanticism

What is Romanticism, and how does it relate to the world-changing political upheavals that emerge along with it? Romantic literature emerged around the time of the French and Haitian Revolutions, and many Romantic authors were deeply sympathetic to the democratic principles of freedom and equality that inspired such political uprisings. Yet many also questioned revolutionaries' attempts to realize such ideas by forcibly seizing control of governments. These authors became interested in art and literature as alternative means of bringing about social and political change. In so doing, they invented ideas about the political power of art that are still very much with us today. This seminar examines these ideas through readings of works of Romantic literature and the philosophy that brought them into the world, while also considering how arguments subsequently developed for and against political Romanticism inform today's heated debates about the relationship between art and politics. Authors may include Burke, Kant, Rousseau, Wordsworth, Schiller, C. Smith, P.B. Shelley, Hegel, Heine, Marx, and Carl Schmitt. [ more ]

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

Not offered this year

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 Briton, 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 TThe Brothers Karamazov

Not offered this year

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 333 TNarrative Strategies

Not offered this year

In this tutorial, we will examine the use of narrative in a range of fine art practices, which could include painting, drawing, video, sculpture, installation, public art, and sound art. Students who are interested in telling or referencing stories in their work in some way will be given the opportunity to develop their ideas and skills in a challenging studio class. In addition to intensive projects, we will look at and discuss the work of artists such as Huma Bhabha, Lorna Simpson, Joe Sacco, Lydia Davis, Raymond Pettibon, Todd Solondz, Sophie Calle, Jenny Holzer, and Omer Fast among others. One of the aims of this course is to challenge traditional notions and expectations of narrative. For instance, what could minimally constitute a narrative piece? How do different mediums allow for time to unfold in unexpected ways? How does omission play a powerful role in a narrative? How might the role of the narrator (often so powerful and present in novels and short stories) change in a visual arts context? This is a studio tutorial with an emphasis on demanding, weekly projects. Students will work both in mediums of their choice and be asked to experiment with new, unfamiliar formats. Readings and screenings will be required in addition to tutorial hours. [ more ]

COMP 334Imagining Joseph

Not offered this year

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 TTwo American Poets: Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery

Not offered this year

This tutorial focuses on the work of two major American poets who are known for their "difficult" poetry. In some respects, Stevens (1879-1955) and Ashbery (b. 1927) book-end twentieth-century poetry: Stevens is a major Modernist poet, perhaps the most philosophically oriented American poet of the twentieth century, and Ashbery is considered by most critics to be the most important American poet alive. Students will do close readings of their poems (and one play, "Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise", by Stevens), as well as read their writing on poetry and art. We will discuss the overlaps between Stevens' and Ashbery's work and lives--their having grown up in the Northeast and attended Harvard, what some see as the abstractness of their writing, their mastery of tone, among others--but also the differences: Ashbery's sexuality, his having lived in France, the supposedly more "avant-garde" nature of Ashbery's work, and so on. Along the way, we will ask questions about the nature of poetic difficulty, of abstraction, of the (lyric) poetic speaker in their works, of poetic tone, of the link between the poem and the world (e.g., in description), of the thinking and philosophizing that poems do. We will also ask about their links to major poetry "movements" (Modernism, the New York School) and pose questions that are rarely asked about their poetry, such as "What are the politics, implicit and explicit, in their poems?" "What are their views about the United States and American society and culture?" "What assumptions about race, gender and class are embedded in their poetry?" And, always, we will be paying close attention to the question of form and language in Stevens' and Ashbery's poetry. [ more ]

COMP 336 TFreud and Psychoanalysis

Not offered this year

By any measure, Sigmund Freud was one of the most influential intellectuals of the 20th century. Although he was not explicitly preoccupied with articulating political principles and only rarely addressed questions of governance or policy, his assumptions, theories, and therapeutic techniques have fundamental implications for the basic questions of political theory--questions about, for instance, the sources of conflict and group cohesion, what ways of living are desirable and attainable, and the place of reason, desire, emotion, affect, and motive in the interpretation and explanation of human interaction. This tutorial offers an in-depth exploration of Freud's key writings and concepts, from his early work on sexuality and dreams through his final writings. While we will read some of the texts that most directly address conventional political topics, Freud generally has more to say to students of politics when he is formulating his fundamental views of the psyche (of the nature and role of the unconscious, of drives, etc.), and the syllabus will reflect that view. Over the course of the semester, we will consider some scholarly commentaries on specific texts as well as critical assessments of the psychoanalytic project; as time allows, we may also engage such key later psychoanalytical thinkers as Klein, Winnicott, Lacan, and Kristeva. The preponderance of the tutorial, however, will be given over to the students' own careful reading, interpretation, and evaluation of Freud's most important writings. [ more ]

COMP 337Zen and Philosophy: The Kyoto School and its Legacy in Japanese Thought

Not offered this year

Popularly regarded as the most important philosophical movement in modern Japanese history, the Kyoto School creatively marshaled the resources of Buddhism to address the impasses of Western philosophy to startling effect. Although the members of the Kyoto School were not all of one mind, their shared aims were ambitious: to bridge the dualism between subject and object, to overcome nihilism, to explore the implications of absolute nothingness, and to surmount what they saw as the chasm between Japanese and European thought. After providing some brief background in Japanese Buddhism, we will read the writings of the core thinkers of the Kyoto School: Nishida Kitaro, Tanabe Hajime, Nishitani Keiji, and some of their later proteges. Thematically, we will explore issues in ethics, epistemology, phenomenology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of religion; and demonstrate the continued relevance of their insights in these areas. Finally, we will reflect on the group's engagement with Japanese nationalism. All readings will be in translation. [ more ]

COMP 338(F)The Culture of Carnival

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 339Race, Gender, and Performance from Literature to Social Media

Not offered this year

How can contemporary performance expand ideas and practices of belonging in the United States, as figured through race, gender, and sexuality? This spring course will begin with readings of dramatic literature including Suzan-Lori Parks's Venus, David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly, and Young Jean Lee's The Shipment to analyze literary and staged performance, then continue to discussions and readings on the performance of everyday life via the work of performance artists including Adrian Piper, Nao Bustamante, and Yoko Ono. We will develop shared vocabulary and methodologies of performance studies, including readings by scholars including J.L. Austin, Judith Butler, and Jose Esteban Mu?oz. This course will engage foundational texts to performance studies and offer an interdisciplinary approach to scholarship in gender and sexuality studies, critical ethnic studies, and performance studies from the 1970s to the present. This course recognizes a suspicion for diversity discourses that universalize human experience and asks: how do we resist normativizing forces without reinforcing the regulating logics of those forces? This EDI course will critically engage with diversity from the heterogeneous and multiple perspectives of racial, sexual, and gender minorities, asking students not only to examine the diversity of human experience but to explore the political stakes of creative expression through interdisciplinary methods and forms. [ more ]

COMP 340Literature and Psychoanalysis

Not offered this year

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 two-thirds 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 341Cinematic Representations of Work and Migration after the Wall

Not offered this year

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 Agustin, Angela Melitopoulos, Lauren Berlant and Mieke Bal. Films will likely include: Illegal, Working Man's Death, NordSud.com, 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(F)The City and the Globe

This course will inquire into the ways literary and filmic representation can tell us about the new and shifting forms of human life that arise in the fluctuating cityscapes of the contemporary world. Working with short stories, novels, and film, this course journeys through depictions of urban life in developing cities across the globe. Our itinerary takes us to literary and cinematic versions of the Caribbean, Asian, South American, and African city. We will read texts by such authors as Italo Calvino, Chimamanda Adichie, Vikram Chandra, Teju Cole, Earl Lovelace, and Roberto Bola?o, and view films such as Chungking Express and City of God. Our secondary and theoretical texts will include writing by Walter Benjamin, Mike Davis, Saskia Sassen, and Achille Mbembe. The course will contribute to the College's Exploring Diversity Initiative by comparing cultural and societal urban contexts from a global perspective. [ more ]

COMP 343Spectacles on His Nose and Autumn on his Heart: The Oeuvre of Isaac Babel

Not offered this year

Known alternately as "master of the short story" and "Russian Maupassant," Isaac Babel was not only one of the most celebrated and intriguing authors of early Soviet Russia, but also a cultural figure of profound national and international significance. For a number of reasons (political, aesthetic, professional, ethical) Babel was not prolific and this will allow us to read almost all of his creative output, something we rarely get to do in the course of a single semester. Babel's writing is extremely varied--it includes sketches, journalistic prose, short stories, plays, movie scripts, one unfinished novel--and richly intertextual. This will afford us the opportunity to read the work of some of his contemporaries and predecessors, from both Russia and abroad, with whom he fashioned brilliant literary conversations, among them Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekhov, Sholem Aleichem, and Ivan Turgenev. Babel saw self-definition as the core of his writing and as an EDI offering, this course will ask students to reflect on what it meant to be a Russian, a Jew, and a non-party author--an outsider, insider, and problematic hybrid rolled into one--in the highly unsettled, and unsettling, 1920s and 1930s. All course readings will be in translation, but students are highly encouraged to read in the original (Russian, French, Yiddish) whenever possible. [ more ]

COMP 344From Hermeneutics to Post-Coloniality and Beyond

Not offered this year

This course explores and critiques some of the resources offered by "Theory" for making sense of our contemporary situation, focusing on the nature of interpretation and its role in the construction of the self in a global world. We start with Gadamer's hermeneutics, which offers a classical formulation of the philosophy of liberal arts education, stressing the importance of questioning one's prejudices. Although this approach offers important resources for understanding ourselves in a world of cultural differences, it also has limitations, which we explore through the works of Derrida, Foucault and Said. In this way, we question some of the notions central to understanding ourselves such as identity and difference, suggesting some of the difficulties in the ever more important yet problematic project of knowing oneself. We also suggest that representation is not innocent but always implicated in the world of power and its complexities, particularly within the colonial and postcolonial contexts explored by Said. We conclude with a critique of the constructivist paradigm central to this course done from the point of view of cognitive sciences and suggest that the future of "Theory" may well be in a dialogue with the emerging mind sciences. This course, which theorizes the possibilities of cross-cultural understanding, is part of the Exploring Diversity Initiative. Reading list: H.G. Gadamer, Truth and Method. F. Saussure, Course in General Linguistics. J. Derrida, Of Grammatology. P. Rabinow, Foucault Reader. E. Said, Orientalism. Agamben, Homo Sacer. [ more ]

COMP 345Museums, Memorials, and Monuments: The Representation and Politics of Memory

Not offered this year

In the past 25 years, we have seen an extraordinary boom in museum, memorial and monument building around the world. In this class, we will explore what this growth means to cultural practices of memory and global politics. We will explore questions posed by leading scholars in museum and cultural studies such as: Why is there a "global rush to commemorate atrocities" (Paul Williams)? Why do we live in a "voracious museal culture" and how does this impact our ability to imagine the future (Andreas Huyssen)? We look at museum history and recent museum controversies. We will analyze debates surrounding memorials and monuments. In addition to our work on institutions, we will also read a number of novels that claim to do the work of museums (Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence) and that interrupt processes of memorialization (Amy Waldman's The Submission). [ more ]

COMP 347 TSilence, Loss and (Non)Memory in Twentieth-Century Austria

Not offered this year

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, focusing on three: Elisabeth Reichart, whose fiction sensitively but relentlessly uncovers secrets that have become part of the fabric of forgetting in the Austrian psyche; Marcus Carney, born to an Austrian mother and an American father, who unblinkingly documents his mother's and grandmother's attempts (or non-attempts) to come to terms with their family's Nazi past, not looking away from his own complex relationship to all involved; and finally, Gerhard Roth, the author of the seven-text series The Archives of Silence, a monumental collection of photos, essays and novels demonstrating the fact, as Roth conveyed to me in an interview, that "we all are just as blind and deaf to the whole picture as the blind and deaf are to the usual communications of our society." Psychoanalytic theory from Freud to recent discussions of the transgenerational transmission of trauma and perpetrator guilt will provide a conceptual framework for the literary works. The tutorial may be taken in German or English. For those who do it in German, all literary readings and at least 3 of the papers will be in German. This tutorial will fulfill the Exploring Diversity Initiative, because it involves a close and critical examination of the exercise and denial of power, namely complicity in the Holocaust and resistance to acknowledging that complicity. The investigation of Austria's curious combination of guilt and trauma can be extended to our own context; in fact, the Allies in 1944 published a declaration that Austria was the "first victim of Hitler," clearly demonstrating the continuing principle that not looking at the transgressions of oneself and one's own kind is a feature of those in power. [ more ]

COMP 349(S)Max Weber & Critical Theory or Rationalization & Its Discontents

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, Jurgen Habermas, Max Horkheimer, Michael Lowy, and Alasdair MacIntyre suggested various lines of flight from the iron cage of modernity. [ more ]

COMP 350Cervantes' "Don Quixote" in English Translation

Not offered this year

A close study of one of the most influential and early European novels. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616 C.E) was a hit in its day in the seventeenth century, and has not ceased to influence artists and thinkers since. Moving between humorous and serious tones, Cervantes takes on several issues in the Quixote: the point of fiction in real life, the complications of relationships between men and women, the meaning of madness, the experience of religious co-existence, the shapes of friendship, and the task of literary criticism, just to name a few. We will read the book in a fine modern English-language translation, and set it in several relevant contexts to better understand its original intellectual horizon--seventeenth-century Spain--as well as the reasons for its continuing relevance. [ more ]

COMP 352Writing after the Disaster: The Literature of Exile

Not offered this year

This course will consider different kinds of works (poetry, memoirs, fiction, essay) written by authors forced to live in exile as a consequence of political and/or religious persecution. Our point of departure will be the paradigmatic expulsion and subsequent diaspora of the Jews of Spain and Portugal. Most assignments, however, will be drawn from twentieth century texts written during, or in the wake of, the massive destruction and displacements brought about by the Spanish Civil War and World War II. How is the life lost portrayed? How are the concepts of home and the past intertwined? What kind of life or literature are possible for the deracinated survivor? We will discuss the role of writing and remembrance in relation to political history, as well as in the context of individual survival. Readings might include works by Nu?ez de Reinoso, Leon, Cernuda, Semprun, Benjamin, Nancy, and Blanchot. [ more ]

COMP 354(F)The Literary Afterlife

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 355(S)Contemporary Theatre and Performance

As Gertrude Stein once remarked, "The hardest thing is to know one's present moment." What is going on in theatre and performance today? What are the hot topics? Who are the writers, performers, and directors of our recent past and present moment? This seminar course will consider both experimental and mainstream drama and performance mainly in the U.S. from the past twenty years, focusing on topics such as: postmodern performance, theatre of images, auteur-directors, new realism, identity theatre, eco-theatre, performance art, postdramatic theatre, devised performance, virtuosic theatre, immersive theatre, social practice, neo-collectivism, and more. As part of the seminar, students will conduct individual research on selected topics and present their findings through oral reports. Students will be required to attend theatre, dance and other performances at the '62 Center. Artists and groups considered may include: The Wooster Group, Richard Foreman, Robert Wilson, Meredith Monk, Edward Albee, Maria Irene Fornes, Sam Shepard, Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, Suzan-Lori Parks, Sarah Kane, Will Eno, Richard Maxwell, Young Jean Lee, Annie Baker, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Anne Washburn, Elevator Repair Service, Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, The Civilians, and many others. As a final project, students will work individually or in small groups to create a script or short performance that addresses the question: "What is the most important story to be telling right now?" [ more ]

COMP 358(S)Across the Oceans, Across the Seas

This course will consider literature that depicts the circulation of peoples and commodities (and often people as commodities) across the world's oceans in the 19th and 20th centuries. We will consider such issues as the microcosm of the ship, the slave trade and the Middle Passage, indentured servitude and the Indian Ocean, the ocean as a space of flux and transformation, and figures such as the maroon, the castaway, the lascar, and the pirate. We will read texts by Herman Melville, Claude McKay, Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, and Amitav Ghosh. Secondary and theoretical texts will include works by Paul Gilroy, C.L.R. James, Edouard Glissant, and Khal Torabully. The course will contribute to the College's Exploring Diversity Initiative by exploring cultural encounters and transformations in the transitional, transnational space of the world ocean. [ more ]

COMP 360The Body as Book: Memory and Reenactment in Dance & Theater

Not offered this year

What does it mean to conceive of the body as a book? This unique interdisciplinary studio/seminar course examines how dance and theater channel, preserve and transmit stories and cultural memory through individual and collective bodies. Dance and theater are traditionally defined as ephemeral arts, bounded by the limits of linear time and space. Yet, as Rebecca Schneider writes, "time is decidedly folded and fraught." Repetition and reenactment are forms of remembering, and performance is often not what disappears but what remains.How do we pass on knowledge in visceral and affective ways? What is a "repertoire"? What are the benefits and risks of continuity over time? Taught as part of the Books Unbound curricular initiative, and in conjunction with the opening of the Sawyer-Stetson Library, the course will complete a project in which the class "embodies" material, first by exploring stories embodied by individual members of the class, and then by translating them through performance by the collective, culminating in dance/theatre pieces performed in the new library. Over the term, we will also study modern and contemporary American artists, such as: Martha Graham, The Wooster Group, Alvin Ailey, Meredith Monk, Anne Bogart, Ralph Lemon, Elevator Repair Service, Bill T. Jones, Marina Abramovic, Jose Limon, and Suzan-Lori Parks. We will also collaborate with professional artists invited to Williams to create and present dance and theater pieces in the new library. [ more ]

COMP 362 T(S)Story, Self, and Society

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 tutorial will grapple 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? Specific topics will include illness narratives, confessional culture, digital stories, oral history, and memoir. As a capstone exercise, each student will construct a narrative analysis focused on a memoir of his/her choosing. The course will conclude with a final seminar meeting during which each student will tell a story of his/her own, and we will work together to consider how the theories we have encountered throughout the semester might illuminate our own narratives. [ more ]

COMP 363(F)Thinking Critically: Major Debates in Modern Arab Thought

The aim of this course is to introduce students to some of the major debates in Arab intellectual history in the 20th century and the ways in which they have shaped Arabic Studies as a discipline. We will read a range of texts from History, Religion, Politics, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Literature, Gender, Sexualities and Women Studies, in order to gain a deeper insight into critical debates about nationhood, modernity, post-coloniality, democracy, feminism, social, political and religious movements, Orientalism and post-Orientalism, and the making of modern Arab subjectivities. In addition to a course packet with selected texts and essays, students are required to read the following books: Ibrahim Abu-Rabi', Contemporary Arab Thought: Studies in Post-1967 Arab Intellectual History (2004), Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab, Contemporary Arab Thought: Cultural Critique in Comparative Perspective (2010) & Tarik Sabry, Arab Cultural Studies: Mapping the Field (2012). [ more ]

COMP 370Displaying, Collecting and Preserving the Other: Museums and French Imperialism

Not offered this year

This course will explore relationships between culture and imperialism in France by exploring how the colonial "Other" has been conceived, displayed and collected in French museums, world's fairs and galleries from the 19th century to the present. Through readings in museum history and theory, we will explore the imperial histories of the Louvre and the Musee de l'Homme, the role of Parisian World's Fairs in ordering the colonial world, French colonial photography and the creation a body of consumable subjects, and the discourse of collection and preservation in French colonial architecture. Drawing on museum theory, we will also critically examine contemporary Parisian museums such as the Musee du Quai Branly, the Institut du Monde Arabe and the Cite nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration. In addition to readings and discussion, the class will engage in a semester-long group project to design a new museum of French history and identity. The group will present all aspects of their museum including location, design, exhibit concept, narrative, and more. This course will be conducted in English. For students seeking RLFR credit, select readings will be in French, and written work will be in French. [ more ]

COMP 374Shadows of Plato's Cave: Image, Screen, and Spectacle

Not offered this year

In Book VII of the Republic, Socrates famously asks his interlocutors to picture people living in a cave, bound in chains and able to see only shadows on the wall. Thus begins the presentation of perhaps the most influential metaphor in the history of philosophy. One might even claim that when Plato deployed the metaphor in an extended allegory, he constituted the fields of both philosophy and political theory. In repeatedly examining the allegory over the centuries, later thinkers have elaborated their approaches not only to Plato but also to the nature of politics and the tasks of thinking. This class begins with the Republic's cave and other key Platonic discussions of appearances, visual representation, and (literal and metaphoric) seeing, asking how Plato's approaches to image, politics, and theory/philosophy shape each other. Building on those inquiries, we next take up important twentieth and twenty-first century returns to the cave, engaging such figures as Heidegger, Strauss, Arendt, Derrida, Irigaray, Ranciere, and Badiou. Finally, we examine recent theories of screen and spectacle--read both for their resonances with and departures from debates over the Platonic legacy--and case studies in the politics of both military and racial spectacles in the U.S. The question of what is an image and what images do will run from the beginning of course to the end. Beyond the authors mentioned, readings may include such authors as Allen, Bruno, Clark, Debord, Friedberg, Goldsby, Joselit, Mitchell, Nightingale, Rodowick, Rogin, Silverman, and Virilio. Insofar as it fits student interest, we will also explore the cave's considerable presence in visual culture, ranging from Renaissance painting through such recent and contemporary artists as Kelley, Demand, Hirschhorn, Kapoor, Sugimoto, and Walker, to films such as The Matrix. [ more ]

COMP 375New Asian American, African American, Native American, and Latina/o Writing

Not offered this year

Critics reading minority writing often focus on its thematic--i.e., sociological--content. Such literature is usually presumed to be inseparable from the "identity"/body of the writer and read as autobiographical, ethnographic, representational, exotic. At the other end of the spectrum, avant-garde writing is seen to concern itself "purely" with formal questions, divorced from the socio-historical (and certainly not sullied by the taint of race). In the critical realm we currently inhabit, in which "race" is opposed to the "avant-garde," an experimental minority writer can indeed seem an oxymoron. In this class we will closely read recent work by Asian American, African American, Native American and Latino/a writers which challenges preconceptions about ethnic literature, avant-garde writing, genre categorization, among other things. The writing done by these mostly young, mostly urban, poets and fiction writers is some of the most exciting being written in the United States today; their texts push the boundaries of aesthetic form while simultaneously engaging questions of culture, politics, and history. Reading them forces us to re-think our received notions about literature. Authors to be read include Will Alexander, Sherwin Bitsui, Monica de la Torre, Sesshu Foster, Renee Gladman, Bhanu Kapil, Tan Lin, Tao Lin, Ed Roberson, James Thomas Stevens, Roberto Tejada, and Edwin Torres. [ more ]

COMP 380Literary and Critical Theory in the Twentieth Century

Not offered this year

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, new varieties of hermeneutic criticism, 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? The 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, Butler, and Said. 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 395(S)Signs of History

What is an historical event, and how do such events differ from other occurrences? How are historical changes reflected in or produced by literature, art and other cultural forms? Who or what makes history and what is the nature of historical agency? Is history always "written by the victors," as one says, or are there ways of challenging dominant accounts of the past? This seminar will attempt to answer these questions through readings of works of philosophy, poetry, history, prose fiction, film, photography, and cultural criticism that reflect upon the nature of history. Though answers will be multiple, course reading and discussion will in general strive to determine the consequences of understanding history as a site in which reading and writing, experience and narration, and action and interpretation interpenetrate. Readings may include works by Burke, Hegel, Charlotte Smith, de Tocqueville, Marx & Engels, Woolf, and Benjamin. [ more ]

COMP 401(F)Senior Seminar:Stories, Silence, and Power

A study carried out by political scientists at Dartmouth and Exeter confirms the "centrality of narrative to our way of understanding the world." "We all have any number of stories we tell ourselves about the world," they write, "and our dependence on those stories is so strong that we actively resist anything that might call them into question" (qtd in Chronicle of Higher Education 1/27/16). What kinds of stories become our master narratives? Perhaps more importantly, what is the nature of the hold they have over us? Finally, is it possible to change our master narratives? The seminar will examine all of these questions through close readings of literary texts from multiple traditions, as well as narratological, psychoanalytic, and post-colonial theory. The course will move from the individual level-including the stories that "hysterical" bodies tell and stories that enact the transmission of trauma across generations-to the large-group level, including the the narratives of superiority that are told in the interest of domination and those that resist them. Finally, we will engage with the silences that exist between the lines of our prevailing stories. Silence can be "holding a secret-a tacit lie;" it can be a "muteness caused by trauma," or a "silence due to not learning to speak." It can also be "the only sane response" to catastrophe, or a silence that exists "so that the un-said can be" (John Muller, personal communication). As Isak Dinesen famously wrote: "Where does one read a deeper tale than on the perfectly printed page of the most precious book? Upon the blank page." [ more ]

COMP 402Before We Were Queer: Gay and Lesbian Lives before 1990

Not offered this year

Reclaimed by activists in the 1990s as an expression of defiance and pride, the word queer has come to be identified with a wide range of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities, as well as entire fields of intellectual theory, popular culture, and political engagement. The past 25 years of queer studies, media, and activism (1990-2015) have led to unprecedented visibility and great advances for many LGBT people, especially in North America and Western Europe: from breakthroughs in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, to victories for Gays in the Military, Employment Non-Discrimination, and Gay Marriage in 16 US states and another 16 countries around the world. For many, however, this new era of queer life during the past 2 decades has eclipsed the time before, when those who were pejoratively labeled as queer struggled with homophobic discrimination, isolation, and violence, by seeking one another out in major cities, specific neighborhoods, underground bars, and in the narrative spaces of novels and films. As a result, many young people born after 1990 are largely unaware of these struggles that predate their lives, the internet, and social media; and several LGBT leaders worry that this has left many 18-25 year olds with a false sense of security, a decreasing interest in political engagement, alarming new rates of sexually transmitted infections, and a growing disinterest in queer social spaces beyond the virtual. In this course, we will explore the literary, cinematic, and cultural history of gay and lesbian lives before the 1990s, and consider what has been gained and lost. Topics to include the early twentieth-century isolation of the closet, (1890s-1950s), the formation of clandestine gay and lesbian communities during and after World War II (1940s-60s), the Stonewall riots and the first decade of Gay Liberation (1969-1979), and the devastating losses and community responses to AIDS (1979-1995). For its critical engagement with cultural diversity, comparative investigation of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, and historical analysis of queer identities, this course fulfills the goals of the Exploring Diversity Initiative. [ more ]

COMP 403(F)Topics in Advanced Arabic I: Contemporary Arab Cinema

The Arab world is a fascinating region with rich traditions and vibrant societies. Through an exploration of contemporary Arab cinema, this course will introduce you to issues in modern Arab societies that represent the diversity of the region as well as the shared concerns and challenges. We will analyze select movies and texts, exploring how Arab filmmakers represent social, political, and economic change and realities in their societies. Some topics include nationalism and national identity, gender identities, civil wars, religion, social justice, and the recent revolts. The course will be conducted in Arabic, and we will employ linguistic and paralinguistic analyses of the movies as a means to explore modern Arab thought and cultures. [ more ]

Taught by: Lama Nassif

Catalog details

COMP 410(F)Black Literary and Cultural Theories

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, Negritude, 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 415Gods and Kings: Historical Narratives from India

Not offered this year

India's long history with earliest written records going back to 2000 B.C presents multiple challenges that are unique among the ancient civilizations. The critical challenge is conceptual: how do we recognize the historical sense of societies whose past is recorded in ways that are different from European conventions? British rulers claimed that India had no sense of history before the colonial period. And this view has persisted despite recent scholarship that has undermined the factual and conceptual basis of this theory. The purpose of this course is two fold: first, to discuss the analytical methods one could apply to understand the 'history' contained in the diverse body of classical Indian literature; second, to study a representative set of primary sources that belong to the distinct historical traditions of India. Students will learn to apply these methods to gain new insights and debate the limitations of the approach. The course will begin with an exploration of the epic tradition and continue with in-depth readings of narratives from other important genres including popular bardic accounts, royal biographies and court dramas ranging from c. 1000 BCE to 1500 CE. [ more ]

COMP 465Race and Abstraction

Not offered this year

Minority artists--writers and visual artists mainly and, to a lesser degree, musicians--face a difficult "double bind" when creating works of art: the expectation is that they, like their racially marked bodies, will exhibit their difference by means of concrete signifiers (details, tropes, narratives, themes) of racial difference. Thus, the work is judged primarily in terms of its embodied sociological content (material, empirical) and not by "abstract" standards of aesthetic subtlety, philosophical sophistication, and so on. At the same time, in the popular and academic imaginary, minority subjects and artists poets occupy a single abstract signifying category--homogeneous, undifferentiated, "other," marginalized, non-universal--while racially "unmarked" (white) artists occupy the position of being universal and individual at once. The irony, of course, is that, say, an African American poet's being read as an abstract signifier does not mean that the black subject or writer is seen as capable of engaging in abstract ideas. This course will ask questions about the problem of race and abstraction by looking at the work of various African American and Asian American writers, visual artists and musicians--including Will Alexander, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, David Hammons, Yayoi Kusama, Tan Lin, Nathaniel Mackey, and Cecil Taylor--as well as critics. We will pay particular attention to formally experimental works. This course will ask questions about the problem of race and abstraction by looking at the work of various African American and Asian American writers, visual artists and musicians--including Will Alexander, John Keene, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Yau, Cecil Taylor, David Hammons, and Yoko Ono--as well as critics. We will pay particular attention to formally experimental works. [ more ]