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 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 108(F)Roman Literature: Foundations and Empire

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 110Introduction to Comparative Literature

Not offered this year

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

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COMP 111(S)Nature of Narrative

This course examines the nature and workings of narrative through a wide range of texts from different traditions, genres, and periods. We will explore the ways in which stories are told, how they convey meaning, and how they are shaped by generic conventions. Readings may include the Odyssey, the Chinese Classic of Poetry (Shijing), the Tale of Genji, the lais of Marie de France, Austen, Eliot, Feng Menglong, and others (all readings will be in English). We will also read a few short theoretical works. [ more ]

Taught by: Sarah Allen

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COMP 111(F)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 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, articles, and other relevant texts, accompanying the readings with a few pertinent theoretical texts. The authors we will study may include Homer, Cervantes, Kleist, Kafka, Zweig, Garcia Marquez, Rankine, and Farhadi. All readings in English, although those with foreign language competency are invited to make comparisons with the original where possible. [ more ]

COMP 115(F)Rumble in the Jungle: Major Postcolonial Writers and Movements

The antagonism between the West and the rest has been a defining feature of contemporary thought, especially during the struggles of the former colonies to establish themselves as independent nations at the turn of the twentieth century. This course will take up the work of artists, writers, and theorists who engaged colonial dialectics and challenged them by giving voice to complex identities, histories, and politics. Our works will take us around the world, and stretch us across multiple phases of colonialism and its aftermaths. In addition to encountering a postcolonial serial killer, a pterodactyl in present-day India, and a famed boxing match sponsored by an African dictator, we will watch narrative and documentary cinema, look at visual art, and read poetry, fiction, essays, and philosophy, and consider how these media and genres work as forms of resistance and acts of world-making. Key authors will include Frantz Fanon, Aime Cesaire, V.S. Naipaul, Albert Memmi, Edward Said, Salman Rushdie, and Mahasweta Devi. In asking students to think broadly and comparatively about discourses of otherness and their impact on artistic, philosophical, and other cultural production, this course will contribute to the college's Exploring Diversity Initiative [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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COMP 117(F)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 128Reading Asian American Literature

Not offered this year

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 140(F)Introduction to Traditional Chinese Literature

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

COMP 141(S)Black Autobiography

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

COMP 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 200(S)European Modernism--and Its Discontents

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 201The Hebrew Bible

Not offered this year

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

COMP 203(F)Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature: Rebels and Rebellion

"God save us from seeing a Russian revolt, senseless and merciless," famously proclaimed Alexander Pushkin. But is revolt always senseless? And if it's not, what is the meaning behind it? Throughout the nineteenth century, Russian literature gave different answers to these questions. In this course, students will familiarize themselves with the masterpieces of the Golden Age of Russian literature with a particular focus on rebellion understood in its broadest sense: philosophical, psychological, social, sexual, and aesthetic. We will examine the confrontation of the archetypal figure of Russian literature, the "superfluous man," with his milieu in Pushkin, Lermontov, Turgenev, and Goncharov. The social and psychological revolt of another key figure--the "little man"--will be addressed in the works of Pushkin and Gogol. We will then discuss woman's sexual rebellion in Nikolai Leskov and the forms of spiritual rebellion in Leo Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Finally, we will examine the aesthetic revolution of Chekhov's plays, which challenged the principles of the old theater and marked the turn to new modernist drama. All readings are in English. [ more ]

Taught by: Vladimir Ivantsov

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

Not offered this year

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 206The Book of Job and Joban Literature

Not offered this year

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 208(F)Through the Looking Glass: Comparative Children's Literature

Oh, the reads we will read, if you follow my lead!
We will amble at first and then soon pick up speed,
And we'll bury our noses in books thick and thin.
This I vow by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.
There'll be picture books, fairy tales, primers, and verse,
Tales of joy, fun, and laughter; and, alas, the reverse.
Some were written in English, but most of them not.
Though we'll read in translation: Sign on up, polyglot!
For example, there's Lindgren, 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 210Latina/o Language Politics: Hybrid Voices

Not offered this year

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 213(S)Reading the Qur'an

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

COMP 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 216(F)Folk and Fairy Tales in Literature and Beyond

From cannibalistic crones in sugary cottages to frogs who can be transformed with a kiss, the English term "folktale" covers a broad range of stories that been beloved and belittled, transmitted and transformed for hundreds of years in many cultures. This course will look broadly at folktales from different traditions, ranging from early China to medieval Europe and contemporary America. 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 ]

Taught by: Sarah Allen

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COMP 217(S)Ancient Wisdom Literature

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

COMP 218(F)Gender and Sexuality in Asian American Theater

This class begins with the premise that intersectional and interdisciplinary studies of gender and sexuality need to be, and in significant ways already are, in conversation with Asian American studies and theater. How might contemporary Western discourses of masculinity and heterosexuality, for example, depend upon theatrical constructions of Eastern sexual alterity? How have Asian American artists managed and critiqued historically gendered and sexualized stereotypes (e.g., hypersexual Dragon Lady, virginal Lotus Blossom, asexual Charlie Chan) through theatrical intervention? This seminar will closely read dramatic literature written by Asian American artists, as well as engage scholarship in Asian American gender and sexuality studies and performance studies. We will read the work of playwrights including Ayad Akhtar, Ping Chong, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Velina Hasu Houston, David Henry Hwang, Young Jean Lee, Diana Son, Lauren Yee, and Chay Yew. [ more ]

Taught by: Vivian Huang

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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 ]

Taught by: Sarah Allen

Catalog details

COMP 220Contemporary Russian Culture and Politics

Not offered this year

This course explores select aspects of contemporary Russian society and politics through 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 and film but as they emerge in the lived reality of Russians since 1991. 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. Analysis of the political and social processes will be framed in a comparative approach, drawing on parallels and differences with countries of Eastern Europe. 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, 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; Casablanca; The Godfather; Schindler's List; Bridesmaids; Groundhog Day, 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 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 227Made in China or Making "China"?: Twentieth-Century Chinese Performative Culture

Not offered this year

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 228(S)Afro-Caribbean Literature: Race, Gender and Identity

The course will focus on the representation of the trauma of slavery and abolitionist narratives in the 19th-century Caribbean. We will study the concept of transculturation and the processes and practices of negotiation and cultural resistance of Afro-descendants throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In addition, we will focus on conflicts derived from race, gender and identity in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, closely related to emigration and globalization phenomena. [ more ]

Taught by: Mirta Suquet

Catalog details

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

Not offered this year

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 T(F)Postmodernism

In one definition, postmodernism in art and literature is what you get when you combine modernism's radical experimentation with pop culture's easy appeal. This term has been used to describe works from Andy Warhol's paintings of Campbell's soup cans and Jean Baudrillard's critical essays on Disneyland to Murakami Haruki's euphoric conspiracy novels. Theorists of the postmodern have argued that it represents not only a radical change in aesthetic sensibilities, but a fundamentally new relationship between art, language, and society. In this tutorial, we will read some of the most important theoretical essays defining the postmodern (essays which themselves often embrace this playful and sometimes ironic style), and we will pair them with artistic texts that are said to illustrate the features of postmodernism. The latter will be mainly novels and short stories from around the world, but one feature of this theory is a flattening of the distinction between high and low culture as well as between the written and the visual, so we will also examine examples from architecture, visual art, and/or broader pop culture. Texts will include essays by 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 234(F)A Survey of Hispanic Cinema from 1960 to 2010: Politics, Gender, and Memory

This course will survey a selection of representative films of Hispanic cinema (Spain and Latin America), from 1960 to 2010, as artistic discourses that are closely related to the historical, social, and political contexts in which they were produced. This essential relationship will be analyzed and discussed. The course is not intended to be a history of Hispanic cinema, but rather a look at distinctive films through the analysis of themes that singularize them. The common thread of the course will be discussion of the extent to which the films transgress the standards imposed by the constraints of censorship, cultural conventions, political regimes, and gender norms in Spain and Latin America, thus becoming archives of resistance to these limitations. Our discussions will consider violence, politics of vision, childhood and trauma, the performance of gender, realistic and fantastic regimes of representation, political disagreement, and memory. Filmmakers to be studied include Luis Bu?uel, Pedro Almodovar, Iciar Bollain, Luis Puenzo, Alejandro Gonzalez I?arritu, among others. [ more ]

Taught by: Walfrido Dorta

Catalog details

COMP 236 TShe Speaks in Color: Examining the 'Color Complex' in Toni Morrison's Writings

Not offered this year

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 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 three realist 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, Eve Sedgwick, Edward Said, & Franco Moretti. Novelists may include Austen, Dickens, Conrad. [ 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 240(F)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. Readings 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 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 244(F)Race and (post)Colonialism in Eurasia

This course explores representations of non-Slavic peoples of Eurasia in Russian art and thought from the 19th century to the present. In the process of its historical expansion across Eurasia, the Russian Empire subsumed under its political, military, economic and linguistic domains a variety of non-Slavic ethnic groups across the Caucasus and Central Asia. Their non-Slavic appearance, languages, and religious and cultural practices--broadly taken as markers of "race"--gave rise to oriental and exotic images in Russian prose fiction and visual art of the 19th century. In the 20th century, however, Soviet generations of indigenous minorities could not only claim the Russian language and cultural heritage as part of their hybrid linguistic and cultural identities, but also actively contribute to the evolving body of the Russian cultural canon, from novels to cinema, while developing their own national traditions. The new (self)representations of Russia's frontier minorities, former imperial "others" and new Soviet "brothers and sisters," within the Russian cultural sphere combined and problematized the notions of imperial subjugation and peripheral agency, colonialism and modernization. In the post-Soviet period, destabilization of the political boundaries of the Russian state is paralleled by new images of non-Russian "others" who appear (threateningly) close to the Russian "heartland" as never before. At the same time, the lasting influence of the Russian language and culture continues to impact the cultural developments in the former Soviet republics across Eurasia, raising questions of identity, power, and heritage.This course fulfills the EDI requirement by studying how Russian and other Eurasian cultures have interacted and responded to each in history and how such interaction continues to influence their contemporary cultural development. [ more ]

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

Not offered this year

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 ]

COMP 246Bloody Vampires: From Fiction to Film and Fashion

Not offered this year

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 TGender, Sexuality and Modern Performance

Not offered this year

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 250(F)From Adam to Noah: Literary Imagination and the Primeval History in Genesis

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"Disease" in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture

Not offered this year

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 255(S)Love and Death in Modern Japanese Literature

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 258Film and Media Studies: An Introduction

Not offered this year

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 TAdultery in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Not offered this year

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 260(F)Reading Comics from the French-Speaking World

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 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(S)Theories of Language and Literature

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

COMP 266(F)Confession and Deception in Japanese Literature

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 267The Art of Friendship

Not offered this year

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 267(S)Performance Studies: An Introduction

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

Taught by: Vivian Huang

Catalog details

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 270(S)Russian Literature and European Existentialism

Existentialism was a highly influential movement in twentieth-century European literature and thought. Nowadays the terms existentialism and existentialist are broadly used to describe the worldview and literary style of writers and thinkers as different as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leonid Andreyev, Martin Heidegger, Franz Kafka, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Reflecting the shift to irrationalism in early twentieth-century philosophy and psychology, as well as the global cataclysms of the twentieth century, existentialism focuses on the problem of human alienation in the modern world, suggesting ways of overcoming it. In this course addressing the key concepts of existentialist philosophy (angst, borderline situation, the absurd, freedom), we will examine the origins of the existentialist worldview in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Russian literature (Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Leonid Andreyev); read and discuss existentialist texts by Kafka, Albert Camus, and Sartre; and look at the existentialist legacy in contemporary Russian and Western culture, including rock music. All readings are in English. [ more ]

Taught by: Vladimir Ivantsov

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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 272(S)The History and Mythology of Chinese Scripts

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

COMP 273(F)Murder 101

Why is detective fiction so popular? What explains the continuing multiplication of mystery novels despite the seemingly finite number of available plots? This course will explore the worldwide fascination with this genre beginning with European writers before turning to more distant detective stories from around the world. The international scope of our readings will highlight how authors in different countries have developed their own national detective typologies while simultaneously responding to the international influence of the Anglo-American model. At the same time the readings will trace the evolution of the genre from the classical Sherlock Holmes model through later iterations, including golden age, hard-boiled, police procedural, female detective types, and more. Alongside fictional narratives, essays on the genre will provide the theoretical ground for our investigation. Our international journey will begin in England and the United States (G.K. Chesterton, Robert Knox and Edgar Allan Poe) and continue through Japan (Edogawa Rampo), France (Georges Simenon), Italy (Andrea Camilleri), Argentina (Jorge Luis Borges), and beyond. As we journey around the world, we will look at the possibility of reading detective fiction through the categories of gender, postcolonial, and race studies. Film adaptations of the novels we read, TV shows and films noir will also be included in the course material. All readings will be in English. [ more ]

Taught by: Michele Monserrati

Catalog details

COMP 274 T(F)Confronting Japan

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 T(S)American Drama: Hidden Knowledge

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, Machiavelli'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 Eugene O'Neill, Edward Albee, Sarah Ruhl, Arthur Miller, Amy Herzog, Susan Glaspell, Sophie Treadwell, Annie Baker, 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 276 T(S)Black Europeans

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

COMP 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 278Premodern Japanese Literature and Performance

Not offered this year

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

Not offered this year

"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 281The Banlieue in literature, Music, and Film

Not offered this year

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 282Introduction to Francophone Literatures

Not offered this year

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

COMP 283Haitian and French Caribbean Literatures and Films

Not offered this year

Over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, authors and filmmakers have questioned prevalent representations of the Creole and French-speaking Caribbean such as the idea of Haiti as the First Black republic and the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere and and of Martinique and Guadeloupe as the "French" Caribbean. They have also interrogated their forebears by reclaiming modernity, reframing History, and telling "intimist" stories (Ferly). This course focuses on the diverging paths by Haitian and French Caribbean literatures (short stories, play, poem, novels) and film (short, feature and documentaries) as critical interventions that bring into focus slavery, identity, exile, migration, 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 285World War II in Russian Culture

Not offered this year

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 288Insult to Injury: Satire and Comic Abuse in Ancient Greece and Rome

Not offered this year

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 289 T(F)Theorizing Magic

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

COMP 290Shakespeare on Page, Stage and Screen: Text to Performance

Not offered this year

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 292Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions: Narratives from the Arab World, Latin America and the Caribbean

Not offered this year

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 293(F)Great Big Books

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

COMP 294 TPhilosophy and Narrative Fiction

Not offered this year

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 296(S)Chinese Film and Its Significant Others

From the "wows" that the first short films invoked at a Shanghai teahouse in 1896 to the $527 million (or 3.4 billion RMB) grossed at the box-office by a 3D fantasy in 2016, Chinese films have struck a responsive chord among domestic and foreign audiences. In this survey course, we will explore the evolving relationships between Chinese films and five "significant others" that are central to film and film-making. Roughly following a chronological order, this course will examine 1) the effect of new technological developments (such as photography, sound, color, special FX) on film; 2) the tension between film and traditional modes of public entertainment (such as operas and shadow plays); 3) film's social role to affirm and contest gender, national, and class identities; 4) the need to garner differing sources of financial support (state funding, cultural entrepreneurs, and transnational capital); and 5) the circulation of Chinese films in the global market. Class materials include various genre films (melodrama, horror, martial arts, comedy, etc.), directors' notes, contemporary reviews, and scholarship in China and media studies. All materials and discussions are in English. [ more ]

COMP 297 T(F)Present Past: The Politics of Memory in Contemporary Chinese Literatures and Films

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

COMP 298(S)Introduction to French and Francophone Film

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

COMP 299 T(S)Coffee, Sugar, Wigs, and Desks: Writing and Material Life in Early Modern France

This tutorial considers the relationship between slavery, colonial commerce, and the burgeoning market in material and cultural goods. We look at France's "consumer revolution" through the lens of four material objects--sugar, coffee, wigs, and desks--to consider how eighteenth-century concepts of race, gender, and social status related to taste, sociability, appearance, and writerly identity. Readings by Voltaire, Aulnoy, Genlis, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and others will be paired with critical texts from literary and material historians as well as objects found in local collections. [ more ]

COMP 300 T(S)Aesthetic Outrage

In this tutorial course we will explore interdisciplinary ways of theorizing the outraged reception of provocative works of film, theater, and fiction. When riots, censorship, and vilification greet such works in moments of political and social upheaval, the public outrage is often strangely out of proportion to either the work's aesthetic nature or its overt commentary on the political crisis. Something powerfully symptomatic is at work, then: a set of threatened investments, unacknowledged values, and repressed ideas which surface explosively, but indirectly, in the aesthetic outrage. In an attempt to understand the strange logic of public outrage against works of art, we will explore the respective works' historical contexts, and use theoretical models--aesthetic, political, psychological, social--as a means of illuminating the dynamics of outrage and exposing understated linkages between a work's figurative logic and the political passions of its historical moment. We will study instances of outrage in the context of French Revolution (Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro), the wave of anarchist terrorism in turn-of-the-century Paris (Jarry's Ubu the King), the sodomy trials of Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest), the Irish Revolution (Synge's The Playboy of the Western World and O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars), and Stalinist collectivization (Eisenstein's suppressed film Bezhin Meadow). After two weeks in which we will meet as a group, students will meet with the instructor in pairs for one hour each week during the rest of the semester. They will write a 5- to 6-page paper every other week (five in all), and a short written analyses of their partners' papers in alternate weeks. Emphasis will be placed on developing skills not only in reading and interpretation (of historical events and of theoretical texts as well as of literature and film), but also in constructing critical arguments and responding to them in written and oral critiques. [ 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 ]

COMP 302 TLatino Writing: Literature by U.S. Hispanics

Not offered this year

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 305Dostoevsky: Context and Interpretation

Not offered this year

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 306(S)Rise and Shine with Tolstoy

Prepare to alternately fall in love and lock horns with this illustrious nineteenth-century Russian author. He is worth it! This course will examine the life and major works of Leo Tolstoy in the context of Western intellectual history. Readings will include his two great novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, as well as a number of shorter works, such as The Cossacks and Hadji Murad. We will also consider some of Tolstoy's aesthetic and didactic works as we examine his broad, rich, and sometimes unexpected development as an artist and thinker. [ 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 310(S)Theorizing Shakespeare

For complex reasons, Shakespeare has always revealed as much about those who speculate on him as the speculators have revealed about him. In this course, we will engage a few plays in considerable depth: The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra. But we will also use these works as a means to engage some of the most compelling trends in recent critical thought, including cultural theory and post-Marxist analysis, political theology, deconstruction and rhetorical theory, psychoanalytic thought and theories of gender and sexuality. In some instances, we will look at applied criticism, in others we will simply place a theoretical work alongside a play and see what they have to say to each other, for instance, what would a Shakespearean reading of Jacques Lacan look like? [ 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 313(S)Feeling Queer and Asian

This advanced undergraduate seminar focuses on concepts, queries, and methodologies at the intersections of Asian Americanist critique, queer theory, and affect theory. How might we come to understand Asian gender, sexuality, and racialization less through a language of being or meaning, as through feeling? How do Asian/American discourses rely upon languages of gender and sexuality, and how might queerness depend upon Asianness? How might these theories identify, complicate, and call forth more expansive or alternative practices of belonging? The class will read theories including national abjection, racial melancholia, disaffection, queer diaspora, and homonationalism, as well as engage Asian American literatures. [ more ]

Taught by: Vivian Huang

Catalog details

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 317(S)Dante

In the spring of 1300, Dante Alighieri entered Hell. The Divine Comedy is the record of the journey that followed. It is organized around a series of encounters with figures from the poet's past--for example, a former teacher damned for violating nature--as well as historical and literary characters: Ulysses, Thomas Aquinas, Plato, Virgil, Adam. Though the Comedy is probably now best known for its savagery--the bodies split open, the Popes turned upside down and lit on fire--it is also, as Dante claims, a love story and a work of high imaginative daring. Among its final images is a vision of paradise rendered through the precise if also mind-bending language of non-Euclidean geometry. In this course we will read the three books of the Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso), the Vita Nuova, and a few brief selections from Dante's other works. All readings will be in translation. [ more ]

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

Not offered this year

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 319(F)Black Migrations: African American Performance at Home and Abroad

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

Not offered this year

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

COMP 322(S)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 Orientalist Sublime and the Politics of Horror

Islamophobia is on the rise once again, but its history is long and storied. This course will look at how we got here by asking simple questions: how do we name those things that are beyond the grasp of reason, outside the realm of intelligibility? How do we attempt to domesticate that which is foreign or other? What, to Western Europeans, was the deep mysterious Orient but a new instance of the sublime? What is the Arab world to Americans now? In this seminar, we will take up the inheritance of the eighteenth-century fad in Europe for all things Oriental that followed the translation of The Arabian Nights into French in 1707. We will read the Nights alongside Edmund Burke's and Immanuel Kant's theories of the sublime and writings on the French Revolution in order to investigate the relationship between the real politics of Empire and the politics of imperial representation. Raced and gendered imaginaries will play a crucial role in our study. In aiming to understand how literature and art deal with the magisterial, the infinite, the unmapped, the horror, and the mystery of the sublime East, we will touch on important writers and artists in the long history and aftermath of European Orientalism from the eighteenth century to the present. Authors and artist include Daniel Defoe, Mary Wortley Montague, Eliza Fay, J.A.D. Ingres, Eugene Delacroix, Mary Shelley, William Beckford, Comte de Lautreamont, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Richard Marsh, E.M. Forster, Jorge Luis Borges, and Salman Rushdie. [ more ]

COMP 325American Social Dramas

Not offered this year

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

COMP 326 TQueer Temporalities

Not offered this year

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 328California: Myths, Peoples, Places

Not offered this year

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(S)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, philosophy, and art 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. May include works by Kant, Wordsworth & Colderidge, C. Smith, P.B. Shelley,Gericault, Delacroix, Turner, Hazlitt, Hegel, Marx, C.L.R James, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, and Jacques Ranciere. [ more ]

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

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

COMP 331 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 334(S)Imagining Joseph

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

COMP 335 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 338The Culture of Carnival

Not offered this year

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 341(F)Cinematic Representations of Work and Migration after the Wall

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 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 348(F)Graphic Narratives as Democratic Ideals

This course examines the graphic narrative in terms of how each author/illustrator employs narrative elements (plotting, structure, characterization, text, and visuals) to express social realities within the context of democratic ideals. The primary focus will be on texts that explore themes of democracy and Latinidades. We will also discuss the "graphic activism" of artists like Sharon Lee De La Cruz of Digital Citizens Lab, a design collective with a focus on civic technology. Throughout the course, students will have the opportunity to create their own graphic narratives, either digitally or in print. Possible guest speaker: comic book artist Ivan Velez (Planet Bronx, 2015 Creative Capital Award in Visual Arts). [ more ]

Taught by: Nelly Rosario

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

Not offered this year

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 351(S)Friedrich Nietzsche: Philosophizing with a Hammer

In one of his last major writings, Twilight of the Idols (Gotzen-Dammerung, 1889), Friedrich Nietzsche described his project as an attempt to sound out various established philosophical truths or intellectual "idols," saying, "they will be touched here with a hammer as with a tuning fork, these are the oldest, most convinced, puffed-up, and fat-headed idols you will ever find...And also the most hollow." To be sure, Nietzsche directed his often combative prose against everything from traditional religion to philosophy itself. Nietzsche is one of the most frequently cited and most frequently misunderstood philosophers of our current era. By reading Nietzsche's writings in context, this course will attempt to liberate Nietzsche from his later reputation. We will think with and sometimes against Nietzsche, focusing on his notions of religion, mythology, power, morality, and enlightenment, and we will pay special attention to his reflections on the limits of reason/knowledge. Along the way, students will get a new sense of Nietzsche's most famous theoretical formulations including "the death of God," the Ubermensch, and the split between Dionysian/Apollonian modes of thought. [ 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 353(F)Anticolonial Avant Gardes: Literature, Film, Theory

Chic, sophisticated, experimental, bohemian, radical: the words we think of when we think of the "avant garde" call to mind the great cities of Europe and America in the early decades of the twentieth century. The usual suspects hail from Paris, London, Moscow, Rome, and New York, but many of them claimed to be mining the "naive arts" and primitive energies of the "uncivilized societies" in Africa, Asia, and beyond. Can we recover these Others, these understudied but essential artists, as more than unconscious transmitters of unfamiliar cultures, and locate in their work a distinct set of aesthetic and political practices? Can we trace the global vectors of a representational strategy that is not Euro-American but is nevertheless politically and formally radical? Writers, artists, and filmmakers like Jean Toomer, G.V. Desani, Amos Tutuola, Emile Habiby, Jean Genet, Aime Cesaire, Haroun Farocki, Patrick Chamoiseau, Claire Denis, and Antjie Krog will help us locate and consider the explosive diversity of a broader avant garde's experiments with image, sound, and language, as well as how these texts have contributed to and put pressure on more traditionally Western modernisms. In posing a question about the geographical and cultural purview of the Avant Garde around the time of the world wars, this class encourages students to interrogate the transmissibility of aesthetic practice in an age of global upheaval. We will look to writers and artists working in a variety of traditions and, equally importantly, against those traditions, in order to examine how power and resistance inflected the avant grade strains of modernist expression. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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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 355Contemporary Theatre and Performance

Not offered this year

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 356(S)The Myth of Venice and its Modern Aftermath

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

Taught by: Michele Monserrati

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COMP 357(F)Disease and Identity in Latin American Narratives of Self

This course focuses on autobiographical, auto-fictional, and testimonial Latin American works in order to analyze the ways in which the authors narrate the transformation of the body and subjectivity because of disease. The main goal of the course is to emphasize the bio-cultural constructions of disease and read the different texts as geo-culturally located expressions in constant dialogue with prior literary representations of disease. Readings by Severo Sarduy, Reinaldo Arenas, Pedro Lemebel, Mario Bellatin, Fernando Vallejo, and Marta Dillon, among others. We will supplement these readings with texts by non-Latin American authors to provide a "world literature" context where possible, and consider several pertinent theoretical frameworks. [ more ]

Taught by: Mirta Suquet

Catalog details

COMP 362 T(F)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 that we will select collectively. The course will conclude with a final seminar meeting during which each student will tell a story of their own, and we will work together to consider how the theories we have encountered throughout the semester might illuminate our own narratives. [ more ]

COMP 363Thinking Critically: Major Debates in Modern Arab Thought

Not offered this year

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 364(S)Aestheticism & Decadence

"Fin de Siecle": Despair over the seeming perilous decline in moral standards, scandalously avant-garde fashions in art and writing, anxieties brought on by Britain's uneasy relation to its colonies, and the emergence of new dissident sexual and social identities, led some to fear (and others to celebrate) that the ways of Victorian Britain were not long for this world at end of the 19th century. This course will consider two loosely affiliated artistic movements, aestheticism and decadence, as responses both scandalized and scandalizing to this exhilarating period. Part of what's so tricky here is the elusiveness of the terms we'll be studying. So, much of our work will entail tracing out the multiple and often contradictory uses of them: do these terms designate a distinct cultural moment, an historically bounded period, a loose set of writers and artists, a theme? Or, might we better conceptualize aestheticism and decadence as a style of writing or a style of the self, or even a mode of art that seeks to disrupt such distinctions as the one between the self and writing--one we might find in 21st-century New York as 19th-century London? We'll read writers such as Oscar Wilde, who reveled in amoral manifestos like "art for art's sake" by elevating artifice and shallowness to first principles of life; but also Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, who has his own thing for artifice. Noting the high body count in these works, we'll also ask why these texts seem so concerned with fatality, with death, with addiction, with various forms of losing the self--in art, in the metropolis, in another person. We'll focus as well on attempts to rethink traditional social bonds in works that value variously, solitude over sociality, the transient encounter over the enduring relationship, promiscuity over fidelity, and to think about how literary form might relate to those efforts. [ more ]

COMP 365(F)Beckett, Pinter and Stoppard

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

COMP 366(F)Joyce, Woolf, and Proust

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

COMP 368(F)Arab Women Writers: Remapping Urban Narratives

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

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

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

COMP 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 383(S)Representing History

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

COMP 386(S)Fiction of Beckett and Sebald

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

COMP 392(F)Wonder

We tend to imagine "wonder" as a naive, wide-eyed response, something quite distinct from the cold and sophisticated act of critical analysis. In this discussion class, we will consider wonder as an eminently analyzable concept, but one that raises provocative questions about the nature and limits of our own, distinctly modern forms of critical engagement. The course examines three historical incarnations of "wonder," each involving complex relations among the aesthetic, philosophical, and social domains: the Renaissance tradition on wonder and the marvelous; the eighteenth-century analysis of the sublime; and twentieth-century accounts of the culture of spectacle. We will consider writers such as Shakespeare, Sir Thomas Browne, Wordsworth, Borges, and W.G. Sebald (all wonderful); painters such as Leonardo and Vermeer, the photography of Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth; films including Lang's Metropolis and Scott's Blade Runner; and critical or philosophical writers, including Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, and Walter Benjamin. [ more ]

COMP 395(F)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. May include works by Kant, Burke, Hegel, Charlotte Smith, Marx & Engels, Woolf, Kafka, Arendt, Benjamin, Mahmood Darwish, Thomas Demand, and Eyal Sivan. [ more ]

COMP 397Independent Study: Comparative Literature

Not offered this year

Comparative Literature 300-level independent study. [ more ]

COMP 398Independent Study: Comparative Literature

Not offered this year

Comparative Literature 300-level independent study. [ more ]

COMP 401(F)Senior Seminar: The Antigone Project

What is the role of the individual in the making and sustaining of democracy? Conversely, what is the state's role in upholding democratic rule? Such questions-while pressing in our contemporary social and political climate-reside at the core of one of the most foundational works of the ancient Athenian context: Sophocles' Antigone. For the Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature, students will spend the semester exploring in depth the single work of Antigone, approaching it through various lenses: theoretical, historical, social, philosophical, political, literary, performative, and creative. Over the term, we will explore the richness and meaning of Antigone by understanding it as performance, social practice, text, translation, and adaptation (in works by artists such as Jean Anouilh, Bertolt Brecht, Seamus Heaney, Griselda Gambaro, Karen Hartman, and Lynn Nottage, and in theory by Aristotle, Hegel, Lacan, Butler, and Zizek). Assignments will include: four 1- to 2-page writing reflections, a 6- to 8-page midterm paper, an oral presentation, and group collaboration. As a major final assignment, students will work individually to complete a 15- to 20-page translation or adaptation that envisions their own creative, curatorial, and critical approach to Antigone. This course is a requirement for senior Comparative Literature majors and is also open, with permission of the instructor, to advanced students undertaking the major in units such as Theatre, English, Classics, and Art. [ 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 403Topics in Advanced Arabic I: Contemporary Arab Cinema

Not offered this year

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

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COMP 405(S)Exemplary Monsters: Cannibals, Zombies, Ghosts and Vampires in Latin American Literature

The course will focus on the figure of the monster and the idea of the monstrous in Latin American and Caribbean literatures in its different variants of representation: cannibals, zombies, ghosts and vampires among others. We will focus on literary texts, but also explore Latin American and Caribbean films and visual works centered on the monster. We will analyze the role of these representations, and the role of monsters as symbols of the identity and history in Latin America and the Caribbean. Is there a specifically "Latin American monster"? How do monsters in Latin America function culturally? What would be the differences in the representations of the monstrous in different historical periods? Special emphasis will be placed on the monster's association with race, gender, and cultural otherness, as well as its role as vehicle for discourses about exoticism, barbarism, colonization, slavery, and dictatorships. We will also take into account the idea of the monster as appropriation of difference and as a vehicle of the unrepresentable (the abject subject, violence). Authors to be studied include Horacio Quiroga, Carlos Fuentes, Jorge L. Borges, Pedro Cabiya among others. [ more ]

Taught by: Walfrido Dorta

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COMP 407(S)Literature, Justice and Community

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

COMP 410Black Literary and Cultural Theories

Not offered this year

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 421(F)Fanaticism

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

COMP 440(S)Wittgenstein and Literary Studies

Wittgenstein is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in twentieth-century philosophy, yet his groundbreaking writings remain perplexingly under-appreciated in the world of literary studies. In this course we will address this shortcoming in two ways. First, we will familiarize ourselves with some of Wittgenstein's key works (and the works of thinkers deeply influenced by him, like Stanley Cavell and Cora Diamond) and try to see what is so radical about them. Second, we'll explore the still untapped potential of Wittgenstein's writings for those of us whose primary home is in the field of literary studies. Topics and concepts we may cover include: meaning, intention, and interpretation (Derrida, de Man); ethical alterity and the concept of the Other (Levinas); sex, gender, and the body (Butler, Foucault, Moi); emotion, affect, and expression (Deleuze, Terada, Adorno); authenticity, voice, and style (Fried, Taylor); modernism and modernity (Pippin); experimental writing (Perloff, Bruns); and the relationship between humans and animals (Wolfe). Some prior experience with philosophy and/or literary theory will obviously be helpful but is not necessary. This course will have much to offer students who are majoring in English, Comparative Literature, or Philosophy. If you have questions about this course and its suitability for you and your intellectual interests, feel free to contact me at [email protected] [ 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 ]