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 105(S)"Make it New": The Modernist Experiment

In her essay "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" (1924), Virginia Woolf proposed that around 1910 "human character" itself had suddenly changed, rendering existing conventions "in religion, conduct, politics, and literature" no longer adequate to express the new age. "And so the smashing and the crashing began. Thus it is that we hear all around us, in poems and novels . . . the sound of breaking and falling, crashing and destruction." This course will explore the effort of artists in the decade or so before and after World War I to "make it new." We will read work by Conrad, Yeats, Frost, Pound, Joyce, T.S.Eliot, Mansfield, Woolf, Faulkner, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams and others, and chart the range of innovative narrative and formal strategies Modernist writers adopted in their efforts to represent consciousness, experience, memory and the objective world more fully and accurately in an era of massive social, political and technological change. We will also consider some non-print media, including developments in the visual arts from the post-impressionists through to the surrealists, the work of the Bahaus, and early experiments in film. [ more ]

COMP 106Temptation

Last offered Fall 2017

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(S)Roman Literature: Gender, Virtue, 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 110(S)Introduction to Comparative Literature

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

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, García Márquez, 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 117Introduction to Cultural Theory

Last offered Fall 2018

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 118 TAnimal Subjects

Last offered Fall 2018

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

COMP 119 TAsian American Femininities

Last offered Spring 2019

This tutorial will introduce students to the intersections of feminist studies and Asian American studies by reading Asian and Asian American literature (read in English) that centers female-identified characters. This course will consider the historical and persistent structures of patriarchy, heterosexism, nationalism, imperialism, war, and globalization through the framework of gender and sexuality studies. Students will read short excerpts of feminist theoretical works, selected with the idea of making scholarly texts more approachable to first- and second-year students. No previous experience with feminist theory or Asian American studies is presumed or required. [ more ]

COMP 128(S)Reading Asian American Literature

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

COMP 134 T(S)Leaving the World Behind: The Literature of Reclusion

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

COMP 139(S)Living a Feminist Life

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

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

COMP 140Introduction to Traditional Chinese Literature

Last offered Fall 2017

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

COMP 141Black Autobiography

Last offered Spring 2018

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

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

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

An introduction to the global art and practice of making theatre. Students will learn basic principles of different approaches to the actor¿s labor, alongside the history, aesthetics, and literature associated with select performance forms from around the world. Emphasis will be on the analysis of embodied practices and the relationship between the stage and everyday life. Through readings, audiovisual materials, discussions, attendance at live performances, and workshops with guest artists and faculty, we will engage with theatre as a constantly evolving art form, sharpening our analytical skills through theoretical approaches from the fields of theatre and performance studies. As a capstone project, students will stage and perform selected scenes before an audience, using practical and interpretive skills gained from the course. This course is open to all students, is a gateway to the major in Theatre, and is a prerequisite for THEA 201, THEA 204, THEA 301, and THEA 401. Class will meet on Fridays when time is needed for studio exercises, rehearsals, mentoring student projects, or guest artist workshops. [ more ]

COMP 186(F)Japanese Popular Visual Culture

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

COMP 200European Modernism--and Its Discontents

Last offered Spring 2018

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

COMP 201The Hebrew Bible

Last offered Fall 2018

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 ]

COMP 204Russia's Long Revolution: a Survey of Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Russian Culture

Last offered Spring 2019

With the one-hundredth anniversary of Russia's October Revolution just behind us and the uncertain future of post-Soviet Russia unfolding before us, we can now take stock of the long century of revolutions in art, politics, and society that has brought Russia to Putin. This course takes a comprehensive look at twentieth- and twenty-first-century Russian culture, focusing on the literature, film, theater, and visual art that defined this transformative period in Russia's modern history. Students will explore the radical aesthetic and political ideas that motivated this change, especially the utopian visions of the Russian avant-garde and early-Soviet Marxists, as well as key works that examine the tragic consequences of the failures of these revolutionary experiments for those who, willing or not, became their active participants. As we move on to the late-Soviet years, we will consider the emergence of a new, "conceptualist" avant-garde, which attempted to dismantle Soviet ideology and the totalitarian logic they attributed to the historical avant-garde using postmodern aesthetics. We will conclude the course by surveying literature, film, and performance that capture the traumatic experience of Russia's transition to market capitalism in the 1990s and its slide into authoritarian "stability" under Putin. Readings include works by Babel, Bulgakov, Platonov, Pasternak, Nabokov, Solzhenitsyn, Prigov, Pelevin, Sorokin, and recent Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich. Films screenings include the cinema of avant-garde masters Eisenstein and Vertov. All readings are in English. [ more ]

COMP 205The Latin-American Novel in Translation

Last offered Fall 2018

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; Cortázar, Blow-up and Hopscotch; Lispector, the Hour of the Star lesser works by Fuentes and Puig; and by Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Conducted in English [ more ]

COMP 206The Book of Job and Joban Literature

Last offered Spring 2017

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(S)Genesis: The Family Saga

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

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

Last offered Fall 2017

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

In this course we will focus on issues of language and identity in the contemporary cultural production and lived experience of various Latina/o/x communities. As such, how are cultural values and material conditions expressed through Latina/o/x language and literature? How does Latina/o/x identity challenge traditional notions of the relationship between language, culture, and nation? In what ways might Latina/o/x literary and linguistic practices serve as tools for social change? Departing from an overview of common linguistic ideologies, we will examine code-switching, 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 autobiography, novels, and poetry. Both directly and/or indirectly, these texts address Latina/o/x language politics, as well as the broader themes of power, community, ethno-racial identity, gender, sexuality, class, and hybridity. [ more ]

COMP 211(F)The Jewish Art of Interpretation

Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it. This famous rabbinic dictum offers an enigmatic yet comprehensive account of the principles that have defined the Jewish practice of interpretation for over two millennia. The imperative to keep a text, word, image, or concept in constant motion, in order to generate as many meanings and cross-meanings as possible, challenges us to transform the act of interpretation itself into a virtuosic craft or art that can engage the human imagination as diversely and powerfully as the creation of the works being interpreted. At the same time, emphasis on the dynamism between text and interpreter should dispel the notion that only expansive works have expansive meanings. If interpretation itself is an art, then even the shortest text can contain "everything" within it when it participates in that art. This course will engage students in a radical experiment in the art of interpretation. Through a deep encounter with a selection of miniature texts, ranging from ancient rabbinic proverbs and medieval fables to the modern parables and fragments of Franz Kafka, as well as folklore and jokelore from every period in Jewish history up to the present, we will develop an interpretive practice that combines analytic, critical, and creative principles in both written and oral contexts. The goal throughout is to explore interactively how the making of meaning is an integral part of the human experience. [ more ]

COMP 213Reading the Qur'an

Last offered Spring 2018

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

Last offered Spring 2019

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

COMP 215 T(F)Cults of Personality

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

COMP 216Folk and Fairy Tales in Literature and Beyond

Last offered Fall 2017

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 ]

COMP 217Ancient Wisdom Literature

Last offered Spring 2018

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 218Gender and Sexuality in Asian American Theater

Last offered Fall 2017

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 ]

COMP 219(F)Enlightenment, Revolution, and Modernity: Literature and Intellectual Culture of Modern China

This course introduces modern China through literature, culture, and critical thought, covering the last decade of the 19th century, the first half of the 20th century, and a few years after the founding of the People's Republic of China. We will read important examples of fictions, essays, and poems by modern Chinese thinkers and writers. We will engage with film, theatrical performances, and other forms of popular culture from the late Qing Dynasty to the years before the Cultural Revolution. We will also read works that were created at the peripheries of history such as cross-cultural diasporic Chinese writings beyond the geographical limits of China. Delving into issues of revolution, war, enlightenment, and modernization, we will gain insights through close readings of these works about the fundamental questions that were faced by modern China and Chinese people. The first three decades of the 20th century witnessed the great achievements of canonical modern writers as well as eruption of multiple historical movements. They also saw the emergence of a modernized popular culture, new social classes, and awakening gender activists in the urban spaces. The next twenty years underwent a revolutionary turn to be more concerned with nationalist issues under the impact of war. While a singular revolutionary literature ensued in mainland China after 1949, literary and cultural modernism as a form of resistance in the context of Cold War started to develop in the sinophone regions other than mainland China such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. In this class, all readings are in English. Complementary readings in original Chinese texts are not required but welcomed. [ more ]

COMP 220(F)Greek Tragedy

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

COMP 221(S)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

Last offered Spring 2015

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

COMP 223Japanese Food Culture in a Global Context

Last offered Spring 2018

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

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

Last offered Fall 2018

From 1914 to 1918, the First World War ravaged Europe and slaughtered millions of soldiers and civilians from across the globe. Known as the "war to end (all) war(s)," World War I set the stage for an entire century of military conflict and carnage. New technologies led to unprecedented violence in the trenches, killing and wounding as many as 41 million soldiers and civilians. Beyond the slaughter at the front, the Great War also led to the global influenza pandemic that claimed up to 50 million lives, and the Armenian genocide that presaged the later atrocities of the Holocaust. The war also led to massive political transformation, from the Irish Rebellion and Russian Revolution, to the collapse of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires, and the redrawing of national borders across Europe and the Middle East. Even the end of the war with Treaty of Versailles lay the groundwork for new animosities that would lead to the Second World War just two decades later. However, the First World War also inspired great social change, from the emergence of the United States as a global leader and the founding of the League of Nations, to growing discontent with colonial rule in Asia and Africa, and greater power for women whose wartime labor influenced the post-war passage of their right to vote in countries across Europe and North America. To honor the centenary of the Great War in 2018, we will examine texts and films that bear witness to the suffering and courage of soldiers and civilians, and consider the legacy of the war in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. Readings to include memoirs and novels by Barbusse, Barker, Brittain, Cocteau, Graves, Hemingway, Jünger, Remarque, Wharton, Woolf; poetry by Apollinaire, Brooke, Mackintosh, McCrae, Owen, Sassoon; films by Attenborough, Boyd, Carion, Chaplin, Jeunet, Ozon, Renoir, Trumbo, Walsh, Weir; and archival materials on the roles of Williams students and faculty during the First World War. Readings and Discussions in English. [ more ]

COMP 225The Fantastic in Chinese Literature

Last offered Fall 2018

From the famous human/butterfly metamorphosis in the Daoist text Zhuangzi to contemporary writer Liu Cixin's award-winning "Three Bodies Problem," the "fantastic" has always been part of Chinese literature that pushes the boundary of human imagination. Readers and writers create fantastic beasts (though not always know where to find them), pass down incredible tales, assign meanings to unexplainable phenomena, and reject--sometimes embrace--stories that could potentially subvert their established framework of knowledge. Meanwhile, the "fantastic" is also historically and culturally contingent. What one considers "fantastic" reveals as much about the things gazed upon as about the perceiving subject--his or her values, judgment, anxiety, identity, and cultural burden. Using "fantastic" literature as a critical lens, this course takes a thematic approach to the masterpieces of Chinese literature from the first millennium BCE up until twenty-first century China. We will read texts ranging from Buddhist miracle tales to the avant-garde novel about cannibalism, from medieval ghost stories to the creation of communist superheroes during the Cultural Revolution. The topics that we will explore include shifting human/non-human boundaries, representations of the foreign land (also the "underworld"), the aestheticization of female ghosts, utopia and dystopia, and the fantastic as social criticism and national allegory. All materials and discussions are in English. [ more ]

COMP 226The Ancient Novel

Last offered Spring 2019

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

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

Last offered Spring 2017

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 228Being American, Being Muslim: American Muslim Literature in the 21st century

Last offered Spring 2019

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

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

Last offered Spring 2017

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

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

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

COMP 231 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-François 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 234Saharan Imaginations

Last offered Spring 2019

Literary representations of the Sahara challenge facile assumptions about this undertheorized place. Literature furnishes a unique opportunity to gain more awareness of the organization of life in the desert and the ways in which its inhabitants have found harmony between their humanity and the Sahara's biodiversity. This course offers students the opportunity to engage in close readings of novels through the theme of the Sahara and Saharan space. Reading through the ethics of human mobility and actions in the desert will help students to understand how myth, memory, history, coloniality/postcoloniality, and a strong sense of ethics are deeply intertwined in the Sahara sub-genre of Maghrebi and Middle Eastern literature. Whether grappling with transcontinental issues of climate change, biodiversity cannibalization or overexploitation of natural resources, the Saharan novel invites us to think critically about the politics of space and place as well as mobility and spatial control as they relate to this supposedly dead nature. Students will be initiated to the ecocritical dimension of Maghrebi and Arabic literature and the discourses underlying it through the prism of the Sahara. [ more ]

COMP 235The Garden in the Ancient World

Last offered Spring 2019

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

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

Last offered Fall 2016

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 237Medieval Worlds

Last offered Spring 2019

While the word "medieval" was first used to designate the period in European history between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, historians and literary scholars frequently use the term to label periods in other regions and cultures that not only overlap chronologically with the European Middle Ages, but also appear to share similarities in terms of technology, social structures, and religious orientation. This course examines the notion of the "medieval" primarily through the lens of literature. We will read "medieval" works ranging from the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf to the landscape poems and folktales of eighth-century China, from a Persian epic to a Sanskrit story-cycle, and the diary of a Japanese court lady. Topics will include the following: How did people create, experience, and transmit literary texts in different medieval cultures? What where the material conditions of literature in these cultures, and how did they impact the development of literature? What roles did religion play in texts that are not explicitly religious? What does it mean to think of the medieval as a category across different cultures? [ more ]

COMP 238(F)Zen and the Art of American Literature

In 1844, the Transcendentalist magazine, The Dial, published an excerpt from the Lotus Sutra, translated into English by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody. It was the first English-language version of any Buddhist text to be published in the United States. At the time, very few Americans knew the first thing about what Buddhism was, but now, a little over a century and a half later, Buddhist ideas and practices seem ubiquitous (available even in the form of apps like Headspace and Calm). In this class, we'll explore how Buddhism came to be the profoundly important cultural force in American life that it is today, looking particularly at the influence of Zen on American literature. We'll read an array of Buddhist-influenced literary texts, from the Beat poetry of the 1950s to novels like Middle Passage, A Tale for the Time Being, and Lincoln in the Bardo. But we'll also range far beyond the world of literature into a variety of other cultural domains in which Buddhism has had a deep impact, like environmentalism and deep ecology, Western psychotherapy, and Western attitudes towards death and dying. We'll also explore the role that Buddhism is playing in the fight against racism and racial injustice (from bell hooks to Black Lives Matter). And we'll engage in an experiential investigation of the benefits of incorporating contemplative practices like meditation into the classroom: students in the course will learn a variety of meditation techniques, and we'll spend some time each class practicing and reflecting upon those practices. Students will be expected to meditate outside of class as well (2-3 times per week) and keep a meditation journal. No prior experience with meditation is necessary. Just an open mind. [ more ]

COMP 239What is a Novel?

Last offered Fall 2018

What is a novel? Where did it come from? Why would anyone invent such a thing in the first place? This course 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. We will move back and forth from the theory of the novel to its practice in order to see how the novel and its understanding have changed over the past 200 or so years. Novelists will come from the 19th and 20th centuries, likely Austen, Dickens, and Mieville. Theorists are likely to include Henry James, Benjamin, Lukacs, Barthes, Watt, McKeon, Jameson, Eve Sedgwick, Edward Said, Leo Bersani, and Franco Moretti. [ 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 , for instance, be read as a feminist text? A site of class struggle? A staging of the relationship between language and the unconscious? The course aims both to make familiar some of the critical methods students are likely to encounter in the field of literary studies these days, and to show how such methods can transform our understanding of a text, opening surprising possibilities even in familiar works. In the process, the course will also raise broader questions about the imperatives and usefulness of literary theory in relation to texts and worlds. [ more ]

COMP 241 TSex and Gender in Ancient Greece and Rome

Last offered Spring 2019

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

COMP 242Americans Abroad

Last offered Spring 2019

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

COMP 244Mediterranean Journeys

Last offered Spring 2019

Though European border management today seeks to limit and control movement, the Mediterranean region is a historical site of mediation between cultural differences and religious views. This course centers primarily on the works of the so-called "migrant intellectuals and artists" who have emerged from the Mediterranean region to become a significant part of the new voice of Europe. Borrowing from Deleuze and Guattari's definition of "minor literature" as a literature that a "minority constructs within a major language" and in which "language is affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialization," we explore the political, cultural and anthropological effects of such literature in today's European public discourse. Behind the medium of a national language, new cultures and identities are claiming inclusion into the core of the social fabric by speaking out from a marginal position. We read both literary works (Ali Farah, Guene, Lakhous, Scego) and critical theory (Cassano, Chambers, Fanon, Hall, Theo Goldberg); we also analyze films and documentaries (Carpignano, Crialese, Godard). [ more ]

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

Last offered Fall 2016

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

Last offered Spring 2017

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

COMP 247 TGender, Sexuality and Modern Performance

Last offered Fall 2016

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, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, Eve K. Sedgwick, Jill Dolan, José Esteban Muñoz, David Román, and Donna Haraway. [ more ]

COMP 248Performing Greece

Last offered Fall 2018

Modern readers often encounter Homer, Sappho, Sophocles, and the Greek orators as written texts, yet their first ancient audiences experienced the words of these authors not in silence and solitude, but in live performance contexts. This course, therefore, will take up performance as a critical lens for interpreting ancient Greek literature, situating these works within a rich culture of song, dance, speech, and debate. From the Homeric epics and the masterpieces of Greek tragedy and comedy to the speeches and dialogues of Demosthenes, Thucydides, and Plato, we will survey the evidence for the musical, visual, and embodied aspects of Greek literature. At the same time, we will reflect on the rewards and limits of enlivening the ancient world through the reconstruction and re-imagination of its performative dimensions. Our attention to performance will give us a distinct perspective on many important topics within the study of Greek civilization, including the construction of personal and collective identity, the workings of Athenian democracy, and the development of literary genres. In addition to a wide selection from Greek poetry, drama, and prose, our readings will include works by ancient and modern theorists of performance and culture. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

COMP 249(F)Trauma and Memory in Maghrebi and Middle Eastern Literatures

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

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

Last offered Fall 2017

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 252(S)Athletics and Literature in Ancient Greece

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

COMP 254"Disease" in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture

Last offered Fall 2016

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-siècle "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. [ more ]

COMP 255Love and Death in Modern Japanese Literature

Last offered Spring 2018

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 257(F)Why do Pussies Riot and What is "Homosexual" Propaganda? Gender and Sexuality in Putin's Russia

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

COMP 258Film and Media Studies: An Introduction

Last offered Fall 2016

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

Last offered Spring 2017

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

COMP 260Reading Comics from the French-Speaking World

Last offered Fall 2017

From political cartoons and satire of the 19th century to contemporary graphic novels, the bande dessinée has a long history in the French-speaking world. We will read classics such as Astérix and Tintin, and contemporary BD from France, Québec, Côte 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

Last offered Spring 2016

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

COMP 262Japanese Theatre and its Contemporary Context

Last offered Fall 2018

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

Taught by: TBA

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

Last offered Spring 2019

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

Taught by: TBA

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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(S)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 Shônagon and Lady Nijô, through autobiographical and confessional novels by Sôseki, Tanizaki, Mishima, and Abe Kôbô, to documentary and subculture films like The New God and Kamikaze Girls. The class and the readings are in English; no familiarity with Japanese language or culture is required. [ more ]

COMP 267(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 while reading theoretical texts to grapple with concepts including ritual, restored behavior, performativity, mimicry, liveness, the body, objecthood, archive, movement, matter, and affect. [ more ]

COMP 268Novel Worlds

Last offered Spring 2019

Reading a novel can feel like falling into another world, an immersion in an encompassing fictional reality saturated with detail--each novel its own trip down the rabbit hole. From Jane Austen's "3 or 4 families in a country village" to Roberto Bolano's teeming modern day Mexico City of millions, the novel's distinctive power is in making both the few and the many feel like a complete world. But what are worlds, anyway? Are they spaces, like a container? Or are they not a thing at all, but social systems--ways of belonging that are constantly being made and remade? This course is about the specific world--imagining powers of the novel, tracing out various techniques and strategies by which literary texts create worlds. Our hunch: the modern notion of "world" finds its origin in the novel, and the novel constitutes one of the most sophisticated sites of reflection upon the notion of world. We'll read a number of novels, ranging from 19th century authors like Austen and Dickens, to contemporary genre writing--science fiction and the detective novel--as well as from a range of national traditions to see how novels, and ideas of world, shift over time and space. To get at our central questions, we'll read some philosophical and critical texts that are preoccupied by world-ness, with attention to current debates about the idea of World Literature. Novel texts likely to include: Jane Austen's Emma, Charles Dickens's Bleak House, Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, and Roberto Bolano's Savage Detectives. [ more ]

COMP 270Russian Literature and European Existentialism

Last offered Spring 2019

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 ]

COMP 271(S)Phantasmagoria, Madness, and the Absurd in Russian Literature and Film

In one of Nikolai Gogol's most famous stories, a man wakes up one day to find that his own nose has left his face and taken on a life of its own. This situation, which we might label bizarre or absurd, just as easily shows how reality often fails to meet our expectations and even suggests that the story's leading character might have gone mad. But what then is insanity? Likewise, one of Dostoevsky's socially marginal characters contemplates the fact that only sick people see ghosts, which, in his opinion, "only proves that ghosts cannot appear to anyone but sick people, not that they themselves do not exist." This course aims to analyze the rich tradition, typified by Gogol and Dostoevsky, of the absurd, the fantastic, and madness in Russian literature and film of the 19th-21st centuries. Addressing the aesthetic, historical, and political circumstances that nurtured this tradition in Russian literature and cinema, our course material will explore new dimensions of reality, point out the many paradoxes and absurdities of human existence, and question our perceptions, as well as the assumption that we are sane. Close analysis of literary and cinematic texts will lead us to a broader discussion of the relationship between reality and representation, as well as the notions of the absurd and madness. Authors/directors will include Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, Andrey Tarkovsky, and Kira Muratova, among others. All readings will be in English, and all films will have English subtitles. [ 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(S)Detectives Without Borders

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 ]

COMP 274 TConfronting Japan

Last offered Fall 2017

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

COMP 275 T(F)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 (Têtes de nègre, Mohrenkopf, and Negerkuss) or of a controversy around cultural identity resulting from the grotesque depiction of black men in folkloric tradition (like Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands). [ more ]

COMP 277(F)The Examined Life: Ancient Ethical Literature at Rome

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

Taught by: TBA

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COMP 278Premodern Japanese Literature and Performance

Last offered Spring 2017

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

Taught by: TBA

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

Last offered Fall 2016

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

COMP 280(F)Art at its Limits: Representing the Holocaust

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

Taught by: TBA

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COMP 281The Banlieue in Literature, Music, and Film

Last offered Spring 2017

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

Last offered Fall 2016

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

COMP 283Haitian and French Caribbean Literatures and Films

Last offered Fall 2016

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

COMP 286Women's Contemporary Cultural Production in Latin America

Last offered Spring 2019

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

COMP 287Russian and Soviet Cinema

Last offered Spring 2019

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

COMP 288The Art of Friendship

Last offered Fall 2016

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

COMP 289 TTheorizing Magic

Last offered Fall 2017

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

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

Last offered Fall 2016

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 293(S)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

Last offered Spring 2017

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

COMP 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 TPresent Past: The Politics of Memory in Contemporary Chinese Literatures and Films

Last offered Fall 2017

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 298Introduction to French and Francophone Film

Last offered Spring 2018

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

COMP 300Thinking Diaspora: The Black Atlantic and Beyond

Last offered Fall 2018

Water imagery has been central to black diasporic culture since its beginnings in the Middle Passage---suggesting imprisonment, isolation, escape, ancestral communion, and death, for example. This course wrestles with the significance of water in diasporic literature--how it endures, how it has diminished, how it slips away from us. Black diaspora theory was revolutionized by Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic, which urged us to consider more deeply the role of the ship, the routes, and the roots entailed in the formation of diasporic consciousness. This course aims to expand students' theoretical skills as we discuss cornerstone and cutting edge texts of diaspora theory, with an emphasis on theories that work with the relationship to water, such as those by Jacqueline Nassy Brown, Omise'eke Tinsley. and Vanessa Agard-Jones. Primary texts will include The Big Sea by Langston Hughes, Sugar and Slate by Charlotte Williams, Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, and more. [ more ]

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

Last offered Spring 2018

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

Last offered Spring 2017

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

COMP 303Embodied Archives: Global Theatre and Performance Histories

Last offered Spring 2019

History shapes bodies and is, in turn, shaped by bodies. Whose story is included in the archive? Whose story is left out? What remains over time? What disappears? Why? As theatre and performance historians, our task will be twofold: to study the past but also to question how its been constructed over time. Our obligations will include: handling, analyzing, and contextualizing primary sources; giving equal value to textual and embodied forms of knowledge preservation; taking into account the gender, race, class, status, and ethnicity of the historical participants who occupy the archive; and asking who benefitted from the ideological systems of a given age and who did not. Performance histories to be considered include: West-African Yoruba ritual; pre-Columbian performance in Mesoamerica; ancient Greek civic festivals; labor and guild theatres of Medieval England; print and Kabuki cultures of the Japanese Edo period; eighteenth-century celebrity portraiture across the circum-Atlantic; U.S. Civil War photography and reenactment; and performance histories drawn from (or unseen by) the archives of Williams College. Our readings and approaches will be informed by leading performance and cultural studies critics, such as: Diana Taylor, Joseph Roach, Saidiya Hartman, Rebecca Schneider, Harvey Young, and Tavia Nyong'o. This course is required for Theatre majors and is a prerequisite for THEA 401. [ more ]

COMP 305Dostoevsky: Navigating Through the Underground

Last offered Fall 2018

In this course, students will acquaint themselves with Dostoevsky's oeuvre--from his early masterpieces to his artistic testament, The Brothers Karamazov. The key concept through which we will approach Dostoevsky's various writings will be the underground--a powerful metaphor of spiritual decay, angst, resentment, and rebellion against the whole of creation shared by many Dostoevsky characters, from the anonymous protagonist of Notes from Underground, to Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment), to all the brothers Karamazov. Inheriting Dostoevsky's own existential doubts, his major characters strive to find an exit from their various "undergrounds," some with and some without success. What are the philosophical, psychological, and artistic foundations of the underground? How does one end up there in Dostoevsky's view? And what is the way out? These are just a few of the questions to be answered as we explore the primary genius of Russian literature. All readings are in English. [ more ]

COMP 306(S)Tolstoy and the Meaning of Life

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

COMP 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 310Theorizing Shakespeare

Last offered Spring 2018

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 313(F)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 ]

COMP 315Social Construction

Last offered Fall 2018

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

COMP 317Dante

Last offered Spring 2018

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

Last offered Fall 2016

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

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

Last offered Fall 2017

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

Last offered Fall 2016

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

COMP 322(S)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 324The Orientalist Sublime and the Politics of Horror

Last offered Spring 2018

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 Lautréamont, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Richard Marsh, E.M. Forster, Jorge Luis Borges, and Salman Rushdie. [ more ]

COMP 325American Social Dramas

Last offered Fall 2016

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

COMP 326 TQueer Temporalities

Last offered Spring 2017

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

COMP 328California: Myths, Peoples, Places

Last offered Fall 2016

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 & Colderige, C. Smith, P.B. Shelley, Géricault, Delacroix, Turner, Hazlitt, Hegel, Marx, C.L.R James, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, and Jacques Rancière. [ 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

Last offered Spring 2019

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

Last offered Fall 2018

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

COMP 333New Asian American, African American, Native American, and Latina/o Writing

Last offered Spring 2013

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 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 337(S)Literature of the American Renaissance

The 1840s and '50s have often been described as "the American Renaissance" because of the breathtaking explosion of literary achievements in that period, which included Walden; Moby-Dick; The Scarlet Letter; The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; and Uncle Tom's Cabin, to say nothing of the short stories of Poe and the groundbreaking poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. For the first time, American writers were broadly the equal or more of their European counterparts. We will explore the distinctive character of this achievement, paying close attention to the widespread belief in the transformational power of language, and the opportunities it offered to refigure both personal and political identity in a time when the American experiment often seemed on the brink of collapse. [ more ]

COMP 338The Culture of Carnival

Last offered Fall 2018

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

COMP 338Latina/o/x Musical Cultures: Sounding Out Gender, Race, and Sexuality

Last offered Spring 2013

In this class we will investigate a wide variety of Latina/o/x popular musical forms, with particular attention to issues of gender, sexuality, and ethno-racial identity. Employing interdisciplinary materials and approaches, this course focuses on the sonic and visual analysis of contemporary Latina/o/x popular music and the identities of its producers, performers, and audiences. We will focus on the following questions, among others: How are hybrid Latina/o/x identities expressed through popular music and dance? In what ways do gender, sexuality, and ethno-racial identity inform the performance and interpretation of particular Latina/o musical forms? What unique role does sound play in our understanding of popular music and identity? [ more ]

COMP 339(F)Posthuman Ecologies: Bodies, Environments, Art

What is it that makes us human? Or, to paraphrase the philosopher Donna Haraway, what if we have never been human at all? One of the central arguments of posthumanist theory is that the human being is not, as traditionally assumed, an individual, fixed subject in full control over its actions. Rather, we emerge only through our connections and interdependencies with others. The networks that shape us are both organic and inorganic; they include "nature," the microbial ecologies of own bodies, affective landscapes, and social and cultural constructs. Over the course of the semester, we will analyze how such networks fashion our humanity with the help of literature, film, and theory. Among other things, we will consider the queer ecologies of android bodies, probe the subversive potential of the cyborg in relation to questions of disability, and think about what it means to be human in the Anthropocene. Texts will include Sasa Stanisic, Yoko Tawada, Olga Tokarczuk, Franz Kafka, Octavia Butler, Donna Haraway, Jacques Derrida, and Theodor W. Adorno; films will include Mad Max: Fury Road, Metropolis, Ex-Machina, and episodes of West World and Black Mirror. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

COMP 340Literature and Psychoanalysis

Last offered Spring 2019

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

COMP 341Cinematic Representations of Work and Migration after the Wall

Last offered Fall 2017

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

COMP 342(S)Elizabeth Bishop in the Americas

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

COMP 345(S)Wonderland(s): Alice in Translation


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

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

Last offered Spring 2019

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

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

Last offered Fall 2018

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

COMP 348Graphic Narratives as Democratic Ideals

Last offered Fall 2017

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 Vélez (Planet Bronx, 2015 Creative Capital Award in Visual Arts). [ more ]

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

Last offered Spring 2017

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

COMP 350(S)Cervantes' "Don Quixote" in English Translation

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 351Friedrich Nietzsche: Philosophizing with a Hammer

Last offered Spring 2018

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

COMP 352 T(S)Mysticism: Vision, Writing, History

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

COMP 353Anticolonial Avant Gardes: Literature, Film, Theory

Last offered Fall 2017

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 "naïve 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, Émile Habiby, Jean Genet, Aimé Césaire, 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

Catalog details

COMP 354The Literary Afterlife

Last offered Fall 2017

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

COMP 355Contemporary Theatre and Performance

Last offered Spring 2019

As Gertrude Stein once remarked, "The hardest thing is to know one's present moment." What is going on in the world of theatre and performance today? What are the hot topics in our current artistic landscape? Who are the writers, performers, and directors of the past two decades? This seminar will consider both experimental and mainstream drama and performance from the twenty-first century, focusing on topics such as: post-dramatic theatre, devised performance, social practice, participatory and immersive theatre, hyper-naturalism, post-identity performance, and weird theatre. Artists and collectives to be considered may include: Suzan-Lori Parks, Will Eno, Richard Maxwell and the NYC Players, Young Jean Lee, Annie Baker, Lucas Hnath, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Anne Washburn, Taylor Mac, Lynn Nottage, Stephen Adly Guirgus, Miguel Gutierrez, Elevator Repair Service, The Wooster Group, and Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. 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 through performance right now?" Students may be required to attend theatre, dance, and other performances at the '62 Center and beyond. [ more ]

COMP 356The Myth of Venice and its Modern Aftermath

Last offered Spring 2018

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

COMP 357Tell Even Us: Writing Memory, Trauma, Self

Last offered Fall 2018

In this course, we will read a diverse selection of personal memoirs dealing with the traumas, transgressions, and transformations of what we understand to be "modern life." We will meditate on how categories of identity and experience, memory and history are being constructed and deconstructed, reimagined and remade anew. We will pay special attention to how these writers/artists narrate the overlapping cycles of loss, pain, grief, survival, resilience, and resistance in the face of (structural, institutional, interpersonal, and intimate) violence, and consider the possibilities for (individual and collective) healing that can exist in and beyond the world as we know it. What, after all, does it even mean to have or to not have, to find, to lose, to have stolen, to dissolve, and/or to recover a self in a besieged America? Books we will cover may include: Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (Gloria Anzaldúa), Dictee (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha), How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (Alexander Chee), When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir (Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele), Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (Deborah Miranda), This is for the mostless (Jason Magabo Perez), Redefining Realness (Janet Mock), like a solid to a shadow (Janice Lobo Sapigao), Men We Reaped(Jesmyn Ward), 7 Miles A Second (David Wojnarowicz). [ more ]

COMP 358Writing in the Margins: Race, Performance, Playgiarism

Last offered Fall 2018

There is no such thing as an original play. So says playwright Chuck Mee. Someone else, certainly, said it before him. What does it mean to own a story? This seminar/studio course proceeds from a historical understanding that writing and performance are, and have always been, practices of plagiarism. We begin by looking at how bodies, thoughts, and words come to be understood as ownable property in the modern era, and how that process of commodification is inextricably tied to colonialism and the production of race. How do performance and bodily practices trouble our ideas about individual ownership? We look to writers and other artists of color who have plundered "classic" texts and radically reclaimed the colonial canon. We will read intertextual works by Suzan-Lori Parks, Young Jean Lee, Salman Rushdie, Cherrie Moraga, and others. Taking these artists as inspiration, students will choose a text as source material and write in the margins of that text to create new, re-visioned work. [ more ]

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

Last offered Fall 2018

A survey of Irish drama since 1870, to include plays by Dion Boucicault, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge, Lady Gregory, George Bernard Shaw, Douglas Hyde, Sean O'Casey, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Brian Friel, Marina Carr, Frank McGuinness, Conor McPherson, and Martin McDonagh. [ more ]

COMP 362 TStory, Self, and Society

Last offered Fall 2017

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 363(S)Where are all the Jews?

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

COMP 364Aestheticism & Decadence

Last offered Spring 2018

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

COMP 365Beckett, Pinter and Stoppard

Last offered Fall 2017

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

COMP 366(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 (To the Lighthouse); and James Joyce (Ulysses, read in slightly abridged form). By juxtaposing these path breaking 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 367The Diasporic Impulse in African American Art

Last offered Fall 2018

Since the mid-20th century, growing numbers of African American artists have explored historical, symbolic, and ritual meanings shared by Blacks in the USA and people of African descent in other parts of the diaspora. Using specific visual, musical, literary, and kinetic themes, Black creatives--across genres--develop work that addresses explicit and implicit points of diasporic connection around issues of identity, indigenous/ancestral wisdom, cultural and political critique, and alternative religious orientations. Looking especially at the work of playwright August Wilson, painters John Biggers and Daniel Minter, dancer Katherine Dunham, and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett Mora, this course examines the symbolic and ritual vocabularies of African American art in diasporic perspective. [ more ]

COMP 368Arab Women Writers: Remapping Urban Narratives

Last offered Fall 2017

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

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

Last offered Spring 2018

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 José María 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 373Romantic Moods

Last offered Spring 2019

Romanticism is often associated with the celebration of emotion over reason, passion over cold calculation. In fact, for the Romantics, the opposition between reason and emotion made little sense, since they were interested in how moods conditioned all human capabilities, including reasoning, from the ground up. In today's age of mood-altering medications and technologies, like the smartphone and social media, we still have much to learn from Romanticism's appreciation of the importance of mood. This seminar will examine the social, political, historical, and ecological implications of mood through readings of key works of literature, art, and philosophy from the Romantic period together with some 20th and 21st century works that extend the Romantic preoccupation with mood to the present day. Authors may include Burton, Kant, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Blake, Keats, de Quincy, Schopenhauer, Freud, Arendt, Benjamin, Heidegger, Derrida, and Ngai. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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COMP 377(F)Legacies of the Gothic Novel: Feminism and Horror in the Transatlantic World

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

Taught by: TBA

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COMP 380Literary and Critical Theory in the Twentieth Century

Last offered Fall 2018

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 382(S)Transnational Asian/American Film and Video

In this course, we will examine transnational Asian/American film and video through the frameworks of film and visual studies, cultural studies, and critical media literacy. We will traverse communal, national, and transnational lines with a heterogeneity of forms and genres, including narrative, documentary, experimental, short film, music video, public access television, and YouTube. We will attend to multiple modes of critical analysis: (1) the conditions of power and visibility being mediated by sites of representation, (2) the networks and platforms helping to make these sites possible, and (3) the materials, meanings, and acts being generated by them. We will also interrogate: How are Asian, American, and/or Asian American representation being produced, performed, embodied, circulated, and consumed? What are the social, political, economic, and cultural forces at play in a given historical context? What artistic and political strategies are at play in the complex nexus of producers, directors, actors, distributors, and viewers? And what are the possibilities, limits, and stakes for different strategies of invention and intervention, activism and resistance? We will consider films from the United States as well as the inter-Asian context. Students will produce a creative media project at the end of the semester. [ more ]

COMP 386Fiction of Beckett and Sebald

Last offered Spring 2018

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

COMP 387(S)Big Game: Adventure, Empire, Ecology

Big Game: Adventure, Empire, Ecology asks how the era of imperial expansion and the study of "natural history" leads into our contemporary ecological crisis. We will begin with readings of influential colonial travel and adventure narratives like Robinson Crusoe, the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson, sections of Darwin and Captain Cook's travel journals, and in-class work with archival materials like the Indian Botanical Survey Flora and the photographs of Subhankar Banerjee. In the first weeks, we will consider how the aesthetics of adventure circulated throughout the British empire in both the East Indies and India, and ramifies elsewhere in the Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Belgian holdings. We will conclude with a suite of readings through which we will attempt to locate a productive intersection between ecocriticism and postcolonial studies, drawing together sensationalist disaster journalism with environmental activism emerging from the Global South. This course will be especially of interest to students in English, Comparative Literature, and Environmental Studies. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

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COMP 392Wonder

Last offered Fall 2017

We tend to imagine "wonder" as a naïve, 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 401(F)Senior Seminar: Rethinking the Public: the Arts Take on Neoliberalism

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

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

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

COMP 406The Historical Novel

Last offered Spring 2019

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

COMP 407(F)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 DPE initiative by engaging works in which cultural difference and power differentials reveal the limits of universalizing accounts of law and justice, works such as Euripides' Bacchae , Nuruddin Farah's Maps , Louise Erdrich's poetry, and Farhadi's A Separation . But the course will equally suggest that such contingency is inherent in the concept of justice as such, insofar as the problem of justice is bound up with forms of constituting indebtedness that define humans as communal beings. In that sense, contingency, and differentials of power mark justice even in its most familiar instances-intimately and close to home, as it were. [ more ]

COMP 408Modernism in Brazil

Last offered Fall 2018

"Modernism" in art: when we think about it, we may not readily think of Brazil. But Brazil was in fact a vibrant battleground of ideas around what it was to be innovative, modern, and avant-garde. Between 1920 and 1945, artists, poets, and critics in the metropolises of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro actively debated on the creation, and potential, of a uniquely Brazilian modernist aesthetic that would stand on par with the European avant-gardes. But what did "Brazilianness" mean to these intellectuals? What role did gender and race relations--indigeneity in particular--play in the construction of this aesthetic? How did the necessities and demands of the national context shape these modernist practices? This seminar will take a deep dive in this fascinatingly contradictory moment in Brazil, a chapter that would become a fundamental reference to Brazilian artists in the 1960s and even to this day. In addition to detailed analyses of artworks, we will read manifestos, novels, and criticism from this period, and the most up to date secondary interpretive texts. [ more ]

COMP 410Black Literary and Cultural Theories

Last offered Fall 2016

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

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

Last offered Spring 2019

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

COMP 416Postcolonial Theory and the World Literature Debates

Last offered Spring 2019

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

COMP 421(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, among others, and political philosophy and historical writings by Voltaire, Kant, Diderot, Burke, Hume, Carlyle, Adorno, and a range of recent critics. We will also watch films by Riefenstahl, Hitchcock and Pontecorvo, and look at paintings, drawings and sculpture by Fragonard, Goya, and Shibonare. Since fanaticism has recently had considerable political currency, we will also examine contemporary accounts that reanimate the debates and concerns of the course. [ more ]

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

Last offered Spring 2019

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

COMP 456Topics in Critical Theory: Hegel and the Dialectic

Last offered Fall 2018

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

COMP 483(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 ]