LITR 025: African Literature in the World
This seminar introduces students to a subset of African literature that has entered the canon of world literature. Bookended by the writings of Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie, we explore the marks of regional specificity in these works and how they transcend local geographical markers to become worldly artifacts. Our considerations include why certain texts cross the boundaries of nation and region while others remain confined within territorial bounds. We also examine advantages of the global circulation of African literary works and the pitfalls of a global readership. The class moves from an introductory unit that orients students to African and world literature to focus on close reading of primary texts informed by historical and theoretical nuances. From analyzing works responding to the colonial condition and the articulation of anticolonial sensibilities, to those narrating the African nation at independence and the postcolonial disillusionment that followed, the seminar attends to the formal and thematic implications of globalization for African literary writing. Authors include Chinua Achebe, Mariama Ba, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Mbolo Mbue, NoViolet Bulawayo, Taiye Selasie, and Chimamanda Adichie.
LITR 028: Medicine and the Humanities: Certainty and Unknowing
Sherwin Nuland often referred to medicine as “the Uncertain Art.” In this course, we address the role of uncertainty in medicine, and the role that narrative plays in capturing that uncertainty. We focus our efforts on major authors and texts that define the modern medical humanities, with primary readings by Mikhail Bulgakov, Henry Marsh, Atul Gawande, and Lisa Sanders. Other topics include the philosophy of science (with a focus on Karl Popper), rationalism and romanticism (William James), and epistemology and scientism (Wittgenstein).
Enrollment limited to first-year students. Preregistration required; see under First-Year Seminar Program.
LITR 037: The Limits of the Human
As we navigate the demands of the 21st century, an onslaught of new technologies, from artificial intelligence to genetic engineering, has pushed us to question the boundaries between the human and the nonhuman. At the same time, scientific findings about animal, and even plant intelligence, have troubled these boundaries in similar fashion. In this course, we examine works of literature and film that can help us imagine our way into these “limit cases” and explore what happens as we approach the limits of our own imaginative and empathetic capacities. We read works of literature by Mary Shelley, Kazuo Ishiguro, Richard Powers, Octavia Butler, Ted Chiang, and Jennifer Egan, and watch the movies Blade Runner, Ex Machina, Arrival, Avatar, and Her.
Enrollment limited to first-year students. Preregistration required; see under First-Year Seminar Program.
LITR 115: Baudelaire
An undergraduate seminar on the life and work of one the greatest poets of all time, and founder of modernity, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). Readings include œuvre de jeunesse, his collection of poems in verse, Les fleurs du mal, his collection of poems in prose, Le spleen de Paris, as well as his writings on fashion, contemporary culture, drugs, the arts, especially painting, his translations from English and American including Edgar Allan Poe, his private journals, the infamous late writings on Belgium and the Belgians, as well as his rare attempts at theater. His afterlives in literature, painting, music, dance, film, translation, and philosophy. Secondary materials including but not limited to Benjamin, Bonnefoy, Derrida, Fondane, Sartre. Readings in French, discussions in English.
Ability to read in French is necessary.
LITR 127: Realism and the Fantastic
One of the most obvious and agreed-upon traits of realist literature seems to be its exclusion of the fantastic; the two are typically seen as opposites which define strictly different modes and genres of literature. However, while the term fantastic conjures up products of the imagination—Einbildungskraft, phantasía—, one of the most influential theorizations of the fantastic consists precisely in a text’s leaving undecided the question of whether or not a ‘fantastical’ element is a product of the characters’ or the narrator’s imagination (Tzvetan Todorov). The course uses this paradox as a point of departure to explore mainly, but by no means only German-language literary and programmatic texts of the past 200 years and their entanglements of realism and the fantastic. We study, among other things, ghosts, doppelgänger, recent modes of magical realism, and their functions. Readings include E.T.A. Hoffmann, Theodor Fontane, Henry James, Franz Kafka, Emine Sevgi Özdamar, Haruki Murakami, and Olga Tokarczuk.
LITR 130: How to Read
Introduction to techniques, strategies, and practices of reading through study of lyric poems, narrative texts, plays and performances, films, new and old, from a range of times and places. Emphasis on practical strategies of discerning and making meaning, as well as theories of literature, and contextualizing particular readings. Topics include form and genre, literary voice and the book as a material object, evaluating translations, and how literary strategies can be extended to read film, mass media, and popular culture. Junior seminar; preference given to juniors and majors.
LITR 143: World Cinema
Development of ways to engage films from around the globe productively. Close analysis of a dozen complex films, with historical contextualization of their production and cultural functions. Attention to the development of critical skills. Includes weekly screenings, each followed immediately by discussion.
LITR 154: The Bible as Literature
Study of the Bible as a literature—a collection of works exhibiting a variety of attitudes toward the conflicting claims of tradition and originality, historicity and literariness.
LITR 166: How Poetry can Change the World
Poetry in its different forms has been declared by philosophers, poets, and leaders sometimes a great threat, sometimes a great promise. Behind the fears and hopes lies the assumption that poetry has something essential to do with the world. Poetry acts on the world. We explore this presupposition. What is poetry that can change the world? What is a world that poetry can touch? Our primary postulates are that poetry changes the world by influencing our conception of its inner relations: with the self, with an other, in a community, within a state. The course begins with the early formulation of the question in Greek antiquity, which was highly influential on its later manifestations in European thought. We proceed to read and think alongside a selection of poems and theoretical works from the 19th and 20th century, by Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and Luce Irigaray, as well as the poets Friedrich Hölderlin, Paul Celan, Percy Shelley, and others. We then look at how poetry stood in its historical time, reading poetry of resistance and nationalist poetry, written in Cuba, Palestine, and Nazi Germany. At last, in our attempt to ask the question in our time, we read poetry and theoretical texts–mainly from the present–engaged with different struggles of our time: of the figuration of the self and its world, sexuality and gender, and the ecosystem.
LITR 168: Tragedy in the European Literary Tradition
The genre of tragedy from its origins in ancient Greece and Rome through the European Renaissance to the present day. Themes of justice, religion, free will, family, gender, race, and dramaturgy. Works might include Aristotle’s Poetics or Homer’s Iliad and plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Seneca, Hrotsvitha, Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Calderon, Racine, Büchner, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Wedekind, Synge, Lorca, Brecht, Beckett, Soyinka, Tarell Alvin McCraney, and Lynn Nottage. Focus on textual analysis and on developing the craft of persuasive argument through writing.
LITR 169: Epic in the European Literary Tradition
The epic tradition traced from its foundations in ancient Greece and Rome to the modern novel. The creation of cultural values and identities; exile and homecoming; the heroic in times of war and of peace; the role of the individual within society; memory and history; politics of gender, race, and religion. Works include Homer’s Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Inferno, Cervantes’s Don Quixote, and Joyce’s Ulysses. Focus on textual analysis and on developing the craft of persuasive argument through writing.
LITR 180: Women in the Middle Ages
Medieval understandings of womanhood examined through analysis of writings by and/or about women, from antiquity through the Middle Ages. Introduction to the premodern Western canon and assessment of the role that women played in its construction.
LITR 195: Medieval Songlines
Introduction to medieval song in England via modern poetic theory, material culture, affect theory, and sound studies. Song is studied through foregrounding music as well as words, words as well as music.
LITR 196: Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain
Introduction to the Golden Age of Hebrew poetry in Muslim Andalusia from the tenth century through the twelfth. Major figures of the period and the cultural and philosophical questions they confronted. The Judeo-Arabic social context in which the poetry emerged; critical issues pertaining to the study and transmission of this literature. Readings from the works of several poets.
Readings in translation. Additional readings in Hebrew available.
LITR 219: The Waste Land
The seminar looks closely at the most influential poem of the 20th century, T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Attention to the poem both as a work of radical modernist experiment and as carrying on a kaleidoscopic dialogue with world literature. Taking our cue from the notes Eliot added to the poem we read selections from the Buddha’s Fire Sermon, the Upanishads, versions of the Holy Grail myth, Dante’s Inferno, The Tempest, Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal, and F.H. Bradley’s Appearance and Reality. Further reading includes Eliot’s earlier poetry, especially “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and his own criticism of the period, including “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” “The Metaphysical Poets,” and “Ulysses, Order and Myth.” We also consider critical appraisals of the poem by Virginia Woolf, F.R. Leavis and Ralph Ellison, be attentive to comparable aesthetic innovations of the period in painting and music (cubism, Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps, ragtime), and listen to audio recordings of Eliot (and others) reading the poem. Meditation throughout on the poem as a collage of allusions forming a complex work of art.
At least one course that involves close reading literary prose or poetry.
LITR 222: Gender & the Avant-Garde
The very concept of ‘avant-garde’ is steeped in a masculine warlike imagery, and the founding manifesto of Futurism directly expresses ‘contempt for the woman’. Yet, feminine, queer, androgynous, and non-binary perspectives on sex and identity played a central role–from Rimbaud to current experimentalism–in the historical development of literary and artistic experimentalism, especially in Italy. In this seminar we cross the history of literary and artistic vanguardism through the material, textual, and phonetic records left behind by experimentalists who did not identify as men. We read poems that are actually images, look at paintings conceived as texts, listen to audio-performances, and treat the avant-garde as an archaeological stratigraphy of bodies, emotions, objects, and ideas.
No previous knowledge of Italian language, art, or literature required. Students seeking departmental credit for Italian do their writing and reading in the original language, and attend a discussion session in Italian.
LITR 245: Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
Close reading of major novels by two of Russia’s greatest authors. Focus on the interrelations of theme, form, and literary-cultural context. Readings and discussion in English.
LITR 250 Postcolonial Theory and Literature
A survey of the principal modes of thought that have animated decolonization and life after colonialism, as seen in both theoretical and literary texts. Concentration on the British and French imperial and postcolonial contexts. Readings in negritude, orientalism, psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, and novels.
Lectures in English; readings available both in French and in English translation.
LITR 251 Japanese Literature after 1970
This course is an introduction to Japanese literature written in the last fifty years, with a focus on women writers. We read poetry and prose featuring mothers, daughters, and lovers, novels that follow convenience and thrift store workers, and poetry about factory girls. Our reading takes us from the daily grind of contemporary Tokyo to dystopian futures, from 1970s suburbia to surreal dreamscapes. We attend carefully to the ways in which different writers craft their works and, in particular, to their representation of feelings and affects. Whether the dull ache of loneliness, the oppression of boredom or the heavy weight of fatigue, it is often something about the mood of a work–rather than its narrative–that leaves a distinct impression. We develop the tools to analyze and discuss this sense of distinctness, as well as discover ways to stage connections and comparisons between the works we read.
LITR 265: China in Six Keys
Recent headlines about China in the world, deciphered in both modern and historical contexts. Interpretation of new events and diverse texts through transnational connections. Topics include China’s international relations and global footprint, Mandarinization, Chinese America, science and technology, science fiction, and entrepreneurship culture.
Readings and discussion in English.