LITR 018 Politics and Literature in the Middle East
This first-year seminar considers the relationship between literature and politics in Turkey, Iran, and the Arab world since the late 19th century. We read novels, short stories, poetry, essays, play scripts, and comics, and watch movies, while situating them in their artistic and political contexts. This course considers the ways that an artwork can intervene in the political debates of its time, while taking seriously the distinctive modes of political thought that are possible only through art. Topics include gender relations, the legacies of European colonialism, modernization and modernism, revolutionary movements, the role of religion in society, experiences of violence and trauma, and the drastic changes to Middle Eastern societies wrought by the oil boom.
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 102 Writing the Gift: Creativity and Exchange in Literature and Theory
This course explores the literary imagination of “the gift” in a variety of contexts. Reading fiction by Toni Cade Bambara, Ursula Le Guin and James Joyce, and non-fiction by Lewis Hyde, Georges Bataille and WEB Du Bois, we seek to answer questions such as: What distinguishes a transaction from an exchange of gifts? Why do ideas of generosity and reciprocity persist in a society defined by contracts and debts? Combining literary study and instruction in writing, this seminar is designed to help students develop analytical skills across different disciplines.
Sophomore Seminar: Registration preference given to sophomores. Not normally open to first-year students.
LITR 103 Contexts of College Education
College is a crucial institution in which our society works through its expectations for young people. This course of 13 lectures in the spring semester explores some of the social and intellectual factors that shape college education today, including debates about the curriculum, career preparation, the cost of higher education, and the relationship of college education to social class. Readings from recent writers and memoirists on education including Ta-Nehisi Coates, Andrew Delbanco, Ross Douthat, J. D. Vance, and Tara Westover, as well as some more technical writings on economics and sociology. In-person lectures will also be recorded and available for remote enrollment. Those who are able to do so should attend the in-person lectures. Appropriate for first-year students and sophomores.
Intended for first-year students and sophomores.
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 157 Rewriting Ancient Greek Classics in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction
“We are still mythical” as Kae Tempest intones in Brand New Ancients (2013). This course analyzes creative rewritings of ancient Greek literature in contemporary Anglophone fiction, spanning the novel, lyric poetry, and drama. We consider why and how authors continue to turn to ancient Greek literature and myth to give form and fresh meaning to contemporary experience, ranging from the narratives that we use to articulate our personal, inner lives to the forces of culture, politics, and society. The authors studied in this course come from several different countries and write from diverse cultural, ethnic, racial, religious, and queer backgrounds. In addition to analyzing rewriting as the creation of original literature and the counter-canonical use of the Classics, we also study what happens to the alterity of antiquity in the process of adaptation and rewriting. Above all, this course is an opportunity to read and discuss some of the most scintillating contemporary Anglophone fiction. The authors on the syllabus are Anne Carson, Natalie Diaz, Michael Hughes, Daisy Johnson, Tayari Jones, David Malouf, Jonah Mixon-Webster, Alice Oswald, Kamila Shamsie, Kae Tempest, and Ocean Vuong. Please consult the syllabus for preparatory reading.
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 include Homer’s Iliad and plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Seneca, Shakespeare, Racine, Ibsen, Chekhov, Brecht, Beckett, and Soyinka. 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 174 Women and Literature in Traditional China
A study of major women writers in traditional China, as well as representations of women by male authors. The power of women’s writing; women and material culture; women in exile; courtesans; Taoist and Buddhist nuns; widow poets; cross-dressing women; the female body and its metaphors; footbinding; notions of love and death; the aesthetics of illness; women and revolution; poetry clubs; the function of memory in women’s literature; problems of gender and genre.
All readings in translation; no knowledge of Chinese required. Some Chinese texts provided for students who read Chinese. Formerly CHNS 201.
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 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 202 Nabokov and World Literature
Vladimir Nabokov’s writings explored in the context of his life story and of the structures and institutions of literary life in Russian émigré circles. Themes of exile, memory, and nostalgia; hybrid cultural identities and cosmopolitan elites; language and bilingualism; the aims and aesthetics of émigré and diasporic modernism in novels and other media. Additional readings from works of world literature inspired and influenced by Nabokov. Readings and discussion in English.
LITR 212 USA: Travelers, Immigrants, Exiles from Italy (1920-2001)
The course focuses on the experiences of Italian travelers to North America. Its goal is to promote a critical historical consciousness of the social, political, and cultural reality of the Italian presence in the United States from the end of the First World War to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Students engage with a variety of media: from letters and diaries to memoirs and unpublished documents, from novels and poems to music and films. Through close readings and literary analyses, this class considers the historical and cultural context of each source, eliciting reflections in at least three key areas: national identity, transcultural encounters, and the relevance of the arts for travelers, migrants and exiles.
LITR 214 The Modern French Novel
A survey of major French novels, considering style and story, literary and intellectual movements, and historical contexts. Writers include Balzac, Flaubert, Proust, Camus, and Sartre. Readings in translation. One section conducted in French.
LITR 236 Aesthetics of Existence, Life as a Work of Art?
A research seminar exploring issues at the intersection of ethics and aesthetics. We discuss the modern idea that in order to attain their highest vocation human beings need to form and transform their nature like a work of art. On this picture, we have to turn our sensible nature into a “second nature” that is expressive of supersensible ideas. After a brief look at the affinity of the virtuous and the beautiful in ancient thought, we discuss the emergence and articulation of the modern idea in Kant, Schiller, Goethe, Schelling, Hegel, and Nietzsche, before exploring how this thought has informed 20th century thought (Adorno, Foucault, Rancière, Agamben). In the last section of the seminar, we highlight the critical notion that the most recent phase of capitalism has exploited the idealist, romantic, and critical ideas of artistic creation and self-creation and turned them into a new disciplinary mechanism (Boltanski/Chiapello).
Participants should be familiar with issues in modern aesthetics and ethics. Priority is given to juniors and seniors, who are asked to write a brief e-mail to the instructor, detailing their interest in the course and their familiarity with its topics.
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 provides a survey of Japanese literature from 1970 to the present. Readings include novels and essays from a diverse range of authors, addressing themes such as identity, language, memory, domesticity, postmodernism, and racial discrimination. Students develop extensive knowledge of contemporary Japanese literature, while also cultivating skills in close reading and research methods. All readings are in English translation; no knowledge of Japanese is required.
LITR 252 Machado de Assis
The place of Machado de Assis in world literature explored through close reading of his collected short stories in translation. Focus on Machado’s hybrid literary world, skeptical critique of empire in Brazil, psychological and narrative constructions.
Readings and discussion in English; reading of texts in Portuguese for Portuguese majors.
LITR 258 Studies in Latin American Literature II
An introduction to Latin American literature from the nineteenth century to the present. Works by Borges, García Márquez, Paz, Neruda, Cortázar, and others.