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2012-2013 Literature Courses
First-Year Studies: Romantic Poetry and Its Legacies
In this course, we will be reading and discussing the most influential poets writing in English from William Blake to T. S. Eliot. One of the assumptions of the course is that modern poetry originates in the Romantic era. In the wake of the French Revolution, Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge invented a new kind of autobiographical poem that largely internalized the myths they inherited. We will trace the impact of their work on poets from the second generation of Romantics through the early modernists, many of whom sought to break with Romanticism. Our preeminent goal will be to appreciate each poet’s—indeed, each poem’s—unique contribution to the language. Our understanding of literary and historical trends will emerge from the close, imaginative reading of texts. Authors will include: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Tennyson, Browning, Rossetti, Frost, Stevens, Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.
First-Year Studies: Fops, Coquettes, and the Masquerade: Fashioning Gender and Courtship from Shakespeare to Austen
This course looks at the representation of sexual difference and romantic attachment on the page and stage from 1590 to 1820, a crucial period in the consolidation of modern assumptions about sexuality, marriage, and gendered behavior. The emphasis will be on drama and prose fiction, but we will also sample a range of other expressive forms, including lyric and narrative poetry, visual satire and portraiture, conduct literature, and life-writing. Students will be introduced to some of the most fascinating figures in European literature, all of whom share an interest in the conventions of courtship and the performance of gender: John Milton, England’s foremost epic poet; Aphra Behn, its first professional female author; bawdy comic playwrights like George Etherege and Susanna Centlivre; the innovative early novelists Eliza Haywood and Daniel Defoe; Alexander Pope, the masterful verse satirist; the pioneering periodical writers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele; the sentimental novelist Henry Mackenzie; the shockingly candid memoirists James Boswell and Charlotte Charke; and the founder of modern feminism Mary Wollstonecraft. Bracketing the yearlong course will be extended coverage of the two most influential authors of courtship narratives in English, Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Some limited attention will also be paid to earlier writers on sex and marriage like Ovid and St. Paul, as well as to contemporary gender theory; and, together, we will watch a few films that reflect the legacy of early modern fictions of gender, including work by directors like Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, and Alfred Hitchcock.
First-Year Studies: Contemporary Africa Literatures: Against the Single Story of Things Fall Apart
This course will introduce students to the rich literary traditions that are grouped under “African Literature,” focusing particularly on the aesthetic, political, thematic, and cultural representations in several genres, including: drama, fiction, film, music, nonfiction, and poetry. We will examine the rich contexts of African literary production and their diversity in terms of language, thematic, and formal preoccupations. Engaging the works of writers such as Ngugi wa Thiongo, Bessie Head, Nadine Gordimer, Yvonne Vera, Sembene Ousman, Chimamanda Adiche, Wole Soyinka, Ama Ata Aidoo, Okot p’Bitek, Alex La Guma, and others, we will explore questions such as: How is it that most of what is known as “African Literature,” both within Africa itself and outside, is originally written in European languages? That is one of many important critical questions posed by the recent collection edited by scholar Teju Olaniyan and Ato Quayson, African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory, which forms our critical/theoretical base during our course of study. Therefore, we will explore themes of orality and literacy, national liberation and nation (re)building, gender, race and sexuality, migration, globalization, queer identity, and postcoloniality, alongside questions regarding the function of the writer and writing in the various spaces. What does it mean to be an African woman writer? What thematic and formal shifts occur within the works of writers such as Ngugi, who engage the colonial, postcolonial, and post-independence moments? What shifts occur in works of more contemporary writers such as Adiche, who offers that she works against contemporary engagements of the “single story” that still stereotypically casts Africa as a “dark continent”? We will also explore the implications of the international exchange of “Nollywood,” which is consumed by Nigerians and Africans living on the continent, as well as by those in diaspora, and which have become a popular part of programming in nations in the Caribbean. Lastly, we may explore the impact that the work of Fela Kuti and other musicians have had on national and international politics and on the cultural expressions of contemporary artists more familiarly aligned with hip hop and reggae.
First-Year Studies: 20th-Century Italian Literature
The course will explore 20th-century Italian literature, focusing on important literary figures, works, and movements (e.g. futurism, neorealism) that helped shape it. Italy became a unified nation in 1860, and its literature addressed issues such as (national and personal) identity, tradition, innovation and modernity, the role of literature and of the writer, and the changing role of women in Italian society. We will also explore the interrelation between Italian literature and crucial historical events such as The Great War, the rise and fall of Fascism, World War II, the Resistance, the birth of the republic, the postwar economic boom, the students’ and women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s, and the terrorism of the Anni di Piombo. We will examine sources ranging from manifestos and propaganda to poetry, fiction (novels and short stories), memoirs, and diaries. The main focus, however, will be on the novel. Texts will include those authored by Gabriele D’Annunzio, Ignazio Silone, Vasco Pratolini, F.T. Marinetti, Italo Svevo, Grazia Deledda, Sibilla Aleramo, Alba de Céspedes, Alberto Moravia, Anna Banti, Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, and Italo Calvino. Readings will be supplemented by secondary source material that will help outline the social, historical, and political context in which these authors lived and wrote, as well as provide relevant critical frameworks for the study of their works. All readings will be in English and available as e-reserves. Conference topics might include the study of a particular author, literary text, or topic relevant to the course that might be of interest to the student. No previous knowledge of Italian is required.
First-Year Studies: Mythology in Literature
In this course, we will define myths broadly as recurring narrative energy fields of great intensity and durability that supply cultures and persons with universal patterns by which to reflect on their origins and destinies. We will consider ways in which writers in the Western literary tradition have used certain mythic patterns—odysseys, the first term, and metamorphoses, the second term—to explore their questions and concerns about the operations of the cosmos and the psyche, history, and morality. These patterns provide both archetypal structures for the articulation of plot and tropes for the implication of meaning in literary texts. We will proceed chronologically through texts from ancient, through medieval and Renaissance, to Romantic and contemporary periods. Tracking the same narrative pattern through this sequence of literary periods will provide insights into the way literature represents changing understandings of the way the world is structured and the way that the human mind and human culture engage with it. First-term readings: Homer, The Odyssey; Dante, The Inferno; Swift, Gulliver’s Travels; Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, the African; William Faulkner, Light in August; Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man; Jack Kerouac, On the Road. Second-term readings: Ovid, The Metamorphoses; Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene; John Milton, Comus, Paradise Lost; H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau; Charles Chesnutt, The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales; Kafka, The Metamorphosis; Eugene Ionesco, Rhinoceros.
How Stories Define Us: Greek Myths and the Invention of Democracy
The ancient Greeks originated the name, concept, and political structure of democracy. Their literature both witnessed and effected the very first-ever political and cultural transformation from tyranny to democracy, from rigid hierarchy to equality and the rule of law. How did telling and retelling their myths help the Greeks develop the values necessary to make this transition? What can the ancient Greeks’ cultural transformation and their eloquent testimony about it teach the modern world? Readings will include the archaic poetry of Homer and Hesiod (8th-7th century BCE) and selected Athenian tragedies and comedies (5th century BCE). Students will attend one lecture and one group conference each week. At the discretion of the instructor, qualified students may enroll in the course as Intermediate or Advanced Greek.
American Stages: The Evolution of Theatre in the United States
In a nation invented on suppositions of individuality and equality, theatre has always held a peculiar place. On the one hand, Western theatre and the genres of tragedy and comedy were born from democracy in its ancient Athenian form; on the other hand, the communal nature of theatre goes against the expressions of self-reliance that characterize American vision and enterprise. This course explores the ways in which people who have called themselves Americans, sometimes with significant cultural modifiers, have thought about and made theatre from the 18th century to the present. We shall begin by looking at early attempts to create American “entertainments” based upon European forms. Soon, the displacement of native peoples, African slavery, expansion into the West, mass immigration, and industrialism led to new social and political uses of melodrama. In the 20th century, a “classic” American drama develops, represented in the works of Eugene O’Neill, Lillian Hellman, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller. We shall then retrace our steps in order to gain alternative perspectives. These come primarily from the influence of African American music, particularly jazz, as it informs popular entertainments and blends with European vaudeville and “gaiety” shows to create a new and characteristically American genre: musical theatre. Simultaneously, the element of improvisation as derived from jazz contributes to the idea of unscripted work as quintessentially American, challenging the entire role of the playwright and the boundaries of theatrical space. We will then be in a position to examine the paradoxes of contemporary stages in which the invention of the self—that unique American assumption, privilege, and burden—is conflicted by identity politics, postmodernism, and the reflexive poses of irony.
Milton, Blake, and the Bible
John Milton in the 17th century and William Blake in the late-18th and early-19th centuries forged fiercely independent poetics of visionary resistance to the trends toward intellectual materialism, religious conformity, economic mercantilism, and political authoritarianism that dominated the England and Europe of their periods. Both represented themselves as visionary teachers and prophets in a line of prophetic succession that began with Moses and included Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, and John, the writer of the Apocalypse. They founded their prophetic imaginations on what Blake called, “the sublime of the Bible,” the great epic of human liberation and imaginative inspiration. This course will provide readings of central biblical narratives and poetry and examine how Milton and Blake read, understood, and rewrote scripture in their major poetic texts in their prophetic expectation of changing the world and how we see it.
James Joyce’s Ulysses, one of the most important novels of literary modernism, tracks its two major characters, hour by hour, through the streets of Dublin, Ireland, on a single day, June 16, 1904. Never has the life of a modern city and the interior lives of its inhabitants been so densely and sensitively chronicled. But the text is not only grounded in the “real life” of turn-of-the-century Dublin, it is also deeply grounded in literary landscapes, characters, and plots that stretch back to Shakespeare—and beyond Shakespeare to Homer. This class offers the chance for close study of three great texts that are deeply implicated in one another: Homer’s Odyssey, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Joyce’s Ulysses. The themes of circular journeying, fate, identity, parent-child relations and indebtedness, and “the feminine mystique” that we trace in the Odyssey and Hamlet will prepare us for a careful and joyful reading of Joyce’s exuberant human comedy in Ulysses.
East-West: Asian American Literature in a Transnational Context
Younghill Kang’s second novel, Death of an Exile, was published in 1937 under a new title demanded by the publisher: East Goes West: The Making of an Oriental Yankee. This is one brief example of the multifarious transformations that accompanied the emergence of what we now call Asian American literature. US immigrant or ethnic literatures are not merely subgenres of literature written by minority peoples. These literary histories are marked by the complex and ever-changing nature of the political, social, cultural, and linguistic negotiations that continue to shape American society. The history of Asian American migrants and immigrants to the United States will be a primary, but not exclusive, focus of this course. Writings that record the experiences of exiles, refugees, travelers, tourists, journalists, monks, activists, and so on will also be investigated for the stories they tell about desires not oriented by the “American dream.” The final section of the course will consider some examples of literature by American authors, which register the contact of Eastern cultures with the United States outside the frame of Asian immigration (from Transcendentalism to Jack Kerouac’s School of Disembodied Poetics).
Hispanic Literature in Translation: A Course on Spanish and Latin American Theatre
This course will explore the full spectrum of theatre, from the early modern period in Spain and colonial Spanish America to contemporary theatre on both sides of the Atlantic, including US Latino playwrights. We will read across periods to identify preoccupations and generic characteristics as theatre evolves and moves between the street and the salon, the college yard and the court, enclosed theatres and theatre for the enclosed. In the process, we will address a wide swath of ideas: on gender, class, freedom and totalitarianism, and the boundaries of identity. Students will be introduced to some basic concepts and figures, such as Lope de Vega’s brilliant articulation of “comedia” to Augusto Boal’s concept of an engaged theatre, or the work of FOMMA (Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya) and similar collectives. And we will read plays as plays, as literature, and as texts intended for performance on a stage. At the same time, students will have the opportunity to explore creative practices through engagement with different community organizations: schools, retirement homes, local theatre organizations, etc. Students are encouraged to apply concepts learned in class to their internships and to bring their ideas and reflections on their weekly practices for discussion in class. Every other week, one hour will be devoted to discussing their work in the community. Spanish is not required, but students who are sufficiently fluent in the language may opt to work in a community where Spanish is the primary language of communication.
Declarations of Independence: American Literary Masterworks
On July 4, 1845, Henry Thoreau began spending his days and nights at Walden Pond. His declaration of independence from the America in which he was living epitomizes a tradition that goes to the heart of American literature. Time and again, America’s best writers have adapted the values of the American Revolution to their own times. In rebelling against religious orthodoxy, slavery, a market economy, the relegation of women to second-class citizens—to name just a few of their targets—America’s prose writers have produced a tradition at odds with the country but consistent with the spirit of the Founding Fathers. Declarations of Independence will focus on this tradition in terms of a series of American literary masterworks that feature the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger and Sylvia Plath. The course will look at the parallels between America’s writing and the contours of American history. Students will begin their conference work putting the classic 19th-century American novel into perspective by looking at the classic 19th-century British novel.
20th-Century British Literature
“On or about December 1910, human character changed,” Virginia Woolf once said. Whether one agrees with this outrageous claim, it is certainly true that, in the century that followed, Britain underwent dramatic social change and that “when human relations change there is, at the same time, a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.” This yearlong course thus explores a literature marked by fracture, as well as tradition. In the first semester, we examine how British writers (1900-1945) responded to imperialism, women’s rights, Irish independence, and the effects of two world wars. We read works of canonical High Modernism (by Woolf, Eliot, and pre-independence Joyce and Yeats), alongside less familiar works (by, for example, the Welsh poet David Jones and the Scottish novelist Lewis Grassic Gibbon). In the second semester, we examine how the alleged consensus of the postwar period gradually gave way to provocative questions about the nature of Britishness itself. We explore the cultural effects of the dismantling of empire in an era that also saw increased emphasis on regional identities. Who were the “old gang,” and why did Auden call for their death? Why has anti-Modernism constituted such a persistent strain in British writing? Who are Sam Selvon’s Caribbean Londoners, and why are they so lonely? Who thinks oranges are the only fruit? These and other questions shape our conversation. Possible authors: W. B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, James, Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, T. S. Eliot, David Jones, Hugh MacDiarmid, W. H. Auden, Noel Coward, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Sam Selvon, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Jean Rhys, Jeanette Winterson, Seamus Heaney, Geoffrey Hill, Caryl Churchill, Alasdair Gray, Paul Muldoon, Martin Amis, Hanif Kureshi, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Daljit Nagra, and others.
Reason and Revolution, Satire and the City: Literature and Social Change in the Age of Swift
This course examines British literary culture across the lifetime of the great Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift. Between Swift’s birth in 1667 and his death in 1745, Britain emerged from an era of violent civil conflict to become a major military and colonial power with a functional, if often massively corrupt, political system, a sense of national identity that has remained consistent to this day, and several of the world’s great metropolitan centers. As Britain achieved a new political stability, however, its marketplace of literature and ideas grew increasingly diverse and fractious—as journalism and popular fiction, much of it authored by women, challenged the cultural supremacy of neoclassical poetry written by and for men and as voices made from the social and colonial margins made themselves heard in print. Swift’s career exemplified many of these tensions, as he wrote propaganda for both sides of the political aisle, expressed reactionary social values while crafting subversively experimental works of fiction, mocked the new urban culture of London while portraying it with loving fidelity, and attacked the English exploitation of Ireland even as he formed part of the Anglican religious establishment in Dublin. This course will not only cover Swift’s major works—from prose fictions like Gulliver’s Travels to his outrageous scatological poetry and his scathing writings on Ireland, including the famous Modest Proposal—but also offer a wide variety of other voices from this raucous period in English letters. Writers will include England’s first professional female author, Aphra Behn; the wildly transgressive poet John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, portrayed by Johnny Depp in the 2004 film The Libertine; comic playwrights like William Congreve; Rochester’s rival, the political satirist John Dryden; Swift’s friend and collaborator, Alexander Pope, who attacked and memorialized the social and literary scene of the day in lapidary verse; moral philosophers such as Bernard Mandeville; the visual satirist William Hogarth; and early novelists such as Daniel Defoe and Eliza Haywood.
An Introduction to Shakespeare
Over the centuries, Shakespeare’s plays have moved from being primarily scripts for actors to being literary works read by a large middle-class public to being texts for study in the academy. We will consider the ways in which this perennial classic is reinvented as our contemporary, as well as the radical differences between the Shakespearean imagination of social life, erotic life, and the nature of the self and our own. The plays studied will include examples of Shakespeare’s four main genres—comedy, history, tragedy, and romance. Occasionally, we will also read critical essays that connect Shakespeare to issues in contemporary literary and cultural theory. Some previous work in literature or philosophy is desirable.
Gloriana: Elizabeth I in Literature and the Arts
Four hundred years after her death, it is not surprising that Queen Elizabeth has achieved the status of myth. In truth, however, she was already being mythologized during her life: in popular culture, by her courtiers, and not least of all by herself. “The Virgin Queen” was both celebrated and denigrated. She was the uncanny queen of fairies and the wise Biblical judge Deborah; she was the chaste Cynthia, moon goddess and ruler of oceans; she was male and female, a figurative mother to her nation and, some said, a literal mother of bastards. Elizabeth’s 45-year reign was a national work-in-progress; the many representations of Elizabeth that circulated during her life and after offer a window on the continuing negotiations of political power, religious authority, and gender necessitated by the anomaly of her rule. This course presumes no prior study of the period and can serve as an introduction to the culture of Renaissance England. Our materials, mostly 16th-century, include biography, history, poems and songs, plays and other dramatic entertainments, portraits, and Elizabeth’s letters and speeches. We will draw on a variety of scholarly disciplines in interpreting those materials and working to understand the achievements of, and the challenges to, Elizabeth’s reign. Conference work may pursue further some of the course’s issues or materials or may center on a topic wholly unrelated, depending on the student’s interests and needs.
Memory, Memorialization, and Writing
Memory—and the associative terms recall, recollection, remembrance, and memorialization—are an intrinsic part of human intelligence and experience and, as such, inseparable from the act of writing. Indeed, the prevailing model of memory in Western thought, from the pre-Socratics through modernity, is the impressing of an imprint or the incising of a mark or figure on the waxy surface of the mind or psyche. This model of how and why we remember will serve as our point of departure, aiding us in identifying the multiple ways in which the past, as both shared and contested space, comes to bear its imprint on present consciousness. Through literary and philosophical texts, this course will explore contemporary culture’s preoccupation with memory and memorializing, with special emphasis on the literary interplay between personal and collective memory and the relation between history and memory. We shall consider memory as an index of identity, a signifying practice, and an interpretive reconstruction whose wide-ranging implications extend beyond the private into the public realm, addressing how narrative conventions, cultural assumptions, political investments, and social contexts of commemoration affect both remembering and forgetting. Among the authors to be included are Freud, Benjamin, Proust, Nabokov, Borges, Christa Wolf. Some suggested directions for conference work: intersections between memory studies and cognitive studies, photography, archives, monuments, and narratives of intergenerational transmission.
Defiant Acts: Hispanic Theatre in Translation
This course will explore the full spectrum of 20th – century and contemporary theatre in the Spanish-speaking world, though it will focus primarily on Latin American authors, including U.S. Latino playwrights. We will read plays to identify preoccupations and generic characteristics as theatre evolves and moves between the conventional theatrical space and the street, enclosed theatres and theatre for the enclosed. In the process we will address a wide swath of ideas, on gender, class, freedom and totalitarianism, innovation and the boundaries of identity. Students will be introduced to some fundamental figures such as Rodolfo Usigli, Emilio Carballido, Ariel Dorfman, Sabina Berman and Diana Raznovic, as well as basic concepts and figures of the 20th century, as well as Augusto Boal’s concept of an engaged theatre, investigate the work of FOMMA (Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya) and similar contemporary collectives. And we will read plays as plays, as literature and as texts intended for performance on a stage.
At the same time students will have the option (not a requirement) to explore creative practices through engagement with different community organizations: schools, a retirement home, etc. Students are encouraged to apply concepts learned in a class workshop to their internships, and to bring their ideas and reflections on their weekly practices for discussion in class. NO Spanish required. NO expertise in theatre required though theatre students are very welcome.
Culture Wars: Literature and the Politics of Culture Since the Late-19th Century
The current controversies over multiculturalism and the attacks on the literary canon and on the idea of high culture itself suggest that this may be a good moment to examine how the ideologies of culture currently in question have been shaped over the last century. We will begin with the late-19th century, when what we think of as modernist conceptions of the unique social role of imaginative writing and of aesthetic experience generally begin to take shape, and continue through to the “culture wars” of the 1980s. Some of the course reading will be in fiction, poetry, and drama that can be read as offering, in themselves, theories of cultural politics; these writers will include Flaubert, James, Mann, Brecht, Yeats, Eliot, Pynchon, and Morrison. Theorists of the relations among art, society, and politics will range from the Victorians and “Decadents” (Arnold, Wilde) to late Romanticism (Nietzsche, Wagner) to Marxist cultural theory (Benjamin, Adorno) to poststructuralism (Barthes, Derrida) to recent American theorists of gender and ethnicity. Some previous work in literature or philosophy is desirable.
The New Life: Poetry of Transformation
This course is a close reading of several poets whose work is deeply bound up with the experience of transformation—of themselves, of the world as they perceive it, and thus necessarily of their own poetry. We begin with Dante’s “Vita Nuova” (c. 1294), which tells the story of the poet literally translated by his visionary love for Beatrice, and we end with Louise Glück’s delicate and resonant “Vita Nova” (1999). In between, we will read three other poets in whom fearful or desirable change shines out like revelation: Donne, Keats, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. As Donne responds to the contrary pulls of the erotic and the religious, he writes with a “metaphysical” wit that, uniting opposites by dint of sheer verbal exertion, becomes its own force for transformation. In Keats’s letters and poems, we see the poles of nature and imagination, change and changelessness, frame the poet’s developing argument with himself over the purpose of poetry. For Hopkins, transformation takes on a dangerous beauty in a human and natural world, simultaneously breaking and blazing with the divine. Whether as readers or writers of poetry, or both, we aim, by consistent attention to the language and technique of the poems we read, to deepen our understanding and sharpen our ability to articulate what those poems do. Students may do conference work in a wide range of poets and topics in poetry or choose an altogether different focus, depending on their interests and needs.
Spirits and the Supernatural in Japanese Literature
In this course, we will read translations of Japanese texts, ranging from the ninth century to the present, that feature spirits, ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural elements. We will also explore various ways of interpreting Japanese literature of the supernatural. For example, how does the eighth-century Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) narrate the origins of Japan through its creation deities, and how does this text relate to contemporary Shinto in Japan? How can we interpret spirit possession in the early 11th-century classic, The Tale of Genji? How are early modern tales, such as Ueda Akinari’s Tales of Moonlight and Rain, inspired by Chinese models? How do modern writers represent the supernatural through reinterpretations of classical texts? In contemporary literature, does the supernatural reveal anxiety regarding individual identity vis-à-vis family or one’s larger society? Our readings will focus on primary texts of literature, supplemented by critical writings to challenge and expand our ways of reading. Readings include works by Ueda Akinari, Izumi Kyoka, Lafcadio Hearn, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, Enchi Fumiko, Abe Kobo, and Murakami Haruki, among others. Several Japanese films will complement our readings of these texts. Students interested in reading in Japanese for conference work are also welcome.
Some of the greatest dramatic literature is set in an era preceding its composition. This is always true of a form of dramatic literature that we usually call by a different name (Plato’s dialogues); but it is also true of some of the most celebrated drama, plays that we identify with the core of the Western theatrical tradition—much of Greek tragedy, for example—and it is very famously true of some of the greatest work by Shakespeare, Schiller, and Corneille. Some of the best contemporary playwrights also set some of their work in the past: Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, Arcadia, The Invention of Love, and The Coast of Utopia are all, in one or another sense, history plays. Setting a play in the past can create and exploit dramatic irony (the audience knows the history to come; the protagonists usually do not), but there is no single reason for setting a play in the past. For some playwrights, history provided the grandest kind of spectacle, a site of splendid and terrible (hence, dramatic) events. Their treatment of the past may not depict it as radically discontinuous with the present or necessarily different in kind. Other playwrights may make the past setting little more than an allegory of the present; for example, Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (1898) seems to be a celebration of Victorian liberal imperialism. The playwright may set work in the past as part of an urgent analysis of the origins of his own situation: Michael Frayn’s best play, Benefactors, was written in 1984 but set in the late 1960s; it attempts to locate the causes of the then-recent collapse of political liberalism, seeking in history an answer that could be found only there. But Copenhagen, another of Frayn’s plays with a historical setting, does not necessarily focus on something irretrievably past. Its interests, rather, may be concentrated on a living problem of undiminished urgency. Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade, arguably the most successful work of 1960s political theater, was a history play focused on what then seemed the explicit and unbreakable link between late-18th-century politics and the politics of the present. A recent play by Alan Bennett, The History Boys, seeks to illuminate something about the political present by examining a changing fashion in the teaching of history. In this course, we will read a number of works of dramatic literature—all of them, in one sense or another, history plays written for various purposes and of generally very high quality. We may or may not discover anything common to all history plays, but we will read some good books.
Dream Books: Irrationality in British Literature, 1790-1900
Night after night, author and addict Thomas de Quincey was visited by mental “spectacles of more than earthly splendour.” But the “fierce chemistry” of the dreaming mind, as de Quincey well knew, could be a source of pain and horror, as well as of pleasure and great creative power. This course explores the prehistory of the unconscious in British writing from the late-18th century through the early-20th century, a period marked by the production of dream journals, nonsense verse, visionary poetry, opium-fueled phantasmagoria, sensation novels, and the emergence of the first authentic children’s literature in English. Does daydreaming have value? Is there sense in nonsense? Why is the double uncanny? What’s on the other side of the looking glass? With works by: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Fuseli, Lamb, de Quincey, Polidori, C. Brontë, Hogg, Stevenson, Wilde, Lear, Carroll, C. Rossetti, Stoker, Le Fanu, Collins, and others.
Elective Affinities in American Poetry
American poetry has multiple origins and a vast array of modes and variations. In this course, we will focus our attention on a double handful of North American poets writing in English and largely indebted (whether they admit it or not) to the visionary strain in 19th-century Romanticism. We will begin our readings with Whitman and Dickinson, and those two fountainheads of American poetry will provide a vivid context for the comparison and contrast of all that follows. Here are some other topics that will engage our attention as we proceed: Hart Crane’s ambivalent reaction to the modernism of T. S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop’s apprenticeship to Marianne Moore, the controversies surrounding Frost’s traditionalism, and the decisive influence of Wallace Stevens on John Ashbery. Our central task will be to appreciate and articulate the unique strengths of each of the poems we encounter through close, imaginative readings and informed speculation.
Issues in Comparative Literary Studies
As a discipline that defines itself as an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and transnational enterprise, comparative literature occupies a distinct place in the humanities. Many locate the origins of “Comp Lit” in Goethe’s conception of Weltliteratur, according to which the literary imagination transcends national and linguistic borders even as it views every work of literature as historically situated and aesthetically unique. Since its beginnings, comparative literature has foregrounded the dynamic tension between text and context, rhetoric and structure—comparing different works within and across genre, period, and movement in their original language. By balancing theoretical readings in/about comparative literature with concrete examples of close textual analyses of poems, plays, short stories, and novels, this course will also expose students to the ways in which comparative literature has expanded from its previous classically cosmopolitan and fundamentally Eurocentric perspectives to its current global, cultural configurations. Comparative literature is continually reframing its own assumptions, questioning its critical methodologies, and expanding its objects of study. Today, it is impossible to study comparative literature without engaging its relation to translation studies, postcolonial and diaspora studies, and globalization, as well as to the ongoing concerns and various approaches of language-rich literary criticism and theory. This course is for sophomores, juniors, and seniors who have taken a previous course in literature and have some proficiency in a foreign language.
Politics of Affect: Postcolonial and Feminist Literature and Film
In Edward Said’s introduction to his groundbreaking book, Orientalism, he gives several explanations for the purpose of his work. One of the more personal articulations of his motive is stated as follows: “In many ways, my study of Orientalism has been an attempt to inventory the traces upon me, the Oriental subject, of the culture whose domination has been so powerful a factor in the life of all Orientals.” Despite the strong personal language of this particular statement, Said makes clear that the “mere being” or “brute reality” of lives lived in the so-called Orient would have to remain necessarily beyond the scope of his study. More than 40 years later, we will explore literature and film that have emerged in between and beyond the original framework given to us by Said. From Near East to Far East, contemporary responses to the histories of Orientalism and the emergence of postcolonial-feminist literary and cinematic movements may require that we expand our methods beyond critique toward the (re)invention of new—and very old—ways of encountering and engaging “mere being.” The question of individual motivation (of students) will necessarily be addressed by this course; this fact should be considered carefully by prospective students. This course is limited to students who have already done coursework on some aspect of colonial/postcolonial or feminist histories (relating to various possible historical periods, geographic locations, or academic disciplines) but does not require previous study of literature or film in this specific context.
Writing Warrior (Wo)men: Mothering, Movements and Migration in Black Literature
The interests of this yearlong seminar build on the productivity and excitement of recent scholarship in African American, African, and Caribbean diasporic studies regarding the role of the “mother figure” in Black diasporic literature, culture, and “thought.” The following central question will guide our study: How does each writer engage the maternal within his or her given historical contexts? We will begin our study with writings from the 18th century and work our way up to discussions of Black maternity in the contemporary imaginary. Therefore, we will explore (among other issues) what role “African” and/or Black maternity plays within these literary reproductions, given its (Black motherhood) contested space within (and beyond) the cultural, political, and legal history of slavery as philosophy and practice. We will examine the discourse surrounding formations such as the “slave mother,” “mother of a/the race” or “race mother,” “mammy” and “Black nanny,” “welfare queen,” “single mother,” “Black matriarch,” “Black queen/goddess,” etc. We will study the material using an interdisciplinary approach, which has been and remains central to African American and Caribbean studies, while examining these material tropes in fiction, nonfiction, “life writing,” poetry, music, performance art, popular culture, cultural studies and race theory, etc. Authors whose work we might investigate include, but are not limited to: Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince, Martin Delaney, Claude McKay, Louise Bennett, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, Saul Williams, Kamau Brathwaite, Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, Michelle Cliff, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Nella Larsen, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Octavia Butler, Aime Cesaire, Patricia Hill Collins, Hortense Spillers, and Deborah McDowell. Open to juniors and seniors and to sophomores with permission of the instructor.
Modernism and Fiction
This course will pick up the history of prose fiction roughly at the point at which the novel starts to become a self-conscious and problematic literary form in Flaubert, James, and Conrad. From these writers, we will proceed to the more radical and complex formal experiments of the great “high modernists” of fiction—Mann, Joyce, Proust, and Kafka. In the last part of the course, we will consider the question of what is now called “postmodernism,” both in fiction that continues the experimental tradition of modernism while breaking with some of its assumptions (Beckett and Pynchon) and in important recent theorizing about problems of narrative and representation. Throughout, we will pay close attention to the social and political meanings of both experimental narrative techniques and theories of fiction. Previous completion of at least one year of literature or philosophy is required.
Shakespeare and Company
The core of this course is a generous selection of Shakespeare’s plays, representing the range of genres and styles in which he worked over a lifetime. While Shakespeare was in some ways unique, the world in which he lived, wrote, and acted—the London theatre—was highly collaborative and attracted many gifted and successful playwrights. So we will also read Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and some writers perhaps less well-known today: Kyd, Tourneur, Middleton, Beaumont, and Fletcher. Emphasis will be placed on close examination of language and dramatic construction, with contexts for our work provided by reference to the physical and social organization of playhouses and acting companies and to some cultural and intellectual traditions of the time. Conference work might further explore any of these or other writers of the period or investigate further some piece of cultural or historical context; or it might center on a wholly unrelated topic, depending on the student’s interests and needs.
The Nonfiction Essay: Writing the Literature of Fact, Journalism, and Beyond
This is a writing course that aims to have students produce a series of nonfiction essays that reflect Tom Wolfe’s belief that it is “possible to write journalism that would read like a novel.” The reading we do is designed to serve the writing we do, which will both include and go beyond standard journalism. We will read a number of well-known nonfiction writers—among them, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, John McPhee, and Henry Louis Gates; but this course is not a history of the nonfiction essay. Assignments come with deadlines for drafts, rewrites, and final copy. The assignments are not “writing-class exercises” but the kinds of work any editor would give out. A warning: This is not a course in “creative nonfiction” or covert autobiography. Accurate reporting is a non-negotiable starting and finishing point. The course will begin by emphasizing writing technique. And as we move on to longer assignments, our focus will be on the role that research, interviews, and legwork play in completing a story. Students should bring a writing sample to the interview and should not be taking another writing course.
The Greco-Roman World: Its Origins, Crises, Turning Points, and Final Transformations
This course invites the serious student to penetrate the tides of time in order to uncover what really lies behind the making of ancient Greece and Rome from their earliest times to their final transformations. The aimed-for result is a more deeply informed understanding of their direct contribution to us; namely, the classical tradition that still shapes our thinking and exercises our imagination. The methodologies employed will be derived as much from the fields of anthropology and sociology as from those of political science, economics, archaeology, and religious studies. The particular topics pursued will be set through joint decision by class members and the teacher but anchored always in the reality of what these two gifted peoples experienced—or believed to be their experience. To further this goal, all conferences will be in small groups, and all papers will be written as joint productions rather than as individual conclusions. A model for this procedure will be established in the first two weeks of the fall semester through the class’s multidisciplinary reading, in translation, of important selections from Homer’s Iliad.
Studies in the 19th-Century Novel
This course entails an intensive and close textual encounter with the novelistic worlds of the 19th-century realist tradition. The first fictional tradition to accept social reality as the ultimate horizon for human striving, the 19th-century novels that we will study are all intensely critical of the severe limitations to human wholeness and meaning posed by the new social world they were confronting. At the same time that they accept the world as a setting and boundary for human life, they seek to find grounds for transcending its limitations. We will explore the tensions in these novelists’ works between accepting the world as given and seeking to transcend it. At the same time, we will try to understand why—in spite of a century and a half of great historical and cultural change—these novels continue to speak to the issues posed by the human condition with such beauty, depth, and wisdom. We will read in the works of novelists such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Stendhal, Eliot, Austen, Dickens, Twain, and Goethe.
The Music of What Happens: Alternate Histories and Counterfactuals
The alternate history, which imagines a different present or future originating in a point of divergence from our actual history—a branching point in the past—is both an increasingly popular form of genre fiction and a decreasingly disreputable form of analysis in history and the social sciences. While fictions of alternate history were, until very recently, only a subgenre of science fiction, two celebrated American “literary” novelists, Philip Roth and Michael Chabon, have written, within the last four years, well-regarded novels of alternate history: The Plot Against America and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Similarly, while counterfactual historical speculation is at least as old as Livy, academic historians have, until recently, scorned the practice as a vulgar parlor game; but this is beginning to change. In the early 1990s, Cambridge University Press and Princeton both published intellectually rigorous books on alternate history and counterfactual analysis in the social sciences. Cambridge more recently published a volume analyzing alternate histories of the World War II. And, in 2006, the University of Michigan Press published an interesting collection of counterfactual analyses titled, Unmaking the West. This course will examine a number of fictions of alternate history, some reputable and some less reputable, and also look at some of the academic work noted above. We shall attempt to understand what it might mean to think seriously about counterfactuals, about why fictions of and academic works on alternate history have become significantly more widespread, and about what makes an alternate history aesthetically satisfying and intellectually suggestive rather than ham-fisted, flat, and profoundly unpersuasive.