2013-2014 Literature Courses
First-Year Studies: Amid the Tears and Laughter: The Political Art of Ancient Greek Tragedy and Comedy
Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Greeks began a 200-year experiment in democratic government. Considerably less democratic than the modern United States, ancient Athens was also considerably more democratic. Like other political systems throughout the world and (until only very recently) throughout history, the Athenian democracy excluded women, slaves, and foreigners from political participation. At the same time, it embodied the ideals and consequences of direct democracy. Many issues confronted by Athenian society during the fifth-century BCE remain powerful questions in our own time: How do you safeguard democratic liberties against tyrannical violence and intimidation from within and from without? How do you balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the group? How do you promote individual achievement that benefits rather than harms the community as a whole? How do you reconcile the ethical demands of democracy with the political necessities of foreign policy? What is the function of “entertainment” in a democratic society? We will examine the crucial role of tragedy and comedy in transmitting, challenging, and shaping Athenian values throughout the fifth-century BCE. Above all, we will consider the implications and insights that these plays continue to offer 21st-century audiences. Students will read works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Aristotle in translation.
First-Year Studies: Autobiography in Literature: Self/Life/Writing
How does a self—the most intimate and elusive of concepts—become a text? What is the relationship between living a life and writing about it? What assumptions might authors and readers not share about the ways experience is endowed with symbolic value? This course is intended to introduce students to the autobiographical mode in literature. For modernists and postmodernists particularly obsessed by problems of identity, self-expression, and social construction, the study of autobiography is a fascinating enterprise. We will examine a rich variety of “life stories,” emphasizing both philosophical inquiry and aesthetic innovation, that span from medieval times through the 21st century. Special attention will be paid to the following patterns and themes: the complex interplay between “truth” and “fiction,” sincerity and artifice, memory and representation; the nature of confessional writing; the use of autobiography as cultural document; the dialectic between word and image (photography, comix); and the role of gender in both the writing and reading of autobiographies. Among the authors to be included are St. Augustine, Kempe, Rousseau, Franklin, Douglass, Jacobs, Joyce, Stein, Nabokov, Wright, Beauvoir, Sartre, Kingston, Spiegelman, and Bechdel. Students will write short, frequent papers on the readings throughout the year.
First-Year Studies: Calles y Plaza Antigua: The Country and the City in Literature and Film
The city has been called voracious, boundless, the den of unbridled lust and greed (La Celestina), a heaven for opportunity, and sometimes safety from prosecution and prejudice. On it, we project our fantasies, our desires (Atlantis, Eldorado, Axtlán, the Big Apple). Feminized, it can be a citadel (traditional romances), the whore of Babylon, an entrapment. It’s a labyrinth (Borges), the urban cauldron where immigrants sink or swim (Mad Toy, Biutiful) or where human beings are dehumanized and churned out of its maws (Los olvidados). It’s the locus of lost illusions and delusions of grandeur (Abilio Estevez, Ena Lucia Portela), including postwar ones (Juan Marsé). In film and prose, it is the terrain, par excellence, of the noir genre (Nahum Montt), postmodern city (Generación X), or the tentative locus for the modernista postrevolutionary (in Maples Arce’s poetry, for instance). On the other hand, is the country a haven of time-tested virtues (Fuenteovejuna), an appropriate metaphor for the desert in desperate need of renewal (Flores de otro mundo), or the place where all dreams are deformed or come crashing down (Ana María Matute)? Are nature and the city at war with each other, and can we negotiate our own space between them (Cortázar)? We will explore these and related themes (like gender, race, class, how space defines us, how we define space) primarily in literature and film from the Spanish-speaking world on both sides of the Atlantic but with frequent forays into other perspectives, other places—first and foremost among them, New York City.
First-Year Studies: Modern Myths of Paris
This course will explore the powerful hold that Paris exerted on literature in the 19th and 20th centuries, the period when the city became a world capital of artistic, intellectual, and political life. Our guiding focus will be on how writers used the geography of Paris—its streets, monuments, markets, and slums—to reflect on the complexities of modern life, posing it as a place of revolution and banality, alienation and community, seduction and monstrosity. We will pay particular attention to the ways in which the representation of the city allowed writers to question the form and function of literature itself. We will begin with the 19th-century French novelists and poets who made Paris the site of epic literary struggles, including Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, and Émile Zola. We will then see how the city provided fertile ground for the aesthetic experimentations of 20th-century literature in works by Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, Louis Aragon, and Georges Perec. Finally, we will see how Paris is experienced as a cosmopolitan and global space in works by expatriates, immigrants, former colonial subjects, and travelers as varied as Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, Mehdi Charef, Fatou Diome, and Enrique Vila-Matas. Beyond our focus on close readings of literary texts, students will have the opportunity to read some theoretical considerations of Paris; we will also watch several films where Paris features predominately.
First-Year Studies in Literature
The intention of this course is to introduce the student to some of the critical approaches that can be made to a literary text—the questions that can be asked about language, style, structure, genre, historical background, archetypal pattern, and the connections that can be made among these approaches. The main emphasis of the course, however, will be on the relationship between literature and society. We will consider some of the ways in which imaginative works (and the ways they are interpreted) reflect problematic social realities and also present visions of alternative social possibility. The course will open with a study of a few Greek and Shakespearean plays, and much of the rest of the year will be given to readings in a group of 19th- and 20th-century novelists, poets, and dramatists in an attempt to see how different imaginative strategies deal with certain recurring themes and problems. Authors read will include Blake, Austen, Dickens, Dostoevski, Emily Brontë, Melville, Flaubert, James, T. S. Eliot, Kafka, Mann, Brecht, Pynchon, and Morrison.
First-Year Studies: Japanese Literature: Ancient Myths to Contemporary Fiction
From the Sun Goddess Amaterasu ruling the Plain of Heaven to a superfrog saving Tokyo from mass destruction, this course is an introduction to the richness and diversity of Japanese literature in English translation. During the fall semester, we will focus on ancient, classical, medieval, and early modern texts (eighth to 19th centuries). Readings will include creation myths, epic tales of imperial courtiers and samurai warriors, folktales, drama, and poetry. During the spring semester, we will read 20th- and 21st-century writers, including Natsume Soseki, Kawabata Yasunari, Enchi Fumiko, Abe Kobo, Oe Kenzaburo, Murakami Haruki, and Ogawa Yoko. Films, historical texts, and critical essays will complement these literary texts to help us sharpen and challenge our interpretive approaches.
First-Year Studies: The Three Crowns of Florence: Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and the Beginnings of Modern
In the arc of two generations, between the 13th and 14th centuries, three writers emerged in Tuscany who shaped both the Italian language and Western literature. Their major works, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Petrarch’s Canzoniere, and Boccaccio’s Decameron offered monumental examples of epic poetry, lyric poetry, and narrative prose, respectively, all in Tuscan Italian. This course will offer a careful reading of these important texts. Dante’s Divine Comedy is, in many ways, a consummation of medieval culture—a prism through which he filters classical and medieval civilization and melds them in one magnificent and totalizing Christian vision embracing art, literature, philosophy, science, history, and theology. Like all concepts of heaven and hell, it is a repository for dreams of ecstasy, fantasies of horror, and, ultimately, moral guidance. A generation later, Petrarch puts together his Canzoniere, a collection of lyric poems that establish the form and tenor of the sonnet for succeeding centuries but also project moral concerns in the more “modern” context of individual sensibilities and internal psychology. In the Decameron, Boccaccio (Petrarch’s contemporary) offers 100 delightful short stories—many amusing, some exemplary, all rooted in the real and practical world of the emerging modern mercantile society that characterized the 14th century. It is a worldview that is as totalizing as it is different from that of Dante. Through close reading of these rewarding texts, we will trace some of the salient ideas of the late Middle Ages and consider some of the transformations that occur in attitudes and esthetics as a more “modern” sensibility emerges. The possibilities for conference projects are vast. In the first semester, they might include antecedents and analogues of the Divine Comedy, such as the Aeneid, the Odyssey, Platonic myths, or medieval mystical literature, as well as other works by Dante, pictorial representations of heaven and hell, and contemporary films. In the second semester, projects might continue the work of the first semester or address courtly love poetry, Chaucer, the sonnet, or narrative traditions.
First-Year Studies in History and Literature: The Two World Wars of the 20th Century
This course will examine World War I and World War II, two vast and savage armed conflicts that shaped the 20th century. We shall spend a year studying these two wars and some of the literature that they produced for two reasons: These wars were among the decisive shaping forces of our civilization; and war is intrinsically, if horrifically, fascinating, calling forth some of the best, as well as much of the worst, in human beings. World War I, generally understood as the ghastly collision of the Industrial Revolution with a nationalist state system, ended with the destruction of three empires. It produced new and starkly violent regimes, preeminently Communist Russia, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy; and it produced an immensely influential antiwar literary response, which has shaped politics down to our own day. World War II destroyed two of these polities and gave a long lease on life to the third of them. It inaugurated the Cold War that dominated world politics for most of the latter half of the 20th century. It doomed the European imperialism that had formally subjected almost the whole of the non-European world over the preceding centuries. And it produced the modern United States as the world’s first hyperpower. These wars, which made our political and cultural world and shattered its predecessor, are thus profoundly worth our understanding. The course will begin by describing the world destroyed by World War I and then assess the causes, courses, literature, and consequences of both world wars. We shall examine the experience of war for individuals, states, economies, and societies. These wars transformed everything they touched, and they touched everything. We shall look at them through the various optics of political history, literature, film, economic history, military history, cultural history, and social history.
African American Literature: Constructing Racial Selves and Others
This yearlong lecture will examine pivotal moments and texts in the history of African American letters, ranging from Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative (1789) to Saul Williams’s The Dead Emcee Scrolls (2006). Working our way through a variety of genres (elegy, drama, the captivity narrative, the slave narrative, the essay, public oratory, speeches, fiction, poetry, drama, polemical prose, autobiography, music, and film), we will explore a number of matters pertinent to literary studies in general, as well as those with specific implications for African American writing and writers. We will consider the circumstances of textual production and reception, ideas and ideologies of literary history and culture, aesthetics, authorship, and audience. We will focus our attention immediately on the emergence of African American writing under the regime of chattel slavery and the questions it poses about “race,” “authorship,” “subjectivity,” “self-mastery,” and “freedom.” We will consider the material and social conditions under which our selected texts were edited, published, marketed, and “authenticated.” Our ultimate aim is to situate our selections within the broadest possible contexts of their time and ours. We will also focus on the changing notions of racial identification in the 20th and 21st centuries, addressing how the wide array of genres shape and are shaped by pivotal cultural and political movements such as the “New Negro,” the Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights, Black Arts/Black Power, and Womanism, as well as current debates over matters such as hip hop, same-sexuality, incarceration, and “premature death.” Also, we will examine how the texts deal with recent questions about black identities and subjectivities that get funneled through notions of a postrace and/or postethnic (international) society. Some authors whom we might study include, but are not limited to, Thomas Jefferson, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Wilson, Anna Julia Cooper, Charles Chesnutt, Booker T. Washington, Jean Toomer, W. E. B. Du Bois, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Margaret Walker, Amiri Baraka, Huey Newton, Sonya Sanchez, Carolyn Rodgers, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Audre Lorde.
Epic Vision and Tradition from the Odyssey to Walcott’s Omeros
The epic is a monumental literary form and an index to the depth and richness of a culture and the ultimate test of a writer’s creative power. Encyclopedic in its inclusiveness, the epic reflects a culture’s origins and projects its destiny, giving definitive form to its vital mythology and problematically asserting and questioning its formative values. This course on the emergence and development of the epic genre developed in the Western tradition will be organized around four central purposes. First, we will study the major structural, stylistic, and thematic features of each epic. Second, we will consider the cultural significance of the epic as the collective or heroic memory of a people. Third, we will examine how each bard weaves an inspired, yet troubled, image of visionary selfhood into the cultural and historical themes of the poem. Fourth, we will notice how the epic form changes shape under changing cultural and historical circumstances and measure the degree to which the influence of epic tradition becomes a resource for literary and cultural power. First term: Homer, Odyssey; Virgil, Aeneid; Dante, Inferno; Milton, Paradise Lost. Second term: Pope, The Rape of the Lock; Wordsworth, The Prelude; Eliot, The Waste Land; Joyce, Ulysses; Walcott, Omeros.
The Forms and Logic of Comedy
Comedy is a startlingly various form that operates with a variety of logics. It can be politically conservative or starkly radical, savage or gentle, optimistic or despairing. In this course, we will explore some comic modes, from philosophical comedy to modern film, and examine a few theories of comedy. The tentative reading list includes a Platonic dialogue (the Protagoras), Aristophanes’ Old Comedy, Plautus’ New Comedy, Roman satire, Shakespeare, Molière, Fielding, Sterne, Jane Austen, Stendhal, Dickens, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Oscar Wilde, P. G. Wodehouse, Kingsley Amis, Joseph Heller, David Lodge, Philip Roth, and Tom Stoppard—along with some literary theory and philosophy, cartoons, and film. We may also read Rabelais and/or Cervantes. This reading list is subject to revision.
Warriors, Rogues, and Women in Breeches: Adventurous Lives in Early Modern Trans-Atlantic Literature: Literature in Translation
The 16th and 17th centuries were paramount to the literary legacy of Spanish American worlds, forming successive milestones in artistic and literary achievements. Fiction and drama introduced daring new protagonists, such as witty rogues, scheming harlots, delusional knights, and warrior maidens (bending gender and social roles) that would soon enough change the moral imagination and very course of trans-Atlantic cultural history. This lecture course will explore an array of these masterpieces in prose and drama, both from Spain and across the Americas, retracing adventurous journeys in historical and cross-cultural context. The course will include film and stage adaptations and other artistic manifestations as a way to more fully interrogate the relationship between the written word and visual image.
New Media Literacies
Culture and technology are rapidly coming closer together in ways that both extend and go beyond Adorno’s analysis of a “culture industry.” Marxist critical theory provided the foundation for the political analysis of culture and art from the mid- to late-20th century. It may be that today we need to broaden the language of the humanities to include informatics, big data, calculation, procedural rhetoric, protocol, interface, derivative wars, multimodal compositing, topology, interactivity, and the financialization of life. The aim is to focus more precise attention on contemporary discourses of everyday life, culture, and design in metropolitan hubs globally. At the same time, fundamental ethical questions, as well as new political issues, will be raised within the terms of these new literacies. We will begin with key writings of the Frankfurt School, then continue with critical essays by Luhman, Kittler, Deleuze, Foucault, Latour, Berardi, Martin, Hayles, Galloway, Manovich, Lury, Chow, Ang, Hansen, and Goodman.
Sex in the Machine
This course will explore feminist and queer perspectives on technology and digital media. What is the relationship between our views on technology and our views on bodies? We will move from existentialist inquiry into the question of woman, through theories of social construction of identities and gender performativity, to science and technology studies’ investigation of nonreproductive sexualities revolving around key tropes of cyborg, body modification, prosthetic, and posthuman. We will read critical essays by Beauvoir, Spillers, Parisi, Terranova, Butler, Cheah, Barad, Mahmood, Sedgwick, Clough, Haraway, Pitts, Sobchak, Hayles. We will also look at a small selection of literature, film, and art/design that provoke deeper inquiry into our key topics.
Romantic Poetry and Its Consequences
In this course, we will read and discuss some of the most influential poetry in the English language written during the last two centuries. One of the assumptions of the course is that modern poetry originates in the Romantic era. In the wake of the French Revolution, Wordsworth and Coleridge invented a new kind of autobiographical poem that largely internalized the myths that 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 but increasingly seem, instead, to have reinterpreted and extended its legacy. Our pre-eminent 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, Hardy, Frost, Stevens, Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.
18th-Century Women of Letters
By 1817, Jane Austen could boast that novels by women had “afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world.” A mere century and a half earlier, printed work by women was still a rarity. This course traces the emergence of professional female authorship from the end of the Renaissance to the heyday of Romanticism, along the way introducing students to the most illustrious members of Austen’s “literary corporation.” Some 18th-century women of letters remain familiar today (Aphra Behn, Mary Wollstonecraft), while many of them deserve more exposure (Eliza Haywood, Sarah Fielding, Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth). The texts we cover will be as eclectic as the authors themselves—from lyric poems to gothic novels, sex comedies to political jeremiads, fantasy literature to travel writing, autobiographies to courtship narratives—but the emphasis, especially in the spring, will be on prose fiction. Various theoretical approaches to the history of women’s writing will be considered, but we will primarily be interested in studying the individual careers, personalities, and achievements of these remarkable artists. We will also pay attention to male authors who, in response to the rise of professional women’s writing, employed complex female personae in their own work.
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.
17th-Century English Literature: Tradition and Transformation
In the 17th century in England, the great ordering coherences of medieval and earlier Renaissance thinking seemed to disintegrate under the warring impulses of individualism and authority, empiricism and faith, revolutionary transformation and reinforcement of tradition. Yet even as the monarchy and the established church were challenged and torn apart, the 17th century produced an extraordinary flowering of drama, poetry, and prose that expressed the contradictory energies of the period. We will study English writing of the 17th century in a roughly chronological sequence. The first semester will explore the aesthetics and ideology of the Stuart courts and the robust and bawdy urban century of London through a reading of masques and plays by Jonson and Shakespeare and their contemporaries; dramatic experiments in “metaphysical” and moral verse by Donne, Jonson, Herbert, and other poets; various developments in scientific, philosophical, and meditative prose by Bacon, Burton, and Browne; and the early poetry of Milton. The second semester will be devoted to major writers during the periods of the English Revolution and the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Our primary attention will be to the radical politics and the visionary poetics of Milton, particularly Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes; but we will also study the work of the cavalier and libertine court poets, as well as Andrew Marvell, Katherine Phillips, Aphra Behn, and John Dryden. John Bunyan’s spiritual allegory Pilgrim’s Progress and Behn’s colonial romance novel Oroonoko will provide a retrospect of the imagined and the social worlds that we have traversed and a prospect of the worlds to come. Prerequisite: At least one year of college-level study in the humanities or a strong AP course in literature.
The British Romantic movement, it has been said, produced the first “full-fledged ecological writers in the Western literary tradition.” To make this claim, however, is to provoke a host of volatile questions. What exactly did Romantics mean by “nature”? What were the aesthetic, scientific, and political implications of so-called Green Romanticism? Most provocatively, is modern environmental thought a continuation of Green Romanticism or a necessary reaction against it? This yearlong seminar considers such issues through the prism of late 18th and early 19th-century British literature, with additional forays into contemporary art, philosophy, and science writing, as well as American transcendentalism and modern responses to the Romantic legacy. Possible areas of discussion may include the following: leveling politics, landscape design, Romantic idealism, colonial exploration and exploitation, astronomy and the visionary imagination, “peasant poetry,” vegetarianism, the sex life of plants, breastfeeding, ballooning, deism, sublime longings, organic form, gardens, green cities, and the republic of nature—with works by J. J. Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Edmund Burke, William Gilpin, John Ruskin, Gilbert White, John Clare, Charlotte Smith, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge, Percy and Mary Shelley, John Keats, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, John Ruskin, William Morris, Iain Hamilton Finlay, and Tom Stoppard, among others.
Dostoevsky and the Age of Positivism
“Once it’s proved to you, for example, that you are descended from an ape, there’s no use making a wry face; just take it for what it is,” the Underground Man tells us. Lebeziatnikov attempts to educate the prostitute, Sonia, by lending her a copy of G.H. Lewes’s The Physiology of Common Life. Ivan Karamazov rejects non-Euclidean geometry, while his brother Dmitri worries that chemistry will displace God: “Move over a little, Your Reverence, there’s no help for it, chemistry’s coming!” This one-semester course will frame a rich and multifaceted reading of Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov with an exploration of Dostoevsky’s complicated relationship to the newly emerging science of his day. We will consider Dostoevsky’s response in the context of the very many of his contemporaries also engaged in a new discourse of science, including Dostoevsky’s main ideological opponent, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, as well as writers whose more nuanced approach shaped Dostoevsky’s own: Balzac, Poe, Wilkie Collins, and George Eliot in Middlemarch. Finally, we will read some of the scientists and science writers whose works both influenced and were influenced by 19th-century European literature, including Darwin, Comte, the French physiologist Claude Bernard, and G.H. Lewes—not just a favorite of the fictional Lebeziatnikov but also the common-law husband of the real George Eliot.
Acting Up: Theatre and Theatricality in 18th-Century England
From melodrama to burlesque, farce to musical theatre, Restoration and 18th-century England helped to define the modern conventions of dramatic art and popular entertainment. Beginning with the reign of a king who loved the theatre and all-too-public extramarital sex (Charles II), the era also raised new and troubling questions about the nature and potential of performance—not only as an aspect of artistic practice but also as an element of all social and political life. What if all our identities (king and subject, husband and wife) were not God-given and prescriptive but, instead, factitious and changeable—mere roles that we can adopt or discard at will? This course considers how authors from the 1660s to the 1800s imagined the potential of performance to transform—or sometimes to reinforce—the status quo, with a look ahead to the Hollywood films that inherited and adapted their legacy. Our emphasis will be on drama, with a survey of major 18th-century comedies, parodies, afterpieces, heroic tragedies, sentimental dramas, and gothic spectacles by playwrights such as William Wycherley, George Etherege, John Dryden, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, John Gay, Henry Fielding, Hannah Cowley, and Horace Walpole. We will intersperse our dramatic reading with viewings of films that demonstrate its influence from directors like Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder, and Hal Ashby. Some attention will also be paid to nondramatic writing on performance and theatrical culture, including 18th-century acting manuals, theatrical memoirs, and a “masquerade novel” by Eliza Haywood.
In Canto Eleven of Don Juan, Byron’s hapless hero stands on a hill outside London, enthusiastically meditating upon the splendid freedoms of the city before him: “Here laws are all inviolate; none lay / Traps for the traveller; every highway’s clear: / Here—’, he was interrupted by a knife, / With,—‘Damn your eyes! Your money or your life!’” Here, one might add, comic reversal works though the brilliant compression of real and ideal images of Britain’s capital city. This course reads London as it appears in 19th-century British literature. In novels, poems, essays, and plays, we explore the city as, at once, an origin and object of English language print culture. How did Victorian-era Londoners see their city? How is the density of urban life represented in the written word? Among the topics we will explore are: the city as fantasy, the city as nightmare; consumerism, crowds, caricatures; the development of literary criticism; theatre, opium, the street; dandies and bluestockings, streetwalkers and street-sweepers; anarchists; manners and the law; the black city, the gay city; “flash,” Polari, cant, and Cockney rhyming slang; and, finally, 19th-century London in retrospect. Possible authors: William Blake, Ignatius Sancho, Lord Byron, Mary Robinson, Thomas De Quincey, William Hazlitt, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, and Virginia Woolf.
Lorca’s World: From Granada to New York: Literature in Translation
The artistic and intellectual works of Federico García Lorca are a key transatlantic source for problematizing 20th-century Spanish literary and cultural history. Mostly known for his poems and plays, Lorca was also a painter, scriptwriter, musician, and “cultural outreach” educator. He was an electrifying figure, who created a lyrical world around his works and his very persona. Lorca spent his childhood and adult life moving between Granada and Spain’s capital of Madrid, an orbit punctured only by several travels to Latin America and a 10-month visit to New York City that turned into the critical basis for his book of poems, Poet in New York. This seminar will take the participant on a journey across Lorca’s life and works, making several passes across his poetic and dramatic masterpieces in order to better comprehend his singular crafting of a world made of color dreams, death, denouncement, love, and passion.
Empire of Letters: Mapping the Arts and the World in the Age of Johnson
“Damn Dr. Johnson,” grumbles a character in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1853 novel, Cranford. By then Samuel Johnson (1709-84) had been inspiring strong feelings for more than a century. Aside from compiling the first English dictionary of note, Johnson was a gifted and hugely influential critic, poet, political commentator, biographer, and novelist—as well as a legendarily pithy conversationalist and a master of the English sentence. His overbearing but strangely lovable personality was preserved for posterity by his friend and disciple, James Boswell, who in 1791 published the greatest of all literary biographies, The Life of Johnson, which records, among much else, Johnson’s near-blindness, probable Tourette’s Syndrome, and selfless love of cats. Now, after the tercentenary of his birth and the flood of books commemorating it, Johnson remains perhaps the most familiar model of a vigorously independent public intellectual—even with (or perhaps because of) his many eccentricities and contradictions, such as his hatred of both slavery and the American Revolution. This course will reappraise Johnson’s legacy but will do so within a broad cultural survey of the Anglophone world across the second half of the 18th century. In addition to Johnson, Boswell, and other titans of Enlightenment prose like Edward Gibbon, David Hume, and Adam Smith, we will sample international writing on imperialism and the slave trade (Olaudah Equiano, the abolitionist poets), the French and American revolutions (Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke), and women’s rights (the bluestocking circle, Mary Wollstonecraft). We will also sample the period’s novels (Horace Walpole, Tobias Smollett), drama (Richard Brinsley Sheridan), and personal writing (Frances Burney’s diary, Boswell’s shockingly candid London Journal), as well as pay attention to Celtic literature (James Macpherson), visual art (William Hogarth, Joshua Reynolds), and the poetic innovations that laid the groundwork for Romanticism (Thomas Gray, William Collins). We will also glance at Johnson’s reception and influence over the centuries; for instance, in the work of Virginia Woolf.
Small Circle of Friends: A Topic in Renaissance Literature
The love poetry of the Renaissance is famous, and justly so. But 16th- and 17th-century writers also thought a great deal about friendship, fellowship, and community—and about the settings in which such relationships might thrive. This course looks at some versions of living together—as best friends, in the idyllic setting of a country house, or in the ideal society—set forth in a variety of texts from classical antiquity and the Renaissance. What does it mean to call a friend “a second self”? Do men and women envision friendship differently? How did the country and the city turn into ideological opposites? These are some of the questions raised by our reading: poems by Horace, Juvenal, Martial, Aemilia Lanyer, Katherine Phillips, Spenser, Ben Jonson, and others; essays of Erasmus, Montaigne, and Francis Bacon; Thomas More’s Utopia; the Abbey of Thélème (from Rabelais’ Gargantua); Shakespeare’s Henry IV and The Tempest.
Abbreviated Wisdom: How the Short Story Works
Claiming it has an intensity that the novel cannot achieve, John Cheever defined the short story as “the appeasement of pain.” He writes, “In a stuck ski lift, a sinking boat, a dentist’s office, or a doctor’s office...at the very point of death, one tells oneself a short story.” While this statement is surely true, it gives an insufficient accounting of the disparate roles played by that elliptic, perverse, ambitious genre known as “the short story.” That is, if some offer, indeed, a kind of appeasement (Cheever’s own duplicitous Goodbye, My Brother), just as often they constitute an aggressive indictment (O’Connor’s Good Country People) or an implicit mise en question of the reader’s credentials/motives in reading (Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil). The very brevity of the form, moreover, permits the short story to make pithy comment on matters political (Gordimer’s The Train from Rhodesia) or pointed reflection concerning the essential nature of fiction (James’s The Turn of the Screw). In this course we will explore the range of potential inherent in this form and probe its peculiar prosperity at certain historical moments (both Decadence and Walter Benjamin figure on the agenda). Furthermore, Jacobson’s essay on metaphor and metonymy will illuminate speculation on why consummate practitioners of the novel—Lawrence, Cather, Gordiner, Balzac, and Wharton—have so often resorted to this “condensation.” Open to first-year students only.
The Poetry Book: Text and Design
Putting a book of poetry together is a difficult and complex task. The poet must consider not only the order of the poems but also the internal narrative of the book as a whole: how its constituent parts “speak” to each other; how key themes and patterns are developed and articulated; how to begin the book and, even harder, how to end it. Yet, students often encounter poetry primarily through anthologies, with the result that first affiliations are fragmented and obscured. In this class, we take the opposite tack and explore the book of poetry as an event in itself. We read and discuss books by English-language poets across two centuries—from William Blake’s artisanal, hand-tinted works to Frank O’Hara’s portable “lunch poems.” How have individual writers sought to shape readers’ experiences through the patterning of content? What kinds of creative decisions—from cover to typeface—affect the appearance of a poetry book? What happens when a poet’s work is edited posthumously? Or when a book appears in multiple, evolving versions? What is hypertext poetry, and has it really abolished the poetry book as traditionally understood?
Eight American Poets
American poetry has multiple origins and a vast array of modes and variations. In this course, we will focus our attention on the trajectories of eight major American poetic careers. We will begin with Whitman and Dickinson, those fountainheads of the visionary strain in American poetic tradition, before turning to Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery. Some of the poems we will be reading are accessible on a superficial level and present challenges to interpretation only on closer inspection; other poems—most notably, the poems of Dickinson, Stevens, Eliot, and Crane—present significant challenges at the most basic level of interpretation. The major prerequisite for this course is, therefore, attitudinal: a willingness to grapple with literary difficulty and with passages of poetry that are, at times, wholly baffling or highly resistant to paraphrase. We will seek to paraphrase them anyway—or account, as best we can, for the meanings they create out of the meanings they evade. Our central task will be to appreciate and articulate the unique strengths of each of the poems (and poets) that we encounter through close, imaginative reading and informed speculation.
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.
The Making of Modern Theatre: Ibsen and Chekhov
A study of the originality and influences of Ibsen and Chekhov, the first semester begins with an analysis of melodrama as the dominant form of popular drama in the Industrial Age. This analysis provides the basis for an appreciation of Ibsen, who took the complacent excitements of melodrama and transformed them into theatrical explosions that undermined every unquestioned piety of middle-class life. The effect on Strindberg leads to a new way of constructing theatrical experience. The second semester focuses on Chekhov, who in retuning theatrical language to the pitches and figures of music, challenges conventional ideas of plot. Finally, Brecht, Lorca, and Beckett introduce questions about the very sensations delivered by drama, plumbing its validity and intent.
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 that we do is designed to serve the writing that 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, rather, the kinds of work that any editor would assign. 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.
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.
“New” World Studies: Maroons, Rebels, and Pirates of the Caribbean
This course will introduce students to a vast body of diverse literature—life writings, autobiographies, novels, film, poetry, and plays—that focus on an “interstitial” Caribbean, with “interstitial” referring to works that are not only from the Caribbean but also are about the Caribbean as image and imaginary. Engaging classics such as Aphra Behns Oroonoko, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Bronte’s Jane Eyre, alongside more contemporary titles such as Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, Aime Cesaire’s A Tempest, and Marlon James’ Book of Night Women, this seminar will primarily explore how literature worked culturally to construct (and deconstruct) the New World. In particular, the Caribbean is often imagined as an “other” space identifiable with maroonage, rebellion, and piracy. Other themes, topics, and concepts that we might broach in our text-driven conversations include madness, (im)morality, migration (voluntary and involuntary), gender, race, citizenship, sexuality, old world and new world, voodoo and magic, revolution and rebellion, religion, coloniality, independence, and postcoloniality. We will also explore literature, film, and music that engage nonspecific archetypes such as the tragic mulatto, icons/historical figures such as Nanny of the Maroons and Toussaint L’Overture, the ever-elusive trickster Anansi, and mythic explorations such as the “El Dorado” (the Golden City). TOur inquiry, therefore, will remain an interdisciplinary one in which writers such as Daniel Defoe, Bronte, and Shakespeare can be placed directly in conversation with Jamaica Kincaid, Kamau Brathwaite, and Wilson Harris. A portion of our inquiry might be dedicated to films such as El Dorado and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which contribute to ongoing contemporary representations of Caribbean identity. Students taking this course are highly encouraged to enroll in the Spring 2014 intermediate seminar titled, “New” World Literatures: Fictions of the Yard.
After Eve: Medieval Women
It all began with Eve, so that’s where we start: with Genesis and the elaboration of Eve and the Virgin Mary as the central female figures of medieval belief. We will go on to read texts both by and about women from the earliest years of the Middle Ages up to the 15th century in order to explore the many roles that women played in medieval culture. Misogyny and adoration will be attitudes familiar to anyone who has even a cursory acquaintance with the Middle Ages. But any account of medieval women should also include norm-defiers like the Valkyries of Norse legend, the professional writer Christine de Pizan, the cross-dressed St. Joan of Arc, and various female experts on love—fleshly, courtly, and mystical. These and additional figures from the period will form the focus of the course, with contexts for our texts provided by readings in history and both cultural and literary criticism. No previous knowledge of the medieval period is necessary, though it is welcome. Conference work may be undertaken either in subjects broadly related to the course or in a quite unrelated topic, depending on the student’s interests and needs.
The Poetics and Politics of Translation
Translation is the process by which meanings are conveyed within the same language, as well as across different languages, cultures, forms, genres, and modes. The point of departure for this course is that all interpretive acts are acts of translation, that the very medium that makes translation possible—language itself—is already a translation. Because difference, “otherness,” or foreignness is a property of language, of every language, perhaps some of the most interesting problems that we will address revolve around the notion of “the untranslatable.” What is it that escapes, resists, or gets inevitably lost in translation? And, what is gained? How do we understand the distinction between literal and figurative language, and what underlies our assumptions about the nature of the relationship between the authenticity of the original text or utterance and the derivative character of its translation(s)? Although translation is certainly a poetics, it is also the imperfect and yet necessary basis for all cultural exchange. As subjects in a multicultural, multilingual, and intertextual universe, all of us “live in translation”; but we occupy that space differently, depending on the status of our language(s) in changing historical, political, and geographic contexts. How has the history of translation theory and practice been inflected by colonialism and postcolonialism? Our readings will alternate between the work of theorists and critics who have shaped what we call Translation Studies and literary texts that thematize or enact the process of translation, beginning with Genesis and the Tower of Babel. In addition, a workshop component to this course, involving visiting members of the foreign-language faculty and other practitioners of translation, will engage students directly in the challenges of translating. Students must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English; previous study of literature is also required.
“New” World Literatures: Fictions of the Yard
This course will introduce students to the various permutations of the genre called “Yard Fiction,” generally associated with the writings of Caribbean nationals and expatriates of color. We will examine mostly novels and novellas, ranging from C.L.R. James’s Minty Alley (1939) to Juno Diaz’s Drown (1996). Ideally, we will explore the intersections of race, space, and culture in these texts and the contexts that they address. For our purposes, “the yard” can be defined as a space that is home to mostly people of color who are predominantly working-class people, employed and unemployed. The yard is usually a building, basically a “tenement,” or group of buildings on the same street. Subsequently, everything in the selected texts generally occurs in each of the different characters’ “own back yard.” The yard, as a physical space, generally binds the characters/people intimately, so they become each other’s keepers and peepers. We will examine how these different authors image and utilize the space of yard and different forms of writing, such as the vignette style, in order to effect a unique mode of storytelling, poetics, and politics. Given that yard fiction is associated with “urban or urban-like” settings/dwellings, and the course aims to give a world view of this genre, many of the texts include writings that are set in cities and villages on continental Africa, in London, in the United States, and in the Caribbean. Some general themes that are consistent with the genre and which students will be able to examine are gender, race, ethnicity, class, urban space, imperialism, globalization, coloniality (post- and neo-), independence, and culture, along with music/calypso and gossip as primary carriers of news and information, the role of the voyeur, and placing and marking territory via insider/outsider. Students are highly encouraged to enroll in the fall course, “New” World Studies: Maroons, Rebels, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Typology of the Narrator
Aristotle’s idea of narrative as the report of news brought from elsewhere is susceptible to the inference that the reporter is a relatively inconspicuous conduit of the material transmitted, the benign midwife of information. If this stance is posited as a kind of degree zero for the definition of the narrator in fiction, the evolution of the narrator’s role in the modern novel signifies a consequential shift in the idea of fiction itself reflective, in turn, of profound changes in worldview. In this course, we will attempt to deepen our understanding of fiction through examination of the disparate functions assigned to the narrator by a range of “modern” writers. Indeed, in discussing Henry James, Percy Lubbock asserts: “The whole intricate question of method in the craft of fiction [depends on] the relation in which the narrator stands to the story.” James, in accordance with Flaubert’s principles, sought to purify the novel of authorial commentary, to make the author invisible, his innovations in perspective and voice recasting the role of the narrator. Flaubert’s “irony of undecidability,” furthermore, is complicated by features (tone, multiplication of perspective) that betray bias and vision. Scrutiny of these traces in Flaubert and in the implementation of the narrator(s) in Sterne, Ford Madox Ford, Balzac, James and Cather, among others, will necessarily involve consideration of issues fundamental to such an investigation; e.g., polyphony, “unreliability,” mimesis and diagesis, and indirect discourse.