Bella Brodzki

BA, Sarah Lawrence College. MA, Hebrew University. PhD, Brown University. Special interests in critical and cultural theory, gender studies, postcolonial studies, translation studies, autobiography and life narrative, and modernist and contemporary fiction. Selected scholarly publications include essays in PMLA, MLN, Yale French Studies, Studies in Twentieth-Century Fiction, Yale Journal of Criticism, Modern Fiction Studies, Profils Américains, and in collections such as Borderwork: Feminist Engagements with Comparative Literature; Women, Autobiography, and Fiction: A Reader; Critical Cosmos: Latin American Approaches to Fiction; Feminism and Institutions: A Dialogue on Feminist Theory; and MLA Approaches to Teaching Representations of the Holocaust. Author of Can These Bones Live?: Translation, Survival, and Cultural Memory; co-editor of Life/Lines: Theorizing Women’s Autobiography. Recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, Lucius Littauer Award, and Hewlett-Mellon grants. Visiting professor at Université de Montpellier-Paul Valéry and Université de Versailles-St. Quentin. SLC, 1984–

Course Information

Current undergraduate courses

Issues in Comparative Literary Studies

Year

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.

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Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Literatures of Exile

Year

Exile refers to the condition of banishment or expulsion from one’s native land, roots, home, and language and encompasses physical displacement, territorial dispossession, social marginalization, and estrangement. From expatriates sipping espresso in stylish cafes to starving refugees in squalid camps, the concept of exile conjures up striking images and generates rich metaphorical associations that is the intent of this course to pursue. Our principal concern, however, will be the particular political, cultural, and historical contexts in which exilic literature has been produced through the ages, beginning with the Bible. In the 20th century, the modernist canon is strongly marked by the sensibility and experience of refugee artists and intellectuals and by those whose émigré or exile status was freely chosen, while the contemporary cultural map reflects a range of divergent responses to raging conflicts about race, ethnicity, and nationalism(s), as well as struggles for new and different configurations of identity and otherness. Given the global nature of the experience of exile, our readings will draw from around the world and will be informed by various critical frameworks—mythic, theological, psychoanalytic, poststructuralist, and postcolonial.

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Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Previous courses

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.

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Global Intertextualities

Year

This course provides exposure to a wide array of contemporary global writing from sites such as Nigeria, China, the former Yugoslavia, France, Columbia, Ireland, Zimbabwe, United Kingdom, Tunisia, and the United States. Readings consist of literary texts written in the last decade, originally in English as well as in translation, though students able to read these texts in their original languages will be encouraged to do so. Primary attention will be directed to the particular stylistic, formal, and thematic features of the individual works, as we keep in mind the dynamic relation between local contexts and transnational space—the complex circuits by which languages and cultures circulate and exchange in a global economy. Thus, we will interrogate such notions as “cosmopolitan,” “world,” “global,” and “postcolonial” as modes of intertextuality and consider what “comparative literature” means today.

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The Poetics and Politics of Translation

Spring

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.

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The Reading Complex

Year

Reading is a complex practice with its own cultural history and its own affective, material, and cognitive relationship to particular acts, spaces, and habits. Great differences exist between the norms and conventions of reading that govern, for each community of readers, legitimate uses of the book, ways of reading, instruments and methods of interpretation—the kinds of expectations, interests, and investments that characterize the entire enterprise that we will call “the culture of the book.” How conceptions and conditions of reading have changed over time will be explored primarily in fiction in which protagonists are readers. By examining the implications of literary characters’ imaginative responses to their textual lives, we will see that, far from being a passive or derivative activity, reading is a dominant mode of experience in itself. The tension between literature and life is always both problematic and generative. As readers read about readers within texts, they develop a self-reflexive stance regarding their own positions as readers outside the text, as well. Thus, as we consider reading practices and strategies metacritically, we will be compelled at various points to question the status of literacy in a postcolonial, multicultural, and increasingly electronic world. Among the authors to be included are Austen, Borges, Calvino, Cervantes, Dante, Douglass, Eco, Flaubert, Goethe, Proust, Roth, and Warner-Vieyra. Theoretical readings will draw from a wide range of sources.

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