Una Chung

Hyman H. Kleinman Fellowship in the Humanities

BA, University of California-Berkeley. PhD, Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Special interests include Asian American and postcolonial literatures, new media studies, and critical theory. SLC, 2007–

Undergraduate Courses 2021-2022

Literature

First-Year Studies: “Travel is the Traveler”: Documentation and Transformation in Modern and Contemporary Travel Literature

Open, FYS—Year

Fernando Pessoa wrote, “Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.” This intriguing insight into the nature of travel offers the starting point for an exploration of a diverse selection of literature from the late 19th to 21st centuries. We will also make our own forays into travel writing with a series of experiments, or exercises, in writing about place, movement, journey. As a part of conference work, students will work in small groups on collective projects. The course has been organized into the following sections: (1) Ethnography and Travel; (2) Documenting Society in Crisis; (3) Race, Postcolonialism, and Queer Affiliations; (4) Exile and Memory; (5) Shifting Borders; (6) Peripheries. Authors may include: Mary Kingsley, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Fernando Pessoa, Franz Kafka, Antal Szerb, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Sidiya Hartman, Henri Michaux, Helene Cixous, Christa Wolf, Bruce Chatwin, Jamaica Kincaid, Americo Paredes, Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Ondaatje, W.G. Sebald, Jose Saramago, Orhan Pamuk, Pankaj Mishra, Dai Sijie, Ocean Vuong, Cristina Rivera Garza, Yoko Tawaka, Chimamanda Ngozi Dichie, and Robert Macfarlane. This course will have biweekly conferences, with additional group conference meetings on most alternate weeks.

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The Art of Indetermination: Eastern Praxis in Dialogue With Feminist and Postcolonial Thought

Open, Large seminar—Year

This cultural-studies course offers the opportunity to study the nature of aesthetic experience within an Eastern philosophical framework. In particular, feminist, queer, and postcolonial thinkers offer prescient points of cultural translation for Taoist and Buddhist practices in the contemporary context, which this course posits is a world shaped by globalization, social movements, visual culture, and digital media. We will read paired samplings of texts in contemporary critical theory and Eastern philosophy/spirituality while assembling our own archive of sound, image, and text to explore in writing and conversation. Students are invited to inhabit the figure of the cultural critic in experimental ways by engaging diverse modes of Eastern and Western praxes. The format of this course balances short lectures, seminar-style discussions, small-group projects, and individual portfolios of writing and/or multisensorial media production.

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Previous Courses

Literature

Archive of the Senses: Evoking Communities Through Perception

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

This course is designed for students with some familiarity with working in a variety of media and who wish to explore them further in relationship to our local communities. Progressing through a series of projects involving all of the five sense perceptions and a variety of material and media, students will explore what it means to use everyday technologies today. Each project will ask students to explore the nature of sensation and of mediated experience. What happens to us when we capture our sensory perceptions? How do media technologies influence our perceptions of the world? How do other kinds of diverse knowledge, techniques, or know-how that exist in communities come into play in relation to digital apparatuses? During the course of the semester, students will have the opportunity to work with writing, sound, image, and procedural rhetoric as a way to experience public environments, as well as to represent individual and collective stories about them. Additionally, we will study a selection of media theories relating to a wider range of technological apparatuses inaccessible to our actual use (such as the electron scanning microscope or fiber-optic cable landing sites) in order to situate our projects within a larger, global framework. For qualified and dedicated students, course work may include volunteer work with a local community partnership.

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Bardo of Everyday Life: Decolonizing Travel Writing

Open, Seminar—Fall

Travel writing has an inglorious past that traverses the history of European colonialism yet continues to be reinvented anew as our ways of traveling (both physically and in mediated ways) evolve and proliferate. At the heart of the question of travel may lie a more fundamental question about how we conceptualize the relationship of here and there. In this course, we will explore our relationship to home, place, thresholds, borders, unknown parts. How do we map our worlds? How do we experience proximity and distance? What are the pathways that we take in a day, a month, a year, or over longer durations? How do our inner compass, our bodily configurations, and external milieus align or misalign at different points of our lives? How do we measure safety, intimacy, belonging, exclusion? What is shared experience, and what is fantasy? How do our own individual temperaments meet local social parameters and global spectacles of dwelling? And how do we endure the no-man’s land of the bardo as it appears in countless uncertain, liminal, in-between moments of everyday life? Through a series of writing projects, we will explore these kinds of questions in our diverse individual environments and, perhaps, discover our own unique ways of renouncing territory for the vividness of bardo experience.

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First-Year Studies: Questions of Travel: Writing Place, Writing Movement

Open, FYS—Year

We will begin with an image of a city, Alexandria, as it emerges across a century in the literary works of Lawrence Durell, E. M. Forster, Constantine Cavafy, Nagib Mahfouz, Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, Edwar al-Kharrat, Stratis Tsirkas, Andre Aciman, and Amitav Ghosh. The city belongs to multiple intersecting histories, literary geneaologies, intimate archives of memories and sensations, and the many appearing, disappearing, and non-appearing lives of Alexandrians, travelers, migrants, poets. We will pursue the elusive figure of the city while examining some of the historical forces of the 20th century that have taken part in shaping the particular qualities of this place. We will learn how to think critically about historical and social contexts, to research literary and cultural histories relevant to our primary texts, and to write scholarly essays centering on literary analysis. The second part of the course turns to the figure of the road in novels, memoirs, and travel writing by Jack Kerouac, Che Guavara, Graham Greene, Antal Szerb, Jean Giono, Yoko Tawada, Andrew Pham, Ma Jian, Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Meena Alexander, Michael Ondaatje, Michelle de Kretser, Noo Saro-Wiwa, and Teju Cole. We will take a comparative approach to these texts, inquiring into the purposes of travel, the constitution of different kinds of roads, the nature of the journey undertaken, and the worldview evoked by the narration of the traveler’s experience. Individual conference projects may draw on a variety of themes related to questions of travel and literature in diverse times and places, which culminates in a longer research paper on a specific literary topic. Individual conference meetings will alternate biweekly with small-group conference meetings (approximately four students per group), which will provide an ongoing writing workshop environment running parallel to the seminar. In these small-group meetings, we will discuss individual conference projects, as well as read and comment on each other’s seminar essays. The writing workshop will also include several excursions to nearby sites and offer a variety of brief informal exercises on elements of travel writing and other creative nonfiction.

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History and Fantasy: An Introduction to Cultural Studies

Open, Lecture—Spring

This cultural studies course explores a selection of literature, film, video, performance art, installation media art, and sculpture, with an emphasis on feminist and postcolonial artists. The course covers a variety of methods of cultural criticism, as well as key texts in Marxist, postcolonial, and feminist theory. These diverse materials are organized around the central theme of the entanglement of history and fantasy, which appears in contexts as varied as urban development, war, migration, exile, environmental disaster, spiritual journey, psychological disintegration, haunting, and love. These are techno-myths for our time.

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Marxist Aesthetic Theory and New Media Art Practices

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course opens in the contemporary milieu of digital media, which are paradoxically both hyperorganized in their penetration of infrastructure and inchoate as a cultural formation. Not for the first time, scholars have been torn between articulating a rupture and tracking a continuity. We begin our study of new media by turning to early 20th-century critical debates that raised the question of “What is literature?” as a way of inquiring into the nature and extent of social transformation caused by the development of capitalism. The function of criticism was also implicitly recontextualized in political terms at the boundary between art and society. Taking these historical literary discourses as points of departure, we further explore the particular significance of studying new media in American culture today. We consider a broad range of both new media arts and commercial digital applications, with a special focus on how to write art and cultural criticism involving new media. The first semester of the course focuses on Marxist literary theory, while the second semester emphasizes the aesthetics and art practices of contemporary digital culture.

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Rhetoric of Place: Writing in Yonkers

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

This course is part of the Intensive Semester in Yonkers program and no longer open for interviews and registration. Interviews for the program take place during the previous spring semester.

In this seminar, we explore the concept of place through literary and art criticism, as well as students’ own historical research, fieldwork, and direct perception. We investigate the spatial, temporal, and sensory dimensions of place in diverse figures: home, mythos of origin, container technologies, development timelines, migratory mapping, futurity of desire, nowhere of utopia, other spaces of heterotopia, postmodern placelessness, queer disorientation, sacred spaces, histories of hauntings, environmental anima, affective geographies, and imaginary cartographies. We examine social and political histories of Yonkers, as well as investigate the cultural significance of both the architectural/urban designs of built environments (exterior, interior, threshold, frame, center, periphery, etc.) and the natural histories of the Hudson River. Writing assignments ask students to reflect on their own relationships to place through memory, experience, and research-based knowledge, including the politics and poetics of presence, temporariness, and disappearance. Multimodal composition is part of our explorations of writing, including linguistic, visual, aural, and gestural modes of rhetoric, as well as digital tools.

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Self-Experimentation: Cultures of New Media

Open, Lecture—Spring

This cultural-studies course explores the world of contemporary new-media culture and electronic arts. We will analyze key aspects of digital media—such as screen, interface, network, procedural rhetoric, and game—in relation to both technical apparatuses and intellectual genealogies related to critical concepts such as writing, capture, image, speed, sensation, and affect. Michel Foucault’s work on notions of self-referentiality and self-cultivation will provide both a historical and a theoretical focal point for a diverse set of readings drawing on a variety of methods of cultural criticism, including Marxist, postcolonial, and feminist theories (e.g., Stuart Hall, Eve Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, Roland Barthes, Michel Serres, Saba Mahmoud, Francois Jullien, Barry Allen, Shigehisa Kuriyama, Yuk Hui). The premise of this course is that the cultural contexts for digital-media use in our society are quite open-ended and subject to constant change. Rather than an extension of the ideological apparatuses animating mass media of the early to mid-20th century, it may be that the contemporary cultural formations surrounding digital media are articulated in complex new ways. The very ambiguousness of the common designation of “new media” is, thus, an appropriate umbrella term for this course, in that new media include emergent forms of resistance to the digital-culture industry—from hackers to slow food to analog love.

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Visionary Spaces: Light Information Reflexivity

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

This course offers an unusual take on contemporary culture (digital media, cybernetics, networked society) by starting from the reference points of Eastern philosophy (Taoist, Buddhist). Rather than the focal point of the individual subject (whether in affirmative or critical mode), it is a different notion of the self or, rather, processes of interaction, transmutation, and ecology that provide ground for our investigations. In the end, we arrive at a different formulation of the problems of reification, spectacle and power. The question of subjectivity will not be deconstructed so much as redesigned and repurposed within the context of what I call Eastern praxis—practices of mind rather than analyses of discourse—and brought to bear on the perennial question of critical thought: How do we live (well) under contemporary conditions of labor and communication? Sidestepping the dialectic of utopia/dystopia, we will explore the problem of social life under the auspices of an Eastern vital materialism. Primary materials for this course are drawn from film, multimedia and performance art, Internet-based projects and environmental design, as well as extensive readings in criticism, theory and philosophy.

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Women’s History

Global Feminisms

Seminar—None

This course asks a simple question: What happens to sex and gender when we travel? We will explore a few of the many causes of transnational movement—immigration, war, political exile, work, education—as they appear in literature, film, and art. These primary cultural sources will provide rich sensory details about such migrations from the perspective of embodied experience. By working with artists’ texts and images, we will not be collecting data about gendered bodies and sexualities; instead, we will develop analytical tools for understanding how bodily experience is captured in language and how that language is used to make decisions about bodies in society. In a nutshell, gender never travels whole and intact across any border. Gender is a part of the force of territorialization. At the same time, the inherent power (or volatility) of the sign of gender has allowed it to animate diverse insurrectionary movements, both social and artistic. In particular, we will work through an assemblage of material, focusing on three transnational sites that pass significantly through South/East Asia, Middle East/North Africa, and US/Europe. This is a writing-intensive course, which will cover different forms of writing—from the short and explosive to the long and thorough.

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