Kate Zambreno

Undergraduate Discipline

Writing

Strachan Donnelley Chair in Environmental Writing

Author of the novels O Fallen Angel (Harper Perennial), Green Girl (Harper Perennial), and Drifts (Riverhead Books). Zambreno is also the author of Heroines (Semiotext(e)’s Active Agents), Book of Mutter (Semiotexte(e)’s Native Agents), Appendix Project (Semiotext(e)’s Native Agents), and Screen Tests (Harper Perennial). Forthcoming in May 2021: To Write as if Already Dead, a study on Hervé Guibert for Columbia University Press. She is at work on an essay collection, The Missing Person, and a novel, Ghosts. Zambreno also teaches at Columbia University. She is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow in Nonfiction. SLC, 2013–

Undergraduate Courses 2021-2022

Literature

The Animal

Open, Small Lecture—Year

This yearlong lecture series will be an ecological and historical meditation and interrogation on how we, as humans, have looked at the nonhuman—the animal—and, as we wonder, how the animal has looked back at us. In the fall, we will engage with the site of the zoo historically, including the origins of the medieval Wunderkammer and its evolution into the zoological garden and natural history diorama, and into the contemporary zoo and online animal cam. We will consider these melancholy and ambivalent psychic spaces with complex and violent histories through narratives of captivity and freedom. In dialogue with John Berger’s essay, “Why Look at Animals?”—as well as theories by Donna Haraway, Saidiya Hartman, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Derrida, and others—we will ask: Why are zoos so sad? Also, when we are there, are the animals watching us in turn? When we are not there to visit them, do the animals actually miss us, as narratives during the pandemic have suggested? Besides readings from philosophy, political theory, affect theory, and cognitive studies, we will discuss literature that stems from the site of the zoo and enclosed space: poems, essays, stories, and novels by David Wojnarowicz, Lydia Davis, Rainer Maria Rilke, Thalia Field, Yoko Tawada, W. G. Sebald, Clarice Lispector, Judith Schalansky, Bhanu Kapil, and Helen Macdonald. We will also be thinking about films and photography that document looking at the animal by Chris Marker, Peter Hujar, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Masahisa Fukase, and others. In the spring, we will intensify our focus on literatures and consciousness of the animal, thinking through the animal as subject, friend, and parable. We will discuss the strangeness of children’s books that are about teaching animals to children, counterpointed by our alienation and longing toward the animals‘ inner lives. We will engage with not only Alice in Wonderland but also Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits,” Franz Kafka and BoJack Horseman, and the painter Paula Rego’s fairytales that conjure up Disney. We will read the novels Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee, The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, and Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. The entire year will be a bestiary, populated with polar bears, buffalo, crows, panthers, cows, beluga whales, coyotes, cats, dogs, elephants, horses, parrots, rabbits, bees, and large monkeys. By class time each Thursday, students will submit weekly responses to the reading, as well as questions for the weekly one-hour discussion each Friday. The final each semester will be a 12- to 18-page essay.

Faculty

Writing

First-Year Studies: After Nature: On Writing the Environment

Open, FYS—Year

At the turn of the century, the philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia” to refer to the distress caused by climate change. In this yearlong FYS writing seminar and workshop, we will attempt, in a collective way, to write through our loneliness, anxiety, and melancholy with climate change. Students will submit regular, weekly, notebook-like responses about paying attention to plants, animals, weather, and place, culminating in writing through their encounters with the outside world. These responses will be catalyzed by reading ecological meditations that function, in many ways, as elegies that think through landscape, time, and our kinship with the nonhuman. The project is for our reading and writing to somehow counter, but also work through, despair with radical hope and imagination. The final conference project for each semester will be a finished piece of writing that has been critiqued in several drafts over conference, collaborative small groups, and a full-group workshop over the semester. The class will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small-group activities, including writing workshops, screenings, and field trips.

Faculty

Environmental Studies

The Animal

Open, Small Lecture—Year

This yearlong lecture series will be an ecological and historical meditation and interrogation on how we, as humans, have looked at the nonhuman—the animal—and, as we wonder, how the animal has looked back at us. In the fall, we will engage with the site of the zoo historically, including the origins of the medieval Wunderkammer and its evolution into the zoological garden and natural history diorama, and into the contemporary zoo and online animal cam. We will consider these melancholy and ambivalent psychic spaces with complex and violent histories through narratives of captivity and freedom. In dialogue with John Berger’s essay, “Why Look at Animals?”—as well as theories by Donna Haraway, Saidiya Hartman, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Derrida, and others—we will ask: Why are zoos so sad? Also, when we are there, are the animals watching us in turn? When we are not there to visit them, do the animals actually miss us, as narratives during the pandemic have suggested? Besides readings from philosophy, political theory, affect theory, and cognitive studies, we will discuss literature that stems from the site of the zoo and enclosed space: poems, essays, stories, and novels by David Wojnarowicz, Lydia Davis, Rainer Maria Rilke, Thalia Field, Yoko Tawada, W. G. Sebald, Clarice Lispector, Judith Schalansky, Bhanu Kapil, and Helen Macdonald. We will also be thinking about films and photography that document looking at the animal by Chris Marker, Peter Hujar, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Masahisa Fukase, and others. In the spring, we will intensify our focus on literatures and consciousness of the animal, thinking through the animal as subject, friend, and parable. We will discuss the strangeness of children’s books that are about teaching animals to children, counterpointed by our alienation and longing toward the animals‘ inner lives. We will engage with not only Alice in Wonderland but also Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits,” Franz Kafka and BoJack Horseman, and the painter Paula Rego’s fairytales that conjure up Disney. We will read the novels Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee, The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, and Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. The entire year will be a bestiary, populated with polar bears, buffalo, crows, panthers, cows, beluga whales, coyotes, cats, dogs, elephants, horses, parrots, rabbits, bees, and large monkeys. By class time each Thursday, students will submit weekly responses to the reading, as well as questions for the weekly one-hour discussion each Friday. The final each semester will be a 12- to 18-page essay.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Writing

After Nature: On Writing the Environment

Open, Seminar—Year

In 2005, the philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia,” or melancholy and anxiety caused by climate change, a word that’s broken up into three elements: “solas” comes from the English “solace,” which comes from the Latin “solari,” meaning comfort in the face of distress. But the term also references “desolation,” from the Latin solus and desolare, connoting abandonment and loneliness. Then there is “algia,” from the Greek root -algia, meaning suffering or pain. In this yearlong writing seminar and workshop, we will read beautiful and devastating meditations on history and nature in an attempt to write through our melancholy, loneliness, and distress with climate change. These essays about ecology will be, in many ways, elegies to the pastoral and will think through the specificities of landscape, time, and our relationships and kinships with the nonhuman. Students will keep specific notebooks and conduct fieldwork about paying attention to plants, animals, weather, and place, culminating in their own essays, memoirs, and experimental prose pieces. The project is for our reading and writing to somehow counter, but also work through, despair with radical hope and imagination.

Faculty

Collage/Assemblage/Montage

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this generative seminar, we will think about how writing can be inspired by and catalyzed from visual forms. We will ask how literary texts can take on dimensions, fragments, and layers by seeing and thinking through collage, assemblage, and montage. Much can inspire us about modes of juxtaposition and hybridity—collage is usually marked by an obsessive vision, passionate and constant collecting, and the witty and melancholy gaze of history. Each week, I will pair a collage artist with a chosen text and ask you to write from and about and to be inspired by these visual and literary forms for your own prose pieces that you will assemble and that may cross the border between fiction and nonfiction.Examples of visual artists we might be looking at include Joseph Cornell, Max Ernst, Chris Marker, Nan Goldin, Kara Walker, Hannah Hoch, Ray Johnson, Kurt Schwitters, B. Ingrid Olson, Paul Sepuya, and Isa Genzken. Some of the possible writers that we read for this class include a mix of generations, forms, genres—Bhanu Kapil, Charlie Fox, W. G. Sebald, Claudia Rankine, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Lisa Robertson, Chris Kraus, Danielle Dutton, Wayne Koestenbaum, Anne Carson, and Kathy Acker. This is a prose workshop, meaning that we’ll be reading inside and outside of genres. Open to anyone willing to read and write wildly and seriously.

Faculty

Notebooks and Other Experiments

Open, Seminar—Fall

There is a marvelously alive quality to reading a writer’s or artist’s notebook—a laboratory of interrupted and ongoing consciousness whose very irregularities or imperfections give it a wildness unmatched by more plotted or studied works. In this workshop, we will read and think through first-person or documentary texts that are inspired by, or take on some quality of, the notebook, scrapbook, sketchbook, or diary—these forms enthralled to the fragment, the list, the aphorism, the rhythms of the daily, the problem of the person in time and space, and the process of creation. We will read artists' notebooks and writers' notebooks and other strange and less easily categorizable forms that borrow from the notebook but exist as essay, novel, meditation, short story, or pillow book. The syllabus might include notebooks and other experiments from Sei Shōnagon, Robert Walser, Susan Sontag, Frida Kahlo, Daniil Kharms, Franz Kafka, Elizabeth Hardwick, Michael Taussig, Suzanne Scanlon, Bhanu Kapil, T. Fleischmann, Alix Cleo Roubaud, Renee Gladman, Fernando Pessoa, Hervé Guibert, Qiu Miaojin, Lydia Davis, Chris Kraus, Simone Weil, Ludwig Wittgenstein, David Markson, Roland Barthes, May Sarton, Moyra Davey, Basquiat, Chris Marker, Lisa Robertson, and Dodie Bellamy. Writers will keep a notebook over the course of the semester. They will also submit two- to three-page imitative responses to the weekly readings, culminating in one workshop piece. This is a prose workshop, meaning that we’ll be reading inside and outside of genres. Open to anyone willing to read and write wildly and seriously.

Faculty

MFA Writing

Fiction Mixed-Genre Craft: Auto/Other

Craft—Spring

What can we think about when thinking about writing real people, whether it's about someone we know or someone from history? It seems like the right moment in the contemporary to think seriously about the ethics and aesthetics of both the autoportrait and the portrait of others, which can range from a consideration of character to that of biography. What if there were other forms of literature that weren’t reduced to nonfiction versus fiction? What if we thought of texts as being friendships, or autopsies, or elegies, or investigations? In this prose craft class, we will read texts (mostly novels and essays) that are often about the self, as well as looking outwards, to a consideration of others. We’ll be thinking through innovative literary works that might include Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, Sophie Calle’s Address Book, Anne Carson’s Nox, Danielle Dutton’s Margaret the First, César Aira’s An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, Édouard Levé’s Suicide, and Chris Kraus’s Aliens and Anorexia.

Faculty

Nonfiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

In this workshop, I promise to take seriously your overall project—your obsessions, the marrow of life from which you hope to draw, your values and longings toward literature—and help shape and focus those desires into a concrete text or texts that you will work toward during the semester. Sometimes the overall project is unwieldy, especially drawing from nonfiction. I will try to have you focus on an object, on thinking of writing as revising and revising again and revising some more. We will study texts in a generative way, in workshop and individually in conference, that will hopefully inspire you and give you permission. I will also encourage you to think of writing as thinking and of the role of research in writing nonfiction—even when drawing from memoir—and to come up with your own ludic bibliography. Our approach to nonfiction will be aleatory and experimental, a space of incubation and play. We will think about the cellular beginnings of your works of prose, from title to sentence to paragraph to page. The goal is to write constantly, to read each other’s work constantly, and to generate and finish at least one piece of writing over the course of the semester, beginning with shorter attempts. I will be reading only in conference the writing on which you are working specifically for this class. This course is also open to fiction writers and poets, as long as you wish to engage with the forms and tradition of nonfiction.

Faculty

Speculative Fiction Workshop

Workshop—Spring

“That’s how I see the world now,” Anna Kavan remarked to her publisher, Peter Owen, about her turn to speculative and science fiction as a way to respond to personal and global devastation. In this workshop, we will read and write the poetic and philosophical speculative works of literature in which one enters landscapes of unreality or other realities as a way to write an individual often alienated in society—often rewriting and revising fairytales and myths, dream spheres of the human and the animal. We will think about form, language, mood and atmosphere, and concepts like the uncanny, the unreal, and the defamiliarized space while writing and sharing your own work. While writing, we will be thinking about theories of the speculative, with an adventurous reading list that could encompass stories and novels by Franz Kafka, Antoine Volodine, Leonora Carrington, Sofia Samatar, Carmen Maria Machado, Kanai Mieko, Angela Carter, Clarice Lispector, WG Sebald, Renee Gladman, Cristina Rivera Garza, Anne Carson, and more. We could also look at other art forms to think about the mood and atmospheric feelings of the speculative, everything from the paintings of Paula Rego to the television series BoJack Horseman to the films of Chris Marker.

Faculty