Film History

Sarah Lawrence students approach film, first and foremost, as an art. The College’s film history courses take social, cultural, and historical contexts into account; but films themselves are the focus of study and discussion. Students seek artistic value equally in Hollywood films, art films, avant-garde films, and documentaries, with emphasis on understanding the intentions of filmmakers and appreciating their creativity.

As a valuable part of a larger humanistic education in the arts, the study of film often includes the exploration of connections to the other arts, such as painting and literature. Close association with the filmmaking and visual arts departments enables students working in those areas to apply their knowledge of film to creative projects. And within the discipline, the study of film gives students insight into stylistic techniques and how they shape meaning. Advanced courses in specific national genres, forms, movements, and filmmakers—both Western and non-Western—provide a superb background in the history of film and a basis for sound critical judgment. Students benefit from New York City’s enormously rich film environment, in which film series, lectures, and festivals run on a nearly continuous basis.

2020-2021 Courses

Film History

Film Noir and Postwar Malaise

Open, Lecture—Fall

This class will offer a typological study of one of the most exciting, as well as visually satisfying, film genres: film noir. The American films released in Europe after World War II became known as film noir. Widely considered one of the most American of film genres, its earliest expressions reflect the somber mood in the United States during World War II and the ensuing postwar period. Film noir’s visual origins, however, can be traced to German Expressionist films and French Poetic Realism of the late 1930s. We will review film noir’s sources in hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1930s in the works of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain, whose novels were adapted into key noir films. Well-known for its highly stylized images emphasizing chiaroscuro, or low-key lighting and a variety of angle shots (high, low, and Dutch), film noir reflects uncertainty in a changing world and conveys a feeling of impending doom. Film noir is characterized by intricate plots, flashbacks, omniscient narrators, memorable vernacular, private eyes in trench coats, and femme fatales. Some historians regard the genre as a filmic manifestation of an existentialist philosophy that emphasized life’s absurdity and a pessimistic worldview, as the “Red Scare” and fear of the A-bomb spread across America. Concentrating on the Golden Age of film noir in the 1940s and ’50s, from John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) to Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), our screenings will also encompass more recent examples in neo-noir films.

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New Hollywood Cinema

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course will examine the so-called “New Hollywood Cinema”: the films and filmmakers who reinvigorated the Hollywood studio system in the late 1960s, only to be displaced by the blockbuster and “high-concept” films that followed. Films of the period will be examined within the context of industrial and cultural history, with special attention paid to the changing dynamics within the American film industry and to the cultural shifts that these films both responded to and expressed. These issues will be approached through a study of the form and style of the films of the era, with attention to how they revise or respond to more classical Hollywood approaches, how they appropriate and repurpose techniques derived from European “art cinema,” and how they develop their own genres or “cycles.” Other topics to be covered include: youth and counterculture; changing representations of gender, class, and race; the decline of long-standing forms of self-censorship; and the dramatic liberalization of attitudes toward depictions of sex and violence. Directors to be covered include Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Francis Ford Coppola, Sam Peckinpah, Elaine May, and Robert Altman.

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Italian Cinema

Open, Seminar—Fall

From the big-budget silent epics of the 1910s to the stylish art films of the 1960s, Italian cinema has long been a major player in world cinema. While Italian cinema, particularly the neorealist films of the 1940s, has had an enormous influence internationally, it has also consistently adhered to specifically “national” themes, directly engaging with Italian political and social issues. This course will examine the relationship between these two seemingly contradictory facets, inquiring as to how Italian cinema has managed to balance worldwide popularity with decidedly local subject matter. We will watch films from throughout the history of Italian cinema, from the 1940s to the 1970s, albeit with an emphasis on its years of greatest achievement and popularity. Given the course’s concern with Italian cinema’s close relationship to Italian politics and society, course readings will include a substantial amount of historical background material, as well as analyses of Italy’s self-representation as a nation. Directors to be studied include Giovanni Pastrone, Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Lina Wertmüller, and Marco Bellocchio.

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Maghrebi Cinema: From Independence to the Arab Spring

Open, Seminar—Fall

Films in Arabic and/or French with English subtitles.

This class offers an in-depth survey of the cinema of the Mahgreb, a region of North Africa that is the most Western part of the Arab world, since its emergence following the end of the French colonial occupation. At their departure, the French left behind a filmmaking model and infrastructure originally established for propaganda purposes, with film studios in Morocco and Tunisia. The French also left a vast network of film clubs throughout the area; Algeria boasts the oldest cinémathèque on the continent—founded in 1965, postrevolution. The effort to produce national films appeared slowly, initially with shorts. We will screen a variety of genres, including several documentaries; the societal themes treated therein will allow us to tackle key issues in Maghrebi life. Viewing films from the three principal countries of the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) will enable us to make comparative analyses between and among them. Special attention will be given to Moroccan cinema, as the vitality of its current production represents a remarkable turnaround from 25 years ago. Today, Morocco produces 20-25 films a year, making it (after Egypt) the second-largest film-producing country in Africa. We will consider and analyze the reasons behind the “Moroccan miracle” and discuss and evaluate the stakes in promoting a viable national cinema in the Maghreb. Most of those filmmakers who trained in either Europe or Russia are binationals. On the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011, Morocco witnessed the opening of numerous film schools—thus paving the way for a truly autochthonous cinema. Finally, we will consider the challenges of Maghrebi directors to exhibit their films, with the number of cinema theatres ever-shrinking and the competition of bootleg DVDs.

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Contemporary European Cinema

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course provides an overview of major directors and trends in European filmmaking since the founding of the European Union in 1993. While the course strives both for geographical diversity and to highlight the most significant filmmakers working today, it is organized thematically rather than as a survey of directors or national cinemas. The major themes to be considered—borders and circulation, national and European identities, European (including colonial) history and its representation, and trends in film aesthetics (“slow cinema,” new forms of cinematic realism)—structure the course’s units; but, in many cases, films will treat several (or all) of those themes. An analysis of those broader dynamics will allow us to examine the intersection of politics, identity, and history in a rapidly-changing Europe and to consider the question of whether “Europe” itself can be demarcated as a specific cultural space within the context of an increasingly borderless, globalized culture. Directors to be studied include Michael Haneke, Béla Tarr, Claire Denis, Alice Rohrwacher, Steve McQueen, and Fatih Akin.

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Spanish Film From the Civil War to the Present: Buñuel, Saura, Almodóvar, and Beyond

Open, Seminar—Spring

Spanish-language films with English subtitles.

Spain offers a rich and diverse national production, best known for its three most famed film auteurs: Luis Buñuel, Carlos Saura, and Pedro Almodóvar. Our starting point will be the historical wound of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) that tore the country apart, galvanized world attention, and was portrayed in André Malraux’s 1939 reenactment, Espoir. The trauma of that war continued to reverberate in Spanish life long after the death of Generalissimo Franco in 1975. Spain’s first contribution to world cinema began with émigré Luis Buñuel, whose films defied, challenged, and offended orthodox thinking throughout his long career. From Un chien andalou (1929) and l’Âge d’or (1930) to Viridiana (1962) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), Buñuel gleefully attacked bourgeois notions of morality. With Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin (1955), Spain became a popular site for international co-productions. In the early 1950s, Spanish film garnered attention under the influence of Italian neorealism. As his career unfolded, Carlos Saura moved steadily away from the neorealist-inspired La caza to symbolist and metaphor-laden films to circumvent censorship: His later films, from The Garden of Delights (1970) to Cría Cuervos (1975), construct political allegories about Franco’s Spain. The post-Franco period saw the emergence of a radically new sensibility in the brightly-colored melodramas of Pedro Almodóvar; he came of age in La Movida Madrileña, a vibrant movement that spawned a cultural renascence. From his earliest films, such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), up until his most recent autobiographical Pain and Glory (2019), the director—a proponent of gender fluidity whose work is frequently transgressive—introduced the public to marginal characters, homosexuals, transvestites, and transsexuals never seen before in Iberian film.

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Cinema in the Digital Age

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

In the past 25 years, many of the elements that defined cinema for over a century have begun to disappear. Films are almost never distributed and projected on celluloid film but, rather, projected digitally off hard drives. Many are no longer even shot on film but, rather, on digital video. Perhaps even more importantly, much of what we see onscreen, especially in big-budget blockbusters, has not been photographed at all but, rather, generated by computers, narrowing the distinction between photographed cinema and animation. Films have also become more readily available to spectators than ever before through digital streaming services; never before have so many people had access to so many films. All of these changes—spanning the fields of production, distribution, and exhibition—raise the question of whether we have, as many scholars have asked, moved “beyond” cinema as it existed for about a century into a different, new medium. This course will investigate that question through a series of films and readings that approach it from a variety of different directions. We will consider, for example, how film aesthetics have changed; how new viewing environments change our experience as spectators; and whether the use of new technologies for film production necessitates, as some theorists have argued, the abandonment of many of classical film theory’s assumptions about film’s relationship to the real. Screenings will include both mainstream Hollywood films (Spielberg, Lucas, the Wachowskis, Michael Mann) and lower-budget art cinema that makes prominent use of digital tools (Alexander Sokurov, Eric Rohmer, Jia Zhangke, Peter Greenaway). Course readings will largely be theoretical texts on both film and digital media, so students should have some familiarity with film theory.

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Histories of Modern and Contemporary Art, 1860–1955

Open, Lecture—Year

This course is an introduction to modern and contemporary art from 1860 to 1955 and the first of two sequential surveys offered this year. (Students may take either or both.) What was modernism? And how did artists respond to a world ravaged by war, fascism, and imperialism? How did they engage or escape from industrial forms of life and explore shifting national, ethnic, and gendered identities? A central topic of the course is how the history of the Western avant-garde was also the history of colonization and cultural appropriation. And even as the course serves as an introduction to canonical historical avant-gardes in the United States, Mexico, and Europe (Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Constructivism, Vorticism, Dada, Surrealism, Muralism, the Harlem Renaissance, and Abstract Expressionism), we will also explore alternative modernisms—including so-called “outsider” art, queer modernisms, and modernisms in India, Japan, and Latin America. This course is an introduction to the discipline of art history, so students will gain a vocabulary for slow looking, learn the values of different kinds of writing about art (manifestos, letters, statements, poems, and art historical and theoretical accounts), and consider art in its social and political contexts. Lectures will offer a broad overview, and 90-minute weekly group conferences will closely investigate artworks by a single, underrepresented artist. Assignments will include visual analysis essays, weekly informal worksheets, brief reading responses, short Zoom presentations, and research essays on underrepresented artists. Students will have the opportunity to work with librarians to research and write new pages on modernist artists across the globe who are not represented on Wikipedia and upload them to that site. Throughout, we will be thinking about the kinds of assumptions and value judgments that go into deciding a modernist canon and how we can create and contribute alternative histories to the discipline.

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First-Year Studies: Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking

Open, FYS—Year

Nonfiction filmmaking is a tool and practice of observation. It has a way of starting out as a quest for truth and becoming a new way to be in the world—as a witness, a scholar, and an artist. During the course, we will hone our creative practice alongside building a foundation of practical, hands-on production experience. This art form requires an ability to both co-create and lead, to build relationships and practice humility as you honor your subjects. In this introductory course, students will be exposed to a wide range of nonfiction possibilities, particularly those opened up as we “decolonize the archives.” Screenings will also vary, tailored to the interests and questions that students bring to class. Each student will make several 1-2 minute, short exercises in addition to a 4-5 minute conference film. Finally, students will be asked to create a digital space where all of their work will live, learning how film is professionally distributed and innovating themselves as they lean into their own knowledge as digital natives. This course will have weekly conferences for the first six weeks; biweekly conferences thereafter.

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Experimental Documentary: Theory and Practice

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this course, we will examine experimental documentary form as political/social/personal discourse and practice. We will take as a starting point avant-garde documentary cinema and explore it in the manner that theorist Renov defines as “the rigorous investigation of aesthetic forms, their composition and function, and the manner in which poetics confront the world.” This class will acquaint students with the basic theory and purpose of experimental film/video documentary, as compared to more commercial documentary formats, and will introduce critical methodologies that will help participants both understand the discipline of experimental documentary and establish aesthetic designs for their own work. We will survey a wide range of avant-garde documentary films and readings, from the 1920s to the present, and pair those with the student’s own film production. This course recognizes the importance of developing filmmakers being cognizant of the fundamental theories of experimental film, as well as their gaining corresponding experience in the basics of alternative forms of film production. Throughout the semester, students will produce a few experimental nonfiction shorts from several aesthetic approaches. Within this practice, issues such as whose voices are heard and who is represented become of crucial importance. This class will be equally balanced between viewing, reading about, and analyzing films and producing and editing short films with simple tools. The online class offers an opportunity for a rich engagement with experimental film forms while also allowing participants to produce nonfiction film exercises that examine issues of the world from both personal and more objective perspectives. The teaching system for the online course includes small (3-4 students) virtual group meetings, alternated with one-on-one individual mentorship meetings with the professor. That format will allow us to form community groups and also provide the opportunity for students to progress according to their own creative interests. Students must have access to an internet connection and a reliable computer able to handle media software.  If the class meets on campus, we will continue with class meetings and individual conferences. Course requirements: 1T (min.) media external hard drive

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Through the Lens: Visualizing and Creating Images for the Screen

Open, Seminar—Fall

This is a three credit non-conference seminar class.

This course will center on developing a visual framework toward the production and editing of an original short film, with a focus on cinematography. Students will pitch story ideas that will be developed and prepared to be shot by the end of the term. Topics discussed will include camera techniques, camera movement, lighting, exposure, filters, and interior/exterior location production. In addition, we will break down a script into visual elements, design a look book, and review the production process from script to screen as it relates to cinematography. Additionally, when available, online instruction tutorials and guest visits will be included as part of the preproduction process. Throughout the course, students will produce simple and practical lighting scenarios and will shoot location exercises with available resources. As a final project, students will produce a 3-5 minute short film with available resources or present a completed production book ready for production.

Writing for Directors/Directing for Writers

Open, Seminar—Year

When asked what advice he could give aspiring young film directors, Akira Kurosawa replied “…if you generally want to make films, then write screenplays….Write, write, write...” Indeed, though the roles can be separated, there is an expansive overlap of skills in writing and directing narrative fiction films. A good writer can “direct” a reader on the page, and a good director can “write” in imagery. This class aims to explore the interplay between writing and directing through a series of assignments, culminating in a short film that each student writes and directs. This yearlong writing and directing workshop will give students the basic skills necessary to produce a short film. Starting with writing the script, students will learn screenwriting formats and styles and workshop their screenplays until they are ready to direct. Students will then learn directors’ previsualization skills, such as storyboarding, creating shot lists, and drawing floor plans. Basic production management skills will be covered so that students can organize their films and be ready to begin producing their films in the second semester. Students will shoot several short exercises to learn the importance of shot choices and camera placement. First-semester shooting assignments will all be done on the students’ personal devices (phones, tablets, cameras, computer desktops) and then migrate to shooting on the school’s equipment in the second term. All work will be reviewed during the workshop, and students will learn to analyze and critique their and their colleagues’ work.

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Introduction to Television Writing: Writing the Spec Script

Open, Seminar—Spring

The fundamental skill of television writers is the ability to craft entertaining and compelling stories for characters, worlds, and situations created by others. Though dozens of writers may work on a show over the course of its run, the “voice” of the show is unified and singular. The best way to learn to write for television—and a traditional component of your application for important career development fellowships and for your portfolio for agents, managers, show runners, and producers—is to draft a sample episode of a preexisting show, known as a spec script. Developing, pitching, writing, and rewriting stories hundreds of times extremely quickly, in collaboration, and on tight deadlines is what TV writers on staff do every day, fitting each episode seamlessly into the series as a whole in tone, concept, and execution. This workshop will introduce students to those skills by taking them, step-by-step, through writing their own spec (sample) script for a currently airing American television series. The course will take students from premise lines through the beat sheet, then outline, to writing a complete draft of a full teleplay for a currently airing show (no original pilots). The class collectively decides a handful of shows on which to work. All work will be based on that handful of shows, which will include comedies, dramas, and animated shows originating on broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms. If this course is held remotely, it will be taught live, synchronous, via Zoom or similar platform.

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France Through Film

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Admission by placement test to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester or by completion of Beginning/Advanced Beginning French.

This course will offer a systematic review of French grammar and is designed to strengthen and deepen the student’s mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will also begin to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. Through a variety of French films, we will combine the study of language with the investigation of aspects of French history and culture. We will review the history of French cinema through classics by George Méliès, Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and others. We will also draw on other media and literary texts to enable students to develop their language proficiency, cultural awareness, and appreciation of 20th- and 21st-century France. The Intermediate I and II French courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

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Beginning Italian: Viaggio in Italia

Open, Seminar—Year

This course, for students with no previous knowledge of Italian, aims at giving the student a complete foundation in the Italian language with particular attention to oral and written communication and to all aspects of Italian culture. The course will be conducted in Italian after the first month and will involve the study of all basic structures of the language—phonological, grammatical, and syntactical—with practice in conversation, reading, composition, and translation. In addition to material covering basic Italian grammar, students will be exposed to fiction, poetry, songs, articles, recipe books, and films. Group conference (held once a week) aims at enriching the students’ knowledge of Italian culture and developing their ability to communicate, which will be achieved through readings that deal with current events and topics relative to today’s Italian culture. Activities in pairs or groups, along with short written assignments, will be part of the group conference. In addition to class and group conference, the course has a conversation component in regular workshops with the language assistant. Conversation classes are held twice a week (in small groups) and will center on the concept of viaggio in Italia, a journey through the regions of Italy through cuisine, cinema, art, opera, and dialects. The Italian program organizes trips to the Metropolitan Opera and to relevant exhibits in New York, as well as offering the possibility to experience firsthand Italian cuisine as a group. By the end of this yearlong course, students will attain a basic competence in all aspects of the language.

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Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This intermediate-level course aims at improving and perfecting the students’ speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, as well as their knowledge of Italy’s contemporary culture and literature. In order to acquire the necessary knowledge of Italian grammar, idiomatic expressions, and vocabulary, a review of all grammar will be carried out throughout the year. As an introduction to modern Italian culture and literature, students will be introduced to a selection of short stories, poems, and passages from novels, as well as specific newspaper articles, music, and films in the original language. Some of the literary works will include selections from Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, Gianni Rodari, Marcello D’Orta, Clara Sereni, Dino Buzzati, Stefano Benni, Antonio Tabucchi, Alberto Moravia, Achille Campanile, and Elena Ferrante. In order to address the students’ writing skills, written compositions will be required as an integral part of the course. All material is accessible on MySLC. Conferences are held on a biweekly basis; topics might include the study of a particular author, literary text, film, or any other aspect of Italian society and culture that might be of interest to the student. Conversation classes (in small groups) will be held twice a week with the language assistant, during which students will have the opportunity to reinforce what they have learned in class and hone their ability to communicate in Italian. When appropriate, students will be directed to specific internship opportunities in the New York area centered on Italian language and culture.

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Queer(ing) India: Literature, Film, and Law

Open, Seminar—Fall

What is a queer perspective on culture and society? This course aims to provide an introductory survey to queer narratives and cultural production from India and the Indian diaspora as a way to think through this question. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century to the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, political and cultural manifestos, postcolonial novels, and contemporary films. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India finally struck down Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, from the Indian Penal Code after more than a decade of legal battles. The fight for legal rights was accompanied by growing queer representation in popular culture and literature. The supposed “coming out” of queerness into Indian social and cultural life in the last 10 years, the demand to be seen and heard, has been critiqued by some as a by-product of “Westernization” or the influence of “foreign-returned” elites inspired by the Euro-American LGBTQ movement. This has brought with it the need to understand the diversity of queer India as well as the diaspora. In the case of the diaspora, we will work to de-center the Euro-American diaspora, paying attention to long histories of migration to the African continent and indentured labor in the Caribbean and the Pacific as sites for possible South-South solidarities. Taking seriously questions of race, caste, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to these hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways experiences of gender and sexuality were iterated and experienced across times and spaces will help us think through the specifics of each text (and its contexts) while also following threads and connections beyond. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artefacts, such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and BR Ambedkar—as well as legal briefs opposing the punitive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which further stigmatizes non-normative gender identities by requiring transgender people to register with the government. We will read fiction, old and new, such as Untouchable (1935), The God of Small Things (1997), and A Life Apart (2016), as well as watch movies ranging from indie films like Chitrangada (2012) to Bollywood rom-coms like Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020).

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Shakespeare and the Semiotics of Performance

Open, Lecture—Year

The performance of a play is a complex cultural event that involves far more than the literary text upon which it is grounded. First, there is the theatre itself, a building of a certain shape and utility within a certain neighborhood of a certain city. On stage, we have actors and their training, gesture, staging, music, dance, costumes, possibly scenery and lighting. Offstage, we have the audience, its makeup, and its reactions; the people who run the theatre and the reasons why they do it; and finally the social milieu in which the theatre exists. In this course, we study all of these elements as a system of signs that convey meaning (semiotics)—a world of meaning whose lifespan is a few hours but whose significances are ageless. The plays of Shakespeare are our texts. Reconstructing the performances of those plays in the England of Elizabeth I and James I is our starting place. Seeing how those plays have been approached and re-envisioned over the centuries is our journey. Tracing their elusive meanings—from within Shakespeare’s Wooden O to their adaptation in contemporary film—is our work.

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Japanese Literature: Translations, Adaptations, and Visual Storytelling

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

No previous background in Japanese studies, literature, art history, or film history is required for this course.

This lecture course is an introduction to Japanese literature from the 10th century to contemporary fiction, and we will explore the connections between and among literary texts, translations, and visual adaptations—paintings, hand scrolls, performing arts, film, and manga. We will read selected works of Japanese literature in English translation(s), including early Japanese tales such as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, The Tale of Genji, Life of an Amorous Woman, and modern novels and short stories by writers such as Shimazaki Toson, Hayashi Fumiko, Ota Yoko, Nakagami Kenji, and Murakami Haruki. With each text, we will examine other texts that are in conversation with these literary works and explore the content and forms of those conversations. In addition to the lectures, there will be weekly group conferences and regularly scheduled film screenings throughout the semester.

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Imagining War

Open, Seminar—Year

This is an interdisciplinary course.

War is one of the great themes in European literature. The greatest works of Greco-Roman antiquity are meditations on war; and as an organizing metaphor, war pervades our attempts to represent politics, economics and sexuality. Efforts to comprehend war were the genesis of the disciplines of history and political science; and the disaster of the Peloponnesian War forms the critical, if concealed, background to first great works of Western philosophy. We’ll begin the first semester with readings from the Iliad, Thucydides, Plato, and Augustine and go on to study the Aeneid, Machiavelli, Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy, and Hobbes. In the second semester, we’ll look at the origins of political economy, among other things a discipline that sought to transcend the military metaphor; at Marxism, which remilitarized the language of political economy; at Byron’s mock epic, Don Juan; and at two 19th-century novelists, Stendhal and Tolstoy—one of whom described war directly, and the other used it as an organizing metaphor for erotic, economic, and political life. We’ll conclude with a look at some 20th-century literary, artistic, historical, and critical attempts to represent war with an allegedly unprecedented accuracy.

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Literature in Translation: 20th-Century Italian Literature and Culture

Open, Seminar—Year

The course will explore 20th-century Italian literature, focusing on important intellectuals, works, and movements that helped shape it and their connection with the arts, cinema, and society at large. Italy had become a unified nation by 1860, and its literature addressed issues such as (national and personal) identity, tradition, innovation and modernity, the role of literature and of the writer, and the changing role of women in Italian society. We will also explore the interrelation between Italian literature and crucial historical events such as the Great War, the rise and fall of fascism, World War II, the Resistance, the birth of the republic, the postwar economic boom, the students’ and women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s, and the terrorism of the “Anni di Piombo.” Among the authors and intellectuals we will explore are: Sibilla Aleramo for her literary treatment of the issue of female emancipation at the beginning of the century; Luigi Pirandello and his work as a novelist and playwright; Gabriele D’Annunzio as a poet, playwright, and novelist but also a war hero and politician; F. T. Marinetti, whose futurist manifestos and literary works reflected his desire to renew Italian art, literature, and culture in general; B. Mussolini’s fascist regime, its dictates, and their influence on propaganda literature and cinema; Ignazio Silone’s novels on the fascist era; Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist cinema; Italo Calvino’s, Beppe Fenoglio’s, and Elio Vittorini’s literature of the Resistance; Primo Levi’s depiction of the Holocaust; and influential women writers such as Anna Banti, Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, and Dacia Maraini. Readings will be supplemented by secondary source material that will help outline the social, historical, and political context in which these authors lived and wrote, as well as provide a relevant critical framework for the study of their works. On occasion, we will watch films that are relevant to the topics and period in question. No previous knowledge of Italian is required. Students proficient in Italian may opt to read sources in the original language and write their conference projects in Italian. Conference topics may include the study of a particular author, literary text, or topic relevant to the course and that might be of interest to the student.

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Interrogating God: Tragedy and Divinity

Open, Seminar—Fall

The Greek gods attended the performances at the ancient theater of Dionysos, which both recognized and challenged their participation in human affairs. The immediacy of divine presence enabled a civic body, the city, to enter into conversation with a cosmic one, a conversation whose subject was a shared story about the nature of experience and its possible significance: tragedy. Divinity is less congenial about playgoing in later periods, but it seems to have lent tragedy both a power to be reborn and a determination to address the universe even as Christianity, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Industrial Age reimagine it. In this course, we shall read essential Western texts in which the constant of human suffering is confronted and the gods are called into question even as they shift their shape. Among our authors are Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Goethe, Byron, Ibsen, Beckett, Susan Glaspell, and August Wilson.

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The World According to Ariyoshi Sawako

Open, Seminar—Fall

No previous background in Japanese studies or literature is required for this course.

In this seminar, we will read a variety of works by Ariyoshi Sawako (1931-1984), one of Japan’s most talented storytellers in the last century. Ariyoshi’s novels vividly portray the lives of women in different historical moments, such as the dancer Okuni, the originator of kabuki theatre, in Kabuki Dancer; the wife and mother of Hanako Seishu, the first surgeon to perform surgery using general anesthesia, in The Doctor’s Wife; and a mother, daughter, and granddaughter whose lives reflect changes in modern Japan in The River Ki. Many of Ariyoshi’s works also expose social issues, such as The Twilight Years, her immensely popular novel on the challenges of caring for aging parents, and Compound Pollution, her environmental novel that brought greater public attention to the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Early in her writing career, Ariyoshi received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to study at Sarah Lawrence College, and we will also consider how her experiences at Sarah Lawrence may have influenced the directions she took in her subsequent writing. Ariyoshi’s literature will provide us with a lens to consider various topics, such as Japanese performing arts, history, gender, social issues, and translation. In addition to these readings, we will view some film adaptations of Ariyoshi’s literary works.

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Theory for Reading

Open, Large seminar—Fall

In this introductory class, we will deepen our understanding of how the acts of writing and reading have been understood in the Western tradition since antiquity and what they mean for us today. Each week, we will pair a piece of fiction or poetry with a philosophical or theoretical commentary. We will thus read Homer in the context of Plato and Aristotle’s understanding of poetry and fiction but with also in mind Nietzsche’s criticism of Platonism in The Birth of Tragedy. In the same spirit, Walter Benjamin’s use of Marxist theory will help us read E. A. Poe’s fiction and Baudelaire’s poetry in the context of mid-19th century Paris. We will also discuss Shakespeare’s Hamlet in light of its psychoanalytical readings by Freud and Lacan and analyze Kafka’s Metamorphosis alongside Deleuze and Guattari’s theorization of marginal forms of writing. Feminist and gender theory with Beauvoir and Butler, linguistics with Barthes, works by Foucault and Baldwin will also be discussed. Students will be encouraged to apply the material of this course to other texts of their choice. There are no conferences associated with this seminar, but students will have the option of developing a small personal research project.

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Wilde and Shaw

Open, Seminar—Spring

Toward the end of the 19th century, Oscar Wilde stated repeatedly that he was “an Irishman”—and, therefore, beyond good and evil as defined by gentlemanly codes—while George Bernard Shaw deemed nationalistic allegiances absurd and (prophetically, given the wars of the 20th century) lethal. In their stances, we can begin to see how the complexities and paradoxes of Irish identity—ethnic marginalization, religious zeal (secularized), linguistic play, knowing laughter—informed their ultimate self-definition as citizens of the world and thereby enabled them to fashion distinctively challenging art. It is also no exaggeration to say that each left the English language not as he found it. Wilde’s life was short, and we shall read a good deal of his oeuvre: his fairy tales, his plays, his novel, much of his poetry, many of his essays. Shaw’s life was long, and we shall focus on his plays written before World War I, along with two brilliantly painful postwar works: Heartbreak House and Saint Joan. And, in both, we shall see how revolution can come disguised in conventional forms, as both playwrights transform drawing-room comedy into political commentary whose implications have yet to be resolved.

Faculty

The Music of Russia

Open, 3-credit seminar—Spring

This course may also be taken as a semester-long component.

This course will survey the great contributions to Western music by Russian composers, from the first half of the 19th century to the end of the Soviet era and beyond. We will study these works in the context of the important historical events and intellectual movements that galvanized Russian artists: the desire to find the appropriate expression of Russian identity, the ambivalence toward the achievements of Western Europe, the ideals of civic responsibility, the aestheticism of the later 19th century, the Russian Revolution, and the repressions of Soviet society. Composers to be studied include Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Gubaidulina. We will end the course with a look at of some of the emigré composers—such as Stravinsky, who composed his most Russian works for non-Russian audiences.

 

Faculty

Intermediate Spanish II: Writing for a Blog in Spanish

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course will be conducted entirely in Spanish. Please take the Spanish Placement Test online prior to interviewing for this class. Students who have taken Spanish at SLC are also encouraged to do so, as that will help us place you in the most suitable level.

This course is intended for students who have had at least three years of high-school Spanish or have completed at least three semesters of Spanish at SLC (or equivalent). The class will focus on a blog to be produced by the students, which will enable us to discuss and write about different topics. In addition to reading different materials and seeing films or shorts, students can write original work, both creative and investigative; write film and literary reviews; translate news items or literary works; sum up national and international news each week; and write journalistic or creative essays on various topics, among other possibilities. Grammar will be reviewed in relation to, and in context with, the kinds of reading and writing being done. In order to remain flexible and enable different kinds of interface, class time will alternate through the week between whole-class time and smaller groups, in addition to individual conference projects. Also, students will be required to participate in a 50-minute, small-group conversation session each week with a language tutor.

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Senior Exhibition

Advanced, Concept—Spring

Requirements: To be eligible for a senior exhibition, you must have at least 20 credits in the visual and studio arts by the end of your fall semester as a senior. Interested students are encouraged to attend an informational meeting in the fall semester of their senior year (date and time TBA).

This course is intended for those students interested in exhibiting their work in a solo senior exhibition. Through a combination of group meetings and one-on-one studio visits, we will discuss your work’s development, the general conception and installation of a solo exhibition, and the various practical considerations inherent in the process of mounting a show of your own artwork. Students will be expected to visit gallery and museum shows as research and then to create and install their own solo exhibition during the semester, accompanied by a small printed catalog documenting their show. All students must attend opening receptions (time TBD), and we will visit each exhibition as a group to give feedback and critique. Additional classes will cover writing an artist statement, documenting your work, professional practices, and more.

Faculty

Ecopoetry

Open, Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the living world—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read and write poems every week. We will ask questions: When did we begin to think of nature as apart from us? Why did we begin to speak of the animals as if we are not also animals? What are the stories and myths that have determined our attitude toward what we are and what we believe? We will read some of these stories and myths (myths of creation; Eden, the lost garden). We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder to utterly contemporary poets writing right now. We will read books and articles that teach us about the other animals and living entities that we call plants and trees and planets and galaxies. Each student will research an aspect of the living world and teach the rest of us what they have learned. And we will write poems that incorporate that knowledge. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class in weekly poetry dates. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will create a collection of poems that engage the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other organisms? How have we, as a species, affected the other organisms? How have we affected the oceans, the Earth, the air? How can poetry address the planetary emergency? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world, to pay attention, and to write poetry that matters. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

Faculty

Poetry Workshop: Wearing a Mask: Persona Poems

Open, Seminar—Spring

When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person.—Emily Dickinson, in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

For centuries, poets have spoken in the voices of other people. From the early Greeks to Shakespeare, from Walt Whitman to Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Robert Hayden, Lucille Clifton, Louise Gluck, Patricia Smith, Nick Flynn, Jorie Graham, Tyehimba Jess, etc. What is made possible when one speaks in the voice of a character that is not oneself? What is made possible when speaking through a character in an ancient story or myth? What is made possible when one gives voice to a character nothing like oneself? Who dares to speak in the voice of a flower? Of a bee? Of a storm? Of a star? What if one gives voice to the fragments of voices within one’s consciousness? In this class, we will read poems where the poet has spoken in a different tongue or worn the mask of someone else or of something else. Each participant will be expected to deeply read assigned collections each week, to meet with another student in a weekly poetry date, and to bring in one new persona poem each week. I hope we will find that outside the limits of the personal story is a cosmos of possibilities for empathy, revision, wonder, instruction, and finding another way in: slant.

Faculty