Literature

The literature discipline introduces students to the history of written culture from antiquity to the present day, as well as to methods of research and textual analysis. Course offerings cover major works in English and other languages in addition to literary criticism and theory. Some courses focus on individual authors (Virgil, Shakespeare, Woolf, Murakami); others, on literary genres (comedy, epic), periods (medieval, postmodern), and regional traditions (African American, Iberian). Students are encouraged to employ interdisciplinary approaches in their research and to divide their time between past and present, as well as among poetry, prose, drama, and theoretical texts.

2018-2019 Courses

Literature

First-Year Studies: Theatre in America

Open , FYS—Year

In the mid-1930s, the United States was struggling with the Great Depression, and the nation's destiny seemed economically, politically, and morally questionable. By the end of the 1950s, the United States was the richest and most powerful country in the world, styling itself "the leader of the free world." During the 20-year interim, the country waged successful war against dictatorships on two fronts, engineered a New Deal for Americans, and ratified legislation barring racial segregation in public schools. The country had also developed and dropped the atomic bomb on two cities, conducted remorseless and punitive investigations into "un-American" activities, and routinely practiced blatant racial and gender discrimination. Not by happenstance was theatre during this time rich in joy and devastating in self-reflection. In the first semester, "The Golden Age," we will examine the searching dramas of Clifford Odets, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, William Inge, and Lorraine Hansberry even as we consider the wonderful and complex musical collaborations of Richard Rodgers with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein Jr., as well as the work of Frank Loesser, Leonard Bernstein, and Meredith Willson. Our questions will be their questions: What price paradise? Can the cowman and the farmer really be friends? The second semester, "The Age of Revolt," indicates the problematic nature of contemporary answers to those questions. Nicholas Ray’s great film of 1955, Rebel Without a Cause, sounded an alarm signal of unrest in a time of national self-congratulation; or, as a later musical would phrase it, “What's the matter with kids today?” The “kids,” as it happened, were not merely teenagers driven by sex, fast cars, and rock-and-roll. Rather, they were experimenters, doubters, seekers, absurdists; they were women, African-Americans, immigrants; gay, angry, dangerous, “funny.” The voices of musical theatre sing with dissonance and complex irony (Stephen Sondheim) or shout with frenzy (Hair). Plays deliberately unsettle and confuse (Edward Albee), rage (Amiri Baraka), challenge (Maria Irene Fornes), mystify (Sam Shepard), tease (Harvey Fierstein), and snarl (David Mamet)—often all of the above. The relation between performance and audience is drawn into question, and genres are collapsed. The Cold War, aggression in Viet Nam, and the bitter battles over civil rights suddenly suggest that The American Dream is a nightmare and that theatre is a place that must be used to wake people up. Is that possible? And, if so, to what light of day? Possible conference work: the novel, poetry, film, radio, television, and popular music of the period.

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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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First-Year Studies: Fops, Coquettes, and the Masquerade: Fashioning Gender and Courtship From Shakespeare to Austen

Open , FYS—Year

This section of first-year studies traces the representation of gender difference and romantic attachment on the page and stage from 1590 to 1820, a crucial period in the consolidation of modern assumptions about sexuality, marriage, and gendered behavior. The emphasis will be on drama and prose fiction; but we will also sample a range of other expressive forms, including lyric and narrative poetry, visual satire and portraiture, conduct literature, and life-writing. Along the way, students will be introduced to some of the most compelling figures in European literature, all of whom share an interest in the conventions of courtship and the performance of gender: John Milton, the foremost epic poet in the language (we will read Paradise Lost in its entirety); Aphra Behn, England’s first professional female author; bawdy comic playwrights like George Etherege and William Wycherley; the innovative early novelists Eliza Haywood, Daniel Defoe, and Samuel Richardson; the masterful verse satirist Alexander Pope; the pioneering periodical writers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele; the cross-dressing memoirist Charlotte Charke; and Mary Wollstonecraft, the founder of modern feminism. Bracketing the yearlong course will be extended coverage of the two most influential authors of courtship narratives in English, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Additional attention will be paid to earlier writers on sex and marriage, such as Ovid and St. Paul, as well as to contemporary work in queer theory and gender studies. We will also consider select films that reflect the legacy of early modern fictions of gender by directors like Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock. Please note that this course will necessarily include candid discussions of sensitive subject matter, including sexual violence.

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First-Year Studies: 20th-Century Italian Literature

Open , FYS—Year

No previous knowledge of Italian is required.

The course will explore 20th-century Italian literature, focusing on important literary figures, works, and movements (e.g., futurism, neorealism) that helped shape the century. Italy had become a unified nation in 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.” We will examine sources ranging from manifestos and propaganda to poetry, fiction (novels and short stories), memoirs, and diaries; the main focus, however, will be on the novel. Texts will include those authored by Gabriele D’Annunzio, Ignazio Silone, Vasco Pratolini, F. T. Marinetti, Italo Svevo, Grazia Deledda, Sibilla Aleramo, Alba de Céspedes, Alberto Moravia, Anna Banti, Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, and Italo Calvino. Readings will be supplemented by secondary-source material that will help outline the social, historical, and political context in which those authors lived and wrote, as well as provide relevant critical frameworks for the study of their works. Individual conferences will be held every other week; conference topics might include the study of a particular author, literary text, or topic relevant to the course and that might be of interest to the student. On alternate weeks, we will have group activities that may include film screenings, museum visits, and talks relevant to the week’s topics.

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First-Year Studies: Comedy and Romance in the Middle Ages

Open , FYS—Year

Knights and ladies, quests and combats, magic and love...these ingredients of medieval literary romance have been around for a thousand years and are still going strong today. But did these motifs mean something different in the medieval world? What accounts for their enduring appeal? We begin in the 12th century with an introduction to romance in both male and female perspectives from Marie de France, Chrétien de Troyes, and the troubadour poets. We end in the late 15th century with selections from Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, the definitive version of King Arthur in English. The rest of our texts—including the story of Tristan and Iseult, love poetry by Dante and Petrarch, and narratives by the Gawain poet and Chaucer—enable us to explore how the stuff of romance continued to be developed, revised, and subjected to the scrutiny of laughter during the intervening centuries. In class discussion, our focus is on understanding the human experiences that these texts portray. To do this, we need to uncover the assumptions and methods that medieval writers and readers brought to literary creation and to reconstruct, as best we can, the material and imaginative worlds of the Middle Ages—captivatingly strange yet surprisingly recognizable.

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First-Year Studies: (Making) World Literature

Open , FYS—Year

Translation is the lifeblood of literary culture. Translation can also have extraordinary political significance, especially in historical moments when worldviews narrow, borders expand, and difference is treated as a threat. In this seminar, we will read canonical works and celebrated contemporary novels from around the world by writers—including Jorge Luis Borges, Yoko Tawada, Gustave Flaubert, Ananda Devi, Franz Kafka, Samanta Schweblin, Roberto Bolaño, Valeria Luiselli, and many more—reflecting on the literary dimensions of these texts as we also think about questions of translation, circulation, creativity, and consecration. In the process, students will not only learn how to analyze literature, identifying tone or style and building arguments around plot elements or imagery but will also develop frameworks for thinking about which texts make their way into English and how they do so. The course will combine one-on-one conference work with group activities and exercises designed to introduce students to the resources available to them on campus, take advantage of New York City’s cultural offerings, and improve their analytic and expository writing skills with workshops.

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First-Year Studies: Romanticism to Modernism in English-Language Poetry

Open , FYS—Year

The first half of this course will explore the work of the most influential poets writing in English in the time between the French Revolution and the American Civil War. One of the goals of the course is to demonstrate the ways in which modern poetry originated in this period. In the wake of the French Revolution, Blake and Wordsworth, among others, invented a new kind of poetry that largely internalized the myths that they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. The poet’s inner life became the inescapable subject of the poem. In the second half of the course, we will trace the impact of 19th-century Romanticism on subsequent generations of poets writing in English, with particular attention to the first half of the 20th century. Our preeminent 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, Shelley, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Tennyson, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, Hardy, Frost, Stevens, Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.

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The Bible and Literature

Open , Lecture—Year

The Bible: the story of all things, an epic of human liberation and imaginative inspiration; a riven and riveting family saga that tops all others in its depiction of romance, intrigue, deception, seduction, betrayal, existential dread, love, reconciliation, and redemption; an account, as one commentator described it, of God’s ongoing “lover’s quarrel” with humanity; a primary source book for major literature across the planet, still powerful in its influence on the style and subject matter of both prose and poetry. In the first term, this course will provide close readings of major biblical narratives and poetry in Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Lectures will explore and interpret a number of patterns and literary types: the major historical narratives of both scriptures; the poetics and speech acts of creation, blessing, promise, covenant, curse, and redemption; the visionary prophetic tradition from Moses to John, the writer of the Apocalypse; the self-reflective theological interpretations of history by Hebrew chroniclers and the New Testament letters of Paul; the sublime poetry of the Psalms, the Song of Songs, and the Apocalypse of John; and the dark wisdom of the Book of Job and of Ecclesiastes. The second term will study the work of major writers who have grounded their own work in biblical themes, narrative patterns, characters, and images and who have so transformed their biblical sources as to challenge their readers to rethink what scripture is and how it works. Selections will be drawn from the work of Dante Alighieri, John Milton, John Bunyan, William Blake, Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison. If there is enough interest in the class, there will be a “Bible Blockbusters” film series on Sunday evenings during the spring term.

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Self-Experimentation: Cultures of New Media

Open , Lecture—Spring

This is an open lecture that introduces a wide range of topics in new-media studies but is not an introduction to the methods of cultural studies (see History and Fantasy). Also, this is not a media/film history course.

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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African American Literature: Doing It for the Culture: Journeys Into Revelation, Aspiration, and Soul

Open , Seminar—Year

Is it possible to teach or produce African American literature without discussing black identity, the African, or the experiences within the diaspora? For students of literature and ethnic studies, “literature” can connote fine lines; but African American literature and those who write within it are created within a specific history. Thus, how does the literature provide a space for sustaining the cultural traditions of African Americans, interracial relations, queer black bodies, blackness as pathology, and blackness as an Afrofuture? The class begins with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the Congo Dialogues. Before we turn to America, we will first journey to Africa. Throughout the semester, we will read and understand the poetics of song and visual culture that provoke the black experience in America. African American literature is always in discourse with the relationships of Africans, blacks, and African Americans within the greater American society; thus, the authors are interpreted within a political conversation about the black body. In addition to the author, the reader is also in dialogue with the text and the modern world while simultaneously drawing upon the two. This course begins in the fall with a theme on “chains” as we look to writings of the 18th and 19th centuries, but the course will end in Afrofuturism—as a rumination. Perhaps African American literature is not only about the study of literature or poetics but also steeped within Afrofuturism. Better yet, let us turn to “High Priestess of Soul” Nina Simone in her reification of Work Song (Chain Gang): I’ve been working / And working / But I still got so terribly far to go. During the spring component, we will endeavor to identity the impact of modern African American literature, visual culture, and the poetics of hip hop. We will bridge the first semester with themes of Afrofuturism. In Amy Sherald’s spectacular painting of Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery, she remarked that Mrs. Obama is painted in grayscale to represent the past, present, and future—simultaneously. We shall turn to the literature to understand more fully what that could mean for modern writers and artists who are greatly influenced by the blueprints left behind by the late and the great writers who created the genre.

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The Literature of Fact: Journalism and Beyond

Open , Seminar—Year

The last 60 years have been boom times for nonfiction writing. From investigative reporting to memoirs, the literature of fact has thrived. Writers have found that, as the late Tom Wolfe observed, it is possible to turn out nonfiction as lively as fiction and, in the process, capture the history of one’s own times. The aim of this course is to explore nonfiction in a variety of forms and for students to write nonfiction of their own. The course will focus on basic reporting, memoirs, op-eds, reviews, profiles, and long-form journalism. Students will do writing of their own that matches the kind of writing being studied at the time. The course will begin by emphasizing writing technique and move on to longer assignments in which research, interviews, and legwork play an increasingly important role. The writers studied will range from James Baldwin and George Orwell to Joan Didion and Gay Talese. This course is not for students with remedial writing problems or with difficulty meeting deadlines. At the time of their interviews, students must bring with them short samples of their written work.

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17th-Century British Literature

Open , Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: At least one year of a college-level class in the humanities or a strong AP course in literature.

In England during the 17th century, the great ordering coherences of medieval and earlier Renaissance thinking seemed to disintegrate under the warring impulses of individualism and authority, empiricism and faith, and revolutionary transformation and reinforcement of tradition. Yet, even as monarchy and 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. This course 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 court and the robust and bawdy urban center of London through a reading of masques and plays by Jonson and Shakespeare and their contemporaries; dramatic and meditative experiments in “metaphysical” and moral verse by John Donne, Ben Jonson, Aemilia Lanyer, George Herbert, and other poets; various developments in scientific, philosophical, and meditative prose by Francis Bacon, Richard Burton, and Thomas Browne; and the early poetry of John Milton. The second semester will study major writing in the period of the English Revolution and Restoration. Our focus will be on Milton, but we will also study the poetry of the Cavaliers, Katherine Philips, Andrew Marvell, and John Dryden and the prose of Thomas Hobbes, John Bunyan, Aphra Behn, and Margaret Cavendish.

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Literary Visions From Antiquity to the Middle Ages

Open , Seminar—Year

In dream books and visionary narratives from antiquity to the Middle Ages, characters travel through imaginative alternate worlds that test the boundaries of ordinary human experience and provide insights into their own realities. Such narratives of mental adventure and wonder inspired elaborate dream theories and attributed great authority to the poet’s subjectivity. This course will examine the tradition of literary visions, from Cicero’s Dream of Scipio to the late medieval poem Pearl, using an interdisciplinary method that situates texts within their historical, theological, and manuscript contexts. Our study will highlight the formal conventions of the vision genre but also will reveal how many authors resisted a circumscribed form to explore various contentious political, social, and religious ideas.

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British and Irish Modernisms

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course addresses the creative ferment in British and Irish literature in the opening decades of the 20th century. We begin with a thorough exploration of the Irish Literary Renaissance, examining how that remarkable cultural movement contributed to the Easter Rising of 1916 and, later, to the birth of the Irish Free State. We then examine the profound shock of the Great War and its impact on British writers. How did those events shape the mood of crisis and metamorphosis so marked in the literature of the period? How did poets, novelists, and playwrights seek to express contemporary life through literary experiment? While our conversation will be centered on Modernist masterpieces by W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot, we may also read works by J. M. Synge, Lady Gregory, Sean O’Casey, Kathleen Mansfield, Ezra Pound, H. D., Ford Madox Ford, D. H. Lawrence, Hugh Macdiarmid, and others.

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Japanese Literature: Ancient Myths to Early Modern Tales

Open , Seminar—Fall

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

This course is an introduction to the richness and diversity of Japanese literature from its earliest written records in the eighth century to the late 18th century. From early myths of deities procreating the islands of Japan, to poetry that “takes the human heart as its seed,” to epic tales of imperial courtiers and samurai warriors, to essays by Buddhist recluse monks, to drama of the puppet theatre and Noh theatre, we will explore a variety of genres of Japanese literature and its development. Course assignments will include short, weekly writing assignments on course readings, two class papers, discussion questions for one seminar, and conference work. For students with Japanese language skills, conference work may incorporate readings in Japanese.

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Defeating Despotism: Essential Strategies From Ancient Greek and Roman Epic Poetry

Open , Seminar—Fall

With the permission of the instructor, qualified students may opt to take this course as Intermediate or Advanced Greek and will do conference work in Greek at the appropriate level. Greek conferences will meet twice each week either individually or in small groups to suit each student’s needs/abilities. In conference, students will develop their comprehension of ancient Greek by close reading of selected texts.

Fearing tyranny, the framers of the US Constitution in the 18th century drew vital lessons from Ancient Greek democracy (508-322 BCE) and the Roman Republic (509-27 BCE). Before and during the Greeks’ and Romans’ radical and unprecedented experiments in broader political participation, Ancient Greek and Roman epic poetry shaped cultural attitudes regarding the use and abuse of power. As the modern world drifts backward in the 21st century toward various forms of dictatorship and authoritarian populism, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Vergil’s Aeneid can help arm us against the tyrants we might serve and the tyrants we might become. Students will read all three epics in their entirety in English translation.

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Forms and Logic of Comedy

Open , Seminar—Fall

Comedy is a startlingly various form, and it 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. A tentative reading list for the first semester includes a Platonic dialogue (the Protagoras), Aristophanes, Plautus, Juvenal, Lucian, Shakespeare, Molière, some Restoration comedy, and Fielding. In the second semester, we may read Jane Austen, Stendhal, Dickens, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Kingsley Amis, Philip Roth, and Tom Stoppard. We will also look at film and cartoons. Both semesters’ reading lists are subject to revision.

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Literature in Translation: Roland Barthes and French Literature and Theory (1945–2018)

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course will be taught in English, with the possibility of conducting conferences in French or English.

Roland Barthes was at the crossroads of all the literary and theoretical currents that defined post World War II France. His work thus constitutes an excellent introduction to the passionate debates that defined this period and will allow us to assess the role of French theory in today’s poststructuralist and postmodern world, both in France and in America. From Writing Degree Zero and S/Z to A Lover's Discourse and Camera Lucida, we will discuss a variety of issues related to linguistics, psychoanalysis, gender studies, and feminism but also the visual arts and theatre. We will study Barthes’ major works in dialog with philosophers and theorists such as Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, Sontag, and Butler while reading, at the same time, some of the literary masterpieces that kept inspiring him such as Racine, Sade, Balzac, Flaubert, Proust, and Brecht.

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British Literature Since 1945

Open , Seminar—Spring

British literature is often described in terms of tradition and continuity. This course departs from that to a completely different perspective that explores a literature energized by conflict, change, and remarkable variety. Reading across genres, we examine how the alleged consensus of the immediate postwar period gave way to challenging questions about the nature of Britishness itself. We consider the social and cultural effects of decolonization and of Cold War politics. We discuss literary responses to the Women’s Movement, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Thatcherism, the European Union, the rise of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, and the emergence of the modern multicultural United Kingdom. Why were Sam Selvon’s Caribbean Londoners so lonely—and what happened to their descendants? What was Belfast confetti? What did it take to be a “top girl” in Thatcher’s Britain? These and other questions direct our conversation. Possible authors: Muriel Spark, Sam Selvon, Shelagh Delaney, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Jean Rhys, Seamus Heaney, Caryl Churchill, Hanif Kureshi, Salman Rushdie, Alan Hollinghurst, Zadie Smith, and others. This is not your mother’s Masterpiece Theatre!

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Japanese Literature: Modern to Contemporary Literature

Open , Seminar—Spring

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

This seminar is an introduction to Japanese literature from the early 20th century to the contemporary period. We will move chronologically to consider how writers represented Japanese modernity in its varied forms. Writers we will read include Natsume Sōseki, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Yasunari Kawabata, Kenzaburō Ōe, Haruki Murakami, and Banana Yoshimoto. Several films will complement our readings. Course assignments will include weekly short writing assignments on course readings, two class papers, discussion questions for one seminar, and conference work. For students with Japanese language skills, conference work may incorporate readings in Japanese.

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Holy Lives: Spirituality, Saints, and the Cult of Celebrity in the Middle Ages

Open , Seminar—Spring

The saint in the Middle Ages fostered a cult of celebrity. The rise of pilgrimage, the pervasive fascination with relics, and sensational tales of both martyrdom and miracle popularized saints across England and the Continent. This course will focus on stories interested in the heroism, intercession, and sacrifice of saintly figures, with readings to include Latin, Old English, and Middle English saints’ lives, as well as devotional narratives. We will consider how the paradox of saints—disembodied yet concretely present, at a liminal position between Heaven and Earth—might have transformed conceptions of the spiritual life. Taking a gendered approach, we will pay special attention to the narratives of heroic women saints and their reading communities. This course will encourage visits to see reliquaries and other saintly artifacts housed in New York to complement our classroom study of the textual and material remains of saints.

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Translation Studies: Poetics, Politics, Theory, and Practice

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Linguistic proficiency in a foreign language is strongly recommended.

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? Does linguistic equivalence exist? How do we understand the distinction between literal and figurative, formal and vernacular, expression? And what underlies our assumptions about the authenticity of the original text or utterance and its subsequent versions or adaptations? Although translation is certainly 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? How are translation and power linked in the global literary marketplace? 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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Eight American Poets (Whitman to Ashbery)

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

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, the fountainheads of a visionary strain in the American poetic tradition, before turning to Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery. Some of the poems that 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, a willingness to grapple with literary difficulty 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 that they create out of the meanings that 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.

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The Marriage Plot: Love and Romance in Classic American and English Fiction

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

“Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had,” Charlotte Bronte’s title character exclaims in the concluding chapter of Jane Eyre. Jane’s wedding is quiet, but the steps leading up to her marriage with the man who once employed her as a governess are tumultuous. By the time of Jane Eyre, we are far from the early marriage-plot novel in which suitors, proposals, and comic misunderstandings pave the way for a joyous wedding. This course is designed to follow the evolution of the marriage plot in classic 19th- and 20th-century American and English fiction. The course opens with Jane Austen’s Emma and closes with Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. The readings are designed to explore how both the marriage ideal and the failings of marriage have been fictionally depicted over two centuries. The first half of the course centers on a series of paired American and English novels: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. The second half of the course focuses on how American variations of the marriage-plot novel have expanded the tradition and given it new reach. The books studied in the second half of the course will include Willa Cather’s My Antonia, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

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Studies in the 19th-Century Novel

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

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 that they were confronting. At the same time that they accept the world as a setting and boundary for human life, the novels seek to find grounds for transcending its limitations. We will explore in these novelists’ works the tensions 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 the works of novelists such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Stendhal, Eliot, Austen, Dickens, Twain, and Goethe.

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Romance and Realism, Experiment and Scandal: The 18th-Century Novel in English

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

The 18th century introduced the long, realist prose fictions that we now call novels. As often with emergent literary forms, the novel arrived with an unsavory reputation; and its early practitioners labored, often unsuccessfully, to distinguish their work from ephemeral printed news, escapist prose romances, and pornography. It was not until the defining achievement of authors such as Jane Austen and Walter Scott, at the beginning of the next century, that the novel achieved a status as polite and even prestigious entertainment. This yearlong course looks at the difficult growth of the novel from its miscellaneous origins in the mid-17th century to the controversial experiments of the early 1700s and the eclectic masterpieces of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Austen, and Scott. Other authors may include Aphra Behn, Eliza Haywood, John Cleland, Tobias Smollett, Matthew Lewis, Frances Burney, Charles Brockden Brown, and Maria Edgeworth. Everything we read will be arresting and restlessly experimental; much of it will also be bawdy, transgressive, and outrageously funny. Topics of conversation will encompass the rise of female authorship, the emergence of Gothic and courtship fiction, the relationship between the novel and other literary genres or modes (lyric and epic poetry, life-writing, allegory), novelists’ responses to topical subjects of debate (the slave trade, the American and French Revolutions), the reinvention of the novel in North America, the representation of consciousness, and the meaning of realism. We may also consider films adapted from 18th-century fiction such as Tony Richardson’s 1963 Tom Jones and Michael Winterbottom’s 2006 Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.

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The Music of What Happens: Alternate Histories and Counterfactuals

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

The alternate history imagines a different present or future originating in a point of divergence from our actual history—a branching point in the past. Alternate history is both an increasingly popular form of genre fiction and a decreasingly disreputable form of analysis in history and the social sciences. While fictions of alternate history were, until very recently, only a subgenre of science fiction, two celebrated American “literary” novelists, Philip Roth and Michael Chabon, have within the last four years written well-regarded novels of alternate history (The Plot Against America and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union). Similarly, while counterfactual historical speculation is at least as old as Livy, academic historians have until recently scorned the practice as a vulgar parlor game; but this is beginning to change. In the early 1990s, Cambridge University Press and Princeton both published intellectually rigorous books on alternate history and counterfactual analysis in the social sciences; Cambridge more recently published a volume analyzing alternate histories of World War II; and in 2006, the University of Michigan Press published an interesting collection of counterfactual analyses titled, “Unmaking the West.” This course will examine a number of fictions of alternate history, some reputable and some less reputable, and also look at some of the academic work noted above. We shall attempt to understand what it might mean to think seriously about counterfactuals, about why fictions of and academic works on alternate history have become significantly more widespread, and about what makes an alternate history aesthetically satisfying and intellectually suggestive rather than ham-fisted, flat, and profoundly unpersuasive.

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The Making of Modern Theatre: Ibsen and Chekhov

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

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.

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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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Paris, City of Light and Violence

Open , Seminar—Fall

So they had begun to walk about in a fabulous Paris, letting themselves be guided by the nighttime signs, following routes born of a clochard phrase…. —Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch

For centuries now, the city of Paris, France, has held an actual and imaginary intensity in the lives of many. In this seminar in cultural anthropology, we will explore a number of themes and forces that have shaped the cultural and political contexts of life in Paris through the 19th and 20th centuries and on into the 21st—from great works of art to transformations in urban design to the politics of colonialism, migration, racism, marginalization, and police surveillance, as well as critical events of state and collective violence. In walking (conceptually) about a Paris at once fabulous and haunted, we will come to know various signs of being and power in this renowned city. In attending to key events in the recent history of Paris—in 1942, 1961, 1968, 1995, and 2015, for instance—we will work toward developing a comprehensive sense of the many social, cultural, and political dimensions of urban experience in la ville lumière, the “city of light,” in both its central arrondissements and its peripheral banlieues. Along the way, we will consider a number of important literary writings (Hugo, Balzac, Baudelaire, Breton, Modiano, Cortázar, Perec, Sebbar, and Bouraoui), films (Godard, Truffaut, Marker, Varda, Tati, Kassovitz, Haneke, and Sciamma), and scholarship (Benjamin, Dubord, Harvey, Kofman, Fanon, Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, and Latour). Students will be encouraged to undertake conference work on artists, writers, and thinkers associated with Paris or to develop their own anthropological reflections on Paris or another intensive city known to them.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open , Seminar—Spring

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a deaf person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists in recent years have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular “lifeworlds” in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such worlds in terms that more orthodox social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology entails an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. Phenomenology, put simply, is the study of experience. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, emotions, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try her or his hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific subjective or intersubjective lifeworld through a combination of interviewing, participant observation research, and ethnographic writing.

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Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced , Seminar—Year

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. As his interlocutor Bernard Stiegler phrases the main idea behind this statement, “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the Internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida's observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida's punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, Internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and thus craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

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Christians, Jews, and Muslims and the Arts of Medieval Spain: Art, Religion, and Identity

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

How can we read peoples’ sense of identity in the arts? How do religious identities interact with national, regional, and cultural identities? Is European identity necessarily Christian? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in this seminar. From 711 to 1492, the Iberian Peninsula was home to a number of kingdoms with constantly transforming demographics, cities marked by religious pluralism, and kaleidoscopic political alliances between political and religious groups. Opposing forces rarely aligned simply with religious affiliation in medieval Spain. If documents give us a biased and incomplete picture of the relationship between and among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, the arts can provide a different kind of testimony to these rich and complex histories that continue to have an impact on our lives today. This is an intermediate course. Some of the things that would qualify you to enroll for this course would be: having previously taken a course in medieval art or Islamic art; having taken a course in medieval or Islamic history or civilization; or the ability to conduct research in Spanish. You are also welcome during interviews to make a case for other skills or background that you feel might qualify you.

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Theories of Photography

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

What is a photograph? The question seems simple enough, given the pervasiveness of photographs in our image-saturated world. Yet, as this course will explore, a photograph is a representational framework with competing rhetorical meanings. On the one hand, it is a verisimilitude of the visual world, a proof, resemblance, or transcription. On the other, a photograph is a pictorial invention, a fabricated image that is shot through with its own social and pictorial conventions, located in part through the photograph's framing, lighting, cropping, and point of view. Tracing these contradictory definitions, this course explores how the photograph has been defined and tested from its origins. The seminar will engage—through methodologies of close reading—the canonical texts of photographic theory from key 19th-century sources to modernist and postmodernist texts, as well as more recent writing on race, photography, and the colonization of the body; photography and identity; theories of the archive and representations of labor; photography, war, and violence; and intersections between photography and film. Our discussions of theoretical texts will also be grounded in a consideration of photographs themselves, so that students learn close, analytical visual reading. We will learn to think broadly and diversely about a photograph as an image, an archive, a display, a material thing, and a commodity. We will rely on New York’s rich photographic collections to ground our discussions, and students will be encouraged to focus their conference papers on works seen locally.

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Writing India: Transnational Narratives

Open , Seminar—Fall

The global visibility of South Asian writers has changed the face of contemporary English literature. Many writers from the Indian subcontinent continue to narrate tumultuous events surrounding the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan that occurred with independence from British rule. Their writings narrate legacies and utopian imaginings of the past in light of current dystopic visions and optimistic aspirations. The seminar addresses themes of identity, fragmentation, hybridity, memory, and alienation that link South Asian literary production to postcolonial writing from varied cultures of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Accounts of South Asian communal violence reflect global urgencies. The cultural space of India has been repeatedly transformed and redeployed according to varied cultural projects, political interests, and economic agendas. After briefly considering representations of India in early chronicles of Chinese, Greek, and Persian travelers, we explore modern constructions of India in excerpts from writers of the British Raj. Our major focus is on India as remembered and imagined in selected works of writers, including Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. Film adaptations are included. We apply interdisciplinary critical inquiry as we pursue a literature that shifts increasingly from narrating the nation to narrating its diasporic fragments in transnational contexts.

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Reading China’s Revolutions Through Fiction and Memoir

Open , Seminar—Spring

Some of the most consequential and revolutionary prose written in 20th-century China is to be found neither in history nor politics but in fiction and memoir. Indeed, state leaders, reformers, and revolutionaries all believed that fiction was central in their push toward political change and national modernization. The premise of this course is that literature offers an important glimpse into the individual, social, and cultural goals and ramifications of China’s political revolutions. More specifically, the course will look at the short-story fiction and memoirs produced following the 1911 revolution and May Fourth Movement (1919), the 1949 communist revolution, the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and the post-Mao era (1976-1990). Although we will use various methods of literary analysis, the primary approach to the readings will be historical. Topics to be explored include: the ways in which early writers viewed the problems of traditional literature, the role of literature in bringing about social and political change, the tension between the individual and society, and changing notions of gender. We will also look at the ways in which some writers (among them Lu Xun and Ding Ling) created new narrative techniques to embody their vision of social realism and in which others adopted Western literary techniques to convey their self-image as “modern” or “international” writers.

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Personal Narratives: Identity and History in Modern China

Open , Seminar—Spring

This seminar explores the realm of private life and individual identity and its relationship to the historical events and changes taking place in modern China from the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) into the Reform era (2000s). Our investigations will cover an eclectic mix of “personal” writings: diaries, letters, memoirs, oral testimony, autobiographies, third-party anthropological reconstructions of individuals, and (auto)biographical fiction. Among others, we will encounter late imperial Confucian radicals and mystics, petty literati, young urban women and their mothers with bound feet, peasants, radical revolutionaries, intellectuals, Maoist Red Guards, and factory workers. These personal narratives not only open up windows on the lives and times of their writers but also allow us to investigate the intersection between the practice of writing and identity construction in modern China. The primary readings will be contextualized with historical scholarship and supplemented by selections from some important theorists (Benedict Anderson, Anthony Giddens, and René Girard) that provide interdisciplinary analytical tools to explore the construction of personal identity and the self. We will ask ourselves how the writers of the personal writings present themselves: What are their self-conceptions and self-deceptions? Where does their sense of “self” come from, and how do they construct private selves through writing? We should even dare to ask whether these categories of “private” and “self” are relevant. The rapid, often traumatic, changes of modern China will cause us to consider how these people understood and situated themselves in wider society and the events of their time and, thus, will raise questions about the imaginative constructions of national (or social) communities that are smuggled inside these “personal” stories.

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Images of India: Text/Photo/Film

Open , Seminar—Spring

This seminar addresses colonial and postcolonial representations of India. For centuries, India has been imagined and imaged through the lens of orientalism. In recent decades, writers and visual artists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have been actively engaged in reinterpreting the British colonial impact on South Asia. Their work presents sensibilities of the colonized in counter narration to images previously established during the Raj. Highlighting previously unexposed impressions, such works inevitably supplement, usually challenge, and frequently undermine traditional accounts underwritten by imperialist interests. Colonial and orientalist discourses depicted peoples of the Indian subcontinent both in terms of degradation and in terms of a romance of empire, thereby rationalizing various economic, political, and psychological agendas. The external invention and deployment of the term “Indian” is emblematic of the epoch, with colonial designation presuming to reframe indigenous identity. Postcolonial writers and artists are, consequently, renegotiating identities. What does it mean to be seen as an Indian? What historical claims are implicit in allegories of ethnicity, linguistic region, and nation? How do such claims inform events taking place today, given the resurgence of Hindu fundamentalism? For this seminar on the semiotics and politics of culture, sources include works by influential South Asian writers, photographers, and filmmakers.

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Realisms

Open , Seminar—Fall

The seminar will examine key genealogies, debates, and critical responses relating to cinematic realism: the diverse historical “realisms” on which it draws and the range of meanings, uses, and abuses of the term. Questions of realism have been carried over from the traditional arts and literature but have undergone a sea change with the advent of photography and cinematography. While the concept of realism seemed bracketed by postmodern discourses, realism as an effect and as a value or aspiration still haunts the cinematic imagination and engages the media at large. The claim to presence carried by photographic indexicality; the cultural conventions of mimesis and illusionism; the shifting values of document, witness, testimony; the relation of the material and the referential, of the authentic and the composed—all ensure the continued fascination with realism and its myriad forms through our time. Traversing fiction and documentary, features and shorts, mainstream and experimental forms, the seminar will consider both classical cases and challenging examples from diverse cinemas and cultural moments and discuss the political implications of realism and its capacity for transmutation and revival. Screenings will include Wyler’s Best Years of our Lives, Bresson’s Mouchette, Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, Kiarostami’s Close-Up, and many others.

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Intermediate III: Advanced French: French Women Writers and Molière in 17th-Century France

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Fall

Admission by placement test (to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester) or after completion of Intermediate II. This course will be conducted in French.

This course will focus on all aspects of the strong influence that women exerted on literature and culture in France during the classical period of Louis XIV’s reign. We’ll study the historical and social implications of the phenomenon of the “salon,” perceived as a space of freedom for women to redefine the literary landscape of their time. We’ll look at how women writers challenged their male colleagues at the heart of their aesthetic and ideological dominance but also how intellectually independent women were, in return, perceived by society. We will thus read major subversive masterpieces written by women during the period while putting them in dialogue with a series of plays by Molière. France’s iconic playwright was, indeed, also one of the best readers of his time; and he put, in illuminating perspective, the struggles between women and men writers over the creation of a new literary canon. In addition to Molière’s response to the rise of a female and feminist literature during his time, we will also explore his complex relationship with French neoclassical theatre and tragedy; in particular, his positions regarding the most recent philosophical and religious controversies and, ultimately, the rise of Louis XIV to absolutist power. In such a rich context of past debates and literary works, we’ll also try to bring into our discussion the contribution of recent feminist theory in order to foster a dialogue across the centuries. Authors studied will include Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Corneille, Mlle. de Scudery, Racine, Mme. de Villedieu, Mme. de Sevigne, La Rochefoucauld, Mme. de Lafayette, and Mme. d’Aulnoy.

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Intermediate/Advanced Greek: Defeating Despotism: Essential Strategies From Ancient Greek and Roman Epic Poetry

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Fall

Permission of the instructor is required.

Fearing tyranny, the framers of the US Constitution in the 18th century drew vital lessons from ancient Athenian democracy (508-322 BCE) and the Roman Republic (509-27 BCE). Before and during the Greeks’ and Romans’ radical and unprecedented experiments in broader political participation, Ancient Greek and Roman epic poetry shaped cultural attitudes regarding the use and abuse of power. As the modern world drifts backward in the 21st century toward various forms of dictatorship and authoritarian populism, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Vergil’s Aeneid can help arm us against the tyrants we might serve and the tyrants we might become. Students will read all three epics in their entirety in English translation. Greek conferences will meet twice each week either individually or in small groups to suit each student’s needs/abilities. In conference, students will develop their comprehension of ancient Greek by close reading of selected texts.

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Romantic Europe

Open , Seminar—Year

Between the 1790s and the middle of the 19th century, European culture was largely shaped by the broad current of thought and feeling that we know as “Romanticism.” This course will examine the rise of the romantic sensibility in the decades between the 1760s and 1800 and survey diverse manifestations of Romanticism in thought, literature, and art during the subsequent half-century. We will pay particular attention to the complex relations between Romanticism and the three most portentous historical developments of its era: the French Revolution; the birth of industrial society in Britain; and the rise of national consciousness among Germans, Italians, and other European peoples. Readings will include prose fiction by Goethe, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Walter Scott; poetry by Wordsworth, Shelley, Hölderlin, and Mickiewicz; works on religion, ethics, and the philosophy of history; and political treatises by the pioneers of modern conservativism, liberalism, and socialism.

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The Enlightenment

Open , Seminar—Year

The 18th-century Enlightenment was arguably the most important single episode in the last thousand years of European intellectual history—the true watershed between the “premodern” world and the “modern” world. Yet historians have found the Enlightenment to be a singularly elusive phenomenon. Enlightenment thought was woven of several very different strands; the champions of “enlightenment” shared a surprisingly large number of assumptions with their supposed opponents; and some of the beliefs that we regard as most characteristic of the Enlightenment were already being attacked by Rousseau and other adventurous pre-Romantic thinkers before the century was half over. This course will examine the development of the Enlightenment from its origins in the age of the Baroque to its demise in the era of the French Revolution and Romanticism. While the course’s central focus will be ideas, values, and sensibilities, we will also consider the economic, social, and political context of the Enlightenment and examine the revolutionary upheavals in European politics and culture that brought it to an end. We will conclude by discussing several key texts of the 1790s that typify the revolt against the Enlightenment outlook with which the 18th century ended.

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The Blues Ethos and Jazz Aesthetics: A History of African Americans in the City

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

By the 20th century, African Americans in the city produced the genius of blues and jazz, including distinctive aesthetics of pleasure in music and dance. Artists like Bessie Smith, Ma‘ Rainey, Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lester Young, and Duke Ellington were paradigmatic in that cultural production. Those aesthetics influenced the black imagination in social, political, and cultural development, including not only the Harlem Renaissance and Chicago Black Renaissance but also the Black Arts Movement. With that cultural and historical background, students in this seminar will explore a variety of research projects.

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Drugs, History, and Politics in Latin America and Beyond

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

The “War on Drugs,” shootings in favelas, colgados in US-Mexican border states, and (in)famous drug lords (or ”narcos”) dominate contemporary images of, and conversations about, drugs in Latin America. From the narconovelas and narcocorridos to even narco-tourism, narcoviolence has created a myriad of cultural and social artifacts that cultivate both fascination and repulsion over a phenomenon that has profound economic, social, and political ramifications for the region and for the world. This course seeks to understand the multiplicity of historical causes and effects of narcoviolence in the most conspicuous cases in Latin America during the 20th century: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Central America. To do so, the course will situate the current narcoviolence within a longer history of psychoactive drugs as goods, linking producers and consumers through global capitalism since the early modern period. From coffee to cocaine, we will discuss the origins of both fascination with and prohibition of psychoactive drugs. We will examine the social, political, and economic functions of drugs in different historical contexts, their transformation from luxury to mass commodities, and even their fetishization. In addition, the course explores the economics, politics, and culture of drugs in the long era of narcoviolence and globalization. Using primary and secondary sources, history and social science perspectives, the course seeks to foster deep and serious engagement with the history of Latin America and its complex relation to psychoactive drugs.

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Body Politics: A Cultural History of the United States

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Open only to juniors, seniors, and graduate students.

Historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg argues, “In the 20th century, the body has become the central personal project of American girls.” Increasingly in US culture, the body is seen as the ultimate expression of the self; and that personal project has become a project of more than girls. This course will analyze the emergence of this consuming anxiety against the backdrop of other conversations about what are understood as women’s and men’s bodies: as workers, as mothers and fathers, as public figures, as sexual beings. Using cultural criticism, novels, and films, as well as history, we will discuss questions of body politics generally and how a study of the body reveals crucial cultural and political values. The way the body is displayed, hidden, used, misused, celebrated, transformed, and vilified provides a lens through which to make sense of ideals of gender, beauty, sexual politics, racial politics, labor politics, and family politics—all areas of interest in this class. Although most of the course will focus on the 20th century United States, the first third of the fall semester will be devoted to general questions about defining body politics and a quick look at the 19th century. We will end at the close of World War II in the fall and pick up at the same moment in the spring, finishing by May at or near the end of the 20th century. Conferences will involve research into primary materials. This will be a writing-intensive course, including (mostly) expository writing but also creative nonfiction.

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Beginning Italian

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 the oral and written communication of everyday use and 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 the basic Italian grammar and an array of supplementary computer and Internet material, the course will also include texts from prose fiction, poetry, journalistic prose, songs, films, recipe books, and the language of publicity. Conference work is largely based on reading and writing, and the use of the language is encouraged through games and creative composition. The course also has a conversation component in regular workshops with the language assistants. Supplementary activities such as opera and relevant exhibits in New York City are made available, as possible. Credit for the course is contingent upon completing the full year, by the end of which students attain a basic competence in all aspects of the language.

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Intermediate Italian: Modern Prose

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, students will be exposed to present-day Italy through the selection of modern Italian literature (e.g., 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 Alessandro Baricco, Gianni Rodari, Marcello D’Orta, Clara Sereni, Dino Buzzati, Stefano Benni, Antonio Tabucchi, Alberto Moravia, Achille Campanile, and Italo Calvino. In order to address the students’ writing skills, weekly written compositions will also be required as an integral part of the course. The materials selected for the class— whether a literary text, song, video, or grammar exercise—will be accessible at all times to the students through myslc. Conference 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 will be held twice a week with the language assistant.

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Beginning Latin

Open , Seminar—Year

This course provides an intensive introduction to Latin grammar, syntax, and vocabulary—with a view toward reading the language as soon as possible. Close reading of Vergil’s Aeneid in English will accompany intensive language study in the fall. By midsemester, students will be translating authentic excerpts of Latin poetry and prose. During the spring semester, while continuing to develop and refine their knowledge of Latin grammar and vocabulary, students will read selections of the Aeneid in Latin.

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First-Year Studies: The Invention of Homosexuality

Open , FYS—Year

Different historians trace the invention of homosexuality to different historical moments from the 16th to the mid-19th centuries. The invention of heterosexuality, it would seem, followed after. Certainly the term "heterosexual" appeared only after the term “homosexual” was coined in the latter 19th century. Neither meant, at first, what they mean today. In this class, we will study the development of modern understandings of same-sex desire in relation to understandings of sex, gender, race, class, nation, nature, culture, and opposite-sex desire. We will be drawing centrally on literary works, especially novels, which have been crucial sites for the construction and dissemination of conceptions of sexuality. But we will also be reading histories, science, laws, letters, and polemics—and watching films. Although we will be considering some earlier materials, we will focus on two periods: first, from the 1880s to the 1960s; then, from the 1960s to the present. By the 1880s, almost everyone agrees, a recognizably modern understanding of homosexuality was becoming available. The sexual/cultural landscapes that subsequently developed were not radically rearranged until the 1960s, when the gay and women’s liberation movements articulated a political analysis of sexuality. Over the past 50 years, that political analysis—and the activism it continues to foster—have had profound consequences, even as earlier understandings still shape LGBT lives and cultural presences. This course will serve as an introduction to a broad range of modern literature; to fundamental works in the history of sexuality and contemporary queer studies; and to critical thinking about how we talk, read, and write about sex. Conference work may be focused on any period from the 19th century to the present.

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Queer Americans: Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, and James Baldwin

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

Queer Americans certainly, James, Stein, Cather, and Baldwin each fled “America.” James (1843-1916) and Stein (1874-1946) spent their adult lives in Europe. Cather (1873-1947) left Nebraska for Greenwich Village—after a decade in Pittsburgh, with a judge’s daughter along the way. Baldwin (1924-1987) left Harlem for Greenwich Village, then the Village for Paris. As sexual subjects and as writers, these four could hardly appear more different; yet Stein described James as “the first person in literature to find the way to the literary methods of the 20th century,” Cather rewrote James to develop her own subjects and methods, and Baldwin found in James’s writings frameworks for his own. In the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, James, Stein, and Cather witnessed the emergence of modern understandings of homosexuality and made modern literature, each pushing boundaries, always in subtle or dramatic ways. (Stein, for example, managed to parlay the story of her Paris life with Alice B. Toklas into an American bestseller in 1933.) In the second half of the 20th century, Baldwin began to dismantle modern understandings of sexuality and of literature. Examining the development of their works side by side will allow us to push the boundaries of lesbian/gay/queer cultural analyses by pursuing different meanings “queer” and “American” through an extraordinary range of subjects and forms. Beginning with James on gender, vulnerability, and ruthlessness, this course will range from Cather’s pioneers and plantations to Stein on art and atom bombs and Baldwin on sex and civil rights. We will read novels, novellas, stories, essays, and memoirs by James, Cather, and Baldwin, plus Stein’s portraits, geographical histories, lectures, plays, operas, and autobiographies. Literary and social forms were both inextricable and inseparable from the gender and cross-gender affiliations and the class, race, and ethnic differences that were all urgent matters for these four. James’s, Stein’s, Cather’s, and Baldwin’s lives and works challenge most conventional assumptions about what it meant—and what it might mean—to be a queer American. Conference projects may include historical and political, as well as literary, studies, focusing on any period from the mid-19th century to the present.

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Queer Theory: A History

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

For students with a background in women's, gender, or LGBT studies.

Queer theory emerged in the United States, in tandem with Queer Nation, at the beginning of the 1990s as the intellectual framework for a new round in ongoing contests over understandings of sexuality and gender in Western culture. “Queer” was presented as a radical break with homosexual, as well as heterosexual, pasts. Queer theorists and activists hoped to reconstruct lesbian and gay politics, intellectual life, and culture; renegotiate differences of gender, race, and class among lesbians and gay men; and establish new ways of thinking about sexuality, new understandings of sexual dissidence, and new relations among sexual dissidents. Nevertheless, queer theory had complex sources in the intellectual and political work that had gone before. And it has had, predictably, unpredictable effects on subsequent intellectual and political projects. This class will make the history of queer theory the basis for an intensive study of contemporary intellectual and political work on sexuality and gender. We will also be addressing the fundamental questions raised by the career of queer theory about the relations between political movements and intellectual movements, the politics of intellectual life, and the politics of the academy—in the United States in particular—over the past half-century.

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First-Year Studies: The New Elements: Mathematics and the Arts

Open , FYS—Year

The development of linear perspective in Renaissance painting presents one of the clearest examples of the intersection of mathematics and the arts. To paraphrase art historian Erwin Panofsky, perspective recasts perceptual space as a uniform, infinite, abstract space with its own logical and aesthetic properties. The mathematics needed in perspectival constructions was worked out by Euclid in antiquity. What novel aesthetic and logical forms are made possible by the mathematics beyond Euclid’s Elements? This seminar will explore the bearing of modern mathematical ideas on 20th-century Western creative and performing arts. While we will not aim for a comprehensive survey of the entire last century, we will investigate a sequence of case studies, including: De Stijl and the painting of Piet Mondrian; serialism and the music of Arnold Schoenberg; the Bauhaus in Germany and its legacy; OuLiPo, “a secret laboratory of literary structures” in postwar French literature; American postmodern dance; and structural film, among others. Mathematical topics will include sets, logic, non-Euclidean geometry, topology, and chance. A central goal of the seminar is to assess the meaning of structure as it pertains to artistic and mathematical practices. This course assumes no particular expertise with mathematics or cultural history. Seminar readings and a program of art viewings will establish a basis for investigating the relevance of fundamental mathematical concepts to modern literature and the arts. Outside the seminar, students will attend both individual and group conferences. Weekly individual conference meetings for the first six weeks of the fall semester will give students the opportunity to develop their first individualized conference projects, focusing on a particular mathematical structure. Individual conferences after the first six weeks will be held on a weekly or biweekly basis, depending on student progress. During the fall semester, a series of group conferences will afford students time for art viewings and collaborative writing and problem solving.

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Philosophy as Therapy

Open , Lecture—Year

Since Socrates, philosophy has understood itself as therapy—of “opinion” (Socrates, Plato), of anxiety and passion (the Stoa), of superstition (the Epicureans), and of dogmatism (the Pyrrhonian skeptics and the New Academy). This conception of philosophy receded in the Middle Ages—when philosophy in Christian Europe was conceived of as a “handmaiden to theology”—but returned in the Renaissance and continued to be important in the Enlightenment. Among the moderns, thinkers who understand philosophy as involving therapy include Montaigne, Descartes, Shaftesbury, and Kant, as well as some in the 20th century. In the fall semester, we shall focus on the ancients; in the spring, on the moderns.

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The Philosophy of Tragedy

Open , Lecture—Fall

Greek tragedy has been performed, read, imitated, and interpreted for 2,500 years. From the very beginning, it was thought to be philosophically significant—somehow pointing to the truth of human life as a whole. (The phrase "tragedy of life" first appears in Plato.) As a literary form, Greek tragedy is thought to be especially revealing, philosophically, by Aristotle, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, to name only a few. Among others, Seneca, Corneille, Racine, Voltaire, Goethe, Shelley, O’Neill, and Sartre wrote versions of Greek tragedies. And, of course, there is Freud. Greek tragedy examines fundamental things in a fundamental way. Justice, family, guilt, law, autonomy, sexuality, political life, the divine—these are its issues. For class, we will read three plays by each of the great Athenian tragedians—Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides—with a view toward understanding how they deal with these issues and with the question of the importance and nature of tragedy itself. For conference, we will read perhaps the greatest philosophical treatment of tragedy: Aristotle’s On Poetics.

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Heidegger and the Art of Thinking

Open , Seminar—Year

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), one of the most influential philosophers of the last century and a master of the essay form, argued that “to think is to confine yourself to a single thought.” To become familiar with Heidegger’s “single thought” and to follow its development, we will read key essays from his “middle period” (1930s-40s), in which he probes the meanings of death, truth, art, humanism, technology, and thinking. We will pay special attention to the pedagogical facet of these essays; namely, their endeavor to teach us how to discover and develop our own thought.

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How to Become Who You Are: Readings in Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Life

Open , Seminar—Fall

In this course, we will read selected works from different phases of Nietzsche’s career and become acquainted with some of the central themes of his philosophy, including his views of art, tragedy, history, and morality. While we will give each theme its own due, our guiding thread will be Nietzsche’s promotion of a morality grounded in an affirmation of life—“yes-saying,” as he called it—and his rejection of all ethical appeals to something beyond this life, this body, this world. To cast light on the profound impact and enduring life of this philosophy, we will accompany our primary readings in Nietzsche with critical appropriations of his thought by leading 20th-century philosophers, including Heidegger, Irigaray, Deleuze, and Foucault.

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Time in Film and Philosophy

Open , Seminar—Spring

The experience of time is so deeply engrained in our everyday lives that we tend to take it as a given; we rarely take the time to think about time. Our main objective in this course will be just that: to reflect about time. What is the meaning of time? How do we experience it? Is there a “right way” to experience time and to think about time? Our main register for addressing these questions will be philosophical, and we will get to know writings by some of the best philosophers of the last century and a half—including Bergson, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Kristeva. Since the filmic medium—the “movie”—embodies time and movement in its very structure, we will accompany our philosophical readings with watching and interpreting films, including (Fellini), La Jetée (Marker), Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Akerman), 2001: a Space Odyssey (Kubrick), and Memento (Nolan) that explore their own temporality philosophically.

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First-Year Studies: The Senses: Art and Science

Open , FYS—Year

The perceiving mind is an incarnated mind. —Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1964

Sensory perception is a vital component of the creation and experience of artistic works of all types. In psychology and neuroscience, the investigation of sensory systems has been foundational for our developing understanding of brains, minds, and bodies. Recent work in brain science has moved us beyond the Aristotelian notion of five discrete senses to a view of the senses as more various and interconnected—with each other and with the fundamental psychological processes of perception, attention, emotion, memory, imagination, and judgment. What we call “taste” is a multisensory construction of “flavor” that relies heavily on smell, vision, and touch (mouth feel); “vision” refers to a set of semi-independent streams that specialize in the processing of color, object identity, or spatial layout and movement; “touch” encompasses a complex system of responses to different types of contact with the largest sensory organ—the skin; and “hearing” includes aspects of perception that are thought to be quintessentially human—music and language. Many other sensations are not covered by the standard five: the sense of balance, of body position (proprioception), feelings of pain arising from within the body, and feelings of heat or cold. Perceptual psychologists have suggested that the total count is closer to 17 than to five. We will investigate all of these senses, their interactions with each other, and their intimate relationships with human emotion, memory, and imagination. Some of the questions we will address are: Why are smells such potent memory triggers? What can visual art tell us about how the brain works, and vice versa? Why is a caregiver’s touch so vital for psychological development? Why do foods that taste sublime to some people evoke feelings of disgust in others? Do humans have a poor sense of smell? Why does the word “feeling” refer to both bodily sensations and emotions? What makes a song “catchy” or “sticky”? Can humans learn to echolocate like bats? What is the role of body perception in mindfulness meditation? This is a good course for artists who like to think about science and for scientists with a feeling for art. This is a collaborative course. The main small-group collaborative activity is a sensory lab where students will have the opportunity to explore their own sensory perceptions in a systematic way, investigating how they relate to language, memory, and emotion. The other group activities include some museum visits: The American Museum of Natural History has a current exhibit devoted to the senses, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has an encyclopedic collection that will be the focus of a group curation assignment, and MOMA holds a wealth of abstract perceptual possibilities that we will investigate together.

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It’s Complicated: The Nature of Emotions

Open , Lecture—Spring

In the words of Jonathan Swift, “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” In the words of another Swift: “Shake it off.” How do those quotations from popular discourse contribute to our understanding of emotions? Can emotions be defined as simply the opposite of reason? Do they function outside of our control, or can they be regulated? And if they can be regulated, which strategy is best: one that shifts our attention away from emotional stimuli or one that avoids them altogether? These questions represent only part of the curiosity in understanding the complex nature of emotions. In this open-level lecture, our broad aim is to answer, as best we can, the question of what emotions are. We will explore this question through readings from cognitive science, neurobiology, psychology, and the creative arts. The course will begin with a review of historical and contemporary theories of emotion to facilitate discussion about the way each perspective defines emotion. Course themes include explorations of the tension between emotion and cognition, the relationship between emotion and the body, the interplay between emotion and relationships, the intersection of emotion and psychopathology, and emotion regulation. Students are encouraged to contemplate their own emotion-regulation strategies and to reflect on their effectiveness in dealing with challenging emotional situations. Students will be given the opportunity to delve deeper into these course themes through group conference projects. Course content will be infused with discussions of emotion in popular culture. Together, we will look at the ways in which emotions are discussed in music, literature, and film and what studies in this area have to offer by way of increasing our understanding of emotions in everyday life. Lecture.

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Children’s Literature: Developmental and Literary Perspectives

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Children’s books are an important bridge between adults and the world of children. In this course, we will ask questions such as: What are the purposes of literature for children? What makes a children’s book developmentally appropriate for a child of a particular age? What is important to children as they read or listen? How do children become readers? How can children’s books portray the uniqueness of a particular culture or subculture, allowing those within to see their experience reflected in books and those outside to gain insight into the lives of others? To what extent can books transcend the particularities of a given period and place? Course readings include writings about child development, works about children’s literature, and, most centrally, children’s books themselves—picture books, fairy tales, and novels for children. Class emphasis will be on books for children up to the age of about 12. Among our children’s book authors will be Margaret Wise Brown, C. S. Lewis, Katherine Paterson, Maurice Sendak, Mildred Taylor, E. B. White, and Vera B. Williams. Many different kinds of conference projects are appropriate for this course. In past years, for example, students have worked with children (and their books) in fieldwork and service-learning settings, written original work for children (sometimes illustrating it, as well), traced a theme in children’s books, explored children’s books that illuminate particular racial or ethnic experiences, or examined books that capture the challenge of various disabilities.

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Readings in the Hebrew Bible: Genesis and Exodus

Open , Seminar—Fall

The Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible has remained at the mythological foundation of Western culture. Genesis has informed Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theology. If that weren’t enough, the book contains a great and memorable cycle of stories from Adam and Eve and Noah and the Flood to the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, just to name a few. These stories permeate our literature, our art, indeed our sense of identity. The narrative itself is the beginning of a greater epic of liberation, including Exodus and the rest of “the five books of Moses.” What are these books? How were they written? Who wrote them, and for whom? Who preserved them? How do we read them so that their ancient perspective, their social and historical context, is not lost? In order to recover this ancient context, we will also read contemporary writings such as The Babylonian Creation Story, as well as The Epic of Gilgamesh.

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Modern Jewish Literature

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

As Jews were emancipated in Europe, many began to grapple with the challenges of modernity through literary genres like poetry, autobiography, and fiction. Writers like Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, Primo Levi, S. Y. Agnon, Sholem Aleichem (whose works formed the basis of Fiddler on the Roof), Grace Paley, and Cynthia Ozick achieved universal acclaim. But the path of the modern Jewish writer nearly always entailed alienation, rebellion, nostalgia, and a need to grapple with increasingly virulent forms of anti-Semitism—culminating in the Holocaust. In new centers in America and Israel, the Jews’ improved status yielded new kinds of alienation, witnessed especially in works by authors like Philip Roth, Amos Oz, and David Grossman. Despite the tension and occasional anguish that runs through modern Jewish literature, we will discover works of beauty, poignancy, and illumination. The Jewish writer's “pariah” status seems to have offered a unique perspective on the world and profound insights into the modern condition.

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Intermediate Spanish II

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Open to qualified students as determined by a personal interview with the instructor and the results of the Spanish Placement Test (online).

This course is intended for students who have completed roughly two years of college Spanish or the equivalent in high school. Emphasis will be on reading and watching films while broadening your knowledge of primarily Spanish literature and cinema and, at the same time, honing short- to mid-length essay-writing skills in Spanish. (Given the emphasis on reading and writing, this course is also suitable for first years who would like to work in both English and Spanish as part of their first-year experience.) Along the way, we will look into what it means to be “Spanish,” nationalism and other identities (Basque, Catalán), the violence to which the country was subjected during the Civil War, and the pact of silence that followed 36 years of fascist dictatorship (the Franco regime and then the “transición”). How does the country of Opus Dei enact the first European constitutional amendment to legalize gay marriage? And how do immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America challenge notions of “the other.” These are some of the questions we will ponder, and you will no doubt come up with others of your own as we move through texts and films. Except for a few theoretical/critical texts in English, all readings will be in Spanish. Second semester, we will focus primarily on Cuba and continue to develop writing skills in Spanish.

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Advanced Spanish: Introduction to Literature

Advanced , Seminar—Year

This seminar will operate on two distinct levels: language work at an advanced level, and an introduction to the literature(s) of the Spanish-speaking world via the study of relevant works by very recent authors. Initially, the emphasis will be on the study of grammar, syntax, and the acquisition of a solid body of vocabulary at a sophisticated level. During the first weeks of the fall semester, we will focus on the consolidation and integration of linguistic skills. While we do this, we will explore all forms of culture—making use of different kinds of audiovisual resources such as audio podcasts, interviews, documentaries, TV programs, and other formats. We will also start a program of thorough readings centered on a wide range of disciplines and fields. Art, film, music, photography, theatre, science, politics, comics, video games, gastronomy...all forms and manifestations of culture, high and low, will be the object of our attention as long as their vehicle of expression is Spanish. Students will be encouraged to contribute to the syllabus by locating on the Internet different kinds of Spanish-language materials. Once the theoretical comprehension of grammar—together with the mastery of linguistic skills and the acquisition of both a sophisticated reading capacity and a rich vocabulary—is secured, we will start to give priority to the study of literary works. That will constitute the center of classwork in the second part of the year. During the spring semester, the class will fully operate as a literature seminar. The focus of study will consist of an exploration of the newest literary works produced in the last 10 years all over the Spanish-speaking world, a strikingly rich and diverse body of fictional texts that reflect the incredibly varied cultures of Latin America and Spain as viewed through the eyes of its youngest generations of authors.

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Narrative in Contemporary Painting

Open , Seminar—Spring

Taking inspiration from the history of art, literature, and cinema, students will be introduced to a variety of approaches on how to construct narratives in the language of contemporary painting. What is narrative, and can it be expressed abstractly as well as literally? How can color, value, and mark-making be used in painting to create a narrative progression and a passage of time? Students will explore various narrative themes, sourcing from autobiography, political events, literature, films, mediated images, and other personally relevant content. Observational painting will be used as a point of departure to examine various strategies to construct a visual world. Students will proceed to develop technical and conceptual skills that are crucial to the painting process. The work will fluctuate between in-class projects and homework assignments. The curriculum will be supplemented with Power Point® presentations, film screenings, selected readings, field trips, and group critiques.

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Advanced Interdisciplinary Studio

Open , Seminar—Fall

This interdisciplinary studio course is intended for advanced visual-arts students to transition their art making from an assignment-based approach to individual studio practice. The course will support students working in painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, sculpture, video, performance. and new-genres art forms. Students will maintain their own studio spaces and will be expected to work independently and creatively and to challenge themselves and their peers to explore new ways of thinking and making. In addition to weekly critiques, we will discuss how formal aspects and expressive strategies of art making in the 20th and 21st centuries are considered and evaluated in their social and political contexts. Relationships of past art to the development of contemporary art will be addressed. We will also examine how traditional mediiums of painting and drawing relates to more contemporary mediums such as film, photography, video, and performance. During the fall semester, students will be given open-ended prompts from which they will be asked to experiment with how they make work and will be encouraged to work across mediums.The class will feature image presentations, readings, group discussions, studio critiques and trips to artist’s studios, and participation with the Visual Arts Lecture Series. This will be an immersive studio course for disciplined art students interested in making art in an interdisciplinary environment.

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First-Year Studies: Fake News, Real News, News That Stays News

Open , FYS—Year

This combination literary survey and writing course will introduce students to the rhetoric and reality of factual writing and to the dilemmas of truth that obtain when we take complex, fragmentary human experience—whether personal or social—and transform that experience into stories. Students will be asked to write their own stories and to research stories about the world along the spectrum of nonfiction from journalism to essays to oral histories to case studies. They will also be asked to think about the underlying epistemic problems that come with representing facts in language—from blunt-force manipulations of truth for the sake of political gain to more subtle distortions that arise from the techniques of creation, representation, and persuasion. We will read a broad variety of writers, ranging from Aristotle, Longinus, and St. Augustine to Basho, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, and Marshall McLuhan to a legion of contemporary writers writing about race, gender, sex, art, technology, the environment, sports, and themselves. We will think long and fruitfully about how the ephemeral facticity of the world is fashioned into, on the one hand, propaganda and polemic and, on the other, great art.

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First-Year Studies: Forms and Fictions

Open , FYS—Year

This class explores the gift of form as it comes to us from writers from around the world. We will read and then write our versions of folk and fairy tales, epics, short stories, short plays, and anything else we care to try. Second semester will involve writing seven episodes of a fiction. In other words, we will learn how to use a short form to write a long work. Class may involve a discussion of literature, a sharing of our writing, an exercise, a collaboration. While we are exploring the boundaries and premises of various forms, we will step over other boundaries—between the real and the imaginary, this world and another, text and picture, and one form and another. Students will be invited to add visual and sound components to their work, if they wish. In addition to classes, students will have an individual conference every other week and a half-group conference on alternating weeks.

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Our World, Other Worlds

Open , Seminar—Year

This course explores prose writing, with an emphasis on the creation of a world. The writing can be fiction or nonfiction and can take place in this world, another, or several. We will explore ideas about this world and writing about this world and others and work on our writing to make it livelier and more real no matter how imaginary our world is. This course runs in two parts, one semester each. You can take one or both parts. One part will involve writing episodes to build a world that, revised, will become a conference project; the other part will work on craft and content exercises of all kinds, with the conference project distinct from the exercises. Readings include folk tales, religious writing, philosophy, fiction, and newspaper items.

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Eco-Poetry

Open , Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the Earth—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. 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 and to utterly contemporary poets such as Brenda Hillman and Chase Twitchell. We will also read books and articles that teach us about the physical world. We will wonder how eco-poetry is different from nature poetry. We will practice one and then the other. Each student will research an aspect of the natural world and incorporate that knowledge into documentary poems. Each student will present his/her knowledge and poems to the class community as a conference project each semester. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class. 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 ecological crisis? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world—to pay attention and to write poetry that matters—beyond the individual self. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

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First-Year Studies: The House of Fiction: A Guided Tour

Open , FYS—Year

When I began teaching writing at Sarah Lawrence, I was of the write-what-you-know school and pushed my students to “mine their experience in search of hidden truths” (or something like that). But over time, I’ve come to see this as an insufficient way of thinking (and talking) about fiction writing. It cultivates a reverence for plot and character but ignores the aspects of fiction that seem especially vital to me: language, structure, voice, and ideas. That’s why this FYS workshop will emphasize the value of play and experimentation in the creation of short fiction. My goal, in fact, is to suggest that the world of fiction is like a gargantuan, twisted, labyrinthine house and not some little cottage on a grassy hill. I want to show my students around, explore secret rooms, open doors that lead nowhere, traverse long dark corridors, peer into dark and forgotten wells. Our weekly writing assignments will explore some of these spaces, and students will be asked to write in ways they may never have considered writing before. Our reading list will be dynamic and multifaceted, seeking to constantly expand our notions of what fiction is and can be. The list will include a number of short novels (Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy, Kamby Bolongo Mean River by Robert Lopez, The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino are all possibilities), as well as dozens of short stories by writers who often defy convention. These may include Robert Coover, Dawn Raffel, Joy Williams, Stacey Richter, David Foster Wallace, Shelley Jackson, Roxane Gay, Donald Barthelme, and Harlan Ellison. Students will be writing all the time, as we constantly expand and update our imagined blueprint of the House. Our goal is to create a community that values and supports risk-taking and innovation. I want my writers to leave this first year of college with a better understanding of how big and deep and funny and meaningful fiction can be. If this sounds interesting, you can find me behind the “Welcome” mat burning in front of the old iron door teetering from its rusted hinges.

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Poetry: What Holds The Unsayable

Open , Seminar—Spring

Poems are not merely feelings, the poet Ranier Maria Rilke has written, but experiences. What is the difference between a feeling and an experience? How can a poem become an experience? How can a poem, originating from the personal, transcend the personal? How can writing the poem transform the writer? Every poem holds the unsayable. How does a poem do that? How can we attempt to do that—using words? If you are interested in these questions, take this course. The course is open to experienced writers, as well as to absolute beginners. If you are interested in these questions, you are welcome. This is a reading/writing course. We will spend time every week reading poems that have already been published (by dead poets and living poets) to see how they were made: music, syntax, line, sound, and image. We might spend time generating new work in class through exercises and experiments. And we will spend time looking closely at one another’s work, encouraging each other to take risks and to move even closer to the mystery of the poem. Each writer in the class will meet with another class member once a week on a “poetry date.” Each writer will be responsible for reading the assigned work and for bringing to class one written offering each week. We will work hard, learn a great deal about poetry and about our own poems, and have a wonderful time.

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The Unconscious, the Absurd, the Sublime, and the Impossibly Probable

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

This one-semester workshop will venture into more unlikely fictional territories: dream narratives, preposterous situations served up matter-of-factly, unscary ghost stories, speculative fiction, and virtuosic works that elude comprehension but deliver you to the profound and pleasurable edges of apprehension. To jar us from our more prosaic and safe forms of fiction, we will begin the semester with a series of exercises inspired by the stories of authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Borges, Nabokov, George Saunders, Carmen Maria Machado, and Olivia Butler, as well as essays by Carl Jung, Immanuel Kant, and Charles Baxter. You will generate your conference work from the readings and exercises, develop it through close critique in our classes and conferences, present it in preliminary workshops, and, finally, submit your best work in a series of formal workshops at the end of the semester.

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Nonfiction Laboratory

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course is for students who want to break free of the conventions of the traditional essay and memoir and discover a broader range of narrative and stylistic possibilities available to nonfiction writers. During the first half of the semester, students will read and discuss examples of formally innovative nonfiction that will serve as the inspiration for brief assignments. Completed assignments will also be read aloud and discussed each week. During the second half of the semester, students will workshop longer pieces that they will have written in consultation with the instructor as a part of their conference work. Most readings will be found in The Next American Essay, edited by John D’Agata, or in the photocopied handout. But we will also read and discuss Alejandro Zambra’s short, brilliant book, Multiple Choice.

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Portraiture

Open , Seminar—Spring

What is a character? How do you portray a person? And what does it mean to do so? The history of literature is full of eponymous works—Don Quixote, “Tristam Shandy,” David Copperfield, to name but a canonical few—works that often seek to examine a single character or consciousness over time. “Character studies,” or “portraiture,” might be another way of describing such writing, in which a writer brings all of his or her energies to bear upon the art of representing “other people”—and in which the machinations of “plot” take a relative back seat to questions of “character” (and all that such a character might reveal). In this course, we will look at examples of “literary portraiture” in the hopes of generating our own. Our readings will include classics of the form (Melville’s “Bartleby,” Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Saul Bellow’s Herzog, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior), as well as relatively contemporary examples (Evan Connell’s Mrs. Bridge, John Williams’ Stoner, Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at the Wedding, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder, Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl, J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, and W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants). Throughout the course, we will be asking questions about what makes for a plausible character or interior life in writing, what tools are available at writers’ disposal in their attempts to portray “other people,” and what’s often at stake in such efforts. Through close readings of published work, individual conferences, generative writing exercises, and workshops of each other’s writing, students will work towards crafting and presenting their own work of portraiture by the end of the term.

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The Short Story

Open , Seminar—Year

This short story writing workshop is also a survey of the form’s history. We will begin with Frank O’Connor’s definition of the short story as a form characterized not by its length so much as by its subject matter: the lives of what he calls “submerged population groups,” people for whom a “normal society” is the “exception” rather than the “rule”; in short, outsiders, losers, the marginalized, the dispossessed, the ignored, the powerless, the subcultural. In this yearlong course, students will test O’Connor’s description of the form by examining several short-story collections in the hopes of generating a portfolio of stories about a “submerged population group” of their own. Beginning with Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat, we will then move on to canonical examples, as well as more recent examples, from Edward P. Jones, Raymond Carver, James Alan Macpherson, Grace Paley, Alice Munro, Denis Johnson, James Kelman, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, Lydia Davis, Sherman Alexie, Julie Otsuka, and Charles Baxter, among many others. Our time will be equally divided among reading published works, tracing the evolution of the short-story form, and examining each other’s efforts through weekly workshops, critical and generative writing exercises, and one-on-one conferences. Throughout, we will ask questions not only about craft and technique in short-story writing—matters of plot, voice, character, structure, setting, language, and the like—but also larger questions about the form itself and the traditions in which short-story writers are all necessarily enmeshed.

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Writing Our Moment

Open , Seminar—Spring

It would be safe to say that journalism and nonfiction writing are currently undergoing a transformation. Our most storied publications are in a state of crisis. Big-city newspapers are failing by the day. Magazines are imperiled. Book publishers face encroaching competition from handheld electronic devices and online search engines that do not recognize copyright laws. What is an ambitious, intuitive writer to do going forward? Quite simply: Harness all of the strengths of the storytelling past to a new world of few space restrictions; more flexible tones; the ready presence of video, audio, and animation—which can either enrich or encroach upon text; and comprehend the role of writer in such a way as to include and exploit new media. We will examine the relationship between literary nonfiction, which has always been cinematic in focus and flexible in tone, and the once and future practice of journalism. Masters of 20th-century nonfiction such as V. S. Naipaul, Truman Capote, Joseph Mitchell, and Roger Angell—steeped as they are in the journalistic practice of their time—can serve as guideposts to our uncertain future. We will examine, through reading and writing, the ways in which the formulas of journalism are transformed into literature. We will emphasize the importance of factuality and fact-checking and explore adapting modern storytelling to video, photography, and sound. As the semester progresses, literary nonfiction will be both discovered and reinvented to fit our new world.

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Nonfiction Workshop: The World and You

Open , Seminar—Fall

This workshop will be divided into three units, each of which will involve reading published essays and writing our own. In the first, called PLACE, we will read and write essays about authors’ relationships to particular places—less travelogues than investigations of the dynamic between the person and the place. Examples of published essays that we will read for this unit are “Stranger in the Village” by James Baldwin and Seymour Krim’s writing on London. The second unit, DEMONS, will focus on writers’ personal challenges—from depression, as in William Stryon’s very short book, Darkness Visible, to migraines, the subject of Joan Didion’s essay “In Bed.” For the final unit, CRITICAL SURVEY, we will read and write critical takes on works or figures in particular fields; examples: James Agee’s essay, “Comedy’s Greatest Era,” about silent films; Toni Morrison’s very short book, Playing in the Dark, about the influence of blacks on early white American literature; and Norman Mailer’s Superman Comes to the Supermarket, about John F. Kennedy and other politicians present at the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

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A Kind of Haunting: A Poetry Workshop

Open , Seminar—Spring

In James E. Young’s essay, “Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin: The Uncanny Arts of Memorial Architecture,” Young describes Libeskind’s designing of the Jewish Museum in Berlin and how essential to its design was the folding in of fragment, void, interruption, and other iterations of rupture. Of Libeskind’s project, Young writes “His drawings for the museum thus look more like the sketches of the museum’s ruins, a house whose wings have been scrambled and reshaped by the jolt of genocide. It is a devastated site that would now enshrine its broken forms.” In this poetry workshop, we will examine the different ways in which poetry can allow for what cannot be articulated—either because there are simply no words to convey what must be said or because the speaker cannot utter what must be said—and how allowing space for the unspeakable can result in a kind of haunting in a poem. Each class will begin with the discussion of an outside text and then move on to the workshopping of students’ poems. Texts we will be reading and examining include James E. Young’s essay, as well as writings by Jacques Derrida, Mark Fisher, Darian Leader, excerpts from Laura Oldfield Ford’s ‘zines Savage Messiah, excerpts from films, contemporary artwork, and, of course, poetry. Readings from poetry may include work by Cathy Song, Fred Moten, Dionne Brand, Denise Riley, Helene Dunmore, Sean Bonney, Novalis, and the fragments of Hölderlin.

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Nonfiction Workshop: To Tell the Truth

Open , Seminar—Fall

This class will explore the mysteries of writing what has been called “nonfiction,” focusing particularly on questions around what has been called lying and what has been called telling the truth. Was Toni Morrison right when she said our minds have an “antipathy to fraud”? Does lying have a syntax? What are the cultural contexts, nourishments, and manipulations that may affect what happens between a writer and a drafted or published sentence? What's the difference between a lie that illuminates the truth and a lie that obfuscates or tries to extinguish it? Are famous writers good? Can popular writing lie? Is it possible to “tell the truth”? Our readings may include the work of James Baldwin, Anne Carson, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Dionne Brand, Aimé Césaire, Edward Said, Fred Moten, Hannah Arendt, and Virginia Woolf, as well as that of Wallace Stegner, William F. Buckley, Jr., Charlotte Beers, Henry Kissinger, and the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. In conference, we’ll discuss drafts of student work; in class, we’ll discuss readings, in light of the questions above, as a way of guiding our own makings. You’ll be expected to attend class, engage with assigned and suggested readings, participate in discussions, and, by the end of the class, produce 20 pages of publishable nonfiction. The only prerequisites are a passion for reading that equals your passion for writing and a willingness to undertake whatever might be necessary to read and write better on our last day of class than on our first.

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