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.

2017-2018 Courses

Literature

First-Year Studies: Japanese Literature: Ancient Myths to Contemporary Fiction

Open , FYS—Year

From deities procreating the islands of Japan to a frog who saves Tokyo from mass destruction, this course is an introduction into the richness and diversity of Japanese literature in English translation. During the fall semester, we will read Japanese literature from its earliest written records to the 19th century, including ancient myths, poetry, epic tales of imperial courtiers and samurai warriors, folktales, and drama (bunraku and noh plays). During the spring semester, we will read literature from the 20th century to the present day, including short stories and novels by writers such as Natsume Soseki, Kawabata Yasunari, Enchi Fumiko, Abe Kobo, Oe Kenzaburo, Murakami Haruki, and Ogawa Yoko. Films, historical texts, and critical essays will complement these readings to help us deepen our interpretative approaches. As a First-Year Studies seminar, the course will emphasize the development of each student’s critical skills in reading, writing, and discussion, as well as independent conference work.

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First-Year Studies in Literature: Texting and Intertexting

Open , FYS—Year

No literary text stands alone. New texts build themselves out of creative engagements and dialogues with other texts. A literary tradition builds itself out of interchanges between writers and other writers, between writers and readers. This course will study the intertextual give and take among ancient and more modern writers. We will study clusters of books where we can see the textual dynamics of interchange and extension at work, linking “modern” texts with “classics” of earlier times. We will consider the ways in which writers in the last two centuries, particularly writers of color, have established their own creative authority and cultural centrality—in part by creative reading and re-envisioning several of the most powerful texts of Western literature: Homer’s Iliad, Dante’s Inferno, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The cultural authority and imaginative power invested in such “canonical” stories make literary tradition an imagined place for experimentation with ideas of self and society and language, for the extension of the sense of self and community into new forms and possibilities. Among the modern writers whose works we will study as creative and transformative responses to the “classics” will be: Derek Walcott, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Gloria Naylor, Aldous Huxley, Mary Shelley, Charles Chesnutt, and Toni Morrison. These modern writers’ various strategies of appropriation, subversion, and transformation will vivify and focus our sense of the still-challenging imaginative and social power of the “classical” texts. These instances of literary interchange should provide us with a way of thinking about literary tradition as liberating, dynamic, and pluralistic.

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First-Year Studies: States of Emergence, Stages of Emergency

Open , FYS—Year

The Golden Age of Spain, a period lasting roughly 200 years that coincides in its middle part with the Elizabethan era, is a period of extraordinary creativity that reflects, in myriad ways, the wondrous changes taking place—scientific, economic, social, philosophical, literary, and artistic—as the world becomes truly globalized for the first time and the early modern era is born. In Spain, these two centuries span the emergence and lexicalization of a number of new genres: the picaresque; the Moorish and pastoral romances; the exemplary tale; the sonnet form; a wondrous theatrical tradition, la nueva comedia—synchronous with Elizabethan theatre—that produced playwrights like Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Calderón; and of course, Cervantes (playwright, short-story writer, novelist). We will explore the smaller entities “on the ground” that merge and bloom into this explosion of creativity. In the first semester, we will focus primarily on the emergence of a theatrical tradition as medieval fuses into modern; in the second, on the prose and poetry that leads us to a reading of Cervantes’ Don Quixote...naturally.

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First-Year Studies: What We Do With Words: Literature and Theory, 19th-21st Centuries

Open , FYS—Year

In this class, we will study major works of modern and contemporary Western literature in relation to theoretical and philosophical texts that helped shape the way we think today. We will try to better understand how writers felt compelled to invent new ways of speaking and how this fundamental change to how we relate to language also affected the way we think. At the same time, literary texts have become a crucial source of inspiration for philosophy and other disciplines such as linguistics and psychoanalysis. We will study this dialogue between creators and theorists, trying to better understand how they inspire and illuminate each others. Plato and Homer, Benjamin and Baudelaire, Heidegger and Hölderlin, Barthes and Balzac, Deleuze and Proust, Derrida and Poe, Judith Butler and Simone de Beauvoir are some examples of the dialogues that we will discuss. Other authors studied will include Walt Whitman, Gustave Flaubert, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, James Baldwin, and Tony Morrison. Over the course of the year, we will focus on the art of essay writing and acquire a better understanding of major literary and philosophical concepts in order to become more keen readers of all texts. Although the focus of this class is primarily on literature, our seminar discussions will also allow us to have conversations on important issues related to feminism and women studies, race, and gender.

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First-Year Studies: Text and Theatre

Open , FYS—Year

This course explores the relation between the play as written text and the play as staged event. More than any other literary form, drama depends upon a specific place and time—a theatre and its audience—for its realization. The words of a play are the fossils of a cultural experience: They provide the decipherable means by which we can reconstruct approximations of the living past. With this goal in mind, we will read and examine texts from ancient Athens and medieval Japan to Elizabethan London and contemporary New York (with many stops in between) in an attempt to understand the range of dramatic possibility and the human necessity of making theatre.

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Epic Vision and Tradition From the Odyssey to Walcott’s Omeros

Open , Lecture—Year

The epic is a monumental literary form, an index to the depth and richness of a culture, and the ultimate test of a writer’s creative power. Encyclopedic in its inclusiveness, the epic reflects a culture’s origins and projects its destiny, giving definitive form to its vital mythology and problematically asserting and questioning its formative values. This course on the emergence and development of the epic genre developed in the Western tradition will be organized around four central purposes. First, we will study the major structural, stylistic, and thematic features of each epic. Second, we will consider the cultural significance of the epic as the collective or heroic memory of a people. Third, we will examine how each bard weaves an inspired, yet troubled, image of visionary selfhood into the cultural and historical themes of the poem. Fourth, we will notice how the epic form changes shape under changing cultural and historical circumstances and measure the degree to which the influence of epic tradition becomes a resource for literary and cultural power. First term: Homer, Odyssey; Virgil, Aeneid; Dante, Inferno; Milton, Paradise Lost. Second term: Pope, The Rape of the Lock; Wordsworth, The Prelude; Eliot, The Waste Land; Joyce, Ulysses; Walcott, Omeros.

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Shakespeare and the Semiotics of Performance

Open , Lecture—Year

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

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History and Fantasy: An Introduction to Cultural Studies

Open , Lecture—Spring

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

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Chinese Identity

Open , Seminar—Year

Taught in English; no Chinese language prerequisite.

“Chinese identity” as an organic cultural composite is important to the “Self-Other” positioning in cultural exchanges and transmissions and has taken various expressions in classical and modern Chinese literature. This course will examine the trajectory that Chinese identity took in Chinese literature from earliest times, through different imperial periods, to the modern era. Through an engagement with poetry, historical writings, fictions, and films, we will chronically explore various literary issues concerning the formation and transformation of Chinese identity. For example, we will examine the role of early Chinese poetry in shaping a shared cultural identity in a partial parallel with Homeric epics. We will also pay attention to how foreign elements—often in the form of female demons, spirits, and ghosts—were gradually accepted into society and households and granted certain social and cultural status in classical novels and folklores. The interplays between empire/state and gender in literature and in films will be part of our reading and discussion on Chinese identity as discourses of geopolitics and nationalism. The course will be divided into two parts. We will read classical texts in the fall semester and will move onto modern and contemporary materials in the spring. This course encourages comparative studies and literary theories.

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Frankenstein Unbound

Open , Seminar—Year

Like Walter Benjamin’s image of the angel of history, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein plunges forward into the future while looking back—anxiously? longingly?—toward the past. This course takes Shelley’s 1818 novel as its core text for an investigation of writing as an activity as troubled by mythic origins as it is fired by utopian dreams. In the first semester, we focus closely on Frankenstein itself, a highly intertextual work. We trace the influence of such literary ancestors as Milton and Rousseau and Shelley’s own scandalous real-life parents, the proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and anarchist William Godwin. We join the party at Lake Geneva, with Percy “Victor” Shelley, Claire Clairmont, mad, bad Lord Byron, and Byron’s unfortunate personal doctor, John Polidori (initiator of the first vampire story in English). In the spring, we expand our reading with a wide-ranging exploration of Gothic literature and its utterly modern obsession with the past. We look at the origins of the genre and its chief characteristics from its 18th-century origins through the 20th century. Likely authors: Walpole, Radcliffe, Lewis, Austen, C. Bronte, Stevenson, Wilde, James, Rhys, and Morrison.

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Modern German Literature and Film From 1871 to the Present

Open , Seminar—Year

In this course, students will learn about the major cultural and historical developments in Germany since the late 19th century through an in-depth analysis of many masterpieces of modern German literature (novels, stories, plays) and film. Germany has seen five different political systems since its modern inception as a nation state in 1871: an aristocracy ruled by the German emperor, the Weimar Republic, the Nazi dictatorship, a divided Germany with a Socialist government in the East, and the creation of a reunified Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. While this is NOT a history course, students will be required to accompany their analyses of German literary and cinematic masterworks with a reading of primary and secondary historical and philosophical sources. In the fall semester, we will cover the period between 1871 and 1945; in the spring semester, the emphasis will be on postwar German literature and film since 1945. This seminar is open to all students, and no expertise in German history or literature is required; however, students will be asked to read a novel or play every week, some of which may be several-hundred pages long. You must be a dedicated reader! The preliminary reading list includes the following works of literature and film for the fall of 2017: Florian Illies: 1913; Theodor Fontane: On Tangled Paths; Rilke: The Diary of Malte Laurids Brigge; Hermann Hesse: Siddartha; Thomas Mann: Death in Venice and Other Stories; Franz Kafka: The Judgment, The Hunger Artist; Alfred Döblin: Berlin Alexanderplatz; Ernst Jünger: excerpts from Storm of Steel; Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front; Irmgard Keun: The Artificial Silk Girl; Berthold Brecht: The Three Penny Opera; Anna Seghers: The Seventh Cross. In the spring semester, the seminar will focus on postwar German literature after 1945 and, especially, the question of how writers and intellectuals have dealt with the Holocaust, the National Socialist and Communist dictatorships, and German reunification since 1990. Films such as The Murderers Are Among Us, Sophie Scholl, Germany Pale Mother, The Lives of the Others, and Good-bye Lenin will give students visual representations of the most important cultural and historical issues in Germany since 1945. Novels and plays include: Heinrich Böll: Group Portrait With Lady; Günther Grass: Crabwalk; Wolfgang Borchert: The Man Outside; Max Frisch: Andorra; Jurek Becker: Jacob the Liar; Monika Maron: Pavel’s Letters; Schlink: The Reader; Sebald: Austerlitz; Jenny Erpenbeck: Go, Went, Gone; Antje Ravic Strubel: Under Snow. German-speaking students may read some of these works in the original German and will meet with the German assistant, Nike Mizelle, once a week to improve their speaking and writing skills in German. Their conferences will also be conducted in German.

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English: History of a Language

Open , Seminar—Year
What happened to English between Beowulf and Virginia Woolf? What’s happening to it now? The first semester of this course introduces students to some basic concepts in linguistics, tracing the evolution of pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar from Old English (Anglo-Saxon), through the Middle English of Chaucer, to the Early Modern English of Shakespeare and the 18th century, to an English that we recognize—for all of its variety—as our own. Second semester turns from the history of English and the study of language’s change over time to the varieties of contemporary English and a sociolinguistic approach to the ways in which language differs from one community of speakers to another. Among the topics for second semester are: pidgins and creoles, American Sign Language, language and gender, and African American English (Ebonics). This course is intended for anyone who loves language and literature. Students may choose their conference work from a range of topics in either language or linguistics or both.
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The Greco-Roman World: Its Origins, Crises, Turning Points, and Final Transformations

Open , Seminar—Year

This course invites the serious student to penetrate the tides of time in order to uncover what really lies behind the making of ancient Greece and Rome from their earliest times to their final transformations. The aimed-for result is a more deeply informed understanding of their direct contribution to us; namely, the classical tradition that still shapes our thinking and exercises our imagination. The methodologies employed will be derived as much from the fields of anthropology and sociology as from those of political science, economics, archaeology, and religious studies. The particular topics pursued will be set through joint decision by class members and the teacher but anchored always in the reality of what these two gifted peoples experienced—or believed to be their experience. To further this goal, all conferences will be in small groups, and all papers will be written as joint productions rather than as individual conclusions. A model for this procedure will be established in the first two weeks of the fall semester through the class’s multidisciplinary reading, in translation, of important selections from Homer’s Iliad.

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Prophetic Voices in African American Literature

Open , Seminar—Fall

In this course, amidst the challenges facing an increasingly fractious and polarized America centered around questions of citizenship and justice that strike at the heart of the body politic and its democratic values, we will examine how a black prophetic tradition—a visionary strain of African American literature—has raised its own collective voice in order to bear witness to suffering and injustice and ultimately combat it. Across a wide range of literary genres, from the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass to the hip-hop of De La Soul, from the Afrofuturism of Octavia Butler to the short fiction of Charles Chesnutt, from Beyonce’s Lemonade to Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues, African American artists have sought to envision and ultimately create a better world using formal and rhetorical strategies of the black church, the folk traditions of the American South, the cultural practices of signifying and code-switching, and the vernacular embedded in the blues and its later musical iterations, among multiple other formal and thematic strategies.

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J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Medievalism

Open , Seminar—Fall

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” So, the story goes, originated the whole of Middle Earth, beginning with this single line that J.R.R. Tolkien, a professor of medieval literature at Oxford, scribbled on a student’s exam paper while procrastinating during a marathon grading session. Indeed, long before they had achieved international fame for co-inventing the modern genre of fantasy literature, both Tolkien and his friend and colleague C.S. Lewis had devoted their professional lives to the rigorous study of medieval literature, culture, and language. This course aims to introduce you to some of the major texts of medieval English literature through the varied lenses that Tolkien and Lewis can provide us in both their formidable scholarship and their popular creative works. In addition to reading academic essays on medieval literature by Tolkien and Lewis, we will examine the medieval underpinnings of The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and one of the Narnia books—and then consider the peculiarly medieval character of Lewis’s science fiction, as well as his final novel, the mythic retelling Till We Have Faces. Works of medieval literature that we will read—in Tolkien’s own translations whenever possible—include the Old English heroic poem Beowulf; several key primary texts for our understanding of Old Norse mythology; and later Middle English masterworks such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo, and selections from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. There are now multiple academic journals dedicated to the study of Tolkien and Lewis, and each has achieved a truly global popularity. Even so, as we study their fictions in connection with medieval narrative, we may well wonder how the interest of a pair of unassuming scholars in a body of literature read by so few people could have led to, for example, the launch of multiple multibillion dollar film franchises in the 21st century. Our answers will become clear only when we consider Tolkien and Lewis in the wider context of “medievalism,” the interest of later eras in reviving, reappropriating, repurposing, and reimagining the Middle Ages. If Tom Shippey is correct to declare Tolkien “The Author of the Century,” it may nevertheless be important to ask in which century Tolkien and Lewis’s works truly belong.

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Literature in Translation: Divine and Human Comedies: Dante and Boccaccio

Open , Seminar—Fall

Within two generations, two Tuscans produced extraordinary works of literature: Dante’s Comedia, written in the first two decades of the 14th century, and Boccaccio’s Decameron, written in the middle of the same century. Dante’s Divine Comedy is a kind of summa of medieval culture, a prism through which he filters classical and medieval civilization and melds them in one magnificent and totalizing Christian vision that embraces art, literature, philosophy, science, history, and theology. Like all concepts of Heaven and Hell, it is a repository for dreams of ecstasy, fantasies of horror, and, most importantly, moral guidance. It is the magnificent vision of a profoundly religious and sophisticated Roman Catholic of the 13th and 14th centuries in Italy. A generation later, Boccaccio—a great admirer and imitator of Dante, as well as one of the first commentators of the Comedia (He is sometimes credited with having added the adjective “Divina” to a work Dante simply called “Comedia”), writes his Decameron, a magisterial collection of short stories that represent an astonishing variety of human experience in a vast range of narrative registers. In contrast to Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” Boccaccio’s work has been characterized as a “human” comedy—earthbound, humorous, indulgent and dramatically different from the work of his admired predecessor. In this course, we will read both works, concentrating on salient cantos and stories to try to understand the genius of these two extraordinary authors, as well as some of their cultural origins, the new mercantile world of the 14th century, and the enormous changes they effected in Western literature.

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Before Jane: 18th-Century Women Writers

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

By the time of her death in 1817, Jane Austen could boast that novels by women had “afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world.” A mere century and a half earlier, it was still a rarity for a woman to publish under her own name. This course traces the emergence of professional female authorship from the end of the Renaissance to the heyday of Romanticism, along the way introducing students to the most illustrious and intriguing members of Austen’s “literary corporation.” We will divide our time between authors who remain somewhat familiar today (Aphra Behn, Mary Wollstonecraft) and those who have been unjustly neglected (Eliza Haywood, Frances Burney). The focus will be on the individual lives, personalities, and accomplishments of these remarkable artists and intellectuals; and the texts we cover will be as eclectic as the authors themselves, ranging from lyric poems to Gothic novels, sex comedies to political jeremiads, fantasy literature to travel writing, autobiographies to pseudo-Austenian courtship narratives. We may even, as a coda to the course, read a little of Austen’s own early work.

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Acting Up: Theater and Theatricality in 18th-Century England

Open , Seminar—Fall

From melodrama to burlesque, farce to musical theater, Restoration and 18th-century England helped to shape the modern conventions of dramatic art and popular entertainment. These periods also introduced an early form of celebrity culture, thanks in part to the rise of England’s first professional female actors and the reign of a king, Charles II, who loved theater and all-too-public extramarital sex. At the same time, the increasing prominence of drama raised unsettling questions about the nature and potential of performance, not only as a form of artistic practice but also as an element of social and political life: What if our putatively God-given identities (king and subject, wife and husband) were merely factitious roles that we could adopt or discard at will? This course will consider how authors and theatrical professionals from the 1660s to the 1790s imagined the potential of performance to transform—or sometimes to reinforce—the status quo, with a look ahead to Hollywood films that have inherited and adapted the legacy of 18th-century entertainments. Our emphasis will be on plays, with a survey of major Restoration and 18th-century comedies (some of the funniest ever written), parodies, afterpieces, heroic tragedies, imperial pageants, sentimental dramas, and Gothic spectacles by authors such as William Wycherley, George Etherege, John Dryden, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, John Gay, Henry Fielding, and Hannah Cowley. We will also consider nondramatic writing on performance and theatrical culture, including 18th-century acting manuals, racy theatrical memoirs, and a “masquerade novel” by Eliza Haywood, as well as films by directors such as Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, and Hal Ashby.

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Literary London

Open , Seminar—Fall

In Canto XI of Don Juan, Byron’s hapless hero stands on a hill outside London, enthusiastically meditating upon the splendid freedoms of the city before him: “Here laws are all inviolate; none lay/Traps for the traveller; every highway’s clear:/Here—’, he was interrupted by a knife,/With,—‘Damn your eyes! your money or your life!’” Here, one might add, comic reversal works though the brilliant compression of real and ideal images of Britain’s capital city. This course reads London as, at once, the origin and object of its own myths. How have Londoners, from the 19th century on, seen their own city? How has the density of urban life been represented in the written word? How do London writers imagine their home now, in the age of globalization and Brexit? Among the topics we explore are: the city as fantasy, the city as nightmare; streetwalkers and street-sweepers; flash, cant, and rhyming slang; money; crowds, theatre, journalism; quiet places; anarchists; reading and public transportation; the immigrant city; the gay city; psychogeography; boom and bust; and what happens next? Possible authors: William Blake, Thomas de Quincey, John Keats, Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Gissing, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Sam Selvon, Colin MacInnes, Muriel Spark, Michael Moorcock, Monica Ali, Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, Iain Sinclair, and others.

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History Plays: Dramatic Irony and Historical Time

Open , Seminar—Fall

Some of the greatest dramatic literature is set in an era preceding its composition. This is always true of a form of dramatic literature that we usually call by a different name (Plato’s dialogues); but it is also true of some of the most celebrated drama, plays that we identify with the core of the Western theatrical tradition—much of Greek tragedy, for example; and it is very famously true of some of the greatest work by Shakespeare, Schiller, and Corneille. Some of the best contemporary playwrights also set some of their work in the past: Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, Arcadia, The Invention of Love, and The Coast of Utopia are all, in one or another sense, history plays. Setting a play in the past can create and exploit dramatic irony (the audience knows the history to come, the protagonists usually cannot), but there is no single reason for setting a play in the past. For some playwrights, history provided the grandest kind of spectacle, a site of splendid and terrible (hence, dramatic) events. Their treatment of the past may not depict it as radically discontinuous with the present or necessarily different in kind. Other playwrights may make the past setting little more than an allegory of the present; Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (1898) seems to be a celebration of Victorian liberal imperialism. The playwright may set work in the past as part of an urgent analysis of the origins of his own situation: Michael Frayn’s best play, Benefactors, was written in 1984 but set in the late 1960s and attempts to locate the causes of the then-recent collapse of political liberalism, seeking in history an answer that could be found only there. But another of Frayn’s plays with a historical setting, Copenhagen, does not necessarily focus on something irretrievably past; its interests may rather be concentrated on a living problem of undiminished urgency. Peter Weiss’s Marat/ Sade, arguably the most successful work of 1960s political theatre, was a history play focused on what then seemed the explicit and unbreakable link between late 18th-century politics and the politics of the present. A recent play by Alan Bennett, The History Boys, seeks to illuminate something about the political present by examining a changing fashion in the teaching of history. In this course, we will read a number of works of dramatic literature, all of them history plays in one sense or another, written for various purposes, and of generally very high quality. We may or may not discover anything common to all history plays, but we will read some good books.

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Race and Satire

Open , Seminar—Spring

Humor has long provided a mainstay of cultural expression in the African American literature and experience. At least as long as since the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes saw African Americans as “laughing to keep from crying”—the act thereby providing an indispensable tool of survival—while for Richard Wright, wary of sentimentality, it was merely another form of confinement in the the white imagination: “the safe and narrow orbit in which America likes to see the Negro live: between laughter and tears.” This course will use satire to complicate our understandings of gender, race, and sexuality in the 20th and 21st centuries, determining whether the genre provides a subversion of stereotypes and a tool to short-circuit the burden of racial oppression, as Hughes strongly felt, or merely recapitulates stock ways of thinking about black life in America, as Wright acidly countered. Through an interdisciplinary framework consisting of prose fiction, music, film, and television yet still centered on a literary core, we will investigate how comedy can frame African American identity and what that signifies in an era where race not only shapes but dominates the politics of a supposed “postracial” era.

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High Romantic Poetry: Blake to Dickinson

Open , Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will explore the work of seven major poets writing in English 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, Wordsworth, and Coleridge invented a new kind of autobiographical poetry that internalized the myths that they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. The poet’s inner life became the inescapable subject of the poem. We will trace the impact of this innovation on two subsequent generations of poets: the second generation English Romantics, Shelley and Keats; and the fountainheads of the visionary strain in American poetry, Whitman and Dickinson. 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 and influences will emerge largely from our close, imaginative reading of texts.

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Medieval Sci-Fi? Medieval Science and Medieval Fiction

Open , Seminar—Spring

In spite of our growing understanding of the intellectual sophistication of medieval science and technology, in many popular cultural representations the Middle Ages remain a period associated with darkness and ignorance, especially in scientific matters. But medieval science had ready answers to many of the ageless questions that humans have asked about their physical environment. For instance, the Middle English “textbook” known as the Lucydarye poses and answers questions such as the following: Why is the ocean salty? How can we explain the changing phases of the moon? “Howe farre is it to walke frome hence unto paradise and from hence into hell?” This course will explore some of the medieval precursors to modern experimental science but with special reference to how these protoscientific discourses influenced medieval literary texts, including those by Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower. We will see how mainstream medieval disciplines that modernity rejects as pseudoscience—astrology, alchemy, dream theory, and so on—in fact relied heavily on complex mathematical models and frequent experimentation and verification. As we read widely in the genres of the romance, dream vision, encyclopedia, bestiary, and more, we will discuss the possible differences between magic and science in the Middle Ages and, above all, examine the metaphysical implications of what C. S. Lewis famously called the “discarded image” of the medieval cosmos as an elegant and ordered whole. The medieval understanding of the universe, as we will see, was a powerful tool for meaning-making and deserves more attention than we usually grant to obsolete models of how the universe works. Reading medieval science and medieval literature in this way can also give us a better understanding of the relationship between contemporary fiction and science. After all, given enough time, our own scientific paradigms are likely to be superseded by others; but they are no less significant now for our understanding of our place in the universe.

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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, they seek to find grounds for transcending its limitations. We will explore the tensions in these novelists’ works 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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Global Intertextualities

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

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

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

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

“Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had,” Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre exclaims in the concluding chapter of Jane Eyre. Jane’s wedding may be quiet, but the steps leading up to her marriage with the man who once employed her as a governess are the opposite of quiet. 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 begins with Jane Austen’s Emma and ends with Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. In between, we will read six paired 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, and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers.

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The Music of What Happens: Alternate Histories and Counterfactuals

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall
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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Adam’s Dream: Romantic Poetry and Beyond

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall
As a cultural movement, Romanticism radically transformed the notion of what it means to be alive, re-envisioning the human in relation to what critic Keith Sagar called “the energies, powers, presences of the nonhuman cosmos.” Beauty and the creative imagination assumed new importance, and poetry rivaled philosophy as a key to the big questions. This course centers on a close reading of three poets—the high-romantic Keats, the symbolist/modernist Rilke, and the 21st-century American Louise Glück—whose work allows us to trace Romanticism and some of its developments to the present day. We’ll also read shorter excerpts from poets roughly contemporary with those three: Giacomo Leopardi, Tennyson, and Mark Strand. In discussing poems and writing about them, we aim to deepen our understanding by paying consistent attention to language and technique and to sharpen our ability to articulate that understanding. Students may do conference work on a wide range of poets and topics in poetry or choose an altogether different focus, depending on their interests and needs.
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Join the Club: Conversation, Criticism, and Celebrity in the British Enlightenment

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

Before the 18th century was dubbed the Enlightenment, it was widely known as the Age of Criticism—a term that captures the growing cultural influence, especially in the British Isles, of secular commentary on society, politics, morality, and the arts. Suddenly everyone was a critic, eager to express his or her opinions in one of the many sites for conversation and debate that were blossoming across England, Ireland, and Scotland. These included institutions with brick-and-mortar locations—coffeehouses, taverns, and private clubs—but also the virtual forums created by the increasingly inescapable medium of print. (Parallels to our own social-media-crazed era are easy to draw.) With the Age of Criticism came a new kind of celebrity: the public intellectual. No man of letters was more renowned for his powers of criticism, conversation, and what he called “clubbability” than Samuel Johnson (1709-84), the central focus of this seminar. In addition to compiling the first English dictionary of note, Johnson was a gifted and hugely influential literary theorist, poet, political commentator, biographer, and satirist, as well as a legendarily pithy maker of small talk and a master of the English sentence. His overbearing but strangely lovable personality was preserved for posterity by his friend and disciple, James Boswell, who in 1791 published the greatest and most entertaining of all literary biographies, The Life of Johnson, which records, among much else, Johnson’s near-blindness, probable Tourette’s Syndrome, and selfless love of cats. Now, after the tercentenary of his birth, this course will reappraise Johnson’s legacy within a broad cultural survey of the British Enlightenment. Along with Johnson, Boswell, and other titans of 18th-century prose such as Edward Gibbon, David Hume, and Adam Smith, we will consider international writing on imperialism and the slave trade (Olaudah Equiano, the abolitionist poets), the French and American revolutions (Edmund Burke), and women’s rights (the bluestocking circle, Mary Wollstonecraft). We will also sample the period’s fiction (Horace Walpole’s lurid Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, and Frances Burney’s coming-of-age saga, Evelina), comic drama (Oliver Goldsmith’s uproarious She Stoops to Conquer), and personal writing (Burney’s diary, Boswell’s shockingly candid London Journal), as well as Celtic literature (James Macpherson), visual art (Joshua Reynolds), and the poetic innovations that laid the groundwork for Romanticism (Thomas Gray). We may also glance at Johnson’s reception and influence over the centuries, for instance in the work of Virginia Woolf.​

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Portraits of the Artists: Modernists Writing the Self

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring
“What does the human mind do/What does human nature do.” Should these lines from Gertrude Stein’s “Identity a Poem” be understood as statements or questions? Such indeterminacy reflects Stein’s own complex interest in identity. It also resonates with the larger problem of self-representation among modernist writers. This course addresses the various ways in which anglophone modernists sought to deal with the challenge of writing themselves. How did modernists react to 19th-century notions of the author? What did Eliot mean, and can we believe him when he insists that “[t]he progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality”? What are we to make of the extent to which Woolf writes herself into her fiction, even as she disparages life writing as a “bastard, an impure art”? While we focus mostly on select works by Joyce, Yeats, Woolf, and Eliot, we will also explore some American texts. Topics of discussion may include aestheticism, androgyny, advertising, automatic writing, the use of masks, contemporary theories of psychology and psychoanalysis, technologies of mass reproduction, and, of course, literary experiment.​
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The Mirror and the Rose: Shakespeare's Poetry in Context

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring
The reading for this course is the poetry that Shakespeare wrote apart from the stage: his sonnets, his three narrative poems (“Venus and Adonis,” “The Rape of Lucrece,” and “A Lover’s Complaint”), and the puzzling lyric commonly known as “The Phoenix and the Turtle.” Shakespeare was fully immersed in his culture, with strong roots in the busy commercial theatre of 16th- and 17th-century London and perhaps some acquaintance with figures at court. Like his plays, Shakespeare’s poems show a knowledge of current trends in writing; and, as in everything he wrote, Shakespeare transformed any genre or style to which he turned his attention, stretching its possibilities. To provide context for Shakespeare’s poems, we’ll read several other poets: the Italian Petrarch (1304-74), grandfather of the love sonnet, with his translators Wyatt and Surrey; and Sidney, Spenser, and Marlowe, three contemporaries of Shakespeare. Our discussions will include technical issues of meter and form, as well as the emotional, intellectual, and cultural work that the poems do. Students may do conference work in a wide range of literary topics, including those unrelated to the course.
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Marxist Aesthetic Theory and New Media Art Practices

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

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

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Nine Modern Poets: Dickinson to Ashbery

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

This course will focus on some of the most influential poets writing in English in the 20th century, with particular emphasis on the first half of the century—a period of self-proclaimed “modernism” in the arts. We will begin our readings in the 19th century, however, with the poetry of Emily Dickinson, whose style and procedure so vividly anticipate later developments in poetry. Other authors will include Thomas Hardy, W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery. Some of the poems that we will be reading are (or may seem) accessible on a superficial level, presenting challenges to interpretation only on closer inspection; other poems—most notably, the poems of Stevens, Eliot, Crane, and Ashbery—present significant challenges at the most fundamental level of comprehension. The major prerequisite for this course is a willingness to grapple with literary difficulty and 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 they create out of the meanings they evade. Our central task will be to appreciate and articulate the unique strengths of each of the poems that we encounter through close, imaginative reading and informed speculation.

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Images of India: Text/Photo/Film

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

1) This seminar addresses colonial and postcolonial representations of India. For centuries, India has been imagined and imaged through encoded idioms 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. 2) Colonial and orientalist discourses depicted peoples of the Indian subcontinent in terms of both degradation and 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. 3) Postcolonial writers and artists, therefore, continue to renegotiate identities. What does it mean to be seen as an Indian? What historical claims are implicit in allegories of language, ethnicity, and nation? How do such claims inform events taking place today, given the resurgence of religious fundamentalisms? This seminar on the semiotics and politics of culture is based on works by influential South Asian writers, photographers, and filmmakers.

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Intermediate Italian: Modern Prose

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

This 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, written compositions will also be required as an integral part of the course. The materials selected for the class—whether a literary text, song, or grammar exercise—will be accessible at all times to the students through MySLC. Research on the Web will be central to the course and will offer the basis for the weekly “Web piece,” a short paper on a particular topic. Individual 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 assistants.

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Pretty, Witty, and Gay

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

Are you ready to review your cultural map? As Gertrude Stein once said, “Literature—creative literature—unconnected with sex is inconceivable. But not literary sex, because sex is a part of something of which the other parts are not sex at all.” More recently, Fran Leibowitz observed, “If you removed all of the homosexuals and homosexual influence from what is generally regarded as American culture, you would be pretty much left with Let’s Make a Deal.” We do not have to limit ourselves to America, however. The only question is where to begin: In the pantheon, in prison, or “in the family”? In London, Paris, Berlin, or New York? With the “friends of Dorothy” or “the twilight women”? There are novels, plays, poems, essays, films, and critics to be read, read about, or watched. There are dark hints, delicate suggestions, positive images, negative images, and sympathy-grabbing melodramas to be reviewed. There are high culture and high camp, tragedies and comedies, the good, the bad, and the awful to be enjoyed and assessed. How has modern culture thought about sexuality and art, love and literature? How might we think again? Conference work may be focused on a particular artist, set of texts, or genre—or on some aspect of the historical background of the materials that we will be considering.

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The New Elements: Mathematics and the Arts

Open , Lecture—Spring

This lecture will explore the bearing of modern mathematical ideas on 20th-century Western creative and performing arts. Euclid’s collection of geometric propositions and proofs, entitled The Elements, is an archetype of logical reasoning that, since antiquity, has had a broad influence beyond mathematics. The non-Euclidean revolution in the 19th century initiated a radical reconception of not only geometry but also mathematics as a whole. We will investigate, on the one hand, mathematical content as a source of new forms of expression, including non-Euclidean geometry, the fourth dimension, set theory, functions, networks, topology, and probability. On the other hand, we will study mathematical practice and the artists and writers who, intentionally or not, reflect modern mathematical attitudes in an attempt to break with the past. While this lecture does not aim for a comprehensive survey of the entire last century, we will investigate a sequence of case studies, including: Russian Suprematist art; the Bauhaus school in Western European architecture and design; Serialism in Western music; OuLiPo, “a secret laboratory of literary structures” in post-war French literature; and the origins of postmodern dance in 1960-70s North America, among others. This course assumes no particular expertise with mathematics or cultural history. Course readings and a program of art and performance viewings, both in lecture and off campus, will establish a basis for investigating the relevance of fundamental mathematical concepts to modern literature and the arts. Group conferences will provide practice for students, working with such mathematical concepts as they relate to particular artistic practices.

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First-Year Studies: From Homer to Plato

Open , FYS—Year

The habit of asking questions, which constitutes Western thought, has its primary origin in Greece. In this class, we will read Greek epics, tragedies, histories, comedies, and works of philosophy in order to think about how our thinking got started.

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First-Year Studies: The Hebrew Bible

Open , FYS—Year

The Hebrew Bible stands at the foundation of Western culture. Its stories permeate our literature, our art...indeed, our sense of identity. The Hebrew Bible's ideas inform our laws, have given birth to our revolutions and social movements, and have thereby made most of our social institutions possible (as well as the movements to remove them). What is this book? How was it written? Who wrote it? Who preserved it for us? Why has all or part of this body of literature been considered holy to the practitioners of Judaism and Christianity? Four thousand years ago, various groups from small tribe-wandering nomads would get together and tell stories. These stories were not preserved on stone tombs but in the hearts and memories of the people to whom they belonged. We will read the collection of traditions in a book called Genesis and compare these stories with other texts (written in mud and stone) such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Babylonian Creation Epic, which were contemporary with biblical traditions. We will read the biblical epic of liberation, Exodus; the historical books that weave theology into a history of a nation; and the oracles of the great Hebrew prophets of Israel, those reformers, judges, priests, mystics, and poets to whom modern culture owes its grasp of justice. We will trace the social, intellectual, and political history of the people formed by these traditions from the Late Bronze until the Roman age.

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Readings in Christian Mysticism: Late Antiquity

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

Permission of the instructor is required.

This course will focus on the intersection of Jewish theology and Greco-Roman philosophy in the early Christian texts commonly seen to contain "mystical elements." We will define these elements as texts that have to do with the desire on the part of the reader to "know," experience, or "be with" God and with the author's attempt to properly demarcate the boundaries within which these desires can be fulfilled. Christian mysticism is perhaps best thought of as erotic theology—theology that involves the desire for God. Recognizing this, we must also acknowledge that inherent to this theology is a profound paradox. What is desired must be conceived. It must be held in the grasp of one's understanding in order to be attained. While this is fine for an orange, or even wealth and power, it is much more problematic when the object of desire is God, the creator of the universe. Theologians in the early church developed a language of desire and specific sets of practices involving one's lifestyle and prayer in order to resolve this paradox and fulfill their desire. They began to ponder this paradox with a synthesis of a biblical theology of divine revelation (i.e., the revelation of God as preserved in the biblical canon, symbolized in both the revelation of YHWH on Mt. Sinai and in the incarnation of the Divine Logos as Jesus of Nazareth) and Platonic expression of a desire for the ultimate good, truth, or beauty. In order to better grasp these ideas, we will read parts of the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, and contemplate the anthropology of desire set forth by Plato in the Symposium and the Phaedrus. Educated in the Hellenistic world, the early church fathers took these ideas for granted and attempted to find common ground with their Christian inheritance. We will study the phenomenon of Gnostic Christianity, an early attempt at synthesis of biblical material and Greek philosophy. We will then move on to encounter the great early Christian writers—such as Origen and Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Psuedo-Dionysius, and Ambrose of Milan—and conclude our study with a lengthy look at what, for Western culture, is the seminal work of Augustine of Hippo.

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Gender and Nationalism(s)

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Open only to juniors, seniors, and graduate students.

Nationalism can be understood as a project simultaneously involving construction(s) of memory, history, and identity. In this seminar, we will identify the multiple and shifting dimensions of nationalism as a world historical phenomenon. Central to our focus will be the centrality and particular constructions of gender in different national projects. Attention will be paid to nationalism in its colonial and contemporary trajectories. Questions to be addressed include the following: What is the relationship between nationalism and identity? Which symbols/languages are called upon to produce a sense of self and collective identity? What are the various inclusions, exclusions, and silences that particular historically-constituted nationalisms involve? Is nationalism necessarily a positive force? If not, under what circumstances, in what ways, and for whom does it pose problems? What is the relationship of nationalism(s) to minorities and socially/politically marginalized groups? How is pluralism and difference constructed and treated? How do the same positions (e.g., issues of cultural authenticity and identity) take on a different meaning at diverse historical moments? How does the insider/outsider relationship alter in different periods and conceptualizations? Women have been interpellated and have participated within nationalist movements in a variety of ways. The dynamics and contradictions of such involvement will be analyzed closely. We will strive to explore the implications of these processes for women's sense of self, citizenship, and belonging at specific periods and over time. In the spring semester, we will turn our attention more specifically to performances of nationalism through institutional and popular cultural arrangements. Under the former category, we will look at issues of migration, immigration, and exile; public policy and international relations; war and conflict. In the arena of popular culture, we will examine the production of nationalism(s) through the mass media, sports, film, museums and exhibitions, and tourism. Conference work may include an examination of a specific nationalist movement, theoretical issues pertaining to nationalism(s), memory, identity, performances of nationalism(s) in popular culture and the mass media, and the interplay between institutional and everyday constructions of nationalism in specific settings.

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First-Year Studies in Theatre: History and Histrionics: A History of Western Theatre

Open , FYS—Year

This course explores 2,500 years of Western drama and how dramaturgical ideas can be traced from their origins in fifth-century Greece to 20th-century Nigeria, with many stops in between. We will try to understand how a play is constructed, rather than simply written, and how how each succeeding epoch has both embraced and rejected what has come before it in order to create its own unique identity. We will study the major genres of Western drama, including the idea of a classically structured play, Elizabethan drama, neoclassicism, realism, naturalism, expressionism, comedy, musical theatre, theatre of cruelty, and existentialism. And we will look at the social, cultural, architectural, and biographical context for the plays in question to better understand how and why they were written as they were. Classroom discussion will focus on a new play each week, while conference work will be devoted mostly to the students writing about them.

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Fiction: True or False?

Open , Seminar—Spring

In this class, we examine the much maligned but remarkably fruitful miscegenation of fiction and nonfiction. For roughly the first half of the semester, we will read and discuss works that are either composed of both fiction and nonfiction or that call such genre distinctions into question. We will begin by looking at Stephen Crane’s two accounts of being shipwrecked: one is a short story; the other, journalism/memoir. We will also read excerpts from fiction that incorporate discrete nonfictional segments (John Berger’s Pig Earth and Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting), fiction that disguises itself as nonfiction (John Haskell’s I’m Not Jackson Pollock and Rachel Cusk’s Outline), nonfiction that isn’t quite (Lauren Slater’s Lying, Ryzard Kapuscinski’s The Emperor, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men), and works with no clear genre (Jenny Boully’s The Body, John Edgar Wideman’s Fanon, and Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar). The second half of the semester will be devoted to workshopping the students’ own mixed-genre works, the composition of which will be the primary focus of their conferences. Among the questions that we will take up are: What are the differing advantages of fiction and nonfiction? How does genre affect an author’s obligations to readers? Is there a clear distinction between the genres? When does blurring that distinction render thrilling art, and when does it amount to a con job?

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