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.

2019-2020 Courses

Literature

First-Year Studies: European Literature: Past and Present

Open , FYS—Year

Literature defines the identity of cultures and nations perhaps more powerfully than anything else, bringing together peoples, races, and communities. This gives a special significance to the importance of translation. In a world where borders have become obsolete in many ways, approaching other cultures through their artistic manifestations is an essential necessity. Literature is one of these manifestations, as it defines societies and communities beyond the fluid notion of nationality, now in process of transformation worldwide. Geopolitically, all continents have an astonishing wealth of literatures; and in a global context, Europe—the subject of radical transformations in the last decades—is just one of them. The seat of ancient civilizations and empires that conquered the rest of the world, the Europe of today is dramatically different from what it once was. After the devastation brought by war and genocide and the collapse of formidable utopias, contemporary European reality is extraordinarily elusive and complex. Immigrants and refugees are at the base of the radical transformation being experienced on the continent. More than 40 languages are spoken in almost as many European countries nowadays, each of them represented by a vibrant body of literature produced, to a great extent, by men and women with deep cultural roots in distant places. The face of Old Europe has changed through a process that cannot be reversed and has become unrecognizable. In this course, we will study the literary manifestations of the new Europe, a multicultural, multiethnical, linguistically diverse, and immensely varied conglomerate of societies. Before we confront the vitality of the newer literary manifestations, we will study a number of canonical texts from the past. In our approach, we will pay special attention to Europe’s youngest generations of authors, with a special focus on women writers. We will examine sociopolitical displacements resulting from the impact of immigration and the incessant arrival of unwanted refugees. In group conference, we will pay attention to other cultural manifestations—mainly studying old and new forms of music and, very specially, film. Individual conference meetings will alternate biweekly with small-group conference meetings that will incorporate research methods, writing workshops for conference projects, field trips, and films, as well as the study of old and new forms of music complementing our texts.

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First-Year Studies: Modern Myths of Paris

Open , FYS—Year

No knowledge of French is required for this course.

This course will explore the powerful hold that Paris exerted on literature in the 19th and 20th centuries, the period when the city became a world capital of artistic, intellectual, and political life. Our guiding focus will be on how writers use the geography of Paris—its streets, monuments, markets, and slums—to depict the complexities of modern life, posing the urban landscape as a place of revolution and banality, alienation and community, seduction and monstrosity. We will pay particular attention to the ways in which the representation of the city allowed writers to question the form and function of literature itself. We will begin with the 19th-century French novelists and poets who made Paris the site of epic literary struggles, including Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Guy de Maupassant, and Émile Zola. We will see how the city provided fertile ground for the aesthetic experimentations of 20th-century literature in works by Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, Colette, and Georges Perec. Our study will explore writers who have recorded the often violent and traumatic history of modern Paris, such as Marguerite Duras, Leïla Sebbar, and Patrick Modiano. Finally, we will analyze how Paris is experienced as a cosmopolitan space in works about expatriates, immigrants, exiles, and travelers from authors as varied as Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, Alain Mabanckou, Faïza Guène, and Enrique Vila-Matas. Beyond our focus on close readings of literary texts, students will have the opportunity to read some historical and theoretical considerations of Paris. We will also watch several films where Paris features prominently. This class will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small group activities, including writing workshops, screenings, and field trips.

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First-Year Studies: The Forms and Logic of Comedy

Open , FYS—Year

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 poems by Swift and Yeats, a song, a Platonic dialogue (the Protagoras), and then moves on to a work on the philosophy of comedy, Aristophanes’s Old Comedy (The Clouds), Plautus’ New Comedy, Roman satire, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, Molière, and Fielding. In the second semester, we will read (among other things) Byron, Stendhal, Mark Twain, Dickens, Philip Roth, and Tom Stoppard—and look at Preston Sturges’s (and possibly other) screwball comedies. Both semesters’ reading lists are subject to revision.

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First-Year Studies: The Literature of Exile from Ancient Rome to Renaissance England

Open , FYS—Year

The course will examine representations of exile and diaspora in literary texts from ancient epic to Renaissance drama. We will examine authors who were displaced from their communities, such as the antique Roman poet Ovid and the medieval Italian poet Dante, and explore how they expressed anxieties about ostracism and distance through both autobiographical and fictional forms. We also will discuss how they used their works to leverage the physical experience of exile into more empowering perspectives and positions of distance. Reading epics—including Virgil’s Aeneid, the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, and Milton’s Paradise Lost—we will consider the possibilities of freedom, discovery, and transformation in exile. In these narratives, exile has the potential to instigate political foundation, creative production, and spiritual discovery. Finally, this course will look at the metaphors of exile used by early female authors, including Christine de Pizan and Margery Kempe, both to articulate and to subvert positions of gendered marginalization. Through the study of a range of literary texts, then, we will see how authors found ways of legitimizing themselves or their characters in the face of ostracism and displacement. In the process, students will develop their ability to analyze literature and cultivate a sense of literary history, especially “genealogies” traceable across ancient and medieval texts. Students will meet with the instructor for individual conferences on a biweekly basis over the course of the year. During the first semester, individual conferences will also alternate with biweekly group conference meetings, in which students will find opportunities to hone their research skills and study course material within different theoretical frameworks that complicate and develop close readings of texts. Individual conference projects should be semester-long; therefore, students will complete two projects over the course of the year. Possible conference topics include the study of a particular ancient, medieval, or Renaissance author or literary text pertaining to the course and of interest to the student. Conference topics may include the adventures of medieval romance, the symbolic landscapes and seascapes of early British and European literature, utopia and dystopia in early modern literature, gendered understandings of exile as marginalization, religious interpretations of exile, and travel narratives—including the works of Ibn Battuta and John Mandeville.

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First-Year Studies: The Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek History for Today’s Troubled Times

Open , FYS—Year

Are we unwittingly reliving the past? Authoritarianism, magical thinking, and tribalism are beginning to characterize the 21st century as they characterized archaic Greece. Over centuries, however, the ancient Greeks experienced a movement in the opposite direction: They began to prioritize reality, condemn tyranny, and experiment with broader forms of political participation. In the fifth century BCE, the ancient Greeks devised, simultaneously, the concepts of history and democracy. As the Athenians were experimenting with the world’s first-ever democratic political institutions, the historians Herodotus and Thucydides distinguished history from myth and offered examples of behaviors to emulate or to avoid. These early historians can help us today to analyze facts, identify causes and consequences, and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Students will read (in English translation) Herodotus’s Histories and Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War, as well as selected works by Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristotle, and Ps.-Xenophon. Students will meet with the instructor individually for a half-hour conference once every two weeks. On the alternate weeks, when individual conferences do not meet, the entire class will meet for a group conference.

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First-Year Studies: German Cultural Studies From 1871–Present

Open , FYS—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), philosophy, psychoanalysis, 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 literary, cinematic, and intellectual works with a reading of a history book about modern Germany. In the fall semester, we will cover the period between 1871 and 1945; in the spring semester, the emphasis will be on the period between 1945 and today. Among the writers, intellectuals, and filmmakers whose works we will study in the first semester are Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, C. G. Jung, Remarque, Bertolt Brecht, Irmgard Keun, Leni Riefenstahl, and Martin Heidegger; in the spring semester, Wolfgang Staudte, Heinrich Böll, Alfred Andersch, Anna Seghers, Wolfgang Borchert, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Max Frisch, Bernhard Schlink, Judith Hermann, W. G. Sebald, Günther Grass, Helga Sanders-Brahms, and F. Henckel von Donnersmarck. The course will combine one-on-one conference work with group activities and exercises designed to help students make the transition from high school to college life, learn the ins and outs of Sarah Lawrence College, prepare students to succeed academically, and foster a sense of community spirit among our FYS class.

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Theatre and the City

Open , Lecture—Year

Athens. London. Paris. Berlin. New York. The history of Western theatre has always been associated with cities, their politics, their customs, their geography, their audiences. This course will track the story of theatre as it originates in the Athens of the fifth-century B.C.E. and evolves into its different expressions and practices in cities of later periods, all of them seen as "capitals" of civilization. Does theatre civilize? Or is it merely a reflection of any given civilization whose cultural assumptions inform its values and shape its styles? Given that ancient Greek democracy gave birth to tragedy and comedy in civic praise of the god Dionysos—from a special coupling of the worldly and the sacred—what happens when these genres recrudesce in the unsavory precincts of Elizabethan London, the polished court of Louis XIV, the beer halls of Weimar Berlin, and the neon “palaces” of Broadway? Sometimes the genres themselves are challenged by experiments in new forms or by performances deliberately situated in unaccustomed places; by tinkering with what audiences have come to expect or where they have come to assemble, do playwrights like Euripides, Brecht, and Sarah Kane destabilize civilized norms? Grounding our work in Greek theatre, we will address such questions in a series of chronological investigations of the theatre produced in each city: Athens and London in the first semester; Paris, Berlin, and New York in the second.

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Chaucer and Literary London

Open , Lecture—Fall

Geoffrey Chaucer is well-known today as the “Father of English Poetry” for his innovative use of Middle English in verse. During his lifetime, however, his reputation was political and social and his presence, local and international. Chaucer’s career as a London civil servant and diplomat was paramount to his poetic vocation. In the House of Fame, he even mocks himself for sitting at his desk after work to compose poetry each day. This course will investigate Chaucer’s works in a biographical and insular context, reading his poetry in relation to his 14th-century urban milieu and to significant late medieval events such as the Black Plague and the Great Rising of 1381. We will study not only the dream vision poems, Troilus and Criseyde and the Canterbury Tales, but also the works of other so-called Ricardian Poets of Chaucer’s age to explore more broadly the thematic preoccupations of London writers. Such topics include authority through authorship, dreams and the imagination, sexuality and the tradition of antifeminism, as well as hierarchies of power and the changing class structure. Examining these topics through a range of critical lenses, we will see how Chaucer and his friends dramatized controversial conversations of the time through the vernacular tongue—not only staking a new claim for English literariness but also making those conversations available to us as modern readers.

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Latin American Literature and Film: Beyond the Boom

Open , Lecture—Spring

This course is taught in English.

This interactive lecture will take as its point of departure the historical context and major works of the Latin American Boom in the 1960s and ’70s, then go on to explore essential voices that were overlooked during this period, as well as contemporary writing and film. As part of our analysis of these works, we will reflect on the creative and commercial dimensions of their appearance in English translation. Readings include works by Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, Clarice Lispector, Samanta Schweblin, Cristina Rivera Garza, Alejandro Zambra, Yuri Herrera, and Valeria Luiselli. We will also view films by Lucrecia Martel and Claudia Llosa, among others. Though this is a lecture, students will participate in group activities and class discussions. Two registration options are available. TRACK 1 (5 credits): participation in both lecture and group conference; assignments include regular reflections on the course materials, a midterm exam, and a final paper. TRACK 2 (3 credits): participation in lecture, a midterm exam, and a final paper.

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Love Languages: Amorous Lyric and Narrative in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Open , Lecture—Spring

Some say our idea of romantic love was invented in the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, cultural transformations were prompted by Church reforms in favor of mutual consent and loving marriage, as well as the rise of an aristocracy that valued courtship and chivalry. Contemporary literary works only reinforced new ideals and forms of love. The courtly “love languages” of the medieval era then influenced a phenomenon of Renaissance love poetry. This course will examine the development of amorous lyric and narrative from the High Middle Ages to the Renaissance, focusing on the burgeoning discourses of amour courtois and the rapid popularization of the sonnet form as a medium for declarations of desire—from Dante and Petrarch in Italy to Sir Philip Sidney and Shakespeare in England. The love that emerges in the selected texts may be secretive and illicit but also liberating and empowering, reflecting the author’s complex and sometimes contradictory visions of romance and marriage. We will examine themes of love-suffering, service to the always-distant beloved, and obsessive devotion but also consider the works of female authors who undermine these traditional attributes of courtship and highlight female subjectivity. The idealization of lovers and the emphasis on self-sacrifice in these literary works will indeed prove problematic to our modern understandings of gender roles in relationships in ways that will demonstrate the otherness of the medieval and Renaissance periods. Yet, they also will stress the familiarly transcendent and ennobling effects of love. The belief in the enduring nature of personal bonds will pertain to our discussion of how authors sought to ensure their immortal celebrity through love poetry.

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Doing It for the Culture: Journeys Through 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 African diaspora? For students of literature and ethnic studies, “literature” can connote fine lines; but African American literature and those who write within it are writing 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 Phillis Wheatley’s “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” or from the “Dark Continent,” as it was named by imperialists. Before we turn to America, we shall first turn to the African before she became African American. Throughout the semester, we will source and investigate the poetics of spirituals and visual culture that provoke the black experience in America. This course begins in the fall with a theme on “chains and freedom,” as we look to writings of the 18th- and 19th-century Afrofuturists; but the course will continue into the spring with a theme on Afrofuturism as a modern rumination of aspiration and possibility. During the spring component, we will endeavor to identify the impact of modern African American literature, visual culture, feminism, queer visibility, and class consciousness within hip hop culture. On thinking of Amy Sherald’s spectacular painting in the National Portrait Gallery, “Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama,” Sherald 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 sentiment could mean for modern writers and artists who are greatly influenced by the blueprints left behind by the late and great writers and by artists who came before them.

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Romanticism and Its Consequences in English-Language Poetry

Open , Seminar—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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First-Person America

Open , Seminar—Year

To a remarkable degree, the most important American literature texts, whether fiction or nonfiction, are written from a first-person perspective and depend on a unique “I” speaking directly to readers and focusing on a wide variety of personal experiences. In the 19th century, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn are all first-person narratives. In the early 20th century, the same first-person strategy holds for Willa Cather’s My Antonia, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. This course will begin by surveying the classic, first-person texts of American literature and then move on to such modern work as Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. At the heart of this course is the premise that contemporary, American first-person writing is an extension, not a departure, from classic American first-person writing.

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History Plays

Open , Seminar—Year

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 we identify with the core of the Western theatrical tradition (for example, much of Greek tragedy), 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, in one sense or another, history plays 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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Realism and the Sense of an Ending

Open , Seminar—Fall

Struggling for a sense of authenticity and adhering to a referential imperative, literary realism has often been described—and despised—as nothing more than a conservative imitation of life, a mere description of what, as fiction, itself could never be. When 19th-century realist novels succeeded in achieving aesthetic closure and rendering beginnings and endings symmetric, the novels became particular objects of criticism. Fictional resolutions bestowed a formal unity fundamentally irreconcilable with the ungovernable, chance-ridden reality that the realist novel sought to capture. Our seminar will attempt to read against these views of realism's closural policies, approaching the genre less as an elusive object or thwarted literary method and more as an anxiety, a desire, and a form of self-conscious falling short. Lingering over major works by George Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, Elizabeth Gaskell, Henry James, and Thomas Hardy, we will think seriously about how aesthetic issues of genre, convention, and the sense of closure can deepen our understanding of the social structures of ordinary, open-ended experiences of agency and subjection, loss and exclusion, disenchantment and hope. While we will spend a good deal of class time puzzling over the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the selected texts from a decidedly literary and literary-historical perspective, we will supplement our close textual engagements with the novels in question with a broader theoretical exposure to classical accounts of realism by Auerbach, Aristotle, Barthes, Jameson, Lukács, Ruskin, and others.

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Poetry and the Book

Open , Seminar—Fall

Putting a book of poetry together is a difficult and complex task. The poet must consider not only the order of the poems but also the internal narrative of the book as a whole: how its constituent parts “speak” to each other; how key themes and patterns are developed and articulated; how to begin the book; and, even harder, how to end it. Yet, students often encounter poetry primarily through anthologies, with the result that first affiliations are fragmented and obscured. In this class, we take the opposite tack and explore the book of poetry as an event in itself. We read and discuss books by English-language poets across two centuries, from William Blake’s artisanal, hand-tinted works to Frank O’Hara’s portable “lunch poems.” How have individual writers sought to shape readers’ experiences through the patterning of content? What kinds of creative decisions—from cover to typeface—affect the appearance of a poetry book? What happens when a poet’s work is edited posthumously? Or when a book appears in multiple, evolving versions? How has the work of some poets intersected with visual art? Possible authors: William Blake, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, Gertrude Stein, Mina Loy, Frank O’Hara, Harryette Mullen, Anne Carson, Terence Hayes, Claudia Rankine, Stephanie Strickland, and others.

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Japanese Diary Literature, Essays, and the “I” Novel

Open , Seminar—Fall

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

In this seminar, we will read personal narratives over the last millennium to examine how personal experiences are translated and transformed in writing. We will begin with selections of diary literature, including Ki no Tsurayuki’s Tosa Diary (c. 935), in which a fictional female narrator claims that she will “try her hand at one of those diaries that men are said to keep” and explore the connections between gender and writing. We will also read the Kagero Diary (c.974), whose author is known as the Mother of Michitsuna, and consider both its autobiographical elements as well as its psychological self-expression and critical perspective on Heian marriage politics. Next, we will turn to personal essays referred to as zuihitsu (literally translated as “following the brush”), including imperial lady-in-waiting Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book (c.1005), Buddhist recluse Kamo no Chomei’s An Account of a Ten-Foot-Square Hut (c. 1212), and more secular Buddhist monk Kenko’s Essays in Idleness (c. 1329-1333). Finally, we will turn toward the modern “I” novel (shishosetsu)—an autobiographical narrative that often involves a form of confession of one’s personal life—to read works by writers such as Tayama Katai, Shiga Naoya, Hayashi Fumiko, Dazai Osamu, Tsushima Yuko, Mizumura Minae, and others. Alongside these texts, we will read other critical sources that explore questions of genre, translation, biographical and other historical “facts,” and how these influence and challenge our readings of personal narratives.

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Comparative Literary Studies and Its Others

Open , Seminar—Fall

As a discipline that defines itself as an inherently interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and transnational enterprise, comparative literature occupies a distinct place in the humanities. Many locate the origins of “comp lit” in Goethe’s conception of Weltliteratur, according to which the literary imagination transcends national and linguistic borders even as it views every work of literature as historically situated and aesthetically unique. Since its beginnings, comparative literature has foregrounded the dynamic tensions between text and context, rhetoric and structure—comparing different works within and across genre, period, and movement in their original language. By balancing theoretical readings in/about comparative literature with concrete examples of close textual analyses of poems, short stories, and novels, this course will also expose students to the ways in which comparative literature has expanded from its previous classically cosmopolitan and fundamentally Eurocentric perspectives to its current global, cultural configurations. Comparative literature is continually reframing its own assumptions, questioning its critical methodologies, and challenging notions of center and periphery—therefore, subverting traditional definitions of the canon and which writers belong in it. Today, it is impossible to study comparative literature without engaging its relation to translation studies, postcolonial and diaspora studies, and globalization, as well as to the ongoing concerns and various approaches of language-rich literary criticism and theory.

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The Poetry of Earth: Imagination and Environment in English Renaissance Poetry

Open , Seminar—Fall

One of John Keats’s sonnets begins, “The poetry of earth is never dead.” This course will step back from Keats to the writing of several of his great predecessors in the English Renaissance to reflect on how imagination shapes environment and environment shapes imagination in the early modern period. The late 16th and 17th centuries were a time of transition between traditional, feudal society—with its hierarchical ideas of order, of humanity, and of nature—and emerging modernity, with its secularizing humanism, its centralization of political and economic power, its development of increasingly dense and complex urban centers, and its commitments to the study and potential mastery of nature through empirical science. With early modernity come all of the challenges to natural environment and its resources that we are so familiar with and challenged by: urban sprawl and environmental degradation, privatization of land, air and water pollution, deforestation and exhaustion of other resources, and diminishment of local species populations. We will study how several major writers register and respond to these tensions and these changes in what we might call their environmental vision, their imagination of nature: as wilderness, the “other” to civilization and its values, as chaos and threat, as liminal space of transformation, as pastoral retreat, as cultivatable human habitation and home. Class reading will include major works of Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, and Margaret Cavendish. Conference work may entail more extended work in any of these writers or literary modes or other authors who are engaged in theorizing and imagining nature—and may include study in history, philosophy, geography, politics, or theory.

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Conscience of the Nations: Classics of African Literature

Open , Seminar—Fall

One way to think of literature is as the conscience of a people, reflecting on their origins, their values, their losses, and their possibilities. This course will study major representative texts in which sub-Saharan African writers have taken up the challenge of cultural formation and criticism. Part of what gives the best writing of modern Africa its aesthetic power is the political urgency of its task: The past still bears on the present, the future is yet to be written, and what writers have to say matters enough for their work to be considered dangerous. Political issues and aesthetic issues are, thus, inseparable in their work. Creative tensions in the writing between indigenous languages and European languages, between traditional forms of orature and story-telling and self-consciously “literary” forms, register all the pressures and conflicts of late colonial and postcolonial history. To discern the traditionalist sources of modern African writing, we will first read examples from epic, folk tales, and other forms of orature. Major fiction will be selected from the work of Tutuola, Achebe, Beti, Sembene, Ba, Head, Ngugi, La Guma, Dangaremgba, and Sarowiwa; drama from the work of Soyinka and Aidoo; poetry from the work of Senghor, Rabearivelo, Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek, Brutus, Mapanje, and others. Conference work may include further, deeper work on the writings, writers, and genres that we study together in class; aspects of literary theory, particularly aspects of postcolonial and womanist theory relevant to readings of African literature; or readings of more recent writers out of Africa whose work draws on and develops the “classical” works that will be the foundation of our work together.

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The Poetics of Place

Open , Seminar—Spring

Thornfield Hall, Satis House, Maison Vauquer, Manderley, Thrushcross Grange, Wuthering Heights...from pristine estates and tattered ruins to English moors and Scottish islands, spaces memorialized in novels and films summon a deep-seated nostalgia for bygone eras, familiar characters, a certain way of life, scenes of reading recalled. This course will examine the spaces in and of fiction by interrogating exactly how our affective immersion within a narrative feels like a longing for the solidity of a physical or geographical site. Throughout the semester, we will return time and again to a set of grounding questions: When does a fictional structure take on the contours of “the real”? What do we mean when we talk about “space” or “form” in books that appear materially as nothing more than flat, solid, bounded things? How is the diegetic content of a novel or film enhanced by its formal and aesthetic representations of an entire invented cosmos with its own rules, characters, topography, texture? Why are narrative resolutions often premised on either a longed-for return to a specific place or a dreaded repetition of the events tied to particular spaces? We will pair our engagement with narrative form and literary representations of space with more theoretical meditations on utopia, diasporic longing, displacement, migration, belonging, and the feeling of finding or having found a place in the world. Taking these abstract, phenomenal topics into a literal register, we will end our course by reflecting on how reading in translation and navigating the leap from novel to film adaptation might itself constitute a sense of uprootedness and disorientation that compels new forms of attachment and affiliation. Readings will include Balzac’s Père Goirot, Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Dickens’s Great Expectations, Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, and Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, alongside possible viewings of films to be selected from a list including Assayas’s Summer Hours (L’Heure d’eté), Coppola’s Lost in Translation, Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Kieslowski’s Red, and Tati’s Playtime.

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Green Romanticisms: The Garden and the Wild

Open , Seminar—Spring

The Romantic Movement, it has been said, produced the first “full-fledged ecological writers in the Western literary tradition.” To make this claim, however, is to provoke a host of volatile questions. What exactly did the Romantics mean by “Nature”? What were the aesthetic, scientific, and political implications of so-called Green Romanticism? Most provocatively, is modern environmental thought a continuation of Green Romanticism—or a necessary reaction against it? If, as William Cronon famously stated, “the time has come to rethink wilderness,” what forms of rethinking might be necessary? If the garden, as Jamaica Kincaid has written, is “an exercise in memory,” can we use the past to imagine a better future? This semester-long course considers such issues through the prism of two centuries of British and American literature, with additional forays into art, science, and architecture. Possible areas of discussion may include the following: garden utopias, landscape design, imperialism, terror, botany, medicine, the visionary imagination, “wild consciousness,” walking, vegetarianism, the sex life of plants, deism, beauty, dirt, sublime longings, organic form, and the republic of nature.

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Reading Ōe Kenzaburō and Murakami Haruki

Open , Seminar—Spring

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

In this course, we will read English translations of two of the most famous contemporary Japanese writers, Ōe Kenzaburō (b.1935) and Murakami Haruki (b.1949). Ōe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994 for creating “an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.” Murakami’s fiction has been described as “youthful, slangy, political, and allegorical” and seamlessly blends the mundane with metaphysical elements. We will consider not only differences between these two writers’ works but also their similar themes—social outcasts, alienation, search for identity, memory and history, legends and storytelling. Our readings will include novels, short stories, nonfiction, and other essays. Several films will complement our readings.

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The Occupation and Its Aftermath in French Literature and Film

Open , Joint seminar—Spring

This course will explore the fraught relationship between representation and memory by focusing on French literature and film produced during and following World War II. After the fall of France in 1940, the country was divided into two parts: one half under German occupation; the other half ruled by a collaborationist regime headquartered in Vichy. Every aspect of life, including cultural and artistic production, was subject to authoritarian control. Means of political expression and dissemination came up against laws instituting surveillance, censorship, rationing, roundups, and deportations to internment and concentration camps. We will focus on the unique position of writers and filmmakers as witnesses to, and interpreters of, national humiliation, personal catastrophe, and collective shock. Artists, under both the occupation and the Vichy government, were forced to choose whether to speak out, join the resistance, collaborate, or keep silent. During the decades that followed liberation, writers proved integral to the (re)appraisals of France’s conduct during the war. The first half of this course will be devoted to texts and films produced from 1940-1945, while the second half will address postwar efforts to reconcile, contextualize, and, in some cases, justify a political and historical narrative that framed France as both heroic and resistant to Nazi oppression. Interspersed with primary texts and films will be secondary materials drawn from testimony, trauma theory, and memory studies. Texts will be read in English translation; students of French will have the opportunity to read texts in the original. Among the authors to be studied are Sartre, Duras, Beauvoir, Camus, Vercors, Némirovsky, Semprun, Céline, Modiano, Perec, and Salvayre. Filmmakers could include Truffaut, Malle, Lelouch, Melville, Chabrol, Carné, and Ophüls.

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Odyssey/Hamlet/Ulysses

Open , Seminar—Spring

James Joyce’s Ulysses, one of the most important novels of literary modernism, tracks its two major characters, hour by hour, through the streets of Dublin, Ireland, on a single day, June 16, 1904. Never have the life of a modern city and the interior lives of its inhabitants been so densely and sensitively chronicled. But the text is not only grounded in the “real life” of turn-of-the-century Dublin; it is also deeply grounded in literary landscapes, characters, and plots that stretch back to Shakespeare—and beyond Shakespeare to Homer. This class offers the chance for close study of three great texts that are deeply implicated in one another: Homer’s Odyssey, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Joyce’s Ulysses. The themes of circular journeying, fate, identity, parent-child relations, and indebtedness—and “the feminine mystique” that we trace in the Odyssey and Hamlet—will prepare us for a careful and joyful reading of Joyce’s exuberant human comedy in Ulysses. Conference work may entail more extended work in these major authors or other authors and texts roughly contemporary with them or subsequently responding to them, whose work extends and complicates the intertextual webs we will be weaving in class.

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Slavery: A Literary History

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course aims to provide a long view of literary representations and responses to slavery and the slave trade in the Americas, from William Shakespeare to Toni Morrison. Expressing the conflicted public conscience—and perhaps the collective unconscious—of a nation, literature registers vividly the human costs (and profits) and dehumanizing consequences of a social practice whose legacy still haunts and implicates us. We will study some of the major texts that stage the central crises in human relations, social institutions, and human identity provoked by slavery, considering in particular how those texts represent the perverse dynamics and identifications of the master-slave relationship; the systematic assaults on family, identity, and community developed and practiced in slave-owning cultures; modes of resistance, survival, and subversion cultivated by slave communities and individuals in order to preserve their humanity and reclaim their liberty; and retrospective constructions of, and meditations on, slavery and its historical consequences. Since literary structure and style are not only representational but also are means of subversion, resistance, and reclamation, we will do a lot of close reading. Readings will be drawn from the works of William Shakespeare, Aimé Cesaire, Aphra Behn, Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, and Edward P. Jones. Conference work may entail more extended work in any of these writers or literary modes or other writers engaged in the representation and interrogation of slavery; may be developed around a major theme or topic; and may include background study in history, philosophy, geography, politics, or theory.

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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 Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson—fountainheads of the visionary strain in American poetic tradition—before turning to a handful of their most prominent 20th-century heirs: Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, and Elizabeth Bishop. 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 American and English Fiction

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

First-year students may enroll with permission of the instructor

“Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had,” Charlotte Brontë’s title character exclaims in the concluding chapter of Jane Eyre. Jane’s wedding may be quiet, but the steps leading up to her marriage with a man who once employed her as a governess are tumultuous. With the publication of Jane Eyre, we have left behind the early marriage-plot novel in which a series of comic misunderstandings pave the way for a joyous wedding. This course will begin with such classic marriage-plot novels as Jane Austen’s Emma, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. But the course will also look at love and courtship in such untraditional marriage-plot novels as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. By the time the course concludes with Jeffrey Eugenides’s contemporary novel, The Marriage Plot, the marriages and courtships we see will be distinctly modern in the form that they take and, equally significant, in the complexity and uncertainty that they bring with them.

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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 with such beauty, depth, and wisdom to the issues posed by the human condition. We will read the works of novelists such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Stendhal, Eliot, Austen, Dickens, Twain, and Goethe.

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Austen Inc.: 18th-Century Women Writers

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: Completion of at least one prior course in literature

By the time of her death in 1817, Jane Austen could boast that books 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 familiar today (Aphra Behn, Mary Wollstonecraft) and those who have been unjustly forgotten (Eliza Haywood, Elizabeth Inchbald). 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, slave narratives to courtship fiction. The centerpiece of the spring semester will be an extended discussion of Austen’s own work, including at least three of her novels and a selection from her outrageous juvenilia. The popular and scholarly reception of 18th-century women’s writing will also be considered.

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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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How Things Talk

Open , Lecture—Spring

A long-standing tradition within Western thought has conceptualized language as a system of signs clearly separate from material reality and aimed at enabling the transmission of information. The divide between the intangible realm of language and the material domain of things has dominated scholarship across several disciplines, leaking into common sense. This lecture course questions this deeply entrenched divide and suggests that, in order to understand our contemporary moment, we need to bring into the same analytical field both the linguistic and the material. The course readings provide an introduction to anthropology’s theories and methods through an investigation of how words and things mediate and enable human experience, creating the complex semiotic landscapes that we inhabit. Throughout the semester, students will be introduced to a series of theoretical and ethnographic readings aimed at illustrating the blurred boundaries between words and things, subjects and objects, signs and referents, artworks and artifacts, gifts and commodities, alienable and inalienable possessions. On the one hand, the course will challenge the classic language-world divide that has dominated both academic scholarship and popular common sense. Contrary to the view that language is exclusively a system of symbols that stand for and allow speaking about the world, a series of theoretical readings, practical exercises, and ethnographic case studies will reveal the materiality and performativity of language. Through this journey, language will appear as a material entity and as a form of action endowed with the power to shape the world. On the other hand, the course will dialogue with the emerging cross-disciplinary interest in materiality to invert the longstanding exploration of how people make things and generate a new reflection on how things make people. Contrary to the deeply entrenched opposition between subjects and objects, a selection of essays drawn from recent material culture studies will show how things mediate social relations and how inanimate objects may, in fact, be endowed with a form of agency.

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Lift Up Your Hearts: Art and Architecture of the Baroque—Europe and Its Colonies, 1550–1700

Open , Lecture—Year

In Annibale Carracci’s painting of St. Margaret (1609), an Early Christian martyr, an altar is inscribed: Sursum Corda (Lift Up Your Hearts). This course explores what that meant in the 17th century—for the arts to be a vehicle of uplift and salvation, a challenge to the supremacy of nature, an analysis of history, and a site of contention, paradox, and pride for artists and architects. Using PowerPoint presentations, class discussion, and papers focusing on works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the course will cover the art of 16th-century Italy—as that art frames the questions that painters, sculptors, and architects pursued throughout Europe in the 17th century, commonly called the Age of the Baroque. Included will be studies of major movements in religion, politics, and society (Catholic reform and the founding of the Jesuits Order, the evolution of academic art, the creation of papal Rome, the importance of private patronage); issues in aesthetics and art theory (the transformation of classical models, theories of the reception of nature, the links to poetry, and the dynamics of style); the emergence of the varying national traditions (the sweet style and Bel Composto in Italy, Calvinist naturalism and the power of light in The Netherlands, and high classicism and Bon Gout in France). Focus will also be on careers of artists like Titian and the erotics of the brush; Michelangelo and transcendent form; Caravaggio and naturalism as the death of painting; Artemisia Gentileschi, biography and exemplum; Bernini and the beautiful whole; Rubens and the multiple ways of transforming; Rembrandt and the rough style; Vermeer and the discipline and technique of light; and Poussin and the modes of expression, among others. Group conferences in the first semester will focus on the art of Michelangelo as practice and problem and theories of the Baroque; in second semester, theories and problems in 17th-century architecture.

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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 at the end of British colonial rule. Their writings narrate legacies and utopian imaginings of the past in light of current images that range from dystopian visions to optimistic aspirations. The seminar addresses themes of identity, fragmentation, hybridity, memory, and alienation. These themes link South Asian literary production to postcolonial writing from varied cultures of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Accounts of South Asian communal violence (Hindu and Muslim fundamentalisms, caste and class conflicts) reflect intersectional issues and 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 ancient 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 narratives 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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First-Year Studies: Introduction to Environmental Studies: Cultures of Nature

Open , FYS—Year

In a time of extreme environmental events that include climate change, rising sea levels, flooding, toxics, and radiation, environmental imagery is part of the fabric of daily life and communication: on the Web, on television, in newspapers, and in advertisements. Images of sea rise, genetically modified salmon, or landscapes of environmental devastation in Africa are found in the subway and in Benetton ads, as well as on the front pages of The New York Times and in social media. Representations of nature are not restricted, however, to popular media and texts. They also form the terrain for scientific contestation, debate about environmental ethics, and “high” policy formulation. This FYS seminar introduces students to the insights and methods of environmental humanities, environmental history, science studies, and political ecology. How do stories, images, and maps of nature shape perceptions and practices of environmental management? How is the same patch of “nature” imagined and described by differently positioned observers? How are environmental representations, historical contexts, facts, and rhetoric linked? How are particular forms of environmental representation used? By whom? Where? To what ends? In a time of extreme environmental events, sometimes called the Anthropocene, how are ideas of nature, ecology, and environmental futures changing? How are ideas of resilience now shaping the visions and material interventions of architects, engineers, landscape architects, and urban planners? How do works of fiction, nonfiction, film, and other arts encourage imaginative interventions in an era of increasing environmental risk? In the fall, students will alternate biweekly conferences with biweekly small-group activities. In the spring, students will attend conferences on alternate weeks.

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Intermediate French I (Section I): French Identities

Open , Seminar—Year

Course conducted in French. Admission by placement test (to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester) or completion of Beginning French. The Intermediate I and II French courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College the following year. 

This course will offer a systematic review of French grammar and is designed to strengthen and deepen students’ mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will also learn to begin to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. More than other countries, France’s identity was shaped by centuries of what is now perceived by the French as a historically coherent past. In this course, we will explore the complexities of today’s French identity or, rather, identities, following the most contemporary controversies that have shaken French society in the past 20 years while, at the same time, exploring historical influences and cultural paradigms at play in these débats franco-français. Thus, in addition to newspapers, online resources, recent movies, and songs, we will also study masterpieces of the past in literature and in the arts. Topics discussed will include, among others, school and laïcité, cuisine and traditions, immigration and urban ghettos, women and feminism in France, France’s relation to nature and the environment, the heritage of French Enlightenment (les Lumières), devoir de mémoire, and the relation of France with dark episodes of its history (slavery, Régime de Vichy and Nazi occupation, Algerian war). Authors studied will include Marie de France, Montaigne, Voltaire, Hugo, Flaubert, Proust, Colette, Duras, Césaire, Djebar, Chamoiseau, and Bouraoui. In addition to conferences, a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged.

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Intermediate French III/Advanced French: The Fantastic, the Surreal, and the Eerie

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Fall

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

France is often thought of as a nation of reason, the intellectual birthplace of Descartes’s philosophical method and the Enlightenment project of the 18th-century philosophes. Yet there exists an equally strong tendency in French literature toward the shadows, the irrational, and the occult. This seminar will explore that underbelly of French thought by focusing on three different periods. First, we will trace how a strain of “romantisme noir”—characterized by dreams, hauntings, ruins, and vampires—emerged in the 19th century as a reaction to the turmoil of the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution. The genres of the fantastic and cruel tales will be studied in depth as crucial counterpoints to realist fiction. Second, our attention will turn to the early 20th century and the Surrealists, who transformed the exploration of dreams and the unconscious into a revolutionary artistic project. Here, students will read manifestos, poems, and narrative works that contested the reign of rationalism by seeking out the aesthetic and political potential of madness and desire. Finally, we will read works by contemporary French writers who have revived the fantastic tradition in order to better understand how and why a literature of the strange and irrational persists to this day. Authors to be studied could include Maupassant, Gautier, Balzac, Nerval, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Lautréamont, Breton, Aragon, Eluard, Ndiaye, Darrieussecq, and Echenoz. Secondary readings will be drawn from feminist criticism, psychoanalysis, and narrative theory. In this course, students will also review the finer points of French grammar, improve their writing skills through regular assignments, and develop tools for literary analysis and commentary.

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Beginning Greek

Open , Seminar—Year

This course provides an intensive introduction to Ancient Greek grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, with the aim of reading the language as soon as possible. By mid-semester in the fall, students will be reading authentic excerpts of Ancient Greek poetry and prose. Students will also read and discuss selected works of Plato, Aristophanes, Thucydides, and Ps.-Xenophon in English. During the spring semester, while continuing to refine their grammar and reading skills, students will read extended selections of Plato’s Apology in the original Greek.

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First-Year Studies: The Disreputable 16th Century

Open , FYS—Year

Sixteenth-century Europeans shared a variety of fundamental beliefs about the world that a secular-minded Westerner of today is likely to find “disreputable”—intellectually preposterous, morally outrageous, or both. Almost all well-educated people believed that the Earth was the unmoving center of the universe, around which the heavenly bodies revolved; that human destinies were dictated, at least to some extent, by the influence of the planets and stars; that the welfare of their communities was threatened by the maleficent activities of witches; and that rulers had a moral duty to compel their subjects to practice a particular religion. In this course, we will examine 16th-century ideas on these and other topics and see how these beliefs fit together to form a coherent picture of the world. We will also look at the writings of pioneer thinkers—Machiavelli, Montaigne, Galileo—who began the process of dismantling this world-conception and replacing it with a new one closer to our own. It is not only ideas, however, that render the 16th century “disreputable” to modern eyes. Some of history’s most notorious kings and queens ruled European states in this period—Henry VIII of England with his six wives; Mary, Queen of Scots with her three husbands; Philip II of Spain, patron of the Inquisition; Ivan the Terrible, slaughterer of his own nobility. This was also the era of the most scandalous of the popes—Alexander VI and Leo X. In the second half of the course, we will examine the careers of these powerful 16th-century men and women and of others like them. We will endeavor to make their appalling deeds humanly comprehensible, partly by considering the specific historical circumstances in which these figures acted and partly by exploring the notions of power, authority, morality, and order entertained by the Europeans of their age.

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First-Year Studies: Literature, Culture, and Politics in US History, 1770s–1970s

Open , FYS—Year

This is an interdisciplinary course in which we use literature and other cultural texts to illuminate a history of ideas and politics in the United States. The course is premised on a series of assumptions: First, the public words and stories that Americans choose to tell reflect ideas, concerns, presumptions, and intentions about their time period; that they do, intentionally and unintentionally, "political work" in revealing the world in the way that they shore up, modify, or work to change power structures. Second, this course assumes that you, the reader, have some sense of context for these stories (or that you will work to acquire one) and, therefore, have some sense of how the stories reflect the material world that they seek to change. Novels, stories, memoirs, and critical essays all derive from a single vantage point and, hence, need to be understood as one voice in a larger conversation coming from a particular time and a particular place. Third, these readings are largely primary sources and are always paired with a secondary source chapter, article, or introduction. This pairing presumes a desire on your part to grapple with the material of this moment yourselves, to write history as well as to read it. Themes of particular significance will include the construction of national identity, class consciousness, the experience and meaning of immigration, slavery and particularly race, and the political significance of gender and sexuality. Conference projects in the fall will focus on history and literature to 1900; in the spring, on history and literature up to just yesterday.

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Russia and Its Neighbors: From the Mongol Era to Lenin

Open , Lecture—Fall

This course will introduce students to the main themes of Russian history from the Middle Ages to 1917. We will begin by examining how history transformed the various Slavic tribes of the East European plain into the three distinct peoples whom we now term “Russians,” “Ukrainians,” and “Belorusians.” We will consider the medieval principality of Moscow—in which Russia’s enduring traditions of autocratic government, territorial expansionism, and xenophobia originally took shape—and trace the course of Muscovy’s protracted struggle with Poland-Lithuania for dominance in Eastern Europe. We will investigate how rulers such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great endeavored to meet “the challenge of the West” to marshal the resources of their huge but economically backward empire in order to compete militarily with the monarchs of more advanced European countries. We will discuss resistance to the oppressive demands of the tsarist state on the part of peasants, Cossacks, religious dissidents, and national minorities. We will consider how the tsars’ response to the Western challenge called into being a new, Europeanized elite, which in the 19th century grew restive under the tutelage of its government and was increasingly attracted to liberal and socialist ideas. In the final weeks of the semester, we will consider the revolutionary upheavals that convulsed the Russian Empire in the early years of the 20th century and created the conditions for the establishment in Russia of the world’s first socialist regime. In group conferences, students will discuss a wide range of primary sources: saints’ lives, picaresque tales, classic works of 19th-century poetry and fiction, and the writings of leading revolutionary thinkers.

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Russia and Its Neighbors: Lenin to Putin

Open , Lecture—Spring

This course is a continuation of Russia and Its Neighbors: From the Mongol Era to Lenin but is open to students who have not taken that course. The aim of the lecture will be to provide students with the historical background required to make sense of Russia’s current predicament and the policies of its present-day leaders. We will first examine seven decades of Communist Party rule, tracing the extraordinary path that Russia took in the 20th century to become a literate, urban, industrial society. We look at such crucial episodes in Soviet history as Stalin’s war on the peasantry and his crash industrialization drive of the 1930s, the Great Purge, World War II, the Khrushchev-era cultural “Thaw,” the development of a consumer economy and embryonic civil society in the 1960s and 1970s, and Gorbachev’s failed attempt to reform the Communist system. We will also discuss the methods by which the Communist regime maintained control over the minority peoples of the USSR, and the evolution of its relationships with its East European satellites and the non-Communist world during the era of the Cold War. We will devote some attention to the causes and effects of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990–1991 and to Russian policies toward the newly independent states that came into being as a result of the dissolution of the USSR. In the final weeks of the course, we will consider how the travails endured by the Russian people during the unhappy Yeltsin period set the stage for a resurgence of authoritarianism and national self-assertion under Putin. Group conference readings will include a variety of memoirs and literary texts that capture the experience of ordinary Russians over the course of the last 100 years.

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Women, Culture, and Politics in US History

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Through fiction, memoir and cultural criticism, political activism, and popular culture, American women have expressed their ideas and their desires, their values and their politics. This course will approach US history through the words and actions of all kinds of American women from the early 19th century through the late 20th century. Using both primary sources and histories narrow and broad, we will explore questions of race, class, sexuality, and gender and analyze the ways in which women have intervened and participated in the political and cultural world. This is a research seminar. Considerable attention will be paid to the development or refinement of a fluent and graceful expository writing style, well buttressed by the careful use of evidence.

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Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

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

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Advanced Italian: Fascism, World War II, and the Resistance in 20th-Century Italian Narrative and Cinema

Advanced , Seminar—Year

This course is intended for advanced students of Italian who want to better their comprehension, as well as their oral and written skills, in the language and their knowledge of Italian literature. This will be achieved by reading literary works and watching films in the original language, producing written compositions, and also through in-class discussion of the material. The course examines the manner in which crucial historical events that occurred during the 20th century—specifically the rise and fall of fascism, World War II, and the Resistance—were represented within Italian literature and cinema of the time, as well as throughout the decades following the end of the war (up to the 1970s). Literary texts will include those authored by Ignazio Silone, Vasco Pratolini, Italo Calvino, Mario Carli, Renata Viganò, Carlo Cassola, Beppe Fenoglio, Elio Vittorini, Alberto Moravia, and Carlo Mazzantini. Films will include fascist propaganda and documentaries (from the Istituto Luce’s archives), as well as films by Roberto Rossellini (his fascist-era War trilogy, as well as his neorealist films), Vittorio De Sica, Luigi Comencini, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuliano Montaldo, Ettore Scola, Luchino Visconti, Liliana Cavani, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Federico Fellini. Conference topics might include the study of a particular author, literary text, or film that might be of interest to the student. When appropriate, students will be directed to specific internship opportunities in the New York area centered on Italian language and culture. Literary texts will be on reserve in the library or available for purchase; critical material will be available through MySLC. Conversation classes (in small groups) will be held twice a week with the language assistant; students will have the opportunity to reinforce what they have learned in class and hone their ability to communicate in Italian.

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Beginning Latin

Open , Seminar—Year

This course provides a rigorous and thorough introduction to Latin grammar, syntax, and vocabulary with a view to reading the language as soon as possible. The course will also introduce students to famous mythological stories with the goal to read them in their original language (Latin) by the end of the academic year. Close reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in English, will accompany intensive language study in the fall. By mid-semester, 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 Metamorphoses in Latin.

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Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open , Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, first nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Britain, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how queer is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, queer itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to these hegemonic structures produces or reveals, not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Assignments for this course will include one presentation, two short class essays (6-8 pages), and your conference paper. Potential primary texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Passing, Nella Larsen (1929); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); Douloti the Bountiful, Mahasweta Devi (1995); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Elizabeth Costello, J. M. Coetzee (2003); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).

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Perverts in Groups: Queer Social Lives

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

Contradictory assumptions about the relation of homosexuals to groups have dominated accounts of modern LGBT life. In Western Europe and the United States, from the late-19th century onward, queers have been presented as profoundly isolated persons—burdened by the conviction that they are the only ones ever to have had such feelings when they first realize their deviant desires and immediately separated by those desires from the families and cultures into which they were born. Yet, at the same time, these isolated individuals have been seen as inseparable from one another, part of a worldwide network, always able to recognize their peers by means of mysterious signs decipherable only by other group members. Homosexuals were denounced as persons who did not contribute to society; homosexuality was presented as the hedonistic choice of reckless, self-indulgent individualism over sober social good. Nevertheless, all homosexuals were implicated in a nefarious conspiracy, stealthily working through their web of connections to one another to take over the world—or the political establishment of the United States, for example, its art world, theatre, or film industries. Such contradictions could still be seen in the battles that have raged since the 1970s, when queers began seeking public recognition of their lives within existing social institutions, from the military to marriage. LGBT persons were routinely attacked as threats (whether to unit cohesion or the family) intent on destroying the groups they were working to openly join. In this class, we will use these contradictions as a framework for studying the complex social roles that queers have occupied and some of the complex social worlds they have created—at different times and places, shaped by different understandings of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and nationality—within the United States over the past century and a half. Our sources will include histories, sociological and anthropological studies, the writings of political activists, fiction, and film.

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Pretty, Witty, and Gay

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

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 and read about, listened to 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 some aspect of the historical background of the materials that we will be considering.

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Existentialism

Open , Lecture—Spring

Does life have a purpose, a meaning? What does it mean “to be”? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a woman (or to be a man)? What does it mean to be black (or to be white)? What makes us into who we are? What defines each of us? What distinguishes each of us? And what, if anything, is common to all of us? These and other questions are raised by existentialist philosophy and literature, mostly through interrogation of real-life experiences, situations, and “fundamental emotions” such as anxiety, boredom, loneliness, and shame. In the first half of this class, we will get acquainted with the thought and writing of two of the most influential figures on existentialist philosophy: Jean-Paul Sartre (France, 1905-1980) and Martin Heidegger (Germany, 1889-1976). In the second half, with what we have learned from Sartre and Heidegger as our background, we will analyze texts by other authors associated with existentialism, including Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Frantz Fanon, Franz Kafka, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Simone Weil.

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Theories of the Creative Process

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

A background in college-level psychology, social science, or philosophy is required.

The creative process is paradoxical. It involves freedom and spontaneity yet requires expertise and hard work. The creative process is self-expressive yet tends to unfold most easily when the creator forgets about self. The creative process brings joy yet is fraught with fear, frustration, and even terror.The creative process is its own reward yet depends on social support and encouragement. In this class, we look at how various thinkers conceptualize the creative process—chiefly in the arts but in other domains, as well. We see how various psychological theorists describe the process, its source, its motivation, its roots in a particular domain or skill, its cultural context, and its developmental history in the life of the individual. Among the thinkers that we will consider are Freud, Jung, Arnheim, Franklin, and Gardner. Different theorists emphasize different aspects of the process. In particular, we see how some thinkers emphasize persistent work and expert knowledge as essential features while others emphasize the need for the psychic freedom to “let it happen” and speculate on what emerges when the creative person “lets go.” Still others identify cultural context or biological factors as critical. To concretize theoretical approaches, we look at how various ideas can contribute to understanding specific creative people and their work. In particular, we will consider works written by or about Picasso, Woolf, Welty, Darwin, and some contemporary artists and writers. Though creativity is most frequently explored in individuals, we also consider group improvisation in music and theatre. Some past conference projects have involved interviewing people engaged in creative work. Others consisted of library studies centering on the life and work of a particular creative person. Some students chose to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center and focus on an aspect of creative activity in young children.

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The Psychological Impact of Art

Open , Seminar—Spring

That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people, and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.—Dave Grohl.

The expressive arts bridge the gap between personal and collective experiences. Music, dance, literature, sculpture, and other creative pursuits allow artists a personal venue for intimate expression; but their products also have influence on thousands of others. Art evokes emotions, changes opinions, forges identities, and can be an anthem for social change. This class will explore how engagement with the arts influences who we are and how we relate to others. We will discuss the relative importance of the process of making art, versus the product itself, for personal growth and fostering social change. Although often thought of as a uniquely personal relationship, psychologists’ understanding of how the arts affect social, cognitive, and affective human behavior is expanding. In this class, students will be encouraged to engage critically with this psychological research and appreciate the difficulties associated with quantifying the impact of the arts.

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The Emergence of Christianity

Open , Seminar—Year

There is perhaps no one who has not heard of the name of a seemingly obscure carpenter's son executed by the Romans around 33 CE. Why? The religion we call Christianity shaped the Western World for at least 1,500 years. In this course, we will study the origins of this tradition. As we study the origins of this movement, we will explore Judaism in the strange and fertile Second Temple period (515 BCE -70 CE). We will encounter the learned societies of holy men like the Pharisees and the Qumran sectarians, as well as the freedom fighter/terrorists called the Zealots. Our main source will be the New Testament of the Christian Bible, though these will be supplemented by other primary materials. Excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic literature, as well as other Hellenistic texts from this period, provide the cultural backdrop in which Christianity has its roots. We will learn about the spread of the new movement of “Christians,” as it was called by its detractors in Antioch. How did this movement, which began among the Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean, come to be wholly associated with Gentiles by the end of the second century. Who became Christian? Why were they hated so much by the greater Greco-Roman society? What did they believe? How did they behave? What are the origins of “Christian anti-semitism”? What kind of social world, with its senses of hierarchy and gender relations, did these people envision for themselves?

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Readings in the Hebrew Bible: The Wisdom Tradition

Open , Seminar—Fall

The question of theodicy is most acute in times of social and political crisis. Theodicy refers to the problem of evil in the context of a religion whose foundation is the monotheistic belief in a good and benevolent God. The Bible, in the Book of Deuteronomy, promises Israel that adherence to the Torah will lead to a good life. This belief system was severely challenged by the loss of the land of Israel in the Babylonian invasion of 587 BCE. The destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians and the subsequent exile of the Israelites engendered a rich and complex body of literature. Jewish scribes wrote books of wisdom intended to guide Israel into uncharted waters that their God had presumably taken them. To this end, we will read books like Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ben-Sira with a view to understanding how those works addressed theological issues of their day.

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Storytelling and Spirituality in Classical Islam

Open , Seminar—Fall

One of the greatest rock songs of all time, “Layla,” was written by Eric Clapton after he read the story of the star-crossed lovers Layla and Majnun. This tale of a Bedouin poet, who went mad after he was cut off from his beloved, circulated widely in Arabic sources for hundreds of years before being expanded into a long narrative poem in Persian by Nizami in the 12th century. By this point in time, telling compelling stories had become a means by which Sufi writers (the mystics of Islam) described their particular vision of being Muslim—which was that of the pitfalls, despairing moments, and ecstasies of the spiritual quest and search for closeness to the divine Beloved. Layla and Majnun were just one of several couples in allegorical stories that were understood as teaching vehicles for disciples on the path. On the opposite end of the plot spectrum, there is Ibn Tufyal’s famous story of Hayy ibn Yaqzan, a mystical-philosophical work in Arabic also written in the 12th century. That story describes an abandoned baby growing up on a desert island, raised first by a deer and then by his own devices as he slowly discovers the nature of the human-divine relationship. Other classical works dispensed with this format of the singular narrative, opting instead for nesting stories within stories and mixing animal stories with stories about humans. We will look at examples of those literary techniques in translations of Farid ad-Din Attar’s Conference of the Birds, Jalal ad-Din Rumi’s Mathnawi, and The Thousand and One Nights. What is common to all of the works that we will be reading in this class is the way in which storytelling here is rooted in a deeper dimension that explores the human potential for more refined behavior and ethics, as well as for higher spiritual states.

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Jewish Autobiography

Open , Seminar—Spring

Autobiography is among the most contentious literary/historical genres, compromised by the fallibility of memory and the human tendency towards self-fashioning yet unique in its insights into history as a lived experience. This course employs personal narratives as windows onto the Jewish transition to modernity. We begin with narratives by “traditional” Jewish men and women, including the mystic Hayyim Vital and the successful businesswoman Gluckel of Hameln. We then proceed to the wrenching accounts of early detractors from tradition—like Solomon Maimon, Ezekiel Kotik, and Pauline Wengeroff—and writings by Jewish leaders of modern political movements such as Zionism, Jewish socialism, communism, orthodoxy, and ultra-orthodoxy. We conclude with individual perspectives on the Holocaust through the eyes of victims, bystanders, and perpetrators; insights into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from each side; and American Jewish feminist, queer, and transgender self-narratives.

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Beginning Russian

Open , Seminar—Year

At the end of this course, students will know the fundamentals of Russian grammar and will be able to use those fundamentals to read, write, and, above all, speak Russian on an elementary level. Successful language learning involves both creativity and a certain amount of rote learning—memorization gives the student the basis to then extrapolate, improvise, and have fun with the language—and this course will lay equal emphasis on both. Our four hours of class each week will be spent actively using what we know in pair and group activities, dialogues, discussions, etc. Twice-weekly written homework, serving both to reinforce old and introduce new material, will be required. At the end of each semester, we will formalize the principle of rigorous but creative communication that underlies all of our work through small-group video projects. Students are also required to attend weekly meetings with the Russian assistant; attendance at Russian Table is strongly encouraged.

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Cuban Literature and Film Since 1959—Vivir y pensar en Cuba

Advanced , Seminar—Spring

Taught in Spanish.

Cuba has long exerted a disproportionate fascination for US nationals, perhaps for the world in general. The only socialist country in the Western Hemisphere, Cuba’s relative isolation for decades after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 and the 57-year (and counting) economic embargo imposed by the United States have exacerbated political animosity between Cubans living on the island and the diaspora and have created polarized (and polaroidized) and stereotypical images (black-and-white or in technicolor) that either idealize Cuba as a tropical earthly paradise or denigrate it as a tyrannical dictatorship, a racially integrated island or a landscape of/in ruins, a socialist utopia or nightmarish dystopia leading to massive exodus, and the Caribbean gulag (complete with a US high-security prison in Guantánamo). This course does not aim exclusively to explore and critique these and other ideas about Cuba, though the context is both inevitable and indispensable to fully understand our subject(s). We want to focus on tracing the evolution of Cuba's literature and film since 1959 and learn about how Cubans live and think in/about Cuba. (The title of the course is the title of a Cuban anthology of essays on Cubans born in and raised with the Revolution.) The leaders of the Cuban Revolution were young and consummately aware that literature, film, photography, the visual arts, and popular culture (comics, popular or traditional music) were extraordinarily useful and effective ways to propagate the Revolution at home—especially when one considers that 57% of the population was illiterate—and abroad. We will read a couple of foundational essays (Che Guevara, Fernández Retamar) and excerpts from speeches (Fidel) in order to understand how literature and the arts are ideologically subsumed into the (new) discourse of the nation, how it evolves and changes over several decades, how the new reality impacts and leads to reconfigured genres (testimony, “social realism,” etc.), and the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet regime and the disastrous effect on Cuba (el período especial). We will explore trends since the 1990s—including contemporary and postmodern voices from the island and those of the diaspora (writing back)—as well as how gender and race have been imagined (or not).

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Intermediate Spanish II: Juventud, divino tesoro...

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Taught entirely in Spanish. Taking the Spanish Placement Test either in the fall of 2019 or early in the spring is recommended before interviewing for this class.

This course will explore Latin American and Spanish literature and film that focuses on youth. Readings will include 20th- and 21st-century authors from as broad a range of countries as possible—as well as films—that consider how gender, race, class, and nationality impact how we perceive the young, how they/we are perceived, and how pressing political or ideological issues are conveyed or displaced through images of youth. We will also review some grammar, mostly aimed at improving writing and expressive skills.

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Media Burn: Moving Image Installation in Practice

Open , Seminar—Year

This yearlong production seminar investigates histories, strategies, and concepts related to the production and exhibition of moving-image installation. Over the year, students will investigate the histories of moving-image installation and create their own works of time-based art. We will look at artworks that use moving images, space, sound, loops, performance, site-specificity, chance operations, multiple channels, and games as tools for communicating ideas. In the fall semester, our work will be inspired by close readings of specific seminal artworks in installation from the late 1960s to the present, including pieces that utilize feedback loops, multiple projections, home movies, and new technologies. Students will learn craft and concept simultaneously through collaborative and individual production. Spring semester, we will engage with our own concepts and ideas of how time-based installation can be activated. Site-specificity, social practice, and interdisciplinary projects are introduced, and students are encouraged to connect their conference in this class to collaborations in theatre, dance, sculpture, painting, and academics. Conference works involve research, craft, and rigorous conceptual and technical practice and are presented in exhibitions at the end of each semester. A component of the class will take place outside the classroom at museums, galleries, nonprofits, performance spaces, and historic sites in and around New York City. (The title of this class, Media Burn, comes from the 1975 performance by the San Francisco-based art collective Ant Farm, https://www.eai.org/titles/media-burn)

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Fiction Workshop: Style

Open , Seminar—Fall

This fiction-writing workshop will focus specifically on the pleasures of “style.” What is style? How do we know when we are in the presence of one? What are the hallmarks of a successful or moving style? When does style feel meaningful? And, conversely, when does it feel empty or artificial? In other words, how does style make itself substantive in fiction? Through an exploration of both canonical and contemporary short fiction, students will be urged to find not so much their “own” style as to think about and explore the many styles available to them as writers. Our time in class will be divided between close readings of published work and workshopping of student writing. In addition, students should expect, by the end of the term, to produce numerous imitation exercises, critical reflections, and a portfolio of fiction.

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Fiction Writing Workshop

Open , Seminar—Year

Nabokov stated that there are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. We will consider all three, but it is with the art of enchantment that this workshop is most dedicated. We will walk through the process of writing a story. Where does the story come from? How do we know when we are ready to begin? How do we avoid succumbing to safe and unoriginal decisions and learn to recognize and trust our more mysterious and promising impulses? How do our characters guide the work? How do we come to know an ending, and how do we earn that ending? And finally, how do we create the enchantment necessary to involve, persuade, and move the reader in the ways that fiction is most capable. Our course will investigate the craft of fiction through readings, discussion, and numerous exercises. In the second semester, we move on to explore dream narratives, the sublime, the absurd, and the fantastic. We study a democratically chosen novel and, possibly, graphic fiction and a film. Our objective is for you to write, revise, and workshop at least one fully developed story each semester.

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First-Year Studies: Ecopoetry: Poetry in Relation to the Living World

Open , FYS—Year

Poetry is the human song called out: in joy, in love, in fear, in wonder, in prayer, in rebuke, in war, in peace, in story, and in vision. The human poem collects us together, individuates us, and consoles us. We read poems at funerals, at weddings, graduations...they accompany us through the gates of our lives, in public, or in private...shared through a book, a computer, a letter, a song. Now we find ourselves at the brink of an unstoppable ecological disaster. A change of consciousness is necessary. How can poetry accomplish this? For a long time, we have not noticed how our civilizations and technologies have affected the rest of the living world. This course will ask questions: Who do we think we are? Who taught us that? Who are we in relation to the other animals? To trees and plants? To insects? To stars? How have our human myths informed those relationships? How are those myths evident in our human world today? What is poetry? What is ecopoetry? How can poetry instruct? How can poetry document? How can poetry re-vision? Prophesy? Protest? Preserve? Imagine? In our time together, you will read poetry written by published poets. You will write your own poems, one each week, and share them with each other. You will keep observation journals, meet with another person in our class each week in a poetry date, and meet with me in individual and small-group conferences. We will proceed as curious learners and writers. Through our close study, each of you (in conference work and together) will learn about a very specific aspect of the natural world that interests you (an animal, a forest, a coral reef, etc.) and then teach the rest of us in class what you have learned. We will learn how to write poems about these subjects so that the poem itself becomes an experience we have never had before. And we might slowly move away from the human as the center of the poem and welcome the rest of the living world in. We will know more at the end of this class about the other animals and plants and insects and rivers and oceans. If our hearts break with this deepening relationship, we might also discover a great joy and a new responsibility. We will want to share what we have learned and written with the wider community. We will find ways to do that. I can assure you, we will be changed. Students will have an individual conference every other week and a half-group conference on alternating weeks.

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First-Year Studies: Necessary Hero

Open , FYS—Year

Imagine a hero who grows up in the Appalachian Mountains and receives a scholarship to a private school in Malibu Beach, or a hero who is a Mexican immigrant and lives near the Oakland shipyards. Imagine a child from Norway whose family immigrates to North Dakota in the 1870s, or a teenager who develops solar technology for her village in India. What about their characters will begin to distinguish each as a hero? What flaws or beliefs? What innovative actions will their circumstances, culture, gender, or time in history necessitate? The only requirement for each student’s hero(es) is that he, she, or they are human and living on Earth. Over this yearlong course, each writer will develop a sustained hero’s tale that will require the accurate imagination of place, time, character, and actions in response to each hero’s challenges and obstacles. Writers will research, as well as reflect on, heroic models from antiquity to the present day. Because this is a FYS course, we will incorporate exercises and lessons related to the basic elements of fiction, point of view, structure, character, setting, and dialogue. We will read and analyze model stories that reflect those aspects of craft and depict different kinds of heroes. We will also read contextual texts such as Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, as well as a short digest of historical events called A Little History of the World. In addition to meeting in our biweekly class seminars, I will meet with each of you individually in biweekly conferences. In alternate weeks, we will meet in small focus groups.

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First-Year Studies: Writing and the Racial Imaginary

Open , FYS—Year

In what ways have American writers and artists rendered the felt experience of race and racial inequality? How might we understand race and racism not only as social forces but also as imaginative ones? And how might we, as writers and readers, productively grapple, contend, and engage with our own positions as artists and citizens within these historical and imaginative legacies? In other words, how might we fruitfully think about what Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda have recently called—in their anthology of the same name—“the racial imaginary”? Over the course of this yearlong creative-writing workshop, students will be asked to explore the American racial imaginary by examining writing in a variety of genres and disciplines—from short stories to personal essays and poetry, as well as academic criticism and historical scholarship—in the interest of producing and workshopping their own original writing. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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Nonfiction Writing Seminar: Mind as Form: The Essay, Personal and Impersonal

Open , Seminar—Fall

The essay has been used as a vehicle of intimacy and directness not only by writers of all genres but also by artists of other art forms and by intellectual workers in a wide variety of fields. Why is this? Maybe because the essay is flexible enough to adapt to the shape, structure, and movement of our minds as they actually function. We will examine the essay by reading 15 to 20 significant examples of the genre, ranging from contemporary writers (Maggie Nelson, David Foster Wallace, Nancy Mairs, Claudia Rankine, among others) to writers from recent history (Sontag, Didion, Mailer, Eiseley, Baldwin, Orwell, Tanizaki), to its classic writers (Yeats, Pater, Hazlitt), to its creator (Montaigne), and then to its prehistory in the sermon, the meditation, the epistle, the spiritual autobiography (Edwards, Basho, Augustine, St. Paul, Plato). Conference work will comprise two essays, both to be presented to the whole class, and a series of exercises.

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Nonfiction Workshop: To Tell the Truth

Open , Seminar—Year

This yearlong class will explore the mysteries of reading and 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 or reader and a drafted or published sentence? Is it possible to identify a lie in print? When you write, is it possible to lie less? Is it possible to “tell the truth”? In conference, we’ll discuss drafts of student work; in class, in light of the questions above and as a way of guiding our own makings, we’ll discuss readings that may include the work of June Jordan, Graham Fuller, Teju Cole, Wallace Stegner, Dionne Brand, William F. Buckley, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and Bertolt Brecht—with the work of James Baldwin throughout. You’ll be expected to attend class, respond to assigned and suggested readings, and participate in discussions. By the end of the first semester, you’ll have written at least five pages exposing a lie in print and have given a brief presentation on your process; by the end, you’ll have produced 20 pages of publishable nonfiction in whatever form you choose. 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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Nonfiction Laboratory

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course is to 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, and in a photocopied handout; but students will also read and discuss Alejandro Zambra’s genre-defying Multiple Choice.

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Nonfiction Workshop: The World and You

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course 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 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 mental illness (as in Suzanna Kaysen’s memoir, Girl, Interrupted) 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 film comedians, and Toni Morrison’s (very) short book, Playing in the Dark, about race as it pertains to early American literature.

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Our World, Other Worlds

Open , Seminar—Year

This is a writing course that explores the use of episodes in a world made of words. We read short stories, parts of novels, poems, newspaper articles, and essays from many times and worlds and occasionally watch episodes and films. We also do exercises designed to help practice character drawing, dialogue, pacing, composition, editing, and world building. Still, much of the work of the class involves writing episodes of a long work that becomes our conference work and can be completed in one or two semesters. These works are discussed in small groups, whose members become experts on each others’ creations. Many of the works take place in an imaginary world, some are memoirs, others go back and forth between worlds. The course is open but involves a willingness to enter sympathetically into someone else's work over time and to be an informed reader for that person. It also involves the ability to work on a piece of writing for at least a semester.

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The Rules—and How to Break Them

Open , Seminar—Year

The first part of this yearlong class will be modeled after a graduate-level craft fiction class. We will examine and discuss fundamental craft terms, as well as the generally accepted contemporary rules for writing fiction. We’ll look at how some writers explode those rules—and we’ll see how we can exploit the rules in our own writing. The craft class will segue into a workshop, in which we will discuss student work each week using what we’ve learned about craft rules and rule-breaking. We’ll be reading work by published authors, such as Katherine Anne Porter, Anton Chekhov, Octavia Butler, Raymond Carver, Robert Lopez, E. M. Forster, Samuel Beckett, Helen Oyeyemi, Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Joy Williams, Barry Hannah, Denis Johnson, Renee Gladman, Elizabeth Crane, Shelly Jackson, Gary Lutz, and others.

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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, and 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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A Question of Character: The Art of the Profile

Open , Seminar—Spring

Any writer who tries to capture the likeness of another—whether in biography, history, journalism, or art criticism—must face certain questions. What makes a good profile? What is the power dynamic between subject and writer? How does a subject’s place in the world determine the parameters of what may be written about him or her? To what extent is any portrait also a self-portrait? And how can the complexities of a personality be captured in several thousand—or even several hundred—words? In this course, we will tackle the various challenges of profile writing, such as choosing a good subject, interviewing, plotting, obtaining and telescoping biographical information, and defining the role of place in the portrait. Students will be expected to share their own work, identify what they admire or despise in other writers’ characterizations, and learn to read closely many masters of the genre: Daphne Merkin, Malcolm Gladwell, Gay Talese, and Janet Malcolm. We will also turn to shorter forms of writing—personal sketches, brief reported pieces—to further illuminate what we mean when we talk about “identity” and “character.” The goal of this course is less to teach the art of profile writing than to make us all more alert to the subtleties of the form.

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