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.

Literature 2022-2023 Courses

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

FYS—Year | 10 credits

The course will examine representations of exile and diaspora in literary texts from ancient epic to Renaissance drama. We will study authors who were displaced from their communities, including 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 epic narratives, 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 exilic metaphors used by female authors, including Christine de Pizan and Margery Kempe, both to articulate and to subvert positions of gendered marginalization. The study of a range of literary texts will demonstrate 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 are required to attend individual conferences on a biweekly basis. During the first semester, individual conferences will alternate with biweekly group conference meetings, which will focus on cultivating research skills and theoretical frameworks. Individual conference projects should be semester-long; therefore, students will complete two research-length essays over the course of the year.

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First-Year Studies: Reality Check: Homer, Herodotus, and the Invention of History

FYS—Year | 10 credits

Reality is currently under siege. Millions of people today believe, to their core, things that are demonstrably not true. Are we “each entitled to our own reality,” as some would argue? The ancient Greeks thought otherwise. Some 2,500 years ago, the Greeks began to distinguish muthos (origin of the English word “myth”)—an unverified, unverifiable story—from historiē (origin of the English word “history”), an inquiry into the facts for the purpose of making a rational assessment. Simultaneously, the Ancient Greeks began to reject tyranny and introduce democratic political ideals and institutions. Tyrants, however, require obedient subjects unwilling or unable to fact-check even their most preposterous lies. Today’s autocrats and would-be autocrats bombard us with fictions, even contradictory fictions, so as to eradicate the very concept of objective fact. As individuals, we are losing the ability to assess facts on their merits. We’re losing the ability to learn not only from history but even from our own experience. Succumbing to authoritative speakers, many of us prefer virtue-signaling to real-world problem solving. We’re abandoning verbal persuasion in favor of violence and intimidation. Can democratic ideals and institutions survive if we can no longer distinguish myth from history, fiction from fact? What is the value of evidence-based, logical reasoning? How can we learn from fiction without being deceived by it? Reading and discussing Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (c. 8th cent. BCE) and Herodotus’s Histories (c. 440s, 430s BCE), we will examine these and other questions that are as vital to human survival and success today as they were centuries ago. This course is designed for students who welcome open-minded critical inquiry and are eager to read texts that are challenging both intellectually and emotionally. 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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First-Year Studies: Crime and Mystery in Modern French and Francophone Fiction

FYS—Year | 10 credits

Exploring the history of the modern novel in French is often an investigation into the scene of a crime. Since the advent of modernity, authors have repeatedly turned to criminal acts in order to tell stories—using the framework of the detective hunt to construct and subvert narrative forms and exploring the motives of the actors involved to pose questions of morality and justice. By depicting modern techniques of policing and punishment, the representation of crime also serves as a way for authors to comment on the social, economic, and sexual politics of their day. At the same time, the recent global success of the Netflix series Lupin—an updating of the exploits of a popular, early 20th-century, French fictional master thief—testifies to the endless adaptability of these stories, as well as to their enduring appeal to their consumers. In this course, we will pursue an inquiry into the literature of crime by focusing on works of fiction from the 19th century to the present day. We will consider a variety of different types of criminal activity, from petty theft and shocking murders to conspiratorial plots and terrorist attacks, in order to examine the aesthetic, moral, and political implications of the representation of crime. Authors studied might include Honoré de Balzac, Albert Camus, Emmanuel Carrère, Maryse Condé, Virginie Despentes, Marguerite Duras, Jean Genet, André Gide, Alain Mabanckou, Patrick Modiano, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Albertine Sarrazin, Georges Simenon, Leila Slimani, and Emile Zola. Alongside our narrative readings, we will screen several films by prominent French and francophone filmmakers. Class will entail close readings of primary texts in English translation, and we will work on how to offer critical analyses of works in seminar discussions and class essays. This course will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small-group activities, including writing workshops, screenings, and field trips.

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First-Year Studies: Text and Theatre

FYS—Year | 10 credits

This course explores the relation between the play as written text and the play as a staged event. More than any other literary form, drama depends upon a specific place and time—a theatre and its audience—for its realization. The words of a play are the fossils of a cultural experience; they provide the decipherable means by which we can reconstruct approximations of the living past. With this goal in mind, we will read and examine texts from Ancient Greece to contemporary New York (with many stops in between) in an attempt to understand the range of dramatic possibility and the human challenge of making theatre. This course will have weekly conferences for the first six weeks and biweekly conferences thereafter.

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First-Year Studies: Literature Is Not a Luxury: African American Women’s Writing

FYS—Year | 10 credits

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury,” Audre Lorde writes. “It is a vital necessity of our existence.” Poetry, Lorde continues, helps to bring about an understanding of what is, as well as to imagine what might be. This understanding of literature as shedding new light on existence and as sketching new possibilities held a profound political importance for the tradition of Black women’s writing, in which literature was called upon to demonstrate the worthiness of Emancipation as well as of civil rights. This seminar seeks to study that tradition, its political importance, and its artistic achievements by studying the long history of Black women’s writing in America across a variety of forms and genres. Over the course of the first semester, we will focus especially on the gendered and sexual conditions of slavery by authors who experienced it and by modern writers imagining it—reading works by authors such as Phyllis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, Toni Morrison, Natasha Trethewey, and more. Over the course of the second semester, we will turn to the post-Emancipation era, focusing especially on the evolving meanings of gender and sexuality amidst Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and the contemporary—reading authors such as Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, and more. Along the way, we will do short creative and critical assignments to better acquaint ourselves with the methods of research, of thought, and more. 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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The Forms and Logic of Comedy

Open, Small Lecture—Year | 10 credits

Comedy is a startlingly various form that operates with a variety of logics; it can be politically conservative or starkly radical, savage or gentle, optimistic or despairing. In this course, we’ll explore some comic modes—from philosophical comedy to modern film—and examine a few theories of comedy. A tentative reading list for the first semester includes a Platonic dialogue (the Protagoras) and moves on to Aristophanes’ Old Comedy (The Clouds); Plautus’ New Comedy; Roman satire; Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night; Molière; some Restoration and later stage comedy; and Fielding. In the second semester, we will read Byron, Stendhal, Dickens, Wilde, P. G. Wodehouse, Kingsley Amis, Joseph Heller, Philip Roth, and Tom Stoppard—and also look at some cartoons and some film comedy. The reading lists for both semesters are subject to revision.

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Reading High Romanticism: Blake to Keats

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

This lecture focuses on the interpretation and appreciation of the most influential lyric poems written in English in the tumultuous decades between the French Revolution and the Reform Act of 1832. Over the course of two generations, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats invented a new kind of autobiographical poem that largely internalized the myths that they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. The poet’s inward, subjective experience became the inescapable subject of the poem—a legacy that continues to this day. We will be exploring ways in which the English Romantic poets responded to the political impasse of their historical moment and created poems out of their arguments with themselves, as well as their arguments with one another. Our preeminent goal will be to understand each poem’s unique contribution to the language.

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Postwar German Literature and Film

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 3 credits

In this course, we will study short stories about the war by Heinrich Böll; plays about a German soldier coming home from the war and having no home anymore (by Wolfgang Borchert); Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit; Max Frisch’s parable about antisemitism; Peter Weiss’ play about the Auschwitz trials in Germany; Schlink’s famous and problematic novel, The Reader; Eugen Ruge’s In Times of Fading Light, a family novel covering East German history; Judith Herman’s (post)feminist stories; creative nonfiction by Anna Funders, about a young girl who wanted to get across the Berlin Wall; Sebald’s haunting novel, Austerlitz, about a man dealing with the trauma of his Kindertransport; and Belonging, the graphic novel by Nora Krug about a German woman who is exploring her family’s history. The list of films includes Murderer Among Us, Germany Pale Mother, The Lives of Others, and the comedy Good-bye Lenin. Thematically, all these texts and movies are tied by one common theme: the question of how German writers and filmmakers were dealing with the legacy of National Socialism and Stalinism in East Germany.

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Plundered: Tales of Extractivism and Resistance

Open, Small Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

First, it was gold. Then, it was silver, sugar, oil...bananas, avocados. Taking as its point of departure Eduardo Galeano’s foundational study, The Open Veins of Latin America, this course will explore the centuries-long history of plunder—and resistance—in Abya Yala through fiction and nonfiction, feature films, and documentaries. We will look at some of the most pressing environmental and social-justice issues in the region—including deforestation, industrial pollution, and access to water—with an eye toward the relationship between activism and artistic expression. Our contextualized readings and viewings will include public statements and creative works from land defenders; Pablo Neruda’s condemnation of neoimperialism in his poem, The United Fruit Company; Samanta Schweblin’s gothic novel about the horrors of agrochemicals; a narrative film set against the successful uprising against water privatization in Bolivia; and frontline journalism. This course will focus on the lands colonized by Spain and Portugal and the intersecting forms of neocolonial violence to which they continue to be subjected but will not lose sight of the resonances between these histories and those that took, and are taking, place across the continent. This interactive small lecture will fully participate in the collaborative interludes and other programs of the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

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Home, Exile, and Emigration in German Literature

Open, Small Lecture—Spring | 3 credits

Human history has always been characterized by the forced or voluntary migration of groups of people or individuals. In this small lecture, we will analyze stories, novels, and some theoretical texts about the dialectical relationship between the concepts of “home” and “exile.” While our principal focus will lie on the interpretation of German literary texts from the 18th century until today, this lecture will begin with selected stories from the Old Testament (Pentateuch) in order to illustrate what, perhaps, can be called “the archetypal dimension of exile”; i.e., the fact that “being in exile”—no longer “at home”—seems to be the existential and psychological norm and not the exception of our human existence. This lecture is not a historical overview of literary representations of “home” and “exile”; rather, we will explore (through some “case studies”) the various meanings that writers such as Goethe, Hesse, E. T. A Hoffmann, Sigmund Freud, Anna Seghers, Sebald, and other contemporary German writers have attributed to the relationship of being “in exile” and being “at home.” Theoretical essays by Edward Said, Julia Kristeva, and others will provide us with some critical vocabulary to speak and write about this topic.

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

Open, Small Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

One of John Keats’s sonnets begins, “The poetry of earth is never dead.” This interactive small lecture will step back from Keats—to the writing of several of his great predecessors in the English Renaissance—to reflect on how imagination shaped environment and how environment shaped imagination in the early modern period. Late 16th- and 17th-century was 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 came all of the challenges to natural environment and its resources with which we are so familiar with and by which we are challenged: 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 responded 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; and as cultivatable human habitation and home. Class reading will include two early plays of Shakespeare—A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You LIke It; Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene; John Milton's environmental epic, Paradise Lost, and poems leading up to it; Andrew Marvell's lyric poetry; and Margaret Cavendish's The Blazing World. Conference work will entail more extended work in any of these writers and literary modes and will provide opportunities to explore other writers of the early modern period who are engaged in theorizing and imagining nature—including studies in history, philosophy, geography, politics, or theory.

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Our Revels Now Are Ended: Late Shakespeare

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

The turn of the 17th century found Shakespeare approaching the height of his career. Shortly after James I ascended to the throne of England in 1603, a royal patent extended the king’s patronage over London’s leading troupe of players, transforming the Lord Chamberlain’s Men into the King’s Men. Unknown to Shakespeare at the time, the formation of the King’s Men marked the beginning of his final decade as a playwright. The revels were coming to an end. This course looks at Shakespeare’s late plays—drama written and performed between 1600 and 1613. We’ll begin the term with Hamlet and continue through a series of tragedies unmatched in English dramatic literature—Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus. Tragedy will give way to improbable return and reunion, as we read Shakespeare’s great romances: Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. Along the way, we’ll encounter problem plays and even a late history. The term will end with a move from stage to page, as we take a focused look at the First Folio of 1623: the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s works ever printed. Entering its quadricentennial, the Folio is one of the most important early printed books and our sole source for 18 of Shakespeare’s plays. Our study of this extraordinary edition will introduce students to early modern print culture and book history. By the end of the course, students will have a rich understanding of Shakespeare’s major late works and a sense of how these plays fit within the lively Jacobean commercial theatre. Biweekly group conferences may focus on non-Shakespearean 17th-century drama, performance history, or print culture—secondary concerns that will enrich our understanding of Shakespeare’s masterful final act.

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Documentation and Transformation: Mapping Travel in Contemporary Literature

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

Fernando Pessoa wrote, “Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.” This intriguing insight into the nature of travel offers the starting point for an exploration of a diverse selection of contemporary literature. We will also make our own forays into travel writing with weekly field notebook exercises and creative nonfiction essays about place, movement, journey. As a part of conference work, students will work in small groups on individual or collaborative projects. Major topics of the course include ethnography, tourism, psychogeography, postcolonial histories, translation, migration, exile, memory. Authors may include: Christa Wolf, Helene Cixous, Jamaica Kincaid, Michael Ondaatje, Amitav Ghosh, W. G. Sebald, Orhan Pamuk, Bhanu Kapil, Ocean Vuong, Cristina Rivera Garza, Yoko Tawaka, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Ayad Akhtar, Robert Macfarlane, and others.

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Acting Up: Theatre and Theatricality in the Long-Running 18th Century

Open, Large seminar—Year | 10 credits

From soap operas to sketch comedy, drag shows to musical theatre, Restoration and 18th-century Britain helped to shape the modern conventions of dramatic art and popular entertainment. The period also introduced an early form of celebrity culture, thanks in part to the rise of England’s first professional female actors and the reign of a king, Charles II, who loved theatre and all-too-public extramarital sex. At the same time, the increasing prominence of drama raised unsettling questions about the nature of performance, not only as a form of artistic practice but also as an element of social and political life. What if, for instance, our putatively God-given identities (king and subject, wife and husband) were merely factitious roles that we could adopt or discard at will? This seminar considers how authors and theatrical professionals from the 1660s to the 1820s imagined the potential of performance to transform—or sometimes to reinforce—the status quo, with a look ahead to plays and films that have inherited and adapted the legacy of 18th-century entertainments, as well as backward to the Renaissance drama that paved the way for Restoration stagecraft. Our emphasis will be on plays, with a survey of major Restoration and 18th-century comedies (some of the funniest ever written), parodies, afterpieces, heroic tragedies, imperial pageants, sentimental dramas, and Gothic spectacles by authors such as William Wycherley, George Etherege, John Dryden, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, John Gay, Henry Fielding, Elizabeth Inchbald, Pierre Beaumarchais, and Georg Büchner. We will also consider nondramatic writing on performance and theatrical culture, including 18th-century acting manuals, racy theatrical memoirs, and a “masquerade novel” by Eliza Haywood, as well as earlier plays by the likes of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. More contemporary playwrights and filmmakers under consideration may include Bertolt Brecht, Jean Genet, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, Edward Albee, and Jeremy O. Harris. This is a large seminar, with group conferences that include assigned reading.

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Tradition and Transformation: 17th-Century British Literature

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

In the 17th century in England, the great ordering coherences of medieval and earlier Renaissance thinking seemed to disintegrate under the warring impulses of individualism and authority, empiricism and faith, revolutionary transformation and reinforcement of tradition. Yet, even as monarchy and the established church were challenged and torn apart, the 17th century produced an extraordinary flowering of drama, poetry, and prose that expressed the contradictory energies of the period. We will study English writing of the 17th century in a roughly chronological sequence. The first semester will explore the aesthetics and ideology of the Stuart courts and the robust and bawdy urban century of London through a reading of masques and plays by Jonson and Shakespeare and their contemporaries; dramatic experiments in “metaphysical” and moral verse by Donne, Jonson, Herbert, and other poets; various developments in scientific, philosophical, and meditative prose by Bacon, Burton, and Browne; and the early poetry of Milton. The second semester will be devoted to major writers during the periods of the English Revolution and the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Our primary attention will be on the radical politics and the visionary poetics of Milton, particularly Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes; but we will also study the work of the cavalier and libertine court poets, as well as Andrew Marvell, Katherine Phillips, Aphra Behn, and John Dryden. John Bunyan’s spiritual allegory Pilgrim’s Progress and Behn’s colonial romance novel, Oroonoko, will provide a retrospect of the imagined and the social worlds that we have traversed and a prospect of the worlds to come.

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Eight American Poets

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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 American poets: Whitman, Dickinson, and Robert Frost in our first semester; Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery in our second semester. Some of the poems that we will read are accessible on a superficial level and present challenges to interpretation only on closer examination; other poems—most notably, those written by Dickinson, Stevens, Eliot, Crane, and Ashbery—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 and with passages of poetry that are, at times, 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 that we encounter through close, imaginative reading and informed speculation.

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Art of Indetermination: Eastern Praxis in Dialogue With Feminist and Postcolonial Thought

Sophomore and Above, Large seminar—Year | 10 credits

This cultural-studies course offers the opportunity to study the nature of aesthetic experience within an Eastern philosophical framework. In particular, feminist, queer, and postcolonial thinkers offer prescient points of cultural translation for Taoist and Buddhist practices in the contemporary context—which this course posits is a world shaped by globalization, social movements, visual culture, and digital media. We will read selections of key works within contemporary critical theory, while assembling individual archives of sound, image, and text to explore in writing and conversation. Students are invited to inhabit the figure of the cultural critic in experimental ways by engaging diverse modes of Eastern and Western praxes. The format of this course balances short lectures, seminar-style discussions, small-group projects, and individual portfolios of writing and/or multisensorial media production.

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Austen Inc.: 18th-Century Women Writers

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

“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 classic marriage-plot novels such 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 untraditional marriage-plot novels such 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, and Sally Rooney’s Normal People, the marriages and courtships that 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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Dante’s Encyclopedia: The Divine Comedy and its Intertexts

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Dante’s The Divine Comedy is, perhaps, the most creative encyclopedic work of the Middle Ages. Presenting the story of a unique religious pilgrimage through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, this epic poem envelops readers in a comprehensive education on everything from philosophy and theology to astronomy and geometry. The work teems with information on virtue and vice, as a reader of medieval spiritual texts might expect, but also surprises with debates on secular and sacred love, political theory, local and universal histories, and inquiries of ethics, epistemology, and ontology. This course will explore Dante’s “circle of knowledge,” as it emerges through the aesthetic, emotional, and intellectual dimensions of his poem. The study of intertextual figures will help to illuminate the subtle ways in which Dante promotes his understanding of the world. Works—including not only the three canticles of Dante’s The Divine Comedy but also excerpts from his New Life (Vita Nuova), Monarchy (De Monarchia), On Eloquence in the Vernacular (De Vulgari eloquentia), and The Banquet (Convivio)—will be read in translation.

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Disability, Media, and Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This course examines representations of disability in literature and other media while also exploring how disability shapes the experience of readers and audiences. Course readings will include stories such as H. G. Wells’s The Country of the Blind, novels like Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, and poetry collections like Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic. We will also watch films such as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Crip Camp. In addition to these works, we will read a range of secondary texts about the history of audiobooks for the blind and dyslexic, sign-language poetics, and legislation for closed captioning, among other topics. We will look at particular artists and their work to consider how a deaf playwright approaches writing for the stage, how a blind memoirist describes her experiences in art museums, and how an actor with cerebral palsy experiences the physicality of his craft. Conference work will include community engagement with the Wartburg Adult Care Community. You will be asked to consider the access needs of seniors at Wartburg and work together to help make literature, music, and film more accessible to them.

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Reading Serially: What Watching TV Tells Us About the Victorian Novel

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

The first season of the TV show Dickinson depicts an exchange between the two lesser-known Dickinson siblings: Emily’s sister, Lavinia, and her brother, Austin. They’re discussing Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. “Can you believe it about Lady Dedlock?” Austin asks Lavinia. “Oh my god, SPOILERS,” Lavinia yells, putting her hands over her ears. The Victorian novel was read much in the same way that we enjoy the bite-sized portions of Dickinson, WandaVision, or Killing Eve that Apple TV, Disney Plus, or Hulu feed to us. Victorian publishers often released novels in partial, successive sections or installments. This course will interrogate the experience of reading the serialized Victorian novel. Together, we’ll read four serialized Victorian novels: Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. We will read Cranford in its original serial installments, with time gaps interposed between the “release” of each new episode to approximate the Victorian experience. We will read the other three novels in their 21st-century guise as single-volume texts. We’ll study all four novels alongside supplemental scholarly investigations of the experience of reading, re-reading, and delayed narrative gratification and explore how Victorian novelists paved the way for what may well be our most prevalent contemporary mode of storytelling: the televised serial. We’ll also consider the rise of other serialized forms, like the podcast. Because serialization in any century impacts the writer as well as the reader, we will examine how writing individual chapters or episodes on deadline and getting “early” reader feedback mid-story may have affected both Victorian novelists and today’s telescript writers. In so doing, we’ll also explore how we produce and watch TV today; for example, we might examine the possible motivations behind Disney’s recent pivot to releasing more shows one episode at a time, such as The Book of Boba Fett or Hawkeye. We’ll also watch a show that is coming out episode-by-episode during the fall 2022 semester in order to observe our own viewing of serialized content in real time. One class period will include a visit from Eduardo Pavez Goye, a telenovela-writer-turned-academic, who will talk to us about the process of crafting a show that is released daily. The intersection here—between 19th- and 21st-century cultural products—will also facilitate our exploration of different critical vantage points, including close reading, historicism, and reader-response approaches. Conference projects could include, for example, an exploration of another serialized Victorian novel, an investigation of other modern mediums that utilize the serial form (comic books, podcasts), or investigating the origins of the Victorian serial form (sketches, short stories).

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Indigeneity and Environmental Crisis

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Settler colonialism might be described as a colonialism that lasts, meaning that settlers come to stay and attempt to permanently dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands and waters. This course proposes that settler colonialism is, itself, a form of environmental crisis that Indigenous peoples have been weathering and resisting for more than 400 years. Using environmental humanities methods, students will be encouraged to think of both crisis and resistance in expansive terms. Topics to be addressed include (but are not limited to) location-based research, kinship relationships and responsibilities, environmental injustice in a settler colony, gender-based violence and resource extraction, Indigenous petrocultures, pipeline blockades, nuclear colonialism, and coalitional environmental resistance. The course begins by locating us in Lenapehoking—the lands of the Lenape—and, in subsequent weeks, we will consider case studies in environmental crisis and Indigenous resistance across local, continental, and global scales. The syllabus includes a range of literary, artistic, and critical texts, including works by Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, Nick Estes, and Warren Cariou.

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Classic American Literature: The 19th Century and Its Legacy

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

At a time when he was America’s most famous novelist, Ernest Hemingway declared that all modern American literature begins with Mark Twain’s novel, Huckleberry Finn. This course is based on the belief that Hemingway did not look closely enough at the authors who constitute the classic American prose writers of the 19th century. The heroes and heroines of their densely-written books offer us a legacy of defiance that is distinctly modern. Twain is no outlier when put in their company. In the autobiographical Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass flees slavery to begin a new life in the North as a writer and abolitionist. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne refuses to conform to Puritan society and has a baby out of wedlock. In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, his narrator—who never reveals his actual name—goes to sea seeking meaning on a whale ship. In Henry Thoreau’s Walden, Thoreau takes up life in the woods in order to draw closer to nature. In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Huck travels down the Mississippi with an escaped slave with whom Huck sides despite his southern upbringing. In Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer refuses to make the marriage expected of her;, and in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (published at the start of the 20th century), her heroine, Lily Bart, flouts convention even more daringly. In focusing on just seven books, the aim of this course is to provide an opportunity for a series of close readings of representative texts. In conference, students will be encouraged to look more closely at other work by these same authors, as well as the 19th-century English novel.

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

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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

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Metaphysical Poetry

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

The best lyric poets of 17th-century England have been loosely characterized as “metaphysical poets” because of their “wit”; their intellectual range, rigor, and inventiveness; the versatility and trickery of their poetic strategies; and their remarkable fusion of thought and passion. Masters of paradox, these poets stage and analyze their expressive intensities with technical precision. They eroticize religious devotion and sanctify bodily desire with fearless and searching bravado. They stretch their linguistic tightropes across a historical arena of tremendous political and religious turmoil, in response to which they forge what some critics consider to be early evidences of the ironic self-consciousness of modernity, poetic dramatizations of the Cartesian ego. We will test these claims, as well as the sufficiency of the category “metaphysical,” against the evidence of the poems themselves. We will closely read significant poems of Donne, Jonson, Herbert, Phillips, Herrick, Vaughan, Crashaw, Milton, Marvell, and Behn. We will attend primarily to how they work as poems, looking at argument, structure, diction, syntax, tone, image, and figure. We will also consider their religious, cultural, and psychological implications. Students will prepare three papers based on class readings. Conference work is recommended in correlative topics: the English Bible, Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Shakespearean and Jacobean drama, or influences on and comparisons to Romantic or Modern English poetry.

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Imagining Imperialism

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Traditional imperialism is generally understood to be the policy of extending a state’s authority by territorial acquisition. Neoimperialism is generally understood to be the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other states. Because 19th-century European imperialism was remarkably dynamic and expanded over much of the globe—by 1914, the only truly sovereign states not controlled by Europeans or their descendants were Japan, what were then called Abyssinia and Siam, and Afghanistan—we tend to see imperialism through the prism of race. But this can be a distorting prism, because imperialism is almost as old as politics. The first Sumerian cities were part of imperial arrangements. And, over the millennia, imperialism has been almost indifferent to race (in our sense of the word) as often as it has been racially-charged. So, while we will look at some of the ways in which imperialism maps onto modern conceptions of race and racism, we will also examine older imperial ventures and arguments. The indictments of and apologies for imperialism are richly contradictory, Imperialism has been understood as the cause of war and as the only possible escape from war, as the instrument of civilization and as the devastating exposure of the moral claims of the “civilized,” as the hidden economic base of wealthy societies and as an economically irrational and self-destructive course that brings down wealthy societies. The clash of rival imperialisms is often seen as the great and terrible drama of the last century, and the new century has been touted as inaugurating a burst of self-conscious imperialism by the United States—which had long understood itself as a vigorously anti-imperial power while being seen by many as the most successful imperial power of modern history. In this course, we shall look at some of the literature, history, and theories of imperialism. Readings may include, among others, Thucydides, Xenophon, Virgil, Gibbon, Marx, Conrad, Kipling, Schumpeter, Joseph Roth, Orwell, and Shaw. We shall also look at contemporary theorists and use some secondary sources.

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The Upstart Crow: Elizabethan Shakespeare

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

One of the earliest references to Shakespeare’s literary career is an insult. Robert Greene, a Cambridge-educated playwright and pamphleteer, complained of his rival’s success by grumbling about “an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers.” The recently arrived Shakespeare was a poor imitator of England’s leading dramatic poets, Greene protested. Whatever one’s verdict on the quality of the verse, one thing was clear: Shakespeare was shaking up London’s commercial theatre almost from the moment of his arrival. This seminar looks at Shakespeare’s Elizabethan years, a period spanning the late 1580s through 1603. We begin with some early successes, plays like Richard III and Titus Andronicus, before continuing to some of his most famous works, including Henry IV, Part I; As You Like It; and Twelfth Night. Along the way, we’ll find time for a few understudied plays, such as Henry VI, Parts 2 & 3, and King John. Reading from Shakespeare’s apprentice-like early offerings through the great comedies and histories will give us an opportunity to explore Shakespeare’s development alongside the growth of the commercial theatre, allowing us to see the “upstart Crow” become London’s leading dramatist. Students will leave the seminar with a firm grounding in Shakespeare’s early work, having encountered representative comedies, tragedies, and histories from his most productive period. Biweekly conferences may consider non-Shakespearean drama, performance history, or Shakespeare in adaptation—perspectives that may help us understand how Shakespeare fits within the rambunctious Elizabethan theatre world and why, after 400 years, there’s still so much to say about these great plays.

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Movement and Migration: Modern Caribbean Women’s Writing

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Though discussions of immigration in the United States have recently focused on the transnational movement of people from Central and South America, this country, in general, and the Eastern Seaboard, in particular, have long been porous to the movement of Black people from the Caribbean. From the 16th-century importation of Africans enslaved in Barbados to the Carolinas, through the immigration of African Americans to Haiti after Haitian Independence, up to the contemporary seasonal migration of Jamaican farmworkers to Upstate New York, Black people have long moved between the United States and the Caribbean. How might we understand the gendered, racial, and classed dimensions of migration differently if we focused on the recent history of Caribbean arts and letters? This course seeks to answer this question by studying anglophonic 20th- and 21st-century Caribbean women’s writing on migration between the metropole (be it New York City, London, or elsewhere) and the Caribbean. Reading across forms (novels, poetry, and so on) and genres (historical fiction, epics, etc.), we will attend to the writings of authors such as Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid, Dionne Brand, M. Nourbese Philip, and more. Along the way, we’ll read recent works of theory and scholarship to advance our understanding of the texts and the subjects. In so doing, we will seek to understand how modern Caribbean women’s writing continues to influence Black studies and Black thought across the globe. Short assignments may include close readings, historical papers, and more.

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Romantic Legacies: Tennyson to T. S. Eliot

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This course offers a survey of some of the most influential poets writing in English from the Victorian period to the early 20th century, when modernists like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound loudly proclaimed their break from Romanticism and its Victorian heirs. Our readings are bookended by two monuments to their cultural moments: Tennyson’s long elegy for Arthur Hallam, In Memoriam: A. H. H., which Queen Victoria kept on her bedside table next to her Bible, and Eliot’s The Waste Land, of which William Carlos Williams wrote: “It wiped out our world as if an atom bomb had been dropped upon it and our brave sallies into the unknown were turned to dust.” Eliot’s debt to Tennyson is clearer in retrospect than it was to Eliot’s contemporaries. Indeed, as the course title suggests, all the poets on our syllabus can be read, productively, as heirs of Romanticism whose attempts to break with Romantic tradition only extended and enlarged it. This course presumes some familiarity with the most influential British Romantic poets or a willingness to gain a familiarity with their work in conference. Poets to be studied include, among others: Tennyson, Whitman, R. Browning, C. Rossetti, Dickinson, Hardy, Yeats, and Eliot.

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Time in Literature and Philosophy

Open, Joint seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Where do we turn to understand the human experience of time? Science and technology might tell us about the physical flow of time or how the units of seconds, minutes, hours, and days might help to order time. Philosophy and literature, however, broaden the question of what time really is, emphasizing its inscrutability and elusiveness. Works in these disciplines demonstrate not only the mystery of human temporality but also the ways in which language and art attempt to capture, represent, or escape time. This course will examine the abiding concern with time and the complexities of temporal experience by examining a range of philosophical and literary writings, from antiquity to the present, as well as several films. Readings will include works by Augustine, Nietzsche, Kant, Kristeva, and Heidegger, as well as literary texts by Boethius, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Woolf.

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Gender and Sexuality in the Irish Novel

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Irish writers have long been interested in the correlation between gender and sexuality and issues of religion, class, colonization, revolutionary nationalism, migration, and poverty. When Ireland became the first nation to vote in favor of gay marriage by national referendum in 2015, Irish voters were acutely conscious of their country’s fraught history: Years of sexual-abuse scandals within the Catholic Church had weakened the hold of the Church on voters, and young Irish voters, in particular, now wanted their country to take a progressive lead on the world stage. This course will chart changing attitudes toward gender and sexuality from the 19th to the 21st century. We will do so by examining works of literature, history, and anthropology. Particular attention will be paid to literary genres, such as the national tale in which the 1800 Act of Union was figured as the marriage between a feminized Ireland and a masculine England; the Big House novel—an Irish variant of the country-house novel—pioneered by women writers; Gothic novels like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray; the expatriate modernist novels of James Joyce and Elizabeth Bowen; banned books that were silenced by national censorship boards in the mid-20th century; and the new wave of 21st-century Irish writers led by Sally Rooney.

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Signs of the Material World: Dostoevsky and 19th-Century Science

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

“Once it's proved to you, for example, that you are descended from an ape, there’s no use making a wry face; just take it for what it is,” the Underground Man says; Lebeziatnikov, in Crime and Punishment, attempts to educate the prostitute Sonia by lending her a copy of G. H. Lewes’s pioneering work in physiological psychology, The Physiology of Common Life. Ivan Karamazov rejects non-Euclidean geometry, while his brother Dmitrii worries that chemistry will displace God: “Move over a little, Your Reference, there’s no help for it, chemistry’s coming!” This one-semester course will frame a rich and multifaceted reading of Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov with an exploration of Dostoevsky’s complicated view of the interrelationships of mind and body and mind and material world. We will consider Dostoevsky’s response in the context of the very many of his contemporaries engaged in a new discourse of science, including his main ideological opponent, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, as well as writers whose more sophisticated approach helped shape Dostoevsky’s own: Balzac, Poe, Wilkie Collins, Dickens, George Eliot. We will also read some of the scientists and science writers whose works both influenced and were influenced by 19th-century European literature, including Darwin; French philosopher Auguste Comte and physiologist Claude Bernard; American philosopher, scientist, and mathematician Charles Sanders Peirce; and the English George Henry Lewes—the last-named not just a favorite of the fictional Lebeziatnikov but the common-law husband of the real George Eliot. As part of the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course collaborative, we will also finally put our own bodies and minds to work in the material world. While students are welcome to devote conference time to further work in literature and/or the intersections of literature and science, fieldwork addressing current issues in the environment is also encouraged. Over the course of the semester, we will also bring Dostoevsky and the insights of 19th-century science and politics to a wider audience as we participate in two two-week interludes devoted to climate justice and involving collaborative projects and research together with students and faculty from across the College and at Bronx Community College.

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Gothic Decay: The Literature and Science of Soils, Swamps, and Forests

Open, Joint seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Western literature and culture deeply influence how our country negatively perceives transitional spaces, such as the spaces between cultivated land and forest or between water and land. The need for control pushes us to reshape or eliminate marshes, swamps, thickets, and other forms of overgrowth. Similarly, we feel uncomfortable considering the soils in which we bury our dead—or we ignore them completely. Yet, a closer examination of the biology of decay reveals cycles of life that follow death, with growth, reproduction, and nutrient exchange accompanying decay at every turn. We will read excerpts of literary works that have shaped our cultural perception of decay and of these transitional states and spaces, including works by Sophocles, Mary Shelley, Alice Walker, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and others. We will also explore the ecosystems themselves through lab experiments and trips to local parks and field stations (Center for the Urban River at Beczak, Untermeyer Gardens). This joint course will evaluate the divide between culture and science and explore how cultural representations may evolve with an adequate framing of scientific research and findings. This course fully participates in the collaborative interludes in the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

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Care Work, Climate Adaptation, and the Settler Colony

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

How might we care for each other in the midst of accelerating planetary change? This course provides us with the theoretical frameworks to grasp the long and multifaceted history of environmental crisis on this continent and, likewise, to grasp the diversity of critical, careful responses to imposed disaster. The course begins with the proposition that dominant structures of care in the settler colony—afforded by the nuclear family, the state, and private enterprise—depend upon and reproduce racialized and gendered exploitation bound to the same systems that make environmental crisis inevitable. Throughout the semester, we will explore other literary and scholarly theorizations and enactments of care work that move outside dominant care regimes and that have always been responsive to environmental crisis in its long history. The reading for the course moves from Indigenous studies to queer studies to the energy and environmental humanities, illuminating critical intersections of use to a student interested in any one of those fields. Primary and secondary texts include works by José Esteban Muñoz, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Natalie Diaz, Sophie Lewis, Kim TallBear, Sheena Wilson, Imre Szeman, Samuel R. Delany, and Dean Spade, among others. Assignments for the course encourage students to take inspiration from the texts on our syllabus. In other words, you may present your work in creative as well as critical forms. Podcasts, manifestos, websites, –zines…are all more than welcome.

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First-Person America: Classic American Literature of the 20th Century

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

In 20th-century American literature, first-person writing is central to a series of classic texts—from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son. The result is a body of literature at once personal and far-reaching. This course will explore how first-person writing, with its emphasis on supplying an “I” for an eye, increased the diversity of the 20th-century authors that Americans read and even influenced the form of books not written in the first person. We will pay particular attention to how first-person writing was conducive to the rise of narrators who, in the past, might have been dismissed as unreliable or ignored as outsiders. The reading for this course will include novels, memoirs, and journalism and move chronologically through the 20th century. In addition to the work of Fitzgerald and Baldwin, the books we study will include Willa Cather’s My Antonia, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In conference, students will have a chance to combine close analysis with their own first-person approach to a subject or an author.

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

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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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Novelists and Sociologists

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

One group of 19th-century realist novels, also some later novels with apparently comparable ambitions, are sometimes imagined to have been, in part, responses to things that seemed unprecedented; e.g., an acceleration of historical velocity, the diffusion of new forms of economic life, the rise of new classes and pressures on older elites, increasing urbanization, and the apparently sudden and disorienting arrival of something denoted by a word that dated from the beginning of the 19th century—modernity. The ambitions of these novels included description and assessment (in the title of one of them) of “the way we live now.” In roughly the same period, a new science—sociology— appeared, comparably ambitious and also attempting the description and analysis of new forms of social order and social change. Since some of the novelists and sociologists appear to have been engaged in a comparable project, it may be rewarding to read them together—which is what we’ll do in this class. Our syllabus will probably include Balzac’s Old Goriot, Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, Dickens’ Bleak House, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Marx’s and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, some of Simmel’s essays and some of Weber’s, and W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk. Whether or not it proves particularly profitable to read these writers in the same course, we’ll certainly read some good books.

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Black Trans Studies

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

The publication of the first issue of Trans Studies Quarterly in 2014 both announced a field and institutionalized already existing knowledge production. In the years since, trans studies, in general, and Black trans studies, in particular, have continued to expand, yielding new ways of thinking about identity, state violence, and the political production of life, among other things. This course seeks to acquaint students with recent developments in Black trans studies. We begin with writing about early American history to study the ways in which the understandings of gender by enslaved Africans differed from European colonial genders. We continue through the 19th century to read narratives of slavery alongside recent scholarship on such narratives in Black trans studies. And, finally, we turn to the 20th and 21st centuries, focusing on artistic production by Black trans authors in mediums such as film, visual art, and literature. On top of our central focus on the relationship between race and gender, we will pay special attention to resistance, incarceration, and visibility—engaging with cultural producers such as Janet Mock, Tourmaline, Rivers Solomon, CeCe Macdonald, Danez Smith, and more. Along the way, short critical assignments will help us to engage more closely and more deeply with research methods, cultural criticism, and individual cultural works.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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Reading China’s Revolutions Through Literature and Memoir

Open, Seminar—Fall

Some of the most revealing and groundbreaking prose written in 20th-century China is to be found in neither history nor politics but in fiction and memoir. The premise of this course is that literature offers an important glimpse into the individual, social, and cultural consequences of China’s revolutions. More specifically, the course will look at the literature produced following the 1911 revolution and May Fourth Movement, the 1949 Communist Revolution, the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and the post-Mao era (1976-2000). Our reading will involve methods of both literary analysis and historical criticism. Topics to be explored include: the ways in which early writers viewed the problems of traditional literature, the proper form and function of revolution, and the role of literature in bringing about social change. We will also look at the ways in which some writers (among them Lu Xun and Ding Ling) created new narrative techniques to embody their vision of social realism and in which others adopted Western literary techniques to convey their self-image as “modern” or “international” writers.

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Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring

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, Argentina, 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 those 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 in which 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. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); 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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Postrevolutionary Chinese Fiction: The Novel as History in a Neoliberal Age

Open, Seminar—Spring

This seminar looks to mainland and Taiwanese fiction as a window on recent Chinese history. In the 1980s, China emerged from the paroxysms of the Maoist period (1949-76) and began its transition toward a market-based economy. Accompanying this economic liberalization, many of the tight political controls on writers were (temporarily) loosened. All types of literature, but particularly fiction, boomed. China returned to its rich heritage of a book culture, with a mass book market sustained by avid consumers. And Chinese fiction has won an international audience and acclaim, culminating in 2011 with MO Yan’s Nobel Prize in literature. Since then, however, political controls by the increasingly authoritarian state have been tightened again. Literature, thus, stands at the heart of China’s postrevolutionary history. We will interrogate fictional works in postrevolutionary China for how they deal with and understand a rapidly changing society and economy. What are the legacies of decades of revolution for Chinese literature? By examining narratives that deal with the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), we will look at how writers have assessed and appropriated the Maoist period, especially the experience of intellectuals “sent down” to the countryside. How did the “nativist” fiction of the 1980s and 1990s reevaluate Chinese tradition and traditional society? Urban fiction, often decadent and gritty, will raise issues of how authors and narratives portray China’s breakneck economic development? What is the relationship between art and politics in these works? Do they tacitly support or subtly resist political authoritarianism? We will also look at Taiwanese literature from the 1960s through the 1990s, as it, too, grappled with economic development, its political basis, and social effects. Along the way, we will encounter MO Yan’s blood-drenched bandit heroes; YU Hua’s long-suffering peasant; SU Tong’s vicious sadists; disaffected urban youths in an age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; HAN Shaogong’s novel written in the form of a dictionary; and BAI Xianyong’s homosexual young men searching for love. The majority of the course consists of fiction from mainland China and Taiwan, but we will also read some short memoir pieces by novelists and the debates in Western media about MO Yan’s 2011 Nobel Prize. There is no prerequisite knowledge of China (history or literature) required for this course.

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Gothic Decay: The Literature and Science of Soils, Swamps, and Forests

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

Western literature and culture deeply influence how our country negatively perceives transitional spaces, such as the spaces between cultivated land and forest or between water and land. The need for control pushes us to reshape or eliminate marshes, swamps, thickets, and other forms of overgrowth. Similarly, we feel uncomfortable considering the soils in which we bury our dead—or we ignore them completely. Yet, a closer examination of the biology of decay reveals cycles of life that follow death, with growth, reproduction, and nutrient exchange accompanying decay at every turn. We will read excerpts of literary works that have shaped our cultural perception of decay and of these transitional states and spaces, including works by Sophocles, Mary Shelley, Alice Walker, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and others. We will also explore the ecosystems themselves through lab experiments and trips to local parks and field stations (Center for the Urban River at Beczak, Untermeyer Gardens). This joint course will evaluate the divide between culture and science and explore how cultural representations may evolve with an adequate framing of scientific research and findings. This course fully participates in the collaborative interludes in the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

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First-Year Studies in Performing Arts: A Multidisciplinary Collective/Portal in Practice and Theory

FYS—Year

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. —Arundhati Roy, The Pandemic is a Portal (April 2020)

Acclaimed feminist author, educator, and revolutionary thinker bell hooks wrote, “Art constitutes one of the rare locations where acts of transcendence can take place and have a wide-ranging transformative impact” (Art on My Mind: Visual Politics, 1999). Historian Howard Zinn echoes this, saying, “…the artist transcends the immediate. Transcends the here and now. Transcends the madness of the world. Transcends terrorism and war. The artist thinks, acts, performs music, and writes outside the framework that society has created…” (Artists in Times of War, 2003). The tumultuous period that we are currently experiencing, with unprecedented challenges in social, political, and environmental realms, sets the stage for us as artists to contribute the vital elements of human civilization that are our domain. Collective effort is at the heart of performing arts; thus, our contributions rely upon our abilities to connect and coordinate. Ultimately, the power of any collective relies upon the vibrance of each member. From Broadway, opera, and concert stages to experimental performance venues and political demonstrations, collective actions by artists have played a part in moving society forward. We will study works by visionary artists who have been inspired to venture across disciplines to grapple with the challenges of their times (including Anna Deveare Smith, Tony Kushner, Janelle Monet, Bill T. Jones, Meredith Monk) and will join forces, drawing upon the unique history of each participant to construct an expansive portal for individual and collaborative inquiry. This is a course for students with an established practice and experience in theatre, music, and/or dance who wish to continue advancing skills in their established disciplines. Students will take additional multiple components in dance, music, or theatre to comprise a Third program in one of these performing arts. Students will be guided through a selection of components in their discipline during registration and will attend discipline-specific information sessions as part of the registration process.

  • Theatre students will take two or three additional theatre components, along with biweekly Theatre Meetings and periodic Think Tank meetings, and will fulfill Tech Credit requirements. Students are welcome to audition for theatre projects each semester.
  • Music students will take three or four additional components, including individual lessons, Music Theory, Music History, Music Technology (optional), and Performance Ensemble (by audition), along with concert attendance and periodic Music Tuesday meetings. Students are welcome to join more than one performance ensemble (recommended for students who have had previous training in music, such as instrumental lessons, beginning theory, etc.).
  • Dance students will take three or four additional components, including movement practice classes and creative practice, along with periodic Dance Meetings, and will fulfill the Dance Tech Production requirements. Students are welcome to audition for dance program performances each semester.

FYS in Performing Arts is a yearlong course comprised of a weekly component class and weekly individual donning conferences. Serving as a home base for students, it will be a core class from which explorations into various disciplines arise. Class meetings will incorporate both practice-based and theoretically-based activities, experimenting with interdisciplinary possibilities through collaborative exercises, reflection, discussion, reading, and writing. Class readings will be selected texts from within theatre, music, and dance, as well as fields beyond the arts. Conferences in the spring semester may be weekly or biweekly, according to students’ needs and progress. Over the course of the year, we will conceptualize and create a collective multidisciplinary performance work to be shown informally at the end of the spring semester, with elements contributed by each member of the class/collective. Independent research inquiries will be pursued throughout the year, supported by individual conferences and periodic working groups in class, culminating in the writing, revising, and presentation of a research paper in the spring semester. The aim of this course is to support the development of skills necessary for expansive artistic collaboration and sustained academic research. Supported by the immersive opportunities of SLC’s theatre, music, and dance programs, with emphasis on live performance, students in this course will acquire new abilities and critical insights through experiential and theoretical studies. FYS in Performing Arts is intended for students who have both a strong interest in theatre, music, and/or dance and a desire to discover more about the interconnectedness of the disciplines.

Faculty

Arcades, Trains, and Hysterics: 19th-Century Foundations of Film

Open, Seminar—Fall

This seminar will examine film history and analysis through a proto-cinematic lens inspired by the Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin’s montage-style compendium of Parisian modernization. With this canonical academic experiment as catalyst, we will excavate the 19th-century techno-cultural foundations of film, placing a particular emphasis on the train, department store, factory, metropolis, and mental life. How did these modern developments shape the materiality and content of early films? And what do they have to tell us about film today? Alongside weekly screenings, we will read classic texts of critical theory (Marx, Freud, Simmel, Benjamin, Kracauer, Adorno); modern/modernist fiction (Poe, Baudelaire, Zola, Pirandello, Keun, Du Bois); and new cultural history on hysterical performance, shell shock cinema, human motors, spectacular realities, and slapstick modernism. We will also watch films directed by Charlie Chaplin, René Clair, Jacques Tati, Chantal Akerman, Boots Riley, and Bong Joon-ho. In this class, students will get an overview of European modernity studies and learn to read films media-archaeologically, tying them to the major industrial shifts, perceptual transformations, and hybrid forms from which cinema emerged as a dominant mass medium.

Faculty

2D Digital Animation: Short Narratives

Open, Seminar—Year

In this class, students will develop animation and storytelling skills by focusing on the process of creating animated short films. Participants will develop and refine their personal style through exercises in story design and assignments directed at translating ideas into moving images. Digitally-drawn images (with the option to include live action and photographs) will be assembled in sync to sound. Compositing exercises cover a wide range of motion-graphic features, including green screen, keyframing, timeline, effects, 2D space, layering, and lighting. Exercises in the fall will provide students with a working knowledge of the software Harmony by Toon Boon. The fall semester, taught by Robin Starbuck, includes instruction exercises in all of the production steps required to produce a short, animated film of one-to-three minutes. These include the basic principles of animation, color and visual design, story development, continuity, motion, timing, frame-by-frame digital drawing, and rotoscoping. The spring semester, taught by Scott Duce, will involve the hands-on production of a single, short, animated film or PSA by each student. The Toon Boom software will be used for the students’ animated film production in the spring. Harmony is a creative, efficient software used in the film and TV animation industry. No prior drawing experience is necessary.

Faculty

Intermediate German

Intermediate, Small seminar—Year

This course places strong emphasis on expanding vocabulary and thoroughly reviewing grammar, as well as on developing oral and written expression. The aim of the course is to give students more fluency and to prepare them for a possible junior year in Germany. Readings in the fall will consist of short stories, fairy tales, and a graphic novel called Heimat​ (Home). In the spring semester, we will focus on 20th-century stories, historical essays, and some films in order to learn about the major phases of German history and culture between 1871 and today. All materials are linguistically accessible and promote an understanding of the culture’s fundamental values and way of looking at the world. A solid grammar review, based on the book German Grammar in Review, will help students further improve their speaking and writing skills. Regular conferences with Ms. Mizelle will supplement class work, help improve fluency and pronunciation, and emphasize conversational conventions for expressing opinions and leading discussions.

Faculty

Advanced German: Postwar German Literature and Film

Advanced, Small Lecture—Fall

Find the full description for this course under Literature.

Faculty

Advanced German: Home, Exile, and Emigration in German Literature

Advanced, Small Lecture—Spring

Find the full description for this course under Literature.

Faculty

Readings in Intermediate Greek

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Qualified students will read selected passages of Homer and Herodotus in Greek. The class will meet twice each week.

Faculty

Intermediate Greek: Poetry and Prose

Intermediate, Small seminar—Spring

In this course, students of Ancient Greek will choose two texts, one by a prose author and one by a poet, for close reading over the semester. Examples of texts might be: Herodotus’ Histories and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, or the poems of Sappho and Plato’s Symposium. Our goal will be to investigate poetic and prosaic literary constructs, review grammar, and to read different types of Ancient Greek texts.

Faculty

Text and Context: Readings From the 20th-Century United States

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

“But alas!” the aging Frederick Douglass wrote to the young activist Ida B. Wells. “Even crime has power to reproduce itself and create conditions favorable to its own existence. It sometimes seems that we are deserted by Earth and Heaven—yet we must still think, speak and work, and trust in the power of a merciful God for final deliverance.” Douglass had lived through enslavement, the Civil War, the unfinished revolution of Reconstruction, and the materialist savagery of the Gilded Age. He was writing to Wells during the 1890s, the nadir in race relations. Douglass had felt hope and felt deserted, as the years passed. This course will look hard at those who thought and worked through the prism of their historical moment, focusing on three discrete decade studies: the 1860s, the 1890s, and the 1920s. Themes will include shifting ideas about manhood and womanhood, enslavement and race, immigration, national identity, and social convention. Arguably, these were eras where repression prevailed, yet we will look at those who resisted the hard wind of culture, leaning against it despite feeling deserted, and creating space for later cultural, social and political change. Historians will inform our work, but much of it will be reading contemporaries, primary documents from the eras in question. (“Decades” will be defined loosely, with the 1860s beginning with Douglass’s narrative of enslavement in 1845.)

Faculty

The Edgy Enlightenment

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Between the triumph of the Enlightenment in the mid-18th century and the rise of Romanticism in the 1790s lies a span of time, extending roughly from 1760 to 1800, populated by a variety of writers who foreshadowed the end of the Enlightenment without being truly “Romantic.” Many of the most exciting and influential works of literature and thought produced in the 18th century were products of this ambiguous period. For want of a better name, scholars have labeled some of these works “pre-Romantic.” It might be more useful to think of them as products of an “edgy Enlightenment”—a late, adventurous phase of the Enlightenment whose representatives had begun to question the Enlightenment’s own cherished beliefs and, in some cases, to discard them. In this course, we will read a number of the most famous texts produced by writers of the “edgy Enlightenment.” Some were originally written in French: Rousseau’s path-breaking autobiography, The Confessions; Diderot’s comic experimental novel, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master. We also will look at works by Scottish writers: Adam Ferguson’s prophetic Essay on the History of Civil Society and the racy poetry of Robert Burns. Finally, we will read a number of German classics of this period: Goethe’s pioneering novel of an actor’s personal development, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship; several plays by his close collaborator, Friedrich Schiller; short treatises by the brilliant philosopher Immanuel Kant; and selections from the writings of the renowned explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Students may undertake conference projects on a broad range of topics in European history.

Faculty

Postrevolutionary Chinese Fiction: The Novel as History in a Neoliberal Age

Open, Seminar—Spring

This seminar looks to mainland and Taiwanese fiction as a window on recent Chinese history. In the 1980s, China emerged from the paroxysms of the Maoist period (1949-76) and began its transition toward a market-based economy. Accompanying this economic liberalization, many of the tight political controls on writers were (temporarily) loosened. All types of literature, but particularly fiction, boomed. China returned to its rich heritage of a book culture, with a mass book market sustained by avid consumers. And Chinese fiction has won an international audience and acclaim, culminating in 2011 with MO Yan’s Nobel Prize in literature. Since then, however, political controls by the increasingly authoritarian state have been tightened again. Literature, thus, stands at the heart of China’s postrevolutionary history. We will interrogate fictional works in postrevolutionary China for how they deal with and understand a rapidly changing society and economy. What are the legacies of decades of revolution for Chinese literature? By examining narratives that deal with the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), we will look at how writers have assessed and appropriated the Maoist period, especially the experience of intellectuals “sent down” to the countryside. How did the “nativist” fiction of the 1980s and 1990s reevaluate Chinese tradition and traditional society? Urban fiction, often decadent and gritty, will raise issues of how authors and narratives portray China’s breakneck economic development? What is the relationship between art and politics in these works? Do they tacitly support or subtly resist political authoritarianism? We will also look at Taiwanese literature from the 1960s through the 1990s, as it, too, grappled with economic development, its political basis, and social effects. Along the way, we will encounter MO Yan’s blood-drenched bandit heroes; YU Hua’s long-suffering peasant; SU Tong’s vicious sadists; disaffected urban youths in an age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; HAN Shaogong’s novel written in the form of a dictionary; and BAI Xianyong’s homosexual young men searching for love. The majority of the course consists of fiction from mainland China and Taiwan, but we will also read some short memoir pieces by novelists and the debates in Western media about MO Yan’s 2011 Nobel Prize. There is no prerequisite knowledge of China (history or literature) required for this course.

Faculty

Women on the Edge: Literature, Politics, and Culture in the 20th Century United States

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

A friend put her arms around Edna Pontellier, feeling her shoulder blades, in Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel The Awakening. Why? To see if her wings were strong. “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings,” she told Edna. “It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.” In this course, we will read the work of US women writers who soar “above the level plain of tradition and prejudice.” Historians will help us understand the worlds in which the writers live and, hence, the strength that they must use to offer their voices; however, we will largely focus on women writers outside of the worlds of privilege in which Edna lived. Those women will include recent immigrants like Anzia Yezierska, Harlem Renaissance writers like Nella Larsen, struggling Midwest farm women like Josephine Johnson, closeted radical women in lesbian pulps like Valerie Taylor, early Civil Rights activists like Ann Petry, and powerful cultural critics like Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros, among others. Taught mainly through primary sources, this course will bracket those novels and stories with scholarship in order to provide a sense of historical context.

Faculty

Beginning Italian: Viaggio in Italia

Open, Seminar—Year

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

Faculty

Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

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

Faculty

Beginning Latin

Open, Seminar—Year

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

Faculty

First-Year Studies: The Invention of Homosexuality

FYS—Year

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

Faculty

Queer Theory: A History

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

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

Faculty

Virginia Woolf in the 20th Century

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

“On or about December 1910,” Virginia Woolf observed, “human character changed....All human relations shifted—those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change, there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.” In her novels, essays, reviews, biographies, and polemics, as well as in her diaries, letters, and memoirs, Woolf charted and fostered the cultural and political forces behind those changes as they developed across the century. Over the course of that century, Woolf’s image also changed from that of the “invalid lady of Bloomsbury,” a modern, a madwoman, and perhaps a genius to that of a monster, a feminist, a socialist, a lesbian, and an icon. While focusing on the development of her writing, we will also consider her life and its interpretation, her politics and their implications, and the use of her art and image by others as points of reference for new work of their own. Her family, friends, lovers, and critics will all appear. We will also be reading her precursors, her peers, and those who—in fiction, theatre, and film—took up her work and image in the decades after her death. This course will serve as an introduction to 20th-century fiction, feminist literary study, lesbian/gay/queer studies, the study of sexuality, and the study of politics in literature. Conference projects might focus on one other writer, a range of other writers, one of these approaches to literary analysis, or another aspect of feminist or lesbian/gay/queer studies.

Faculty

First-Year Studies in Performing Arts: A Multidisciplinary Collective/Portal in Practice and Theory

FYS—Year

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. —Arundhati Roy, The Pandemic is a Portal (April 2020)

Acclaimed feminist author, educator, and revolutionary thinker, bell hooks wrote, “Art constitutes one of the rare locations where acts of transcendence can take place and have a wide-ranging transformative impact” (from Art on My Mind: Visual Politics, 1999). Historian Howard Zinn echoes this, saying, “…the artist transcends the immediate. Transcends the here and now. Transcends the madness of the world. Transcends terrorism and war. The artist thinks, acts, performs music, and writes outside the framework that society has created…” (from Artists in Times of War, 2003). The tumultuous period that we are currently experiencing—with unprecedented challenges in social, political, and environmental realms—sets the stage for us as artists to contribute the vital elements of human civilization that are our domain. Collective effort is at the heart of performing arts; thus, our contributions rely upon our abilities to connect and coordinate. Ultimately, the power of any collective relies upon the vibrance of each member. From Broadway, opera, and concert stages to experimental performance venues and political demonstrations, collective actions by artists have played a part in moving society forward. We will study works by visionary artists who have been inspired to venture across disciplines to grapple with the challenges of their times (including Anna Deveare Smith, Tony Kushner, Janelle Monet, Bill T. Jones, Meredith Monk) and will join forces, drawing upon the unique history of each participant to construct an expansive portal for individual and collaborative inquiry. This is a course for students with an established practice and experience in theatre, music, and/or dance who wish to continue advancing skills in their established disciplines. Students will take additional multiple components in dance, music, or theatre to comprise a Third program in one of these performing arts. Students will be guided through a selection of components in their discipline during registration and will attend discipline-specific information sessions as part of the registration process.

  • Theatre students will take two or three additional theatre components, along with biweekly Theatre Meetings and periodic Think Tank meetings, and will fulfill Tech Credit requirements. Students are welcome to audition for theatre projects each semester.
  • Music students will take three or four additional components, including individual lessons, Music Theory, Music History, Music Technology (optional), and Performance Ensemble (by audition), along with concert attendance and periodic Music Tuesday meetings. Students are welcome to join more than one performance ensemble (recommended for students who have had previous training in music, such as instrumental lessons, beginning theory).
  • Dance students will take three or four additional components, including movement practice classes and creative practice, along with periodic Dance Meetings, and will fulfill the Dance Tech Production requirements. Students are welcome to audition for dance program performances each semester;

FYS in Performing Arts is a yearlong course comprised of a weekly component class and weekly individual donning conferences. Serving as a home base for students, it will be a core class from which explorations into various disciplines arise. Class meetings will incorporate both practice-based and theoretically-based activities, experimenting with interdisciplinary possibilities through collaborative exercises, reflection, discussion, reading, and writing. Class readings will be selected texts from within theatre, music, and dance, as well as fields beyond the arts. Conferences in the spring semester may be weekly or biweekly, according to students’ needs and progress. Over the course of the year, we will conceptualize and create a collective multidisciplinary performance work to be shown informally at the end of the spring semester, with elements contributed by each member of the class/collective. Independent research inquiries will be pursued throughout the year, supported by individual conferences and periodic working groups in class, culminating in the writing, revising, and presentation of a research paper in the spring semester. The aim of this course is to support the development of skills necessary for expansive artistic collaboration and sustained academic research. Supported by the immersive opportunities of SLC’s theatre, music, and dance programs, with emphasis on live performance, students in this course will acquire new abilities and critical insights through experiential and theoretical studies. FYS in Performing Arts is intended for students who have both a strong interest in theatre, music, and/or dance, as well as a desire to discover more about the interconnectedness of the disciplines.

Faculty

The Philosophy of Music

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

Music is central to most of our lives. How can we understand the experience of music? What does music express? If it expresses emotions, how do those emotions relate to the emotions that we experience in everyday life? Can music without words express emotions with as much clarity as music with words? As a background to these questions, we will look at issues concerning the nature and experience of art in general. We will examine the views of writers such as Plato, Kant, Schopenhauer, Dewey, and Adorno and compare how they understand the role of art in society, along with our own experiences. The musical repertory will include medieval and Renaissance music, music by Bach, songs by Schubert, and examples from the symphonic repertory of composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky. We will study those works using the techniques of formal analysis that are generally used in music-history classes but also attempt to draw out the many contextual threads: How are they embedded in a culture, and how do they reflect the temperament and orientation of the composers? While most of our musical examples will be from the classical repertory, other styles will occasionally be relevant. The goals of the class are to understand how musical and philosophical thought can illuminate each other and to deepen our awareness of the range and power of music. No prior knowledge of music theory or history is required; we will introduce and define the terms that we need as the class proceeds.

Faculty

Jewish Philosophers: From Spinoza to Arendt

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Hannah Arendt famously wrote that 19th-century Jews stood “between pariah and parvenu,” a formulation that embodies the complex relationship between Jews and the modern world. With the rise of the new science in the 17th century, Enlightenment beliefs and practices in the 18th century, and the emancipation of Jewish communities in the 19th century, the role played by Jewish philosophers—in advancing these processes, as well as struggling to locate themselves within them—became increasingly prominent. Tracing the history of Jewish thinkers from the 17th to the 20th centuries, we will consider how they grappled with their cultural heritage in a climate of enlightenment and emancipation on the one hand and anti-Semitism, persecution, and pogroms on the other. Central themes include the role of the sacred in the modern world, alienation and exclusion, national consciousness and utopianism, memory, and cultural despair. While most of our sources are philosophical (Spinoza, Mendelssohn, Maimon, Marx, Freud, Benjamin, Arendt), we’ll read historical documents, theological treatises, novels, poems, and correspondences, as well.

Faculty

The Philosophy of Sex and Love

Open, Seminar—Year

One of the fundamental transformations to occur in society and culture over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries is the understanding of sex and love and the relation—or nonrelation—between them. Among the many catalysts for this change, we may count changing perceptions of sexual difference, gender, sexuality, gender identity, and gender roles; an increasing range of possibilities for reproduction or nonreproduction; and the problematization of the nuclear, monogamous, heterosexual family structure. This yearlong seminar will engage in the philosophical examination of these topics. While we will read some ancient philosophy, including Plato’s Symposium and some late-modern texts by the Marquis de Sade and the Baron von Sacher-Masoch (the authors who gave their names to Sadism and to Masochism, respectively), most of our readings will be from 20th- and 21st-century sources, including Sigmund Freud, Claude Levi-Strauss, Georges Bataille, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Audre Lorde, Lee Edelman, Paul Preciado, Maggie Nelson, and Luce Irigaray. Students will be required to not read Fifty Shades of Grey.

Faculty

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

Open, Seminar—Fall

Art seems to be an inextricable part of human life. The question that guides this class is seemingly simple: What is art? As will soon become clear, answering this question proves to be exceedingly difficult; for example: Are trees works of art? Is an iPhone a work of art? Is a movie a work of art? Are all movies works of art? Is a doodle in your notebook a work of art? It may turn out that no definitive answer to our guiding question is possible; however, without demarcating between what counts as art and what doesn’t, art refers to everything and, consequently, to nothing special. This class investigates how works of art become meaningful. The narrative of the class traces the different frameworks used by philosophers over the last 2,500 years to pursue this question. We will follow a historical narrative, learning how these frameworks have responded both to each other and to the artworks of their time. We will read texts by Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Danto, Benjamin, and others, as well as analyze artworks from Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, John Cage, Kara Walker, Jordan Peele, and many others. At the end of the semester, our aim will be to articulate what is so special about art and why we care about it.

Faculty

Time in Literature and Philosophy

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

Where do we turn to understand the human experience of time? Science and technology might tell us about the physical flow of time or how the units of seconds, minutes, hours, and days might help to order time. Philosophy and literature, however, broaden the question of what time really is, emphasizing its inscrutability and elusiveness. Works in these disciplines demonstrate not only the mystery of human temporality but also the ways in which language and art attempt to capture, represent, or escape time. This course will examine the abiding concern with time and the complexities of temporal experience by examining a range of philosophical and literary writings, from antiquity to the present, as well as several films. Readings will include works by Augustine, Nietzsche, Kant, Kristeva, and Heidegger, as well as literary texts by Boethius, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Woolf.

Faculty

The Hebrew Bible

Open, Seminar—Year

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

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Introduction to Ancient Greek Religion and Society

Open, Seminar—Fall

Few people dispute the enormous impact that the Ancient Greeks have had on Western culture and even on the modern world in general. This seminar will introduce the interested student to this culture mainly through reading salient primary texts in English translation. Our interest will range broadly. Along with some background reading, we will be discussing mythology (Hesiod), epic hymns and poetry (Homer), history (Herodotus), politics, religion, and philosophy. By the end of the seminar, students should have a basic understanding of the cultural contribution of the Ancient Greeks, as well as a basic timeline of their history through the Hellenistic age.

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Readings in Early Christianity: John

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

The Fourth Gospel and the epistles associated with its authors, 1-3 John, have been particularly significant for the development of Christian thought. In this course, we will study The Gospel of John closely, engaging in the hermeneutical arts with an eye to the development of Christian theology, as well as uncovering the history and growth of the early Christian community responsible for its unique prose and views regarding Jesus of Nazareth and the role of Christian discipleship. We will immerse ourselves in the Hellenistic world, especially as it relates to Mediterranean Judaism. In doing so, we will examine the roots of Christian antisemitism and the development of Gnosticism and Christian docetism.

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Advanced Intermediate Spanish: Political Creativity

Open, Seminar—Year

This course looks at ways that individuals and communities across the Spanish-speaking world have gotten creative about politics and political about creativity. Students will develop analytic skills and explore social-justice issues through literature, film, music, and visual art by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Sara Gómez, Samanta Schweblin, Yásnaya E. Aguilar Gil, Lia García La Novia Sirena, and many more. We will also study the politically creative actions of communities and organizations working outside the structures of the nation-state. An important aspect of this course will involve following activist movements in real time and working with social-justice initiatives in Yonkers and its surroundings. Students will produce both critical and creative written work. This discussion-based course will be conducted in Spanish and is intended for students who wish to further hone their communication and comprehension skills through advanced grammar review.

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First-Year Studies in Performing Arts: A Multidisciplinary Collective/Portal in Practice and Theory

FYS—Year

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. —Arundhati Roy, The Pandemic is a Portal (April 2020)

Acclaimed feminist author, educator, and revolutionary thinker, bell hooks wrote, “Art constitutes one of the rare locations where acts of transcendence can take place and have a wide-ranging transformative impact” (from Art on My Mind: Visual Politics, 1999). Historian Howard Zinn echoes this, saying, “…the artist transcends the immediate. Transcends the here and now. Transcends the madness of the world. Transcends terrorism and war. The artist thinks, acts, performs music, and writes outside the framework that society has created…” (from Artists in Times of War, 2003). The tumultuous period that we are currently experiencing, with unprecedented challenges in social, political, and environmental realms, sets the stage for us as artists to contribute the vital elements of human civilization that are our domain. Collective effort is at the heart of performing arts; thus, our contributions rely upon our abilities to connect and coordinate. Ultimately, the power of any collective relies upon the vibrance of each member. From Broadway, opera, and concert stages to experimental performance venues and political demonstrations, collective actions by artists have played a part in moving society forward. We will study works by visionary artists who have been inspired to venture across disciplines to grapple with the challenges of their times (including Anna Deveare Smith, Tony Kushner, Janelle Monet, Bill T. Jones, Meredith Monk) and will join forces, drawing upon the unique history of each participant to construct an expansive portal for individual and collaborative inquiry. This is a course for students with an established practice and experience in theatre, music, and/or dance who wish to continue advancing skills in their established disciplines. Students will take additional multiple components in dance, music, or theatre to comprise a Third program in one of these performing arts. Students will be guided through a selection of components in their discipline during registration and will attend discipline-specific information sessions as part of the registration process.

  • Theatre students will take two or three additional theatre components, along with biweekly Theatre Meetings and periodic Think Tank meetings, and will fulfill Tech Credit requirements. Students are welcome to audition for theatre projects each semester.
  • Music students will take three or four additional components, including individual lessons, Music Theory, Music History, Music Technology (optional), and Performance Ensemble (by audition), along with concert attendance and periodic Music Tuesday meetings. Students are welcome to join more than one performance ensemble (recommended for students who have had previous training in music, such as instrumental lessons, beginning theory, etc.).
  • Dance students will take three or four additional components, including movement practice classes and creative practice, along with periodic Dance Meetings, and will fulfill the Dance Tech Production requirements. Students are welcome to audition for dance program performances each semester.

FYS in Performing Arts is a yearlong course comprised of a weekly component class and weekly individual donning conferences. Serving as a home base for students, it will be a core class from which explorations into various disciplines arise. Class meetings will incorporate both practice-based and theoretically-based activities, experimenting with interdisciplinary possibilities through collaborative exercises, reflection, discussion, reading, and writing. Class readings will be selected texts from within theatre, music, and dance, as well as fields beyond the arts. Conferences in the spring semester may be weekly or biweekly, according to students’ needs and progress. Over the course of the year, we will conceptualize and create a collective multidisciplinary performance work to be shown informally at the end of the spring semester, with elements contributed by each member of the class/collective. Independent research inquiries will be pursued throughout the year, supported by individual conferences and periodic working groups in class, culminating in the writing, revising, and presentation of a research paper in the spring semester. The aim of this course is to support the development of skills necessary for expansive artistic collaboration and sustained academic research. Supported by the immersive opportunities of SLC’s theatre, music, and dance programs, with emphasis on live performance, students in this course will acquire new abilities and critical insights through experiential and theoretical studies. FYS in Performing Arts is intended for students who have both a strong interest in theatre, music, and/or dance and a desire to discover more about the interconnectedness of the disciplines.

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First-Year Studies: Rigorous Action/Happy Accidents—A Laboratory for Theatre Artists

FYS—Year

This course is a hands-on testing ground for students who might have a wide range of interests in the theatre. Centered on collaborative methods for creation and performance, Rigorous Action/Happy Moments is geared toward enabling students to find their own artistic voice, creating their own solo and collaborative theatre works, while exploring various artists, influences, and approaches ranging from the New York avant-garde of the 1970s to artists working now. We will cover a wide array of multidisciplinary artists who create performance, investigating both their philosophies and their methodology. Class work will be a combination of readings/discussions and creative exercises where students try their ideas together in space. Additionally, an emphasis on the choreographic perspective will explore various methods, including: assembly, repetition, observation, deconstruction, and care of the moment-to-moment experience. Curiosity, bravery, and a willingness to make mistakes are all encouraged, as these are crucial attributes to any creative process. The course will culminate in a short solo theatre work conceived, created, and performed by each student. Rigorous Action/Happy Accidents meets once a week for two hours and will alternate individual conferences with small-group meetings/conferences to include screenings, field trips, and performances. Students will also enroll in two other theatre components of their choice to complete their Theatre Third. Students are required to attend scheduled Theatre Meetings and Think Tanks and complete a set amount of technical support hours with student productions in the theatre program.

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Visual and Studio Arts Fundamentals: Materials and Play

Open, Seminar—Fall and Spring

This course serves as an introduction to the fundamental elements, processes, and techniques of the visual arts. It will center on prompts based in foundational areas across the visual arts: drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, sound art, collage, and related mixed-media processes. We’ll discuss these mediums through image presentations, videos, and gallery/museum visits. Students will then make art in those areas, experimenting with new materials, processes, and ideas. Materials will be provided, and you’ll be encouraged to discover through play. Emphasis will focus on developing your creative imagination and building visual literacy. This class culminates in an end-of-semester exhibition.

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Art From Code

Open, Seminar—Fall

A “live-coding,” practice-based introduction to visual-arts programming—including color, shape, transformations, and motion—this course is designed for artists with little or no prior programming experience. We’ll meet twice weekly to code together live, working on short, in-class exercises within a larger analysis of the social, cultural, and historical nature of programming cultures. All students will be required to keep a sketchbook and participate in installation. Artists include Reas, Davis, Riley, MacDonald, and others. The class is taught using Processing software.

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New Genres: Graphic Novel

Open, Concept—Spring

This course explores the graphic novel as a creative medium, from the intricacies of page layout to panel-to-panel transitions, text-to-image relationships, time mapping, and other innovations of the form. Designed for both beginning and advanced creators from all disciplines, students may work on creative projects or written analysis—but everyone will try the visual form. You will need a notebook, journal, or sketchbook of some sort for ongoing short assignments. Artists surveyed include Auster, Barry, Bechtel, Kuper, Madden, McCloud, Pekar, Ware, and others. No prior drawing experience is necessary.

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New Genres: Abstract Video

Open, Seminar—Fall

Although amateurs often confuse the two terms, abstract video is a new art form that is very different from the experimental film movement of the 1970s and ’80s. Often drawing from the digital worlds of games, signal processing, 3D modeling, and computational media, abstract video has become an important new aspect of art installation, site-specific sculpture, and gallery presentations. This small-project class is an introduction to the use of video as a material for the visual artists. Using open-source software and digital techniques, students will create several small works of video abstraction intended for gallery installation, ambient surrounds, and new-media screens. Artists studied include Refik Anendol, Light Surgeons, Ryoji Ikeda, and others.

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New Genres: Diary Forms

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

In a search for form, many contemporary artists have turned to the diary. Diaries and diary forms—like to-do lists, calendars, notebooks, and so on—are a kind of ready-made structure for image making and art installation. Some diaries are based in drawing and painting, but many more are hybrid works that draw from all kinds of media, including video, computation, and photography. This semester, New Genres looks at the ways in which recent artists have flipped the diary form into works of contemporary art. Two small exercises will build into one longer conference work. Artists surveyed include Acconci, Boltanski, Breakwell, Calle, Haring, Kelley, Leeson, Pruit, Raad, and more. No prior art experience is needed for this studio.

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First-Year Studies: Fiction Writing Workshop; The Basics not Excluding the Virtuosic

Seminar—Year

In this yearlong workshop, we will meet twice a week in 90-minute seminars. Every other week, you and I will meet in individual conferences; in the alternate weeks, we will participate in a group activity. During the first weeks together, 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. Eventually, each of you will settle on a semester writing project. In the second half of each semester, you will discuss and critique each other’s drafts in successive workshops—first just a few pages, then full first drafts, and finally your well-developed stories or chapters. In the spring 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. Our objective is for you to write, revise, and workshop at least one fully developed story each semester. Examples of our group activities are watching a film together or attending one of our writing colloquium sessions in which various writing faculty members present some aspect of the writing process and give you writing exercises that we will share in our next class meeting.

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First-Year Studies: Reading and Writing Personal Essays

FYS—Year

This first-year seminar will comprise workshops focusing on reading and writing personal essays. Each semester will be divided into three units, each corresponding to a particular kind of essay. Students will read published work and discuss one another’s work. The units in the first semester will be: People You Know, or essays about figures in the writers’ lives; Place, or essays in which setting figures prominently; and what I call the PCJ essay—Personal in the Critical/Journalistic. In the PCJ form, the personal story intertwines with a well-known outside subject—for example, a book, a film, or an event—and the two elements combine to form a third, an insight, which would not be possible without the first two. The units in the second semester will be: Demons, or essays about writers’ personal challenges, internal or external; The Braided Essay, or works that combine seemingly unrelated elements to form a coherent whole; and The Critical Survey, or critical takes on items in a category or genre (for example, five albums that came out this year, or a ranking of Quentin Tarantino films, or a ranking of the last five presidents). 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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First-Year Studies: W/E: The Making of the Complete Lover, West/East

FYS—Year

The known universe has one complete lover, and that is the greatest poet. —Walt Whitman

This class will aim to provide a writer’s introduction to poetry, as seen through the cultural lenses of what’s been called the “East” and what’s been called the “West.” While keeping faith with the sacred jazz ethic of improvisation, we’re likely to spend our class time: (a) discussing questions like what is a poem, what is taste, what is the “East,” and what is the “West,” and how have those constructs influenced writers and readers; (b) getting to know each other as readers and writers and working collaboratively; and (c) doing writing exercises as practicum. In weekly conferences, we’ll discuss college and look at your drafts—mostly of poems, along with some critical writing about our shared texts—particularly Edward Said’s Orientalism and Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return. Along the way, I’ll ask you to participate in readings at each term’s middle and end; compile an anthology and a chapbook; work with a partner and introduce his/her work; and contribute to a collective zuihitsu, a Japanese form combining what's been called “poetry” and what‘s been called “prose.” (We’ll be reading two versions of Narrow Road to the Interior: Basho’s from the 17th century and Kimiko Hahn’s from 2006.) The only prerequisites are a passion for reading that equals your passion for writing, the courage to give up spectatorhood for active participation, and a willingness to undertake whatever might be necessary to read and write and think better on our last day of class than on our first.

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The Art of the Short Story

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

In this lecture class, we’ll look at the short story from the mid-19th century to today. Among the writers we'll read are Isaac Babel, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Kathleen Collins, Anton Chekhov, Percival Everett, Carolyn Ferrell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Gaitskill, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, Carmen Maria Machado, Katherine Mansfield, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Lorrie Moore, ZZ Packer, Grace Paley, George Saunders, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Virginia Woolf. We’ll also read criticism, letters, and a little bit of theory. In our group conferences, students will share very short stories, written in response to prompts, in a supportive atmosphere.

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Details Useful to the State: Writers and the Shaping of the US Empire, 1945 to the Present

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Are you going to ask where I am? I’ll tell you—giving only details useful to the State... —Pablo Neruda, Letter to Miguel Otero Silva, 1948

What might it mean for a writer to be useful to a state? How have states used writers, witting and unwitting, in projects aimed at influence and hegemony? How might a state make use of language as a weapon? What might it mean for a writer to attempt to avoid being useful to a state? How might a state inflect and influence the intimacy between writers and what they may write? In this class, we’ll discuss an array of choices that writers have made in relation to state power, focusing particularly on the United States from just after World War II until the present. You’ll be asking to read four books: Joel Whitney’s Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers; Frances Stonor Saunders’sThe Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters; Eric Bennett’s Workshops of Empire: Stegner, Engle, and American Creative Writing During the Cold War; and Peter Dale Scott’s long poem, Coming to Jakarta. This is not a history or a literature class; our lens will be that of a writer, using deep study and playful practice to figure out the dilemmas and best practices of the present. Although this is a lecture class, with a limit of 30 students, you’ll be asked to participate, improvise, and do some class reading and writing work with a partner, as well as to participate in one group conference a week. At the end of the class, you’ll be asked to lecture in teams, addressing some of our questions and your responses to them. The only prerequisite is the courage to think out loud with other people—a.k.a. the courage required to learn.

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Encounters With the Novel

Open, Seminar—Spring

Classes in which writing students read published fiction, rather than sharing their own work, are usually called craft classes. I don’t like the term, because I think it overstates the degree to which literary craft matters. Most of the time, it seems to me, when we fall in love with a novel, it’s not because it did clever things with chronology or setting or point of view but because it gave us that telltale tingle down the spine (in Nabokov’s words) or handed us an axe to break the frozen sea within us (in Kafka’s). Craft may be something that we can teach ourselves in a step-by-step manner; literary intelligence, a more elusive quality, is something that we can hope to develop only by writing as much as we can, reading as much as we can, and thinking and feeling as fully as we can. (”One good heartbreak will furnish the poet with many songs and the novelist with a considerable number of novels,” wrote Edith Wharton. “But they must have hearts that can break.”) I don't have a treasure chest of craft lessons to offer in this class; my hope is simply that, if we spend the semester reading ambitious novels and talking about them as fellow writers, we’ll all learn something by the end. We'll spend our time in class talking about novels by writers including Jennifer Egan, Henry James, Nella Larsen, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, and Edith Wharton,  and excerpts of novels by George Eliot, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Leo Tolstoy. In conference, we’ll be looking at your writing. You’ll be asked to give me a finished short story or novel excerpt every two weeks.

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Writing and Reading Fiction

Open, Seminar—Fall and Spring

A novelist once began a lecture by asking how many people in the audience wanted to be writers. When almost everyone raised a hand, he said, “So why the hell aren’t you home writing?” The novelist was asking the right question. The only way to improve as a writer is to write a lot. You might have all the talent in the world. You might have had a thousand fascinating experiences. But talent and experience won’t get you very far unless you have the ability to sit down, day after day, and write. Accordingly, my main goal is to encourage you to develop or sustain the habit of steady writing. You’ll be sharing a very short story with the class every week in response to prompts that I’ll provide, and you’ll be producing an additional longer story for conference every two weeks. We’ll also be learning from writers who have come before us, reading a mix of classic and contemporary writers that include Anton Chekhov, Jennifer Egan, Percival Everett, Henry James, Toni Morrison, ZZ Packer, Philip Roth, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Virginia Woolf.

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Episodes

Open, Seminar—Spring

The use of the episode is both ancient and modern and is central to storytelling in everything from The Arabian Nights to telenovelas, from Netflix to The Canterbury Tales, from comics to true-crime podcasts. Episodes differ from chapters in a novel and from short stories and can have many changing characters and plot lines. Episodes are disinclined toward resolution but love time, hunks of it, and do well depicting both the daily and the historical. We will be reading, looking at, and discussing episodes in several forms and, for conference work, writing six episodes over the semester, supported by small brainstorming groups as we go forward. This course may be taken with Words and Pictures as a year course.

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Stories And

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

This class will involve telling stories, writing or recording our own and other people’s stories, and illustrating stories with photos or drawings. It involves becoming collectors of the storytelling around us and analyzing its form, type, uses, and pleasures. It centers on oral storytelling—formal and informal, short and long, fantasies, tales, family stories, and gossip. It also involves practice in being both a leader and a member of a storytelling group at the Wartburg Elder Care Residence in nearby Pelham or at some other venue, perhaps involving children or teens. Homework will include reading, practicing your stories, working as a group leader with a classmate, and calling on family and friends to tell their stories. Anyone interested in their own or other people’s lives, in leadership and followership, in teaching, and otherwise in stories should consider this course.

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Children’s Books: A Reading and Writing Adventure

Open, Seminar—Fall

Who doesn’t love Frog and Toad? Have you ever wanted to write something like it—or like Charlotte’s Web or A Snowy Day? Why do our favorites work so well and so (almost) universally? We will begin by reading books we know and books we missed and discuss what makes them so good. We may look at books for older children and consider what good children’s history and biography might be like. We will talk about the place of the visual, the careful and conscious use of language, notions of appropriateness, and age level. Then, we will try our hand at writing picture books, older children’s narratives, collections of poems like Mother Goose. Conference work will involve making a book, an animation, or a game for children with narrative content.

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Fiction 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. In the first semester, you will acquaint yourselves with such basic elements of fiction as point of view, character, plot and structure, dialogue and exposition, detail, and scene. We will study these elements as put into practice by a wide range of virtuosic writers: Jamaica Kincaid, Donald Barthelme, ZZ Packer, James Baldwin, Raymond Ken Liu, Carmen Maria Machado, Tobias Wolff, and Gina Bierault, among others. We will also familiarize ourselves with concepts related to the craft and imaginative process of fiction, such as counterpoint characterization, defamiliarization, narrative urgency, etc. The core of the course is the students’ own development as fiction writers. We have a lot of fun trying numerous exercises and approaches to stories. In conference, we work closely on your writing; we will develop your crafting of scenes at first, then meet in small groups to workshop your first drafts. You are responsible for writing critiques for each other’s stories, as well as for participating thoughtfully and actively in the workshop discussion. By the end of the semester, each of you will present at least one final developed story for our workshop discussion. In the second semester, we will venture into more unlikely fictional territories: dream narratives, preposterous situations served up matter-of-factly, unscary ghost stories, speculative fiction, and virtuosic works that elude comprehension but deliver you to the profound and pleasurable edges of apprehension. To jar us from our more prosaic and safe forms of fiction, we will begin the semester with a series of exercises inspired by the stories of authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Borges, Nabokov, George Saunders, Carmen Maria Machado, and Octavia Butler, as well as essays by Carl Jung, Immanuel Kant, and Charles Baxter. You will generate your conference work from the readings and exercises; develop it through close critique in our classes and conferences; present first drafts in preliminary workshops; and, finally, submit your best work in a series of formal workshops at the end of the semester.

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Fiction Workshop: Portraiture

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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Speculative Fiction Workshop

Open, Seminar—Fall

Speculative fiction is a blanket term for writing that speculates on a world unlike our own. Sci-fi, fantasy, and horror are a few of the best-known categories; but speculative fiction also encompasses the uncategorizable—work that challenges our understanding of causality, time, the self, the mind, and the cosmos…or that just barely cracks the surface of the familiar, allowing the weird to seep through. At its best, speculative fiction uses imagination and metaphor to explore ideas and facets of the human experience that would otherwise remain unexpressed. In this course, we will read short stories and novels by mostly contemporary speculative-fiction authors, with a writerly eye for technique. We will also workshop fiction by students; discuss process and goals; and form a supportive, constructive community where even the wildest visions can flourish.

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The Source of Stories: Writing From Your Own Experience

Open, Seminar—Spring

The novelist John Berger once said that writers draw their material from three sources: experience, witness, and imagination. The goal of this mixed-genre workshop—which will focus on the short story, personal essay, and memoir—is for the emerging writer to find and develop his or her own subject matter. Students will be asked to explore the raw material of their lives, adding the mix of witness (what we have seen or been told) and what we invent. We begin with an assignment, based on Joe Brainard’s book, I Remember. Students make their own lists of memories of childhood and adolescence. We will turn these lists into anecdotes and scenes and eventually into stories. Students will also begin a list called “I Imagine” and, in this assignment, we will explore family lore, stories they have heard from others, or perhaps even draw from newspaper accounts. We will look at writers who have delved into their own subject matter in both fiction and nonfiction—such as James Baldwin, Sandra Cisneros, Tim O’Brien, Virginia Woolf, Paul Auster, and Lorrie Moore—and discuss the various issues posed in each form. Students will be given assignments that are intended to evoke subject matter in both genres; for example, a piece of family lore might become a short essay or a work of fiction. Students will write short stories, essays, and memoir and learn to move freely from one genre to the next, attempting to reimagine their material in different forms. The emphasis will be on voice and narrative, both of which are essential for good fiction and nonfiction. We will also spend a good deal of time learning what it means to write a scene. This is a class for any student who wants to explore the material that becomes the subject matter of stories.

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After Nature: On Writing the Environment

Open, Seminar—Year

The philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia” to refer to the distress caused by climate change. In this yearlong writing seminar, we will attempt, in a collective way, to write through our feelings about the changing world. Students will keep weekly notebooks about paying attention to plants, animals, weather, and place, culminating in writing through their encounters with the outside world. These responses will be catalyzed by reading ecological meditations that function, in many ways, as elegies that think through landscape, time, and our kinship with the nonhuman. The project is for our reading and writing to somehow counter, but also work through, despair with radical hope and imagination. The final conference project for each semester will be a finished piece of writing that has been critiqued in several drafts in conference, collaborative small groups, and a full-group workshop over the semester. This course fully participates in the collaborative interludes in the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

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True or False?

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

In this class, we will examine the much maligned but remarkably fruitful miscegenation of fiction and nonfiction. For roughly the first half of the semester, we will read and discuss works that are either composed of both fiction and nonfiction or that call such genre distinctions into question. The second half of the semester will be devoted to workshopping the students’ own mixed-genre works, the composition of which will be the primary focus of their conferences. Among the questions to be discussed in class are: What are the differing advantages of fiction and nonfiction? How does genre affect an author’s obligations to readers? Is there a clear distinction between the genres? When does blurring that distinction render thrilling art, and when does it amount to a con job? Some of the writers discussed will be Rachel Cusk, Italo Calvino, Lauren Slater, Jenny Boully and Alejandro Zambra.

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Writing About the Arts

Open, Seminar—Fall

This class will examine and produce a range of work from the journalistic to the critical, from the practical to the mystical, in the vast landscape of arts writing. We will write liner notes, catalogue copy for gallery shows, short reviews, long reviews, critical essays, and deep and subjective interior meditations on our experience of artists and their work. We will read broadly across time—possibly including, but not limited to, Samuel Johnson on Richard Savage, Wordsworth and Coleridge on themselves, Nietzsche on Wagner, Adorno (via Thomas Mann) on Opus 111, V. S. Naipaul on Flaubert, Amiri Baraka on Billie Holiday, Virginia Woolf on Thomas Hardy, Thomas De Quincey on Shakespeare, James Baldwin on Richard Wright, Glenn Gould on Barbra Streisand, Mark Strand on Edward Hopper, Jean-Luc Godard on Nicholas Ray, Pauline Kael on Sam Peckinpah. Students should feel confident in their familiarity with one or two art forms, broadly understood, and should expect, along with the reading, to write several small and two larger (7-12 pages) pieces. Conference work will comprise research projects on those artists or works of art, or both, that class members, in consultation with the instructor, decide are their special province.

Faculty

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.

Faculty

Hybrids of Poetry and Prose: A Multi-Genre Workshop

Open, Seminar—Fall

One of the exciting literary developments in recent years is the plethora of work that disrupts the notion of genre—writers such as Eula Biss, Jenny Offill, and Ben Lerner. In this workshop, we will read a book each week and consider architecture, diction, association, metaphor, and other issues of craft. Students will be required to bring in a new piece of writing each week and to occasionally write critical responses to the reading. This class will be a good fit for students who are comfortable reading 100-200 pages a week in addition to generating their own creative writing. For workshop, students can submit poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or anything in between. We will aim to locate a piece’s heat—its linguistic, figurative, and musical energy—and consider how that energy might be developed, or maximized, in subsequent drafts. Half of each class will be devoted to discussing the weekly reading; the other half will be spent discussing student work. Occasionally, we will do in-class writing exercises. There will be some take-home writing prompts. For conference, students will work on their own hybrid projects. At the end of the semester, students will turn in a revised, final portfolio with at least two earlier drafts for each piece, as well as their hybrid project.

Faculty

Poetry: On and Off the Page

Open, Seminar—Spring

We will read a book of poetry each week, a mix of work from the late-20th century as well as more recent texts. We will spend half of each class discussing the weekly reading and the other half discussing student work. At the end of the semester, students will turn in a portfolio of poems, with at least two earlier drafts for each poem. In addition to the reading and writing for class, students will have two major conference projects. Before spring break, each student will theatrically present a poem by a dead poet. This is more than just memorizing and reciting a poem; this is knowing a poem so well that you can speak it as if the words are springing from you. Later in the term, students will pick a location on campus and then theatrically present one of their own poems in that specific location. Both of these conference projects will require additional rehearsal time beyond class time.

Faculty

Masks, Personas, and The Literal I

Open, Seminar—Year

In this poetry writing workshop, we will look at the first-person I. Class time will be split evenly between discussing outside reading and student work. We will read books by poets who collapse the space between the poetic speaker and the author, employing a more literal I. We will read books by poets who utilize masks and personas to explore depths of honesty, thought, and feeling that might otherwise be off-limits. We will also look at a more neutral I. We will consider the different ways in which a character may be created and inhabited via syntax, diction, emotional crescendos and deflations, associative leaps, metaphors, and tonal shifts. We will strive to come to a richer understanding of the possibilities of the first person. For a conference project, students will be asked to create their own mask, a constructed first person to breathe and speak through. The reading will be, roughly, a book a week. There will be a number of short response essays to the reading. Students will be expected to write and rewrite with passion and vigor, turning in a new first draft each week and a final manuscript of 7–9 poems, three drafts for each poem.

Faculty

Poetry Workshop: The Zuihitsu

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This class combines Sarah Lawrence students and students from the Bedford Correctional Facility and takes place at Bedford one night a week. Acceptance into this class is via interview only. Interviews will be held during the fall term of 2022. In order to interview, you must be 21 years old on or before January 20, 2023.

“There is nothing like a zuihitsu, and its definition slips through our fingers. It is a classical Japanese genre that allows a series of styles, and everything can be constantly reshuffled and reordered in every conceivable way,” according to Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Following Millenium.(The name is derived from two Kanji: “at will” and “pen.”) In this class, we’ll explore the poetic form of the zuihitsu as readers via three required texts—The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon and two versions of Narrow Road to the Interior, one by Bashō and one by Kimiko Hahn—and as writers, using the materials of haiku, lists, interviews, dialogues, travelogues, monologues, letters, maps, orts, scraps, fragments, and poems of all varieties. You’ll be expected to attend class, engage with assigned and suggested readings, and participate in discussions. Participants will also be required to make an individual zuihitsu and to contribute to the making of a collective one. In conference, we’ll discuss your reading, which may or may not overlap or coincide with class readings, and your drafts. In class, we’ll discuss readings as a way of guiding our own makings. The only prerequisites are to be 21 or older, as indicated above; have a desire to be challenged and a thirst for reading that equals your thirst for writing; have the courage to give up spectatorhood for active participation; and have a willingness to undertake whatever labors might be necessary to read and write better on our last day of class than on our first.

Faculty