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.

2020-2021 Courses

Literature

First-Year Studies: The Marriage Plot: Love and Romance in American and English Fiction

Open, FYS—Year

“Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had,” Charlotte Bronte’s title character exclaims in the concluding chapter of Jane Eyre. Jane’s wedding may be quiet, but the steps leading up to her marriage with the man who once employed her as a governess are tumultuous. With the publication of Jane Eyre, we left behind the early marriage-plot novel in which a series of comic misunderstandings pave the way for a joyous wedding. From that point on, marriage would be a high-risk adventure for both parties. 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 such untraditional marriage-plot novels as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. By the time the course concludes with Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot and Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage, the marriages and courtships that we see will be distinctly modern in the form that they take and in the complexity and divorces that they bring with them.

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First-Year Studies: Mythology in Literature

Open, FYS—Year

In this course, we will define myths, broadly, as recurring narrative energy fields of great intensity and durability that supply cultures and persons with universal patterns by which to reflect on their origins and destinies. We will consider ways in which writers, primarily in Western literary traditions, have used certain mythic patterns—odysseys in the first term and metamorphoses in the second term—to explore their questions and concerns about the operations of the cosmos and the psyche, history, and morality. Those patterns provide both archetypal structures for the articulation of plot and tropes for the implication of meaning in literary texts. We will proceed chronologically through texts from ancient, through medieval and Renaissance, to Romantic and contemporary periods. Tracking the same narrative pattern through this sequence of literary periods will provide us with insights into the way in which literature represents changing understandings of the way the world is structured and the way that the human mind and human culture engage with it. 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 Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek Wisdom for Today’s Troubled Times

Open, Lecture—Year

With the permission of the instructor, qualified students may opt to take this course as Intermediate Greek and read selected portions of the text in Greek.

Are we unwittingly reliving the past? Authoritarianism, magical thinking, and tribalism are beginning to characterize the 21st century as they characterized archaic Greece. Over centuries, however, the ancient Greeks experienced a movement in the opposite direction: They began to prioritize reality, condemn tyranny, and experiment with broader forms of political participation. During the late sixth through fifth centuries BCE, ancient Athenians devised, simultaneously, the concepts of democracy and history. As the Athenians were experimenting with the world’s first-ever democratic political institutions, the historians Herodotus and Thucydides distinguished history from myth and offered examples of behaviors to emulate or to avoid. Today, those early historians can help us analyze facts, identify causes and consequences, and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Students will read, in English translation, Herodotus’ Histories and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, as well as selected works by Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristotle, and Ps.-Xenophon.

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Shakespeare and the Semiotics of Performance

Open, Lecture—Year

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

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Reading High Romantic Poetry (Blake to Keats)

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This course focuses on the interpretation and appreciation of the most influential lyric poetry written in English in the tumultuous decades between the French Revolution and the Great Reform Bill 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 appreciate each poem’s unique contribution to the language.

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Postwar German Literature and Film

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This course is taught in English. German language skills are not required. Advanced German students have the option of taking this small lecture for five credits; during an extra weekly seminar, we will work on all aspects of your German—reading, speaking, and writing—by analyzing and discussing (in German) the same postwar German texts and/or others not covered in this lecture.

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 anti-Semitism; 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; Christoph Hein’s novel, Tango Player, about a man who was jailed in East Germany for playing a tango; 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 the graphic novel Belonging, by Nora Krug, about a German woman who is exploring her family’s history. The list of films includes Murderer Among Us, The Tin Drum, Germany Pale Mother, and The Lives of Others. Thematically, all these texts and movies are tied together by one common theme: the question of how German writers and film makers were dealing with the legacy of both National Socialism and Stalinism in East Germany.

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Studies in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat for biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to explore and understand the concept of “nature” at the core of the Western tradition and how it was shaped over the course of more than 2,000 years. This course will create a series of bridges between and among the history of literature, philosophy, and science, with implications for many other disciplines. Most importantly, we will discuss the Western and Judeo-Christian concept of nature in the context of race and ethnicity in America today by confronting it with works and arguments developed by black, indigenous, Latine, and Asian American authors. Among many themes, we will study how antiquity came to develop a concept of “physis,” so different from our modern understanding of physics, but also shaped our aesthetic eye with the creation of the pastoral genre and the idea of agreeable and tamed landscapes or set a model for a utilitarian relationship to nature with Hesiod and Vergil’s agricultural treaties. We will also analyze specific places, such as the forest in medieval chivalric romances and American “wilderness” fictions, or chaotic landscapes admired and imagined by the Romantics, or the sea as depicted in Melville’s Moby Dick. The 17th-century scientific revolution and its mathematical and mechanistic approach to nature will lead us to discuss with Descartes the concept of animality in parallel with contemporary philosophers such as Deleuze and Guattari, who make use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm. Going into a completely different direction, we will question the characteristics of a Judeo-Christian conception of the world, organized around a remote and immaterial god, in direct opposition to a more organic understanding of nature as a “motherly” and immanent figure with all of the reservations that such a figure implies. These are some of the questions that we will explore, and the focus of our discussions will be to bring new voices in order to deconstruct the Eurocentric concept of “nature.”

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The Golden Age of Satire: Criminals, Castaways, Couplets, and Kings

Open, Lecture—Spring

This lecture examines British literary culture across the lifetime of the acclaimed Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift. In his use of humor, shock, whimsy, and quicksilver irony to convey moral outrage and personal pique, Swift has influenced every major satirist who came after him—from Mark Twain to John Oliver. Swift also lived through remarkable times. Between his birth in 1667 and his death in 1745, Britain grew from a war-torn cultural backwater to a military and colonial powerhouse with a stable, if corrupt, political system, several of the world’s great cities, and a sense of national identity that has remained largely consistent to this day. At the same time, the marketplace of literature and ideas in Britain grew increasingly diverse and fractious, as popular fiction appealed to newly literate readers and as authors from the social and colonial margins—including Ireland, a colony within the British Isles—began to make themselves heard in print. Swift exemplified many of these developments in his life and work, at once mocking and immortalizing the crime-ridden squalor of London; attacking the English exploitation of Ireland, even as he formed part of the Anglican establishment in Dublin; and honing a form of ironic invective that enlightened, amused, and offended readers of all backgrounds and orientations. This course covers each of Swift’s major works—from Gulliver’s Travels, a classic of science fiction as well as a devastatingly effective satire, to his outrageous scatological poetry and his scathing writings on Ireland, including the notorious Modest Proposal—as well as introducing students to a host of other distinctive voices from this raucous period in English letters. We will, for instance, become acquainted with the undisputed master of the heroic couplet, Swift’s friend Alexander Pope, who made satirical poetry of undying power and beauty out of the most unlikely of subjects, such as landscape design and a purloined lock of hair. Other writers under consideration will include England’s first professional female author, Aphra Behn; the second Earl of Rochester, a wildly transgressive poet of sexual libertinism; satirical playwrights such as William Wycherley; the founders of lifestyle journalism, Joseph Addison and Richard Steele; John Gay, author of The Beggar’s Opera, a musical comedy with a cast of thieves and sex workers; and the visual satirist William Hogarth. We may also consider a few modern landmarks of literary and cinematic satire with an 18th-century heritage by writers and directors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Joan Didion, Stanley Kubrick, and Boots Riley.

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Japanese Literature: Translations, Adaptations, and Visual Storytelling

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

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

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

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From Singers to Scribes: Storytelling and Authorship in Medieval England

Open, Lecture—Spring

What did it mean to be an author in medieval England? The author was not necessarily the person putting pen to page. In fact, many of the greatest medieval English works survive by virtue of oral poets and professional scribes, whose control over the creation of an authentic text was often limited or, at least, concealed. Furthermore, the Latin term auctor primarily referred to the ancient poets and Latin Church fathers, whose writings were revered as authoritative, rather than to the men and women who composed literary works in the Middle Ages. The ambiguity of the author is the starting point for this course, which considers medieval texts in the contexts of composition and transmission. We will think about the role of the scop, or poet-singer, in our study of Old English poetry and the role of both monastic and professional scribes in the preservation of texts throughout the Middle Ages. At the same time, we will examine a growing tendency to celebrate the creator of a text in later medieval literature. Authorial self-awareness and self-fashioning especially pertain to the development of mysticism and to courtly culture. Examining these diverse contexts of composition, we will discover how literary form, the original manuscripts, and the editing tradition interact to shape our sense of medieval literary history. Applying critical theories on the concept of the author, we will read works including, but not limited to, Beowulf, Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Julian of Norwich’s Showings, Langland’s Piers Plowman, and Chaucer’s Canterbury TalesThis course will involve group conferences for students who take it for five credits, but students will have the option to take the lecture for three credits, omitting the conference requirement.

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Home, Exile, and Emigration: Case Studies From the Bible to Contemporary German Literature

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

This course is taught in English. German language skills are not required. Advanced German students may take this course for five credits; during an extra weekly seminar, we will work on all aspects of your German—reading, speaking, and writing—by analyzing and discussing (in German) the same and/or other postwar German texts not covered in this lecture.

Human history has always been characterized by the forced or voluntary migration of individuals or groups of people. In this 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 study of German literary texts from the 20th century—a century whose historical upheavals have led to different waves of voluntary or forced migration—this lecture will begin with a reading of selected stories from the Old Testament (Pentateuch) in order to illustrate the relationship between a life in “exile” and a “home” that is located either in the past, in the future, or both. Theoretical essays by Edward Said, Julia Kristeva, Hannah Arendt, and others will provide us with some critical vocabulary to speak and write about the interconnectedness of concepts such as home, flight, exile, migrants, and refugees. The lecture then moves on to an exploration of some 20th-century German novels and/or autobiographies about the flight of intellectuals and writers from National Socialism and emigrants from European and non-European countries into today’s Germany.

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Imagining War

Open, Seminar—Year

This is an interdisciplinary course.

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

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Forms and Logic of Comedy

Open, Seminar—Year

Comedy is a startlingly various form that operates with a variety of logics. Comedy can be politically conservative or starkly radical, savage or gentle, optimistic or despairing. In this course, we will explore some comic modes—from philosophical comedy to modern film—and examine a few theories of comedy. A tentative reading list for the first semester includes a Platonic dialogue (the Protagoras), Aristophanes, Plautus, Juvenal, Lucian, Shakespeare, Molière, some Restoration comedy, and Fielding. In the second semester, we may read Jane Austen, Stendhal, Dickens, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Kingsley Amis, Philip Roth, and Tom Stoppard. We will also look at film and cartoons. Both semesters’ reading lists are subject to revision.

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

Open, Seminar—Year

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

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Epic Vision and Tradition

Open, Seminar—Year

The epic is a monumental literary form that is an index to the depth and richness of a culture and the ultimate test of a tale-teller’s creative power. Encyclopedic in its inclusiveness, epic reflects a culture’s origins and projects its destiny, giving definitive form to its vital mythology and problematically asserting and questioning its formative values. This course on the emergence and development of the epic genre, from its oral origins to its modern and postmodern manifestations, will be organized around four central purposes. First, we will study the major structural, stylistic, and thematic features of each epic. Second, we will consider the cultural significance of the epic as the collective or heroic memory of a people. Third, we will examine how each bard weaves an inspired, yet troubled, image of visionary selfhood into the cultural and historical themes of the poem. Fourth, we will notice how the epic form changes shape under changing cultural and historical circumstances and measure the degree to which the influence of epic tradition becomes a resource for literary and cultural power.

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French and Francophone Women Writers From Beauvoir to Slimani

Open, Joint seminar—Fall

This course is taught in English. An additional discussion session will be organized for advanced French students.

This course will focus on French and francophone women writers from 1945 to the present. Whereas women’s writing as conventionally considered in the first half of the 20th century is singularly identified with Colette, the postwar and postcolonial eras produced an explosion of artistic expression by women across a broad range of genres. In this course, we will concentrate primarily on fiction and memoir by women writing in French from locations such as Algeria, Guadeloupe, Senegal, and Quebec, as well as France. We will examine the various ways in which women under certain conditions exemplified aesthetic and social transgression by writing at all, foregrounding the rapport between orality and textuality. The writers studied will allow us to explore how sexual and racial politics figure in language itself, often through formal innovation and experimentation. A critical component of this course will consist of selections by feminist thinkers such as Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Monique Wittig, who interrogated the relationship between gender and genre/sex, writing and the (female) body, and language and (feminine) desire. Alongside readings, we will also screen several films by significant women filmmakers such as Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, Agnès Varda, and Céline Sciamma. Texts will be read in English translation; students of French will have the opportunity to read texts in the original; and we will analyze the correlation between the works’ translation history and their position in the global literary marketplace. Writers studied could include Mariama Bâ, Simone de Beauvoir, Nicole Brossard, Maryse Condé, Assia Djebar, Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, Linda Lê, Lydie Salvayre, Nathalie Sarraute, and Leïla Slimani.

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Bardo of Everyday Life: Decolonizing Travel Writing

Open, Seminar—Fall

Travel writing has an inglorious past that traverses the history of European colonialism yet continues to be reinvented anew as our ways of traveling (both physically and in mediated ways) evolve and proliferate. At the heart of the question of travel may lie a more fundamental question about how we conceptualize the relationship of here and there. In this course, we will explore our relationship to home, place, thresholds, borders, unknown parts. How do we map our worlds? How do we experience proximity and distance? What are the pathways that we take in a day, a month, a year, or over longer durations? How do our inner compass, our bodily configurations, and external milieus align or misalign at different points of our lives? How do we measure safety, intimacy, belonging, exclusion? What is shared experience, and what is fantasy? How do our own individual temperaments meet local social parameters and global spectacles of dwelling? And how do we endure the no-man’s land of the bardo as it appears in countless uncertain, liminal, in-between moments of everyday life? Through a series of writing projects, we will explore these kinds of questions in our diverse individual environments and, perhaps, discover our own unique ways of renouncing territory for the vividness of bardo experience.

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Theory for Reading

Open, Large seminar—Fall

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

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Acting Up: Theatre and Theatricality in Enlightenment-Era England

Open, Seminar—Fall

From soap operas to sketch comedy, drag shows to musical theatre, Restoration-era and 18th-century England helped to shape the modern conventions of dramatic art, popular entertainment, and theatrical subcultures. Those periods also introduced an early form of celebrity culture, thanks in part to the rise of England’s first professional female actors and the reign of a king, Charles II, who loved 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 1790s imagined the potential of performance to transform—or sometimes to reinforce—the status quo, with a look ahead to Hollywood films that have inherited and adapted the legacy of 18th-century entertainments. Our emphasis will be on plays, with a survey of major Restoration and 18th-century comedies (some of the funniest ever written), parodies, afterpieces, heroic tragedies, imperial pageants, sentimental dramas, and Gothic spectacles by authors such as William Wycherley, George Etherege, John Dryden, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, John Gay, Henry Fielding, and Elizabeth Inchbald. We will also consider nondramatic writing on performance and theatrical culture, including 18th-century acting manuals, racy theatrical memoirs, and a “masquerade novel” by Eliza Haywood, as well as films by directors such as Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, and Hal Ashby.

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The World According to Ariyoshi Sawako

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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

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Dante’s Encyclopedia: The Comedy and Intertextuality

Open, Seminar—Fall

Dante’s 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 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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Interrogating God: Tragedy and Divinity

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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British and Irish Modernisms

Open, Seminar—Spring

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

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The French Novel Since Camus

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course is taught in English, with readings in translation. Students who read French may read the works in the original and do conference projects in French.

The object of this course is to give students a critical overview of the major developments in the novel written in French since World War II. Our guiding question will be how and why certain writers and movements come to shape both the form of the novel and various notions of “Frenchness” itself. Our point of departure will be Albert Camus’s The Stranger, a work of stylistic innovation and philosophical exploration that continues to serve for many readers as perhaps the emblematic French novel of the 20th century. Our eventual endpoint will be a contemporary text written in French by an Algerian writer: Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, which grapples with the legacy of Camus’s novel in postcolonial Algeria. In between those two bookends, we will explore a number of aesthetic, political, and philosophical questions crucial to the development of the postwar novel. How and why did authors continually seek to subvert traditional notions of plot, character, psychology, and genre? How did the traumas of World War II and France’s colonial past and present lead to a reconsideration of the relationship of fiction, history, and memory? How did the rise of consumer society affect the status of the novel and its attempts to represent everyday life? How did new voices for the novel emerge alongside political theories and practices? Finally, how might the novel provide us with different avenues for understanding contemporary French culture and society? Students will read works in their entirety in translation, alongside relevant theoretical texts. Additional authors to be studied could include Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, Georges Perec, Marguerite Yourcenar, Monique Wittig, Annie Ernaux, Maryse Condé, Patrick Modiano, Patrick Chamoiseau, Jean Echenoz, Marie NDiaye, and Michel Houellebecq.

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Wilde and Shaw

Open, Seminar—Spring

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

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Global Intertextualities

Open, Seminar—Spring

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

Faculty

Poetry and the Book

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Fall

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

Faculty

Visionary Spaces: Light Information Reflexivity

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Spring

This course offers an unusual take on contemporary culture (digital media, cybernetics, networked society) by starting from the reference points of Eastern philosophy (Taoist, Buddhist). Rather than the focal point of the individual subject (whether in affirmative or critical mode), it is a different notion of the self or, rather, processes of interaction, transmutation, and ecology that provide ground for our investigations. In the end, we arrive at a different formulation of the problems of reification, spectacle and power. The question of subjectivity will not be deconstructed so much as redesigned and repurposed within the context of what I call Eastern praxis—practices of mind rather than analyses of discourse—and brought to bear on the perennial question of critical thought: How do we live (well) under contemporary conditions of labor and communication? Sidestepping the dialectic of utopia/dystopia, we will explore the problem of social life under the auspices of an Eastern vital materialism. Primary materials for this course are drawn from film, multimedia and performance art, Internet-based projects and environmental design, as well as extensive readings in criticism, theory and philosophy.

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Archive of the Senses: Evoking Communities Through Perception

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Spring

This course is designed for students with some familiarity with working in a variety of media and who wish to explore them further in relationship to our local communities. Progressing through a series of projects involving all of the five sense perceptions and a variety of material and media, students will explore what it means to use everyday technologies today. Each project will ask students to explore the nature of sensation and of mediated experience. What happens to us when we capture our sensory perceptions? How do media technologies influence our perceptions of the world? How do other kinds of diverse knowledge, techniques, or know-how that exist in communities come into play in relation to digital apparatuses? During the course of the semester, students will have the opportunity to work with writing, sound, image, and procedural rhetoric as a way to experience public environments, as well as to represent individual and collective stories about them. Additionally, we will study a selection of media theories relating to a wider range of technological apparatuses inaccessible to our actual use (such as the electron scanning microscope or fiber-optic cable landing sites) in order to situate our projects within a larger, global framework. For qualified and dedicated students, course work may include volunteer work with a local community partnership.

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Emersonian Quartet: Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Stevens

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Spring

In an 1842 lecture, titled “The Poet,” Emerson complained that no American had yet emerged who could answer the legacy of Western literary tradition with original energy and native genius. Whitman would later remark that he had been “simmering, simmering, simmering” until Emerson’s injunctions brought him “to a boil.” The outcome was his sublime, democratic, homoerotic poetic sequence, “Song of Myself” (the “greatest piece of wit and wisdom yet produced by an American,” as Emerson immediately recognized). In unique but related ways, Dickinson, Frost, and Stevens also answered Emerson’s call. Like Whitman at the end of “Song of Myself,” their most inventive poems seem always out in front of us, waiting for us to arrive. We will do our best to catch up: to conceptualize and paraphrase their tropes while acknowledging the inevitable failure of merely discursive language to transmit a poem. Our central task will be to interpret and appreciate the poetry we encounter through close, imaginative reading, informed speculation, and an understanding of historical contexts.

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

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: Completion of at least one prior course in literature.

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

Faculty

Time and Literature

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

“What then is time?” St. Augustine wrote. “If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” Time is elusive. The ticking clock and the calendar visualize the present moment becoming a future one, yet this arrow-like time conflicts with Augustine’s notion that time exists within the mind. If time is not an external phenomenon but, instead, our memories, sensations, and anticipation, then how real is time, and how can we measure it? Is it then possible to obstruct or delay the passage of time? Literary narratives can help us explore these questions and think about various ideas of human time. While we read our watches to determine where we exist in relation to current or prospective events, we often read narratives to learn about human experience and, thus, about human time. In them, we can discover diverse categories—sacred time, social time, and performative time, to name a few—that imagine experience as anything but neat, linear, and sequential. This course will consider the forms and concepts of time as they are represented in the Middle Ages and beyond. Reading medieval romances and dream visions, we will grapple with the temporality of subjective and imaginary worlds but also ponder how the different pauses, suspensions, compressions, accelerations, and simultaneities of medieval texts connect with later physical and metaphysical notions of time, including Virginia Woolf’s “moments of being” and Joycean epiphanies. Analyzing time-related critical texts, including Paul Ricoeur’s prodigious Time and Narrative, we will see how these concepts form an essential framework in which to read literary narratives from the Middle Ages to Modernism.

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

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

As an intermediate course, some of the things that would qualify you to enroll for this course would be having previously taken a course in medieval art or Islamic art, having taken a course in medieval or Islamic history or civilization, or having the ability to conduct research in Spanish. You are also welcome during interviews to make a case for other skills or background that you feel might qualify you.

How can we read peoples’ sense of identity in the arts? How do religious identities interact with national, regional, and cultural identities? Is European identity necessarily Christian? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in this seminar. From 711 to 1492, the Iberian Peninsula was home to a number of kingdoms with constantly transforming demographics, cities marked by religious pluralism, and kaleidoscopic political alliances between political and religious groups. Opposing forces rarely aligned simply with religious affiliation in medieval Spain. If documents give us a biased and incomplete picture of the relationship between and among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, the arts can provide a different kind of testimony to these rich and complex histories that continue to have an impact on our lives today.

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China’s 20th-Century Through Fiction

Open, Seminar—Year

There is no prerequisite knowledge of China (history or literature) required for this course.

In 1902, China’s leading intellectual and political theorist, LIANG Qichao, observed, “If one intends to renovate the people of a nation, one must first renovate its fiction.” In the century that followed, reformers, radicals, and regimes repeatedly placed fiction at the center of the national project of modernity. Exploring literature’s contribution to the construction of the Chinese national body, this yearlong seminar uses short stories and novels as windows on a cataclysmic century filled with wars, political revolutions, cultural change, and social upheaval. As writers participated in, and commented on, those traumatic events, fiction was a key battleground for political, social, and cultural change. In the fall, we will encounter short stories and novels that carried forward radical demolitions of the Confucian cultural tradition and political critiques in the first half of the century. Beginning in the 1920s, urban feminists wrote to promote the emancipation of the individual while, a decade later, leftist writers exposed the evils of Western imperialism and capitalist exploitation. How did those works contribute to revolutionary movements? Despite an overall focus on the political dimension, we will take time out to consider some more lyrically inclined writers who explored China’s ethnic margins and the intricate and private dramas of love and despair. In the spring semester, we will delve into the socialist realism of Communist fiction to identify its unique qualities and role in Maoist political life before turning to the literary reassessments of Maoist excesses in the reform era (1980s) and the place of literature in the neoliberal atmosphere of post-Tiananmen (1989) China. We will interrogate fictional works in postrevolutionary China for how they deal with and understand China’s revolutionary past, its ragged cultural tradition, and a rapidly changing society and economy. What is the relationship between art and politics in these ostensibly (even studiously) apolitical works? And finally, we will cover Taiwanese literature from the 1960s through the 1990s, as it, too, grappled with economic development, its political basis, and social effects. Our readings include many of the great characters in early 20th-century literature, such as Lu Xun’s cannibalistic madman and hapless Ah Q, Ding Ling’s tubercular Miss Sophie, SHEN Congwen’s Hmong villagers and Zhang Ailing’s college student turned mistress-assassin. We will also meet blood-drenched bandits, long-suffering peasants, and disaffected urban youths in an age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. For those taking this class as an FYS course, conferences in the fall semester will consist of biweekly individual meetings, with a group session held on alternate weeks to handle matters concerning all FYS students. Conferences in the spring will be on the regular, biweekly individual model (i.e., no group conferences).

Faculty

Landscapes in Translation

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This course investigates the multiple ways in which landscapes have been imagined, interpreted, physically shaped, and controlled in a variety of historical and contemporary sites. The literatures of environmental humanities, landscape design, and political ecology provide theory and cases. The first section, Cartographies, explores ideas of landscape in Euro-America, Southeast Asia, and colonial-era Africa. We examine how landscapes on a variety of scales, from “bioregions” to nations, are imagined, codified, and transformed through representational processes and material moves ranging from mapping to making walls. The second section, Visions, investigates how landscapes are imagined and embodied in fine arts and literature, as well as in garden and urban design. Readings draw on examples of landscape making and design in colonial New England, Indonesia, and other sites. We examine contemporary examples of landscape design in response to climate change, especially sea-level rise in the Netherlands, United States, Indonesia, and China. We also study reworkings of the urban landscape to integrate more productive, biologically diverse “fringes,” as well as rooftop farms and apiaries. The third section, Security-Scapes: Landscape Imaginaries and Embodiments, investigates the rise of “security-scapes” or “surveillance-scapes,” dating from slavery in the United States to the Department of Homeland Security in the post-9/11 era. Contemporary urban-design imaginaries and plans for “resilience” and “smart cities” are investigated. We draw upon websites, advertisements, and new scholarship in security studies, landscape design, and critical political theory. This course is open to students with developed skills in critical thinking and the analysis of texts and other representational forms.

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Advanced French: French and Francophone Women Writers From Beauvoir to Slimani

Open, Joint seminar—Fall

This course is taught in English. An additional discussion session will be organized for advanced French students.

This course will focus on French and francophone women writers from 1945 to the present. Whereas women’s writing as conventionally considered in the first half of the 20th century is singularly identified with Colette, the postwar and postcolonial eras produced an explosion of artistic expression by women across a broad range of genres. In this course, we will concentrate primarily on fiction and memoir by women writing in French from locations such as Algeria, Guadeloupe, Senegal, and Quebec, as well as France. We will examine the various ways in which women under certain conditions exemplified aesthetic and social transgression by writing at all, foregrounding the rapport between orality and textuality. The writers studied will allow us to explore how sexual and racial politics figure in language itself, often through formal innovation and experimentation. A critical component of this course will consist of selections by feminist thinkers such as Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Monique Wittig, who interrogated the relationship between gender and genre/sex, writing and the (female) body, and language and (feminine) desire. Alongside readings, we will also screen several films by significant women filmmakers, such as Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, Agnès Varda, and Céline Sciamma. Texts will be read in English translation, students of French will have the opportunity to read texts in the original, and we will analyze the correlation between the works’ translation history and their position in the global literary marketplace. Writers studied could include Mariama Bâ, Simone de Beauvoir, Nicole Brossard, Maryse Condé, Assia Djebar, Marguerite Duras, Annie Ernaux, Linda Lê, Lydie Salvayre, Nathalie Sarraute, and Leïla Slimani.

Faculty

France Through Film

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

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

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

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Intermediate French II: The Writing of Everyday Life in French 20th-Century Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Course conducted in French. Admission by placement test to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester or by completion of Intermediate French I (possibly Advanced Beginning for outstanding students).

This French course is designed for students who already have a strong understanding of the major aspects of French grammar and language but wish to develop their vocabulary and their grasp of more complex aspects of the language. Students are expected to be able to easily read more complex texts and to express themselves more abstractly. A major part of the course will be devoted to the study and discussion of literary texts in French. In a challenge to his readers,“Question your soupspoons,” Georges Perec summed up, in his unique manner, a particular strain of 20th-century French letters—one that seeks to turn literature’s attention away from the extraordinary, the scandalous, and the strange toward an examination of the ordinary makeup of everyday life. This course will examine some of the aesthetic and theoretical challenges that the representation of the quotidian entails. Does the everyday hide infinite depths of discovery, or does its value lie precisely in its superficiality? How do spaces influence our experience of everyday life? How can (and should) literature give voice to experiences and objects that normally appear undeserving of attention? How does one live one’s gender on an everyday basis? Can one ever escape from everyday life? We will review fundamentals of French grammar and speaking and develop tools for analysis through close readings of literary texts. Students will be encouraged to develop tools for the examination and representation of their own everyday lives in order to take up Perec’s call to interrogate the habitual. Readings will include texts by Proust, Breton, Aragon, Leiris, Perec, Queneau, Barthes, the Situationists, Ernaux, and Calle. The Intermediate I and II French courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College during their junior year.

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Advanced German: Postwar German Literature and Film

Advanced, Small Lecture—Fall

This course is taught in English.

In our lecture, we will explore postwar German literature and film from 1945 to the present. As we read plays, short stories, and novels (including one graphic novel) by Wolfgang Borchert, Heinrich Böll, Gunther Grass, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Max Frisch, Peter Weiss, Jurek Becker, Bernhard Schlink, Nora Krug, Helga Mueller, and others, we will give special attention to the question of how German writers have dealt with the lasting legacy of both National Socialism and Stalinism (in East Germany from 1945 to 1989). Other topics might include German reunification, immigration, and the question of national identity. The films that will enhance our understanding of postwar German history and culture will include Murderer Among Us, Germany Pale Mother, The Lives of Others, and Good-Bye Lenin. Students will be required to read an entire play or novel per week. During an extra weekly seminar, we will work on all aspects of your German—reading, speaking, and writing. 

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Advanced German: Home, Exile, and Emigration: Case Studies From the Bible to Contemporary German Literature

Advanced, Small Lecture—Spring

This course is taught in English.

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” but, rather, will explore (through some case studies) the various meanings that writers such as Goethe, Tieck, Hesse, 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. During an extra weekly seminar, we will work on all aspects of your German: reading, speaking, and writing. 

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Readings in Intermediate Greek: Herodotus and Thucydides

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course will review grammar concepts, as necessary, while reading—in Greek—selected passages of Herodotus and Thucydides.

Faculty

China’s 20th Century Through Fiction

Open, Seminar—Year

There is no prerequisite knowledge of China (history or literature) for this course.

In 1902, China’s leading intellectual and political theorist, LIANG Qichao, observed, “If one intends to renovate the people of a nation, one must first renovate its fiction.” In the century that followed, reformers, radicals, and regimes repeatedly placed fiction at the center of the national project of modernity. Exploring literature’s contribution to the construction of the Chinese national body, this yearlong seminar uses short stories and novels as windows on a cataclysmic century filled with wars, political revolutions, cultural change, and social upheaval. As writers participated in and commented on those traumatic events, fiction was a key battleground for political, social, and cultural change. In the fall, we will encounter short stories and novels that carried forward radical demolitions of the Confucian cultural tradition and political critiques in the first half of the century. Beginning in the 1920s, urban feminists wrote to promote the emancipation of the individual while, a decade later, leftist writers exposed the evils of Western imperialism and capitalist exploitation. How did those works contribute to revolutionary movements? Despite an overall focus on the political dimension, we will take time out to consider some more lyrically inclined writers who explored China’s ethnic margins and the intricate and private dramas of love and despair. In the spring semester, we will delve into the socialist realism of Communist fiction to identify its unique qualities and role in Maoist political life before turning to the literary reassessments of Maoist excesses in the reform era (1980s) and the place of literature in the neoliberal atmosphere of post-Tiananmen (1989) China. We will interrogate fictional works in post-revolutionary China for how they deal with and understand China’s revolutionary past, its ragged cultural tradition, and a rapidly changing society and economy. What is the relationship between art and politics in those ostensibly (even studiously) apolitical works? And finally, we will also cover Taiwanese literature from the 1960s through the 1990s, as it, too, grappled with economic development, its political basis, and social effects. Our readings include many of the great characters in early 20th-century literature, such as Lu Xun’s cannibalistic madman and hapless Ah Q, Ding Ling’s tubercular Miss Sophie, SHEN Congwen’s Hmong villagers, and Zhang Ailing’s college student turned mistress-assassin. We will also meet blood-drenched bandits, long-suffering peasants, and disaffected urban youths in an age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. For those taking this class as an FYS, conferences in the fall semester will consist of biweekly individual meetings, with a group session held on alternate weeks to handle matters concerning all FYS students. Conferences in the spring will be on the regular biweekly individual model (i.e., no group conferences).

Faculty

The Cultural and Political Work of Women Writers in the United States, 1790–1990

Open, Seminar—Year

“This is what I want you to do,” novelist Rebecca Harding Davis wrote in 1861. “I want you to hide your disgust, take no heed to your clean clothes, and come right down with me—here, into the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia. I want you to hear this story. There is a secret down here, in this nightmare fog, that has laid dumb for centuries: I want to make it a real thing to you.” Using the literary and expository writing of US women, we will explore American stories and secrets, what these writers are working to make “a real thing to you.” Readings will include autobiography, letters, novels, stories, and cultural criticism. Rather than following just canonical literary or intellectual history, we will investigate less well-known and popular fictions alongside classics. Major themes will include questions of politics, race, class, and regional conflict; womanhood, manhood, and sexuality; American identity and nationalism; and immigration. Course work will focus on literary and print culture, but students may explore other media in conference. Particular emphasis will be placed on careful research of the historical context when analyzing primary documents from the period. A working knowledge of the political history of the time is necessary; students who need refreshing will be expected to regularly consult a textbook.

Faculty

The Enlightenment

Open, Seminar—Year

The 18th-century Enlightenment was arguably the most important single episode in the last thousand years of European intellectual history—an upsurge of new ideas and attitudes that ushered in the “modern” climate of opinion. Dozens of our own society’s most characteristic beliefs about the structure of the universe, human nature, the foundations of political community, and the principles of morality were first put into circulation by Enlightenment thinkers. This course will examine the development of the Enlightenment from its origins in the age of the Baroque to its demise in the era of the French Revolution and Romanticism. While the course’s central focus will be doctrines, values, and sensibilities as expressed in works of philosophy, literature, and art, we will also consider 18th-century political and social history and the role of the Enlightenment in inspiring the revolutionary upheavals that brought the Old Regime in Europe to an end. Students may pursue conference projects examining almost any aspect of life or culture in early modern Europe.

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Realisms: Currents and Crosscurrents in 19th-Century European Thought

Open, Seminar—Fall

The term “realism” enjoyed an unprecedented vogue in 19th-century Europe. All manner of doctrines and ideologies prided themselves on their “realistic” understanding of the human predicament and the structure of the universe while disdaining rival doctrines as captive to illusions and prejudices. Students in this course will read and discuss texts illustrating influential forms of 19th-century European realism in philosophy, ethics, and politics. They will also consider realism in literature and painting. We will try to identify what exactly “realism” meant to each of these philosophical and artistic tendencies and to discover why 19th-century Europeans found the concept of “realism” so irresistible. Since the schools of thought to be investigated often conceived “reality” in diametrically opposed ways, the course will provide an introduction to a number of the most significant intellectual debates of the 19th century. Thinkers to be discussed include Malthus, Hegel, Marx, Darwin, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Weber, and Freud; creative artists include Turgenev, Strindberg, Courbet, Manet, and Degas.

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Alternative Americas: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the United States, 1776–1976

Advanced, Seminar—Year

The story most typically told of America focuses on the path taken, the victors and the nature of their victory, the dreamers whose dreams were realized, and central figures in a largely political narrative. In this course, we will revisit the United States through the lives of those more on the margins, dreamers and doers who faced heavier odds or who dreamed of a world that never arrived. Through the words, dreams, memories, and exhortations of African Americans, workers, women, immigrants, and cultural critics of all sorts, we will revisit the story of the idea of America as it has unfolded. Readings will include primary sources from the time period, as well as historical articles and books. In the spring, we will add film. As we read and watch, we will also write, as this will be a course that emphasizes the synthesis of historical research and expository writing. A working knowledge of the political history of the time is necessary; students who need refreshing will be expected to regularly consult a textbook.

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Beginning Italian: Viaggio in Italia

Open, Seminar—Year

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

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Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

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

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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 mid-semester, students will be translating authentic excerpts of Latin poetry and prose. During the spring semester, while continuing to develop and refine their knowledge of Latin grammar and vocabulary, students will read selections from the Aeneid in Latin.

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The Invention of Homosexuality

Open, Seminar—Year

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

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

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

Faculty

Virginia Woolf in the 20th Century

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Fall

“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

The Music of Russia

Open, 3-credit seminar—Spring

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

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

 

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The Philosophy of Tragedy: Electras

Open, Seminar—Fall

There is only one story about which tragedies exist by all three of the great Greek tragic poets: the murder of Clytemnestra to avenge her murder of Agamemnon. We will read all three plays: Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers, Sophocles’ Electra, and Euripides’ Electra—with special attention to the relation between Electra and Orestes as co-conspirators in the plot against Clytemnestra. Each play is concerned with the question of justice in its relation to a political life. Insofar as its principle is justice, political life points toward universality. Insofar as its existence depends on excluding some from its borders, it must assert its particularity. Political life involves treating fellow citizens according to universal principles, because they are like family. We want our polis to be good, but we want it to be good because it is ours. In Greek tragedy, this problematic togetherness of the good and one’s own is repeatedly represented as the tension between the polis and the family—which is, in turn, expressed as a tension between male and female principles. All of these issues are present in all three plays but in quite different ways. We will read them with a view to understanding the importance of those differences.

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Contemporary Muslim Novels and Creative Nonfiction

Open, Seminar—Spring

In current global circumstances, Islam is all too frequently represented solely in terms of political and militant ideologies. For those who wish to dig deeper, there are the rich and varied traditions of classical religious scholarship and jurisprudence. But to look at Islam through these lenses alone is to miss alternate sensibilities that are just as important in providing the material from which many Muslims construct their identities. In 1988, the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz became the first Muslim writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Although Mahfouz was one of the first to adopt the format of the novel, in recent years many new writers emerging from Muslim majority and minority areas around the world have found broad audiences. Their works embrace, resist, reject, transmute, and/or show nostalgia for the beliefs and practices with which the authors grew up or have adopted. As natives, immigrants, third culture, or converts, some of the writers to be explored here have actively promoted themselves as Muslim writers while others question this label or view it as only one signifier of many. The writings that have been selected will be ones that deal substantially with issues of Muslim identity. All of them were either written in English or have been translated into English.

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Contextualizing Communications: The Poetics of Seeing

Open, Seminar—Spring

Seeing is not a natural process or an individual activity; rather, it is embedded in social forces and imbued with historically and spatially constructed meanings. This seminar is designed to interrogate how we communicate and make meaning from such a vantage point. While this course takes a broadly construed sociology of culture as its point of departure, it understands sociology as what a British sociologist called a “parasitical” discipline that frequently disrupts and violates disciplinary borders and boundaries. The course will follow in that vein. Our initial readings, which will include Raymond Williams, Edward Said, Aime Cesaire, and John Berger, will set the conceptual framework for what follows. We will draw upon literature; film and music; (auto)biography; letters, diaries, oral histories; and archival and legal texts emanating from different parts of the globe, with an emphasis on cultural productions about and from the Global South and/or diasporic communities. Our analyses will be framed in terms of a number of themes and questions, relating those to the contexts within which the works were produced. We will start with an overview of historical and methodological questions; examine colonial texts and their critique, the production of nationalism(s) and identities, censorship, postcoloniality, and the violence of “home”; and conclude with transformative visions. It is hoped that this perusal of a diversity of genres and voices will enable us to rethink the relations between objectivity and subjectivity, fiction, biography and fact, political and social censorships to which their producers subscribe or against which they struggle, as well as struggles over voice and/in the remaking of space. Our goal is to problematize naturalistic “ways of seeing” (a term borrowed from John Berger) and thus show how seeing (through sonic, cinematic, and literary constructions) is both an ideologically regimented activity and a creative form of emancipatory action. Rather than seeing our readings as the expression of individual genius, we will engage with them as a way to become astute readers of the material poetics of social life.

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Forms of Culture in the Information Age: Spanish for Advanced Beginners

Open, Seminar—Year

Course taught entirely in Spanish. All students should take the placement test prior to registration.

This course is designed for students who have taken Spanish before but need to review the essentials of grammar and develop effective communicative skills at a post-elementary level. The course will start with a thorough review of the basics of Spanish morphology and syntax. Vocabulary building will take place through an intensive program of readings that will include the study and analysis of poems, lyrics of songs, newspaper articles, short stories, and adapted novellas. The linguistic exploration of those materials will be complemented by the active exploitation of musical compositions, excerpts of scripts, and the viewing of films, as well as selected episodes of TV series. All forms and manifestations of culture originated all over the Spanish–speaking world—fashion, art, film, music, photography, theatre, science, politics, comics, video games, gastronomy, etc.—will be the objects of our attention. These and other forms of cultural expression will be incorporated into the course of study, as long as Spanish is their vehicle of expression. The syllabus will be complemented by contributions from students, who will be encouraged to locate materials suitable to be jointly exploited by the class as a whole. Weekly conversation sessions with the language assistant are a fundamental part of this course. Students will complete guided conference projects in small groups and also have access to individual meetings to address specific grammar topics.

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Intermediate Spanish II: Writing for a Blog in Spanish

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

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

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

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Literatures From the Spanish-Speaking World: The Novella

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This seminar will focus on the analysis of some of the fundamental narrative works from the Spanish-speaking world, with a special emphasis on the novella and other forms of short fiction. In our approach, we will explore the multiple cultural and historical connections that have always linked the literary traditions of Latin America and Spain. Chronologically, the works under study will belong to several time periods. Our journey will start with the extraordinary explosion of narrative modes brought about by the authors of the so-called “boom” in the middle of the 20th century, when the contours of magical realism began to take shape and consolidate. Once we finish studying a number of masterpieces written in that mode, we will proceed to the next phase when new forms of expression emerged, studying the multiple connections of Spanish-language authors with world literature and culminating with the revolution brought about by women writers, whose transformation of the canon has crystallized in fascinating new forms of expression. We will finish the semester with an in-depth examination of the current state of affairs in the Spanish-language novel and its complex relationship with other literary traditions in a context of intense transnational, transatlantic, and transcontinental exchange. Works under study will include novellas and other forms of short fiction by María Luisa Bombal, Alejandra Pizarnik, Gabriel García Márquez, Juan Rulfo, Julio Cortázar, Roberto Bolaño, César Aira, Alejandro Zambra, Guadalupe Nettel, Cristina Rivera Garza, Roberto Artl, Horacio Quiroga, and Felisberto Hernández, among others.

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Literatures From the Spanish-Speaking World: The Poetry and the Short Story

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

This seminar will operate as an introduction to the literatures of the Spanish-speaking world, centered on the study of two of its mainstays: the formation of the poetic canon and the tradition of the short story. We will examine the development of both forms of literary expression concurrently, paying attention to the most-important moments in the literary history of Latin America and Spain. In our exploration, we will not proceed in strict chronological order but, rather, focus on pivotal phases that illustrate the amalgamation of cultures and idioms that converge in the crystallization of the rich body of literatures produced in the score of nations that share Spanish as their vehicle of cultural expression. The point of departure will be the rise of modernismo at the end of the 19th century, when the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío became the pilot of the language, moving its center of gravity to Latin America after establishing a direct connection with vital centers of European literature, like France. The second pivotal moment of our journey will take us to the 20th century with figures like César Vallejo, who broke all stereotypes of poetic creation, establishing an idiom whose influence continues to be felt today. Along with his poetic output, we will study that of poets as influential as Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Rosario Castellanos, Alejandra Pizarnik, Federico García Lorca, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and José Lezama Lima, among other towering names. We will continue our exploration of the poetic traditions of Latin America and Spain by studying the fascinating relationship between the present time and crucial moments from the past, including early manifestations such as the ancient jarchas, Iberian compositions in vernacular romance preserved in Arabic characters, or the unsurpassable anonymous authors of the beautiful medieval ballads that constitute the Romancero, as well as authors of Jewish origin such as don Sem Tob. Another important moment of our trajectory will consist of an examination of the roots and ramifications of realismo mágico, a form of expression that once defined the literary expression of Latin America and later reformulated by subsequent generations of writers. The last phase of the journey will consist of an investigation of the most recent forms of poetic expression as they occur in new forms of communication, from social networks to all kinds of outlets derived from technological sources and platforms. In each of these phases, the study of the poetic canon will have its counterpart in an exploration of the sister genre of the short story.

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Advanced Interdisciplinary Studio: Our Nine Senses

Advanced, Seminar—Year

This course is intended for advanced visual-arts students interested in working across disciplines and in more deeply pursuing their own artmaking processes. Students making work in and across painting, drawing, sculpture, video, photography, sound, new genres, and performance are supported. Students will maintain their own studio spaces and will be expected to work independently and creatively and to challenge themselves and their peers to explore new ways of thinking and making. During the fall semester, students will be given open-ended, exploratory prompts based on nine human senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, balance, temperature, proprioception, and pain) from which they will be asked to experiment with how they make work and will be encouraged to work within new mediums. In the spring semester, students will focus exclusively on their own interests and will be expected to develop a sophisticated, cohesive body of independent work accompanied by two group exhibitions. We will have regular critiques, readings, image discussions, and trips to galleries and artists’ studios and will participate integrally within the Visual Arts Lecture Series. This will be an immersive studio course for disciplined art students interested in making work in an interdisciplinary environment.

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Fiction Workshop: From the Basics to the Sublime

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

Faculty

Fiction Workshop: Native Speakers: The Art of Voice in Fiction

Open, Seminar—Spring

This workshop examines the art of voice in fiction. We will begin with a proposition: that the measure of any fictional voice’s power has little to do with who the writer is but more to do with what a writer does on the page and that the power of a “voice” begins and ends in language. What do we mean when we talk about a convincing “voice” in fiction? What are its hallmarks? Whose voice (or voices) do we hear? In what ways might all writing be said to be in possession of a voice—not just those we typically associate with the term? And how might these questions be complicated or enriched by other questions about identity, authority, and “authenticity”? Students will not be expected to “find their voice”; rather, students will be asked to think about “voice” as something crafted through language in order to tell a story. We will examine some classic and contemporary “voices” in fiction in order to try to understand how they work. Through a series of short writing exercises, students will experiment with “voice” in their own writing. And finally, students will produce two works of short fiction—developed through one-on-one conferences—to present to the class for workshop and to revise for their final portfolio as their conference project.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop: The Short Story

Open, Seminar—Year

Frank O’Connor claims that the short story is a form characterized not by its length but by its subject matter—by its habitual interest in what he calls “submerged population groups,” people for whom a “normal society” is the “exception” rather than the “rule”; in short, outsiders, losers, the marginalized, the dispossessed. In this yearlong course, we will begin with O’Connor’s description and then move on to examine canonical, as well as contemporary, examples of the form in the hopes of generating a portfolio of stories about a “submerged population group” of our own. Our readings may include Edward P. Jones, Raymond Carver, James Alan Macpherson, Grace Paley, Alice Munro, Denis Johnson, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, Lydia Davis, Sherman Alexie, and Charles Baxter, among many others. We will divide our time between reading published works and examining each other’s efforts through workshops, critical and generative writing exercises, and one-on-one conferences. The fall semester’s reading will be taken from an anthology, so as to give students a survey of the form’s depth and breadth; in the spring semester, we will examine single-author short-story collections. Throughout, we will ask questions not only about craft and technique in short-story writing but also larger questions about the form itself and the traditions in which short-story writers are all necessarily enmeshed.

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Intensive Semester in Yonkers: From the Known to the Unknown: Getting to Know the World Through Writing

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Students may take this course individually or apply to participate in the Intensive Semester in Yonkers.

This course is open for interviews and registration. Please visit Intensive Semester in Yonkers on MySLC for program information and application.

We will begin the semester by writing about the familiar—how it becomes beloved, despised, forgotten, lived within. We will explore how we experience the familiar at different ages while we take notes on the new, using words, photographs and sketches at our sites, on bus rides and walks, and in restaurants, parks, and churches. We will move from writing about the known to writing about how we get familiar with the new. We will pick five or more pieces to finish, revise, and edit for conference work and make chapbooks, using sketches and photographs to illuminate the world of our words. We will read other people’s explorations of their worlds, known and new, in an anthology that includes these writers, graphic novelists, and oral tale tellers: Dominican-American Junot Diaz, Iranian Marjane Satrapi, Malaysian Lat, Russian Isaac Babel, Italian Natalia Ginsberg, The Arabian Nights, African American folk tales, and poems from three languages—both ancient and modern.

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The Episode: A Course in Connections

Open, Seminar—Spring

This will be a course in the episode, a flexible way of putting together content—fictional or nonfictional—in this world or another. The episodes that we know best are streamed online. We also read them, often without noticing their form. They are different from chapters or short stories. We will start by introducing each other to our favorites. Then we will do enough exercises to catch ourselves doing something right and continue until we have six episodes that connect, not necessarily conventionally. These will be supported and critiqued in small groups, while weekly exercises get presented to everyone. This course is a sneaky way to get people to write and revise something long over time. Students can write fiction or nonfiction, for adults or children, and include poetry, songs, or drawings in their work. 

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

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

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

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First-Year Studies: Reading and Writing Poetry Workshop

Open, FYS—Year

We will read, roughly, a book of poetry each week and discuss the reading in detail. We will look at American poets from the 19th century (Dickinson and Whitman), the 20th century (Hayden, Bishop, Lowell), and the 21st century (Terrance Hayes, D. A. Powell, and others). There will be critical response assignments, in-class exercises, small group meetings, and writing prompts to generate new material. As the fall semester progresses, we will begin to workshop student writing in class in addition to discussing published work. Students will be expected to write (and rewrite) with passion and vigor, turning in a new first draft each week. At the end of each semester, students will turn in a portfolio of poems, as well as a packet of revisions, so that we can chart the evolution of each poem. Students will also write a five-page paper each semester, comparing two poets from the syllabus. If you want to read (and think about) poetry, be part of a community of writers, and write (and rewrite) your own poems and grow, then this will be a good class for you. This class will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small group activities, including writing workshops, screenings, and field trips.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Writing and Reading Fiction

Open, FYS—Year

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 expected to produce a short story every two weeks, which we’ll discuss in detail during our one-on-one conferences. In class, we’ll be talking about novels, short stories, and essays—learning from writers who have come before us. We’ll read a mix of classic and contemporary writers, including James Baldwin, Anton Chekhov, Jennifer Egan, Percival Everett, Henry James, Toni Morrison, Sigrid Nunez, Philip Roth, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Virginia Woolf. We’ll meet in conference every week during the fall semester and every other week in the spring.

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Experiments With Truth

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Spring

Nonfiction writing is defined not by what it is but by what it is not. It is not fiction. But what it is not comprehends a vast territory. We will spend the semester looking at the more unusual, experimental, and lyrical inhabitants of this territory: personal essays masquerading as anthropological studies or paleontological meditations or political screeds, blog posts from medieval Japan and Renaissance France, diaries, poems in the form of diary entries, essays masquerading as poems, micro nonfictions, feuilletons, prose poems passing themselves off as travelogues, koans, sermons, speeches, prayers. We will read a variety of writers from the past (among, but not limited to, Sei Shonagon, Montaigne, Sir Thomas Browne, Wilde, Pessoa, Gandhi, Mandelstam, Elizabeth Bishop, V. S. Naipaul, and the unknown genius who wrote the Book of Job) and from the present (John D’Agata, Bhanu Kapil, Anne Carson, Jonathan Franzen). After the first few weeks, we will alternate week-by-week sessions discussing reading with sessions discussing student work. Conference work will comprise discussion of reading tailored to individual students and the equivalent of two large pieces of writing in whatever form student and instructor agree upon.

Faculty

Nonfiction Laboratory

Open, Seminar—Spring

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

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Nonfiction Workshop: Reading and Writing Personal Essays

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will be divided into three units, each of which will involve reading published essays and writing our own. In the first unit, People You Know, students will write personal narratives involving people in their lives and will read, as models, published examples of such works; e.g., Phillip Lopate’s portrait of his family in the essay “Willy.” In the second unit, Place, we will read and write essays about authors’ relationships to particular places—less travelogues than investigations of the dynamic between the person and the place. Examples of published essays that we will read for this unit are James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village” and Annie Dillard’s “Aces and Eights.” The third unit, The Personal in the Critical/Journalistic, or PCJ, involves work that combines personal reflection with consideration of an outside subject; e.g., a favorite movie or an event like 9/11. The interaction of the personal and the outside subject yields a third element, an insight that would not be possible without the first two elements; e.g., Jonathan Lethem’s personal essay about the movie The Searchers.

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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, 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 large (8-12 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.

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Ecopoetry

Open, Seminar—Year

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

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Explorations in the Poetic Voice

Open, Seminar—Fall

Contemporary poets face a dazzling range of stylistic options. This course is designed to give you a grounding in the practice of modern poetics and to encourage you to innovate. We’ll look at imagery, point of view, tone of voice, meter, pacing, the poetic line, and stanza form. We’ll examine the artistic thinking behind free verse, the sonnet, the ghazal, haiku, and postmodern experimental idioms. We’ll study foundational masters like Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Bishop, contemporaries like Yusuf Komunyakaa and Terrance Hayes, and writers from radically different cultures. We’ll explore The Vintage Book of African American Poetry and The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, prose poems, fables, and song lyrics. We’ll discuss how to read poetry as practitioners, how to see and hear what’s on the page. The strong consistent focus will be on students’ own poems. Class members will be encouraged to find their own paths; reading assignments will be mainly individual. The class will be part humanistic workshop, part artistic community, part critical inquiry. Expect to write freely and read voraciously.

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 may 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 of each class 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