Literature

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

Literature 2021-2022 Courses

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

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

In the first semester of this course, we will explore the work of major poets writing in English between the French Revolution and the American Civil War.  One of the goals of the course is to demonstrate the ways in which modern poetry originated in this period.  In the wake of the French Revolution, Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge invented a new kind of poem that largely internalized the myths they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. To put it another way, the inner life of the poet became the inescapable subject of their poetry.  In the second semester, we will trace the impact of their work on subsequent generations of poets writing in English.  Our preeminent goal will be to appreciate each poet’s—indeed, each poem’s—unique contribution to the language. Our understanding of literary and historical trends will emerge from the close, imaginative reading of texts.  Authors will include: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Tennyson, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, Hardy, Frost, Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.  During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet every other week.

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First-Year Studies: “Travel is the Traveler”: Documentation and Transformation in Modern and Contemporary Travel Literature

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

Fernando Pessoa wrote, “Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.” This intriguing insight into the nature of travel offers the starting point for an exploration of a diverse selection of literature from the late 19th to 21st centuries. We will also make our own forays into travel writing with a series of experiments, or exercises, in writing about place, movement, journey. As a part of conference work, students will work in small groups on collective projects. The course has been organized into the following sections: (1) Ethnography and Travel; (2) Documenting Society in Crisis; (3) Race, Postcolonialism, and Queer Affiliations; (4) Exile and Memory; (5) Shifting Borders; (6) Peripheries. Authors may include: Mary Kingsley, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Fernando Pessoa, Franz Kafka, Antal Szerb, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Sidiya Hartman, Henri Michaux, Helene Cixous, Christa Wolf, Bruce Chatwin, Jamaica Kincaid, Americo Paredes, Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Ondaatje, W.G. Sebald, Jose Saramago, Orhan Pamuk, Pankaj Mishra, Dai Sijie, Ocean Vuong, Cristina Rivera Garza, Yoko Tawaka, Chimamanda Ngozi Dichie, and Robert Macfarlane. This course will have biweekly conferences, with additional group conference meetings on most alternate weeks.

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First-Year Studies: Difficult Womxn of the Americas

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

Difficult womxn go against the grain: They make noise. They make trouble. They challenge categories, preconceptions, and assigned roles and shine light where some would rather not look. Through novels, films, and essays by thinkers and artists like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Octavia Butler, Cristina Rivera Garza, Judith Butler, Lucrecia Martel, Frida Kahlo, Sara Gómez, Margaret Atwood, and Lia Garcia La Sirena, this course will explore questions of gender, labor rights, race, borders, bodies, and environmental issues, among others. Students will learn how to analyze cultural objects and theory, to build arguments around plot elements or imagery, and to ground their analysis effectively in social and cultural contexts. The course will combine one-on-one conference work with group activities and exercises designed to introduce students to the resources available to them at the College, take advantage of New York City’s cultural offerings, and improve their writing skills through workshops.

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

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

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

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Theatre and the City

Open, Large Lecture—Year | 10 credits

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

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The Forms and Logic of Comedy

Open, Small Lecture—Year | 10 credits | Remote

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

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The Animal

Open, Small Lecture—Year | 10 credits | Remote

This yearlong lecture series will be an ecological and historical meditation and interrogation on how we, as humans, have looked at the nonhuman—the animal—and, as we wonder, how the animal has looked back at us. In the fall, we will engage with the site of the zoo historically, including the origins of the medieval Wunderkammer and its evolution into the zoological garden and natural history diorama, and into the contemporary zoo and online animal cam. We will consider these melancholy and ambivalent psychic spaces with complex and violent histories through narratives of captivity and freedom. In dialogue with John Berger’s essay, “Why Look at Animals?”—as well as theories by Donna Haraway, Saidiya Hartman, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Derrida, and others—we will ask: Why are zoos so sad? Also, when we are there, are the animals watching us in turn? When we are not there to visit them, do the animals actually miss us, as narratives during the pandemic have suggested? Besides readings from philosophy, political theory, affect theory, and cognitive studies, we will discuss literature that stems from the site of the zoo and enclosed space: poems, essays, stories, and novels by David Wojnarowicz, Lydia Davis, Rainer Maria Rilke, Thalia Field, Yoko Tawada, W. G. Sebald, Clarice Lispector, Judith Schalansky, Bhanu Kapil, and Helen Macdonald. We will also be thinking about films and photography that document looking at the animal by Chris Marker, Peter Hujar, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Masahisa Fukase, and others. In the spring, we will intensify our focus on literatures and consciousness of the animal, thinking through the animal as subject, friend, and parable. We will discuss the strangeness of children’s books that are about teaching animals to children, counterpointed by our alienation and longing toward the animals‘ inner lives. We will engage with not only Alice in Wonderland but also Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits,” Franz Kafka and BoJack Horseman, and the painter Paula Rego’s fairytales that conjure up Disney. We will read the novels Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee, The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, and Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. The entire year will be a bestiary, populated with polar bears, buffalo, crows, panthers, cows, beluga whales, coyotes, cats, dogs, elephants, horses, parrots, rabbits, bees, and large monkeys. By class time each Thursday, students will submit weekly responses to the reading, as well as questions for the weekly one-hour discussion each Friday. The final each semester will be a 12- to 18-page essay.

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

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 3 credits

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat to biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to understand the cultural and literary history of the concept of “nature” that is at the core of the Western and Judeo-Christian tradition while also putting that concept in the context of gender, race, and ethnicity in America today. For example, comparing stories of world creation from indigenous nations, with narratives taken from the Bible and from Greek and Roman classical texts, will allow us to better grasp how language in the European tradition functions as a deep divider between humans and other living creatures. We will also follow the development of the genre of the pastoral as an idealized construction of nature that deeply influenced Europe from third-century BC to 19th-century English and American Romanticism. We will try to better understand how the conception of wilderness in America is in close relation to the presence of enslaved black bodies on its land. Going in a different direction, we will analyze how contemporary feminism and gender studies provide crucially important models to invent new ways for the West to relate to nature. Animals will also be a focus of our discussions, from classical representations of animals as machines to the use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm by Deleuze and Guattari, to the possibility of shifting from a humanist understanding of nature inherited from European Renaissance, to new forms of ecocentric expression. These are some of the themes that we will cover in this lecture, with the goal of reading texts of the past in order to better understand the complexities of today’s discussions and debates about how to invent new forms of relating to the living environment around us.

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Milton, Blake, and the Bible

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

John Milton in the 17th century and William Blake in the late-18th and early-19th centuries forged fiercely independent poetics of visionary resistance to the trends toward intellectual materialism, religious conformity, economic mercantilism, and political authoritarianism that dominated the England and Europe of their periods. Both represented themselves as visionary teachers and prophets in a line of prophetic succession that began with Moses and included Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, and John, the writer of the Apocalypse. They founded their prophetic imaginations on what Blake called, “the sublime of the Bible,” the great epic of human liberation and imaginative inspiration. This course will provide readings of central biblical narratives and poetry and examine how Milton and Blake read, understood, and rewrote scripture in their major poetic texts in their prophetic expectation of changing the world and how we see it.

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The Literature of Exile

Open, Small Lecture—Spring | 3 credits

Human history has always been characterized by the forced or voluntary migration of individuals or groups of people. In this lecture, we will analyze the dialectical relationship between the concepts of “home” and “exile” in a series of works ranging from the Bible and medieval poems to German literary texts of the 20th century, a century whose upheavals led to different waves of voluntary or forced migration. Essays by Edward Said will provide us with some critical vocabulary to speak and write about the interconnectedness of notions of home, flight, diaspora, migrants, and refugees, while the primary works will invite us to analyze these themes in various fictional and autobiographical forms. Our historical range will help us uncover the voices of those who were displaced from their communities but also the modes through which many authors transformed the punitive experience of exile into more empowering perspectives and positions of distance. We will begin with selected stories from the Old Testament (Pentateuch) and Old English exile poems, while later readings will include works by Ovid, Dante, Goethe, and Herman Hesse. We will conclude with Anna Segher’s novel about the dilemma of refugees being stuck in Marseille in 1942 and a story of four emigrants by the preeminent writer Sebald.

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Italian and Japanese Women Writers: A Dialogue

Open, Small Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

This course will examine literature written by 20th- and 21st-century Italian and Japanese women writers. We will explore how their works address social issues related to family, marriage, and women’s changing roles, as well as the place of women’s writing in Italian and Japanese literary canons. Our readings will include works by Sibilla Aleramo, Grazia Deledda, Paola Masino, Ada Negri, Rosa Rosà, Anna Banti, Anna Maria Ortese, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Dacia Maraini, and Elena Ferrante for Italian literature; Higuchi Ichiyo, Ota Yoko, Hayashi Fumiko, Enchi Fumiko, Ariyoshi Sawako, Oba Minako, Yoshimoto Banana, Tsushima Yuko, Ogawa Yoko, Tawada Yoko, and Oyamada Hiroko for Japanese literature. Primary sources will range from fiction (novels, short stories, and fictional diaries) to autobiographies, diaries, and plays supplemented with secondary texts on women’s literature and histories. In addition to the lectures, students will attend weekly group conferences, and there will be group conference options for intermediate/advanced language students (in Italian and Japanese, respectively) to focus on developing language proficiency (e.g., by reading literary works in the original language, producing written compositions, and discussing works in Italian or Japanese). No previous background in Italian or Japanese language, literature, or history is required for this course.

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Allegory in the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

Allegory was integral to the composition and interpretation of stories in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. As a narrative form, allegory implied the original sense of allegoresis, “speaking otherwise,” and engaged readers with the literal and symbolic senses of a story. This course will examine a range of allegorical works from the sixth century to the 16th century, including poetic and prose narratives by William Langland, Boethius, Guillaume de Lorris, Christine de Pizan, Dante, Petrarch, Mary Wroth, and Edmund Spenser. By examining the specific category of personification allegory in which characters interact with personified concepts—such as philosophy, love, time, truth, and reason—we will see how this literary technique helped authors unveil, as well as complicate, the moral, political, romantic, social, and spiritual questions of their time. While some of the assigned works are available in translation, students are expected to read Middle English texts in the original language.

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Can This Republic Be Saved? Cautionary Evidence From Ancient Rome

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

The democratic republic in the United States was modeled on the Roman Republic, for good and ill, and has lasted just 234 years. Our democratic republic is now under siege, both figuratively and literally, by forces threatening to replace it with a dictatorship or some form of authoritarian populism. The ancient Roman Republic lasted 450 years before imploding into a military dictatorship. The Roman experience shows that the introduction or reintroduction of violence into the political process—even if the aim is social justice—absolutely precludes any possibility of equity or justice. Since the collapse of the Roman Republic, history has shown repeatedly that political violence, if condoned and unchecked, inevitably produces not social justice but the atrocities and devastations of fascism or totalitarianism. This course will examine this and other lessons from ancient Roman literature and history that are vital for us today if we hope to survive and thrive as individuals, as members of various communities, and as a species. We will read (in English translation) and discuss selected works by Catullus, Cicero, Sallust, Appian, Plutarch, Horace, Livy, Ovid, and Cassius Dio.

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

Open, Large seminar—Year | 10 credits | Hybrid Remote/In-Person

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

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Elective Affinities in Contemporary Poetry

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

The canonical status of contemporary literature is always up for grabs. In this seminar, we will spend roughly two-thirds of the academic year reading a sequence of the instructor’s favorite poets and those whose lives have overlapped with his own: Elizabeth Bishop, May Swenson, James Merrill, A. R. Ammons, John Ashbery, Jay Wright, Mark Strand, and Anne Carson, among them. The coincidences of another reader’s taste and judgment might generate a very different list of contemporaries; and this, too, will be our subject. In conference, each student will be asked to focus on a contemporary poet, or sequence of poets, not included in the syllabus. From the work of these poets, an ad hoc syllabus will be culled for the final sequence of class readings. As always, our preeminent goal will be to appreciate each poet’s—indeed, each poem’s—unique contribution to the language through close, imaginative readings of texts. 

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Toward a Theatre of Identity: Ibsen, Chekhov, and Wilson

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

Theatre emerges from social rituals; and as a communal exercise, theatre requires people to work together toward a common purpose in shared and demarcated physical space. Yet, the very notion of “character,” first expressed in the indelibly defining mask of the ancient Greek protagonist, points paradoxically toward the spirit, attraction, and trial of individuation. And so we have been given Medea, Hamlet, and Tartuffe, among the many dramatic characters whose unique faces we recognize and who speak to us not only of their own conflicts but also of something universal and timeless. In the 19th century, however, the Industrial Revolution, aggressive capitalism, imperialism, Darwinism, socialist revolution, feminism, the new science of psychology, and the decline of religious clarity about the nature of the human soul—all of these, among other social factors—force the question as to whether individual identity has point or meaning, even existence. Henrik Ibsen, a fiercely “objective” Norwegian self-exile, and Anton Chekhov, an agnostic Russian doctor, used theatre—that most social of arts—to challenge their time, examining assumptions about identity, its troubling reliance on social construction, and the mysteries of self-consciousness that elude resolution. The test will be to see how what we learn from them equips us—or fails to do so—in a study of August Wilson, an African-American autodidact of the 20th century, whose plays represent the impact, both outrageous and insidious, of American racism on “characters” denied identity by definition.

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

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year | 10 credits | Remote

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

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Reading Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales were two of the defining literary works of late medieval England. In this course, we will read these works (in Middle English) closely, exploring Chaucer’s complex interlacing of medieval genres, forms, and traditions. Studying Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales will reveal the diverse preoccupations of medieval literary culture: dreams and the imagination, sexuality and antifeminism, religious morality and clerical corruption, and the transcendent possibilities of love. Our examination of some contemporary writings will help us consider how the historical developments of 14th-century London, such as the changing class structure, influenced the social, economic, and political dimensions of Chaucer’s works.

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

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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 in which 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. By considering these questions, this course hopes to think through the contradictory realities of a moment in India during which major Bollywood studios are producing gay dramas and even rom-coms, while questions of sexuality, gender, class, caste, and religious identity are being violently weaponized by mobs with seeming impunity granted by a Hindu-nationalist state. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artifacts, 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).

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Objects and Memory

Open, Small seminar—Fall | 3 credits

Why do we hold on to certain things and not others? Why do some objects have the power to evoke personal memories, while others leave us cold? Roland Barthes described certain objects as having “punctum,” and Marie Kondo tells us that a select few “spark joy.” In this course, we will learn firsthand about the relationship between objects and memory from residents and staff at the Wartburg Nursing Home by developing a multimedia project called “A History of Wartburg in 100 Objects.” Students will work to pilot this project, partnering with Wartburg to discover how objects can help unlock memories. Working together, students in this course will create a bibliography of relevant texts on the topic of objects and memory, produce an oral history of an object with a partner at Wartburg, and contribute to the infrastructure of the larger project. While developing the project, we will read a selection of literary and theoretical works by Roland Barthes, Alice Walker, Virginia Woolf, and others in order to understand the role of objects in preserving, accessing, and sharing memories. We will meet once a week to discuss course readings, connect with seniors and staff, and develop the multimedia project. The location of our meetings will alternate between our classroom on campus and meetings at Wartburg in Mount Vernon. This class will include a community-based component working with an adult care community at Wartburg.

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Join the Club: Conversation, Criticism, and Celebrity in the British Enlightenment

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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

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Classic American Literature: The 19th Century and Its Rebels

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits | Remote

Nineteenth-century American literature is made up of a small number of iconic prose texts. The ones most often put in this category are Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. This course will focus on these five books and then conclude with a glimpse into two 20th-century novels, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. What links these texts is the rebellion of their central figures. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne defies the sexual and theological mores of the Puritans. In Moby Dick, Ahab challenges the notion of a moral universe. In the narrative of his life, Frederick Douglass challenges the slave system. In Huckleberry Finn, Huck defies the racism he was raised to believe in. In The Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer ignores the assumption that she must marry well to be a success. In The House of Mirth, Lily Bart refuses to marry at all. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby challenges the prerogatives of old money and power. The questions we will wrestle with over the course of the term is: What are we to make of the antagonism that mainstream, 19th-century American literature exhibits toward social and political convention? And does the antagonism speak to our better angels?

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Crime, Punishment, and Freedom in African American Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

African American literature has been intertwined with crime and punishment since at least the 17th century. One of the earliest textual sources about American slavery, the John Punch case, is a tribunal transcript detailing the crime of a Black man and his punishment of slavery. In the following 200 years, the slave narrative as a genre came to cohere around the climactic crime of stealing the property that is one’s self. After emancipation, African American writers decried public portrayals of Black people as criminal in prison literature, lynching narratives, and more. What, exactly, is the relationship between African American literature and crime? To answer this question, we will read African American literature chronologically, written by authors like Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Angela Davis, and Toni Morrison. In so doing, we aim to better understand both crime’s role in constituting African American literature and African American literature’s portrait of crime. Short assignments throughout the class (including critical and creative responses and short, close readings) aim to help us better understand the texts in the moments in which they were produced and to develop the skills necessary to approach these texts critically.

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

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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

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Conscience of the Nations: Classics of African Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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

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History Plays

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits | Remote

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

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Reality, Representation, and Everyday Life

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

At a moment when popular culture is obsessed with reality television and new technology generates “real-time” access to current events, this course examines the concept of reality in literature, philosophy, and film. What is the relationship between language and reality? How do different literary genres and media represent the world around us? How do textual and visual representations mediate our understanding of the “true” and the “real?” We will begin the course by examining key philosophical works by Plato, G. H. Hegel, and Karl Marx. We will consider the emergence of realism in the 19th century and assess how writers like Nikolai Gogol, Herman Melville, and Charles Baudelaire engaged questions related to industrialization and the experience of urban life. We will then bring these works into conversation with more contemporary literary works associated with disparate aesthetic movements—such as surrealism, modernism, and magical realism—by authors like Aimé Césaire, André Breton, Virginia Woolf, Alejo Carpentier, and Teju Cole. We will probe deeply into the category of the “everyday” to explore questions relating to race, gender, and sexuality. Lastly, we will consider the force of the photographic image and assess its relationship to evidence and truth in the context of the 19th century, as well as in our own contemporary moment. Other authors include, but are not limited to, Roman Jakobson, Georg Lukács, Henri Lefebvre, Frantz Fanon, bell hooks, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, Sara Ahmad, and Claudia Rankine.

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Cold War Black Feminism

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

When Black feminist writing boomed in the 1970s, the United States was squarely in the middle of the Cold War. Accordingly, Audre Lorde decried the United States invasion of Grenada, June Jordan railed against the Vietnam War, and Assata Shakur penned her autobiography in asylum in Cuba. Yet, Black feminism has primarily been considered a domestic affair. How might we better understand Black feminist literature by reading it in the context of the Cold War? This course aims to answer this question first by reading proto-Black-feminist authors writing in the early Cold War and then returning to the famous authors of Black feminism to consider their portrait of international affairs. Authors may include Ann Petry, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, and others. Along the way, we will read recent scholarship to understand the historical context in which those texts were written. In so doing, we aim to better understand the Cold War’s effect on Black feminism and what those canonical texts of Black feminism can tell us about American foreign policy. Short assignments may include brief historical essays, short close readings, and response papers.

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Middle English

Open, Seminar—Spring | 2 credits

This course will introduce students to Middle English (c. 1100–c. 1500) and to various Middle English literary works. We will study the vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and dialectical variations of the language. To understand the rise of vernacularity in England, we will also consider linguistic change against the backdrop of social, political, cultural, and intellectual events—from the Norman Conquest to the arrival of the printing press. Readings will include popular and courtly romances, the saints’ lives that sometimes circulated alongside such romances in manuscripts, and Middle English translations of the Bible. This seminar will not include conferences.

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Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, first nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Argentina, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how queer is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, queer itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures produces or reveals, not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time in which homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).

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Care Work

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

What kind of work is care work? Is it a form of labor? Of love? Is caretaking a social or individual responsibility? And who pays for it? This course questions the role of caretaking in modern societies through a range of literary and sociological texts. We begin with the premise that caretaking is both fundamental to a functioning society and also grossly devalued. This devaluation is marked by the poor pay associated with caretaking professions, as well as the gendering and racializing of caretaking responsibilities. This course will draw on recent writing in disability studies, gender studies, political theory, and ethnic studies, as well as literary works such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, to consider the experience of both the individuals performing care work and those who require their care. We will discuss terms like self-care and prenatal care that have become commonplace but that we often encounter as marketing concepts that have been stripped of their origins. This course aims to situate the concept of caring into historical, political, and aesthetic contexts. Reading work by Audre Lorde, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Silvia Federici, and others, students are encouraged to imagine the future of care work in a changing society. As part of this course, you will partner with a senior at Wartburg to complete an oral history, podcast, and catalogue entry for a digital exhibition. This is a five-credit seminar that includes a community-based component working with an adult care community at Wartburg.

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Hitchcock in 2022 Vision: The Long Shadow of Gothic Style

Open, Large seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Our present decade, with its global ambience of claustrophobia and dread, is on its way to becoming the most Hitchcockian on record. More than 40 years after his death, prolific British and American filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) remains one of the world’s most recognizable, most imitated, most studied, most parodied, and most divisive entertainers in the history of media. Known during his heyday in Hollywood as the “master of suspense,” Hitchcock developed a distinctive visual and narrative style that became synonymous with a set of unnerving affects and experiences (paranoia, guilt, abject terror, mistaken identity, transgressive desire, watching, and being watched), as well as with the director’s own personality—made famous through his iconic cameos on film and television, where he appeared as a droll and dapper provocateur. At the same time as Hitchcock became a shaping influence on several generations of filmmakers, including several who repudiated that influence, and the basis for scores of biopics and spinoffs (Bates Motel is one recent example), he has attracted intense interest from a diverse range of scholars—including historians of popular culture and specialists in queer theory, gender studies, narratology, and psychoanalysis—in some cases through work that has defined its disciplinary field and introduced analytic concepts, such as the “male gaze,” into the mainstream. Now, even as well-substantiated accusations of sexual misconduct against Hitchcock by the actor Tippi Hedren have encouraged debates over his legacy, the fascination he exerts over his worldwide audience has seemingly only deepened. Neither a celebration nor an exposé, this large seminar turns a critical eye toward several of Hitchcock’s major works from both his British and American periods, including landmark achievements such as Blackmail, Rope, Rear Window, and The Birds. We will approach these films both as singular cultural artifacts and as parts of the long and still robust tradition of uncanny storytelling that we call Gothic, which we will trace from its origins in the British Enlightenment to its later incarnations on both sides of the Atlantic in the work of authors such as Edgar Allen Poe (a favorite of Hitchcock’s), Henry James, Daphne Du Maurier, and Shirley Jackson and through its elucidation by theorists from Freud to Toni Morrison. We will end by considering a few key figures in contemporary cinema—such as Jordan Peele, Pedro Almódovar, and Bong-Joon Ho—who have engaged in complex dialogue with Hitchcock’s films and have helped to guarantee, for better or worse, that his stylistic fingerprints will remain evident across the culture of the coming century.

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African American Poetry After Emancipation

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

The sharp rise in African American literacy during Reconstruction gave rise to an increase in African American textual production and, especially, poetry. How did African American poetry respond to the conditions of emancipation and seek to exceed those conditions? This course aims to answer this question by taking the long view of African American poetry, beginning with Reconstruction and Nadir-era poets like Paul Laurence Dunbar and Charlotte Grimke. We will then follow their influence upon Harlem Renaissance poets like Langston Hughes and Jessie Redmon Fauset, Black arts and Black feminist poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Amiri Baraka, and 21st-century poets like Terrance Hayes, Danez Smith, and Eve Ewing. This course aims to introduce students to the broad array of postemancipation poetry, so we will read across a variety of poetic forms in historical context. In so doing, we aim to better understand African American poetry, its relationship to history, and the ways in which poetry aims to describe Blackness as exceeding the juridical category of emancipation. Short assignments will include poetry recitation, pastiche, close readings, descriptions of form, and more.

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The Music of What Happens: Alternate Histories and Counterfactuals

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits | Remote

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

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Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in Context

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Since the publication of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in 1951, scholars and artists have asked the book to speak to each moment in American history. Even today, the novel resonates with our most salient political problems: police violence, cross-racial activism, and so on. Yet, from its portrait of the Communist Party to its depiction of the 1943 Harlem Riot, Ellison’s novel told a historically specific tale. How and why has this novel transcended time and space? To answer this question, this class will first read Ellison’s sources: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Wright, W. E. B. Du Bois, and others. Then we will study Ellison’s early work and that of his contemporaries, such as novelist Ann Petry, musician Louis Armstrong, and the painter Romare Bearden. Then we will read Invisible Man slowly, carefully, and closely. From there, we will read academic works and artistic responses by scholars like Fred Moten and poets like Terrance Hayes. In so doing, we aim to better understand the changing meanings of Ellison’s novel, its importance to American history, and the evolution of Africana studies as a discipline. Along the way, our creative and critical assignments will better acquaint us with the various research methods and writing styles of literary criticism.

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Sursum Corda: Art and Architecture from Michelangelo to the Dawn of the Enlightenment, 1550-1700

Open, Lecture—Year

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

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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 those hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways in which 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. By considering these questions, this course hopes to think through the contradictory realities of a moment in India during which major Bollywood studios are producing gay dramas and even rom-coms, while questions of sexuality, gender, class, caste, and religious identity are being violently weaponized by mobs with seeming impunity granted by a Hindu-nationalist state. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artifacts—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).

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Japan’s Heisei Era (1989–2019): Culture, Society, and Experiences

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will embark on an examination of Japan’s Heisei Era (1989-2019). Over the course of 30 years, this dynamic period of contemporary Japanese history gave rise to significant societal changes, profound cultural transformations, and multiple shared national traumas. Persistent demographic shifts produced far-reaching consequences, greatly altering individuals’ lived experiences and expectations. Devastating natural and manmade disasters deeply shaped collective and individual consciences. Desires for catharsis, escapism, recreation, and reflection reinvigorated popular culture across a plethora of mediums: J-pop, literature, puroresu, anime, and many more. Relaxed societal constraints facilitated new options for self-expression, livelihood, and interpersonal relations. Underrepresented voices were added to critical dialogues. We will examine the unique sociocultural phenomena and historical events that constitute the Heisei Era, utilizing a diverse and interdisciplinary array of primary sources—ethnography, literature, journalism, analyses, and narratives—augmented by albums and films. We will attempt to deconstruct the era from a monolithic entity into a series of interlinking but distinct features in order to better understand and evaluate it. We will explore key sociocultural developments of the Heisei Era: Japan’s rapidly aging and decreasing population, family structure, alienation, gender norms and reform, rural depopulation, historical reckonings, and more. We will investigate the ramifications of major events, such as the Aum Shinrikyo terror attacks; the collapse of the bubble economy; and the “311” Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. We will also examine influential Heisei-defining individuals and exemplars of popular culture, potentially including Hikaru Utada, Studio Ghibli, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hakuho, and Perfume. Our ultimate aim is to comprehend this immensely impactful period in recent Japanese history from a variety of perspectives through both academic analyses and the creative output of the period itself.

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Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, First Nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Argentina, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how queer is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, queer itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures produces or reveals, not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time in which homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).
 

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The Environmental Imagination: Perspectives From the Social Sciences, Environmental Humanities, and the Arts

Open, Seminar—Fall

“Climate change” covers a variety of hydrological, thermal, geological, and atmospheric crises that are intersecting and accelerating in scope and intensity. Inspired by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwOvBv8RLmo) performing her poem Earthrise, this course invites a conversation that draws together the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts: a journey through the global climate crisis on a variety of scales, in specific contexts, and through diverse media. Fiction and nonfiction writing, history, and film will be drawn upon to investigate understandings of an epoch controversially called “the Anthropocene.”  What do these different perspectives, methods, and insights bring to our perceptions of specific environments? How do different rhetorical formations, imaginaries, narratives, and visual images inform cognitive and affective responses to the Anthropocene?  What do they bring to our understanding of the global environmental emergency that is the signature of this moment in planetary history? How do interventions in the arts and humanities constitute acts of “world-making”—new ways of seeing, feeling, and imagining human ways of caring for this planet? In conjunction with the literatures of political ecology and cultural anthropology, we will read fiction by authors such as Amitav Ghosh and Stanislas Lem; nonfiction by Robert MacFarlane (Underlands), Ben Ehrenreich (Desert Notebooks), Joseph Masco (irradiated landscapes in the American West), Kate Brown (Plutopia), and Madeleine Watts (The Inland Sea).

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Worldbuilding

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

A world is an artificial living thing, but a living thing nonetheless. —Ian Cheng (2018)

The concept of “worldbuilding” has been around for hundreds of years in the development of science fiction and is often used to describe art direction for commercial video game and film studios. Recently, this term has begun to be used by individual artists to describe a method for developing personal work presented online, in cinemas, and as museum installations. In this class, we will look at the history of this concept as it pertains to narrative art. While the focus of the course is on noncommercial moving-image work, we will also explore the history of worldbuilding in philosophy (Martin Heideggar), literature (Octavia Butler), and comics (Moebius). Additionally, we will discuss the role of “internal coherence,” style, and narrative structure as they pertain to dozens of artworks, including work by Ian Cheng, Jacolby Satterwhite, Mati Diop, and Porpentine.

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Intermediate French I (Section II): Scène(s) de littérature

Open, Seminar—Spring

This semester-long course will continue a systematic review of French grammar designed to strengthen and deepen mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will continue to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. Writing and revising short-response papers will be a critical part of class work. Over the course of the semester, we will study a series of scenes from French and francophone literature from its origins to today. From the early 12th-century lais of Marie de France to contemporary works by Aminata Sow-Fall or Aimé Césaire, we will discuss what is specific to a scene in literature. What is it about literary scenes that differs from those created on a stage or in a photograph? And what happens when we encounter them as part of a class rather than on our own? We will look at contemporary stage work and digitized archives of photographs, as we develop points of comparison with other art forms. Readings will include works by Marie de Rabutin-Chantal (Madame de Sévigné), Jean de La Fontaine, Aloysius Bertrand, Gustave Flaubert, Annie Ernaux, and Fatou Diome. At regular intervals, we will look at today’s press in France and discuss the way in which global issues are viewed through the particular lens of a daily publication out of Paris. This part of the course will afford us the opportunity to discuss climate change, food politics, “laïcité”.... In addition to conferences, a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged. 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 20th-Century French Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

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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Intermediate French III: Soil, Nature, and Culture in Contemporary France

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will explore the question of nature in France in the context of both climate change and the rich cultural and literary history of the country. Some of the themes that will allow us to better understand how the French relate to nature include the forêt de Brocéliande in medieval novels of the Arthurian stories cycle; discussions about the status of animals in 17th-century France; romantic depictions of nature in French novels, set both in France and America in the early 19th century; evocations of exotic islands, in contrast to Paris’s industrial revolution, in Baudelaire’s poetry; and Louis Ferdinand Céline’s account of life in French Congo in the 1920s. In parallel to this literary exploration, we will study how France is reacting to the threat of climate change, from legendary vineyards that must face rising temperatures, to new legislation that stirs the country into new practices, and to the work of NGOs that work to protect habitats in various parts of France. We will look at a mix of theoretical works by Foucault, Deleuze, and Irigaray, among others, as well as focus concretely on specific regions, local associations, and farms that are inventing a green future. In addition to conferences, a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged.

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Advanced German: The Literature of Exile

Advanced, Small Lecture—Spring

Human history has always been characterized by the forced or voluntary migration of individuals or groups of people. In this lecture, we will analyze the dialectical relationship between the concepts of “home” and “exile” in a series of works, ranging from the Bible and medieval poems to German literary texts of the 20th century, a century whose upheavals led to different waves of voluntary or forced migration. Essays by Edward Said will provide us with some critical vocabulary to speak and write about the interconnectedness of notions of home, flight, diaspora, migrants, and refugees, while the primary works will invite us to analyze these themes in various fictional and autobiographical forms. Our historical range will help us uncover the voices of those who were displaced from their communities but also the modes through which many authors transformed the punitive experience of exile into more empowering perspectives and positions of distance. We will begin with selected stories from the Old Testament (Pentateuch) and Old English exile poems, while later readings will include works by Ovid, Dante, Goethe, and Herman Hesse. We will conclude with Anna Segher’s novel about the dilemma of refugees being stuck in Marseille in 1942 and a story of four emigrants by the preeminent writer Sebald. Students will attend weekly group conferences that will be conducted in German. We will review some essential German grammar and read shorter texts that also address questions of home, exile, and emigration.

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Beginning Greek

Open, Seminar—Year

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

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First-Year Studies: Literature, Culture, and Politics in US History

Open, FYS—Year

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

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Becoming Modern: Europe From 1760 to 1914

Open, Lecture—Year

What are the distinctive features of our “modern” civilization? A partial list would include representative democracy, political parties, nationalism, religious pluralism and secularization, mass production, rapid technological change, consumerism, free markets, a global economy, and unceasing artistic experimentation. All of these characteristically modern things became established in the 19th century, and most of them were pioneered by Europeans. Yet, in Europe, with its ancient institutions and deeply-rooted traditions, this new form of civilization encountered greater resistance than it did in that other center of innovation, the United States. The resulting tensions between old and new in Europe set the stage for the devastating world wars and revolutions of the 20th century. In this course, we will examine various aspects of the epochal transformation in ways of making, thinking, and living that occurred in Europe during what historians sometimes call the “long 19th century”: the period extending from the French Revolution to the outbreak of World War I. We will also survey the political history of that era and consider how the development of modern civilization in Europe was shaped by the resistance it encountered from the defenders of older ways. The course readings will focus primarily on the most innovative regions of 19th-century Europe: Britain, France, Germany, and Italy; but we will also give some attention to the Habsburg Empire and Russia, which gave birth to some of the most influential ideas and artistic trends of the 20th century during the three decades that preceded World War I. Group conference readings will include novels, plays, political programs, philosophical and scientific writing, and studies of 19th-century art.

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Winds of Doctrine: Europe in the Age of the Reformation

Open, Seminar—Year

In the 16th century, Europe entered upon a religious crisis that was to permanently alter the character of Western Christianity. Between 1520 and 1580, the religious unity of Catholic Christendom was destroyed, as believers throughout Central and Northern Europe severed their ties with the papacy to form new “Protestant” communities. But the impact of the religious crisis was by no means confined to the emergence of the churches of the Reformation. Luther’s revolt against the Roman church ushered in an era of soaring religious creativity and savage religious conflict that lasted for nearly two centuries and revolutionized thought, art, music—and politics. The modern state is ultimately a product of the Reformation crisis, as is the system of international law that still governs the relations among sovereign states. Students in this course will examine multiple aspects of the religious, intellectual, and political history of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. The readings will focus attention on the diversity of religious thinking and religious experience in this era. Besides tracing the rise of the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican churches and the complex history of the “radical Reformation,” we will consider forms of belief independent of any church and new varieties of skepticism and doubt. We also will devote considerable attention to the reform movements that transformed Roman Catholicism during those two centuries and the upsurge of missionary energy and mystical spirituality that accompanied them. We will investigate the effects of the Reformation crisis on politics and the state and on the social order that Europe inherited from the Middle Ages. As part of this investigation, we will examine the most important political struggles waged in the name of religion between 1524 and 1689: the Peasants’ Revolt and Thirty Years’ War in Germany, the Dutch revolt against Spain, the French Wars of Religion, and the English Revolution. Texts we will read include works by Luther, Calvin, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Ávila, Queen Marguerite of Navarre, Rabelais, Montaigne, and Pascal.

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Social Protest and Cultural Critique: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the United States

Advanced, Small seminar—Year

“I pray you, then,” W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in his 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, “receive my little book in all charity, studying my words with me, forgiving mistake and foible for the sake of the faith and passion that is in me, and seeking the grain of truth hidden there.” In this yearlong course, we will study the words of American activists, who used story, memoir, and cultural criticism to create social change. From Thomas Paine’s brash Common Sense and a (seemingly) conservative seduction novel intended to protect young women, Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, in the late 18th century, through narratives of enslavement meant to awaken somnolent Americans to the moral tragedy in their midst, to critiques of the ills of capitalism in the 19th century, to revealing the profound injustices meted on immigrants, as well as migrants, in the early 20th century, to James Baldwin and other critics of racial prejudice in the 1960s, to the feminists of the Women’s Liberation Movement, we will analyze the “faith” and seek the “grain of truth” in these passionate cries for social justice.

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Theories at Heart

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course takes political aesthetics, from the Zapatistas to Amazonian autonomy projects, as a point of departure to ground historical understandings of interculturality from an indigenous perspective. The course seeks to develop students’ critical skills as they acquire tools to talk about transcontinental political aesthetics. While engaging this aesthetics of resistance, students will be exposed to a series of critical theories that convey the depths of cultural memory—which is necessarily tied to a local indigenous history remembered in the community by heart. Students will read historical and literary texts from the 16th century onward, as well as secondary readings from recognized scholars interested on indigenous historiography. Thus, students can compare various indigenous perspectives—from the Amazon to the Andes and Chiapas and the people of Turtle Island—contextualized in each nation’s colonial long-durée.

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Reconstructing Womanhood I: Writers and Activists in the United States, 1830–1930

Open, Seminar—Fall

“But if you ask me what offices they may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will,” Margaret Fuller wrote in Woman in the 19th Century in 1845. Not 10 years later, Fanny Fern’s autobiographical protagonist tells her daughter, when asked if she would write books when a woman, “God forbid,” because “no happy woman ever writes.” In this small seminar, we will discuss what US women writers imagined they could be and why they wrote (happy or not). We will read both major and forgotten works of literary activism from women writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on issues of gender and gender convention; race, racial prejudice, and enslavement; immigration, migration, and national identity; class and elitism; and sex and sexuality.

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Reconstructing Womanhood II: Writers and Activists in the United States, 1930–1990

Sophomore and Above, Small seminar—Spring

“You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you,” begins Maxine Hong Kingston’s 1976 memoir of a girlhood among ghosts. This course will be a continuation of the work of the fall, as well as a stand-alone seminar. In this semester, we will explore the stories that women writers have not always told—focusing, in particular, on women writers from outside the mainstream of the time, women who chronicled and critiqued an American world that sought to silence them in some way. As in the fall, we will focus around issues of gender and gender convention; race, racial prejudice, and the legacy of enslavement; immigration, migration, and national identity; class and elitism; and sex and sexuality.

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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 all aspects of Italian culture. The course will be conducted in Italian after the first month and will involve the study of all basic structures of the language—phonological, grammatical, and syntactical—with practice in conversation, reading, composition, and translation. In addition to material covering basic Italian grammar, students will be exposed to fiction, poetry, songs, articles, recipe books, and films. Group conferences (held once a week) aim at enriching the students’ knowledge of Italian culture and developing their ability to communicate. This will be achieved by readings that deal with current events and topics relative to today’s Italian culture. Activities in pairs or groups, along with short written assignments, will be part of the group conference. In addition to class and group 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 relevant exhibits in New York City, as well as offering the possibility of experiencing Italian cuisine first-hand as a group. The course is for a full year, by the end of which students will attain a basic competence in all aspects of the language.

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Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

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

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Intermediate Latin

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

See the full description under Literature: Can This Republic Be Saved? Cautionary Evidence From Ancient Rome. Intermediate Latin students will complete the reading assignments for the literature course and attend all literature seminar meetings. In place of an independent conference project, Intermediate Latin students will read selected works in Latin and attend twice-weekly Latin group conferences.

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

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

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

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Pretty, Witty, and Gay

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

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

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Mathematics and Jorge Luis Borges

Open, Seminar—Fall

The works of Jorge Luis Borges, the highly influential 20th-century Argentine writer, feature imaginatively intelligent and deeply provocative use of mathematical ideas and imagery. Borges’s writings—primarily short stories, essays, and poetry—describe fictitious worlds that warp standard notions of time, space, and existence and reveal the unavoidable friction between competing notions at the heart of modern mathematics: the infinite versus the finite versus the infinitesimal (set theory); the discrete versus the continuous (calculus); the reasonable versus the paradoxical (logic); the Euclidean versus the otherworldly (geometry); the symmetric versus the distorted (fractals, chaos); the convergent versus the divergent (limits, series); the improbable versus the impossible (combinatorics, probability). In short, this seminar will explore various fundamental and foundational topics in mathematics from a Borgesian perspective. Student conference projects for this seminar may focus upon the mathematical themes in the works of other writers or explore any mathematically-themed subject.

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The Philosophy of Music

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

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

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The Music of Russia

Open, Large Lecture—Spring

This course will survey the great contributions of Russian composers to Western music 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, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky. No prior music courses or knowledge of music theory is required.

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Words and Music

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

In this course, we will examine and try to understand the magic that happens when words and music combine in song. Song will be defined broadly. Most of our repertoire will be drawn from Western music history, and the range of compositions will be extraordinary: from the chants of Hildegard von Bingen to the often esoteric and intricate motets of the Ars Nova, from the late Renaissance madrigals to early and romantic opera, and from the art songs of Schubert and Debussy to experimental contemporary works. There may also be some in-class performances. Participants will be responsible for regular listening and reading assignments, listening exams, and group presentations. There will be no conferences, but we will have regular individual and group consultations to help prepare presentations and papers.

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Existentialism

Open, Lecture—Spring

Does life have a purpose, a meaning? What does it mean “to be”? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a woman (or to be a man)? What does it mean to be black (or to be white)? What makes us into who we are? What distinguishes each of us? And what, if anything, is in common to all of us? These and other questions are raised by existentialist philosophy and literature, mostly through interrogation of real-life experiences, situations, and “fundamental emotions” such as anxiety, boredom, loneliness, and shame. In the first half of this class, we will get acquainted with the core tenets of existentialist thought by reading two of its most influential figures: Jean-Paul Sartre (France, 1905-1980) and Martin Heidegger (Germany, 1889-1976). In the second half, we will analyze texts by authors who set out to expand or challenge these core tenets on the grounds of their experiences of oppression. These authors are Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, and Jean Améry. Group conference will meet weekly and play a central role in this course. In it, we will mostly read literary texts or watch films that are relevant to the work of the above-listed authors. Conference material will include stories by Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, and Ralph Ellison and films like The Battle of Algiers (1967) and Monsieur Klein (1977).

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Women Philosophers in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Open, Seminar—Year

Western philosophy originated in Ancient Greece more than 2,000 years ago, addressing fundamental questions about being and time, about the human condition, about ethics and politics, about science and religion. Despite the fundamental and universal nature of these questions, philosophy was practiced (at least publicly) mostly by men for the majority of those 2,000 years. It was not until the 20th century that this convention began to be significantly challenged, both practically (by the fact that more and more women entered the forefront of philosophical discussion) and theoretically (by questioning the validity and scope of this male-dominant tradition). This yearlong course is a survey of 20th-century continental philosophy that, countering the aforementioned tradition, focuses exclusively on the work of women in philosophy. Among the authors we may read are Sarah Ahmed, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Talia Bettcher, Judith Butler, bell hooks, Luce Irigaray, Melany Klein, Julia Kristeva, Audre Lorde, Maria Lugones, Simone Weil, Sylvia Winter, and Virginia Woolf. Some of these philosophers are feminists or consider the issue of sexual difference as central to their work or to philosophy in general; some are not. More importantly for our purposes, surveying their thought will be our means of acquiring a comprehensive view of the key developments in continental philosophy of the 20th and 21st centuries and the relations between them, including phenomenology, existentialism, psychoanalysis, critical theory, structuralism and poststructuralism, feminism, black feminism, and trans-feminism, decolonial and queer theories. During the fall semester, in addition to biweekly individual conferences, first-year students will have a biweekly group conference, in which we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills.

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Being and Time

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will study closely one of the most influential books of 20th-century philosophy: Being and Time, by German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1776). Among the founding texts of existentialism and phenomenology, Being and Time (1927) offers an existential analysis of the human condition, including what it means to be in the world, to be with others, and to be toward death, as well as the difference between authentic and inauthentic modes of being. This work revolutionized some of the most deep-seated assumptions in philosophy, psychology, and science, inspiring new movements in psychoanalysis, feminism, linguistics, political theory, literary theory, and other fields.

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First-Year Studies: The Senses: Art and Science

Open, FYS—Year

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

Sensory perception is a vital component of the creation and experience of artistic works of all types. Investigation of sensory systems has been foundational for psychologists and neuroscientists developing understanding of brains, minds, and bodies. Recent work in brain science has moved us beyond the Aristotelian notion of five discrete senses to a view of the senses as more various and interconnected—with each other and with the fundamental psychological categories of perception, attention, emotion, memory, imagination, and judgment. What we call “taste” is a multisensory construction of “flavor” that relies heavily on smell, vision, and touch (mouth feel); “vision” refers to a set of semi-independent streams that specialize in the processing of color, object identity, or spatial layout and movement; “touch” encompasses a complex system of responses to different types of contact with the largest sensory organ—the skin; and “hearing” includes aspects of perception that are thought to be quintessentially human—music and language. Many other sensations are not covered by the standard five: for example, the senses of balance, of body position (proprioception) and ownership, feelings of pain arising from within the body, and feelings of heat or cold. Perceptual psychologists have suggested that the total count is closer to 17 than five. We will investigate all of these senses, their interactions with each other, and their intimate relationships with human emotion, memory, and imagination. Some of the questions that we will address are: Why are smells such potent memory triggers? What can visual art tell us about how the brain works and vice versa? Why is a caregiver’s touch so vital for psychological development? Why do foods that taste sublime to some people evoke feelings of disgust in others? Do humans have a poor sense of smell (and have the effects of COVID-19 changed our views of its importance)? Why does the word “feeling” refer to both bodily sensations and emotions? What makes a song “catchy” or “sticky”? Can humans learn to echolocate like bats? What is the role of body perception in mindfulness meditation? This is a good course for artists who like to think about science and for scientists with a feeling for art. This is a collaborative course, with small-group meetings held weekly in addition to the individual conference meetings held every other week. The main small-group, collaborative activity is a sensory lab where students will have the opportunity to explore their own sensory perceptions in a systematic way, investigating how they relate to language, memory, and emotion. Other group activities include mindful movement and other meditation practices for stress relief and emotional regulation, as well as occasional museum visits if these can be done safely.

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Theories of the Creative Process

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

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

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Storytelling and Spirituality in Classical Islam

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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Beginning Russian

Open, Seminar—Year

To learn another language is to open yourself to another worldview, both as you gain entry into another culture and as your own sense of self is transformed. In another language, you are still you; but the tools that you use to create and express that identity do change. As English speakers find themselves in Russia and learning Russian, they first need to come to terms with an often complicated grammar. We will tackle that aspect of our work through a degree of analytical thought, a great deal of memorization, and the timely completion of our often lengthy, biweekly homework assignments. Even as I encourage students to reflect on the very different means of expression that Russian offers, I also ask that they engage in basic—but fully functional—conversational Russian at every point along the way. Our four hours of class each week will be devoted to actively using what we know in pair and group activities, role play, dialogues, skits, songs, etc. As a final project at the end of each semester, students will create their own video skits. In addition to class, students are required to meet weekly with the Russian assistant; attendance at our weekly Russian Table is strongly encouraged.

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Intermediate Russian

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

At the end of this course, students should feel that they have a fairly sophisticated grasp of Russian and the ability to communicate in Russian in any situation. After the first year of studying the language, students will have learned the bulk of Russian grammar; this course will emphasize grammar review, vocabulary accumulation, and regular oral practice. Class time will center on the spoken language, and students will be expected to participate actively in discussions based on new vocabulary. Regular written homework will be required, along with weekly conversation classes with the Russian assistant; attendance at Russian Table is strongly encouraged. Conference work will focus on the written language. Students will be asked to read short texts by the author(s) of their choice, with the aim of appreciating a very different culture and/or literature while learning to read independently, accurately, and with as little recourse to the dictionary as possible.

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Lineages of Utopia

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Utopias have existed in human history for centuries. Guided by a critique of the world as constituted, utopias have been vehicles for both imagining and constructing a different socio-spatial order. In this seminar, we will examine the materialization of utopias in physical space and the logic(s) that informed them. Rather than dealing simply with the abstract ideas behind utopian thinking, we will examine a diversity of socio-spatial formations—both as a critique of the present state of existence and as a practice rooted in a radically divergent notion of the future. It is the contention of this course that utopias, rather than being solely imaginary, are deeply historical and informed by existing social conditions. With the objective of analyzing utopias as materialized practices, we will look at different kinds of utopian communities, ranging from millenarian movements, to socialist, anarchist and countercultural experiments, to the Occupy Wall Street movement. We will also examine architectural and aesthetic utopias which, like their more explicitly movement-based counterparts, attempt to visualize and rethink space—which remains an essential utopian preoccupation. Our foray into these various utopian designs is meant to get us to interrogate the impulses undergirding these practices instead of an approach that dwells primarily on their sustainability over time. We will attempt to understand the traces that these various experiments have bequeathed us regarding activism, social transformation, and the potential for a more just world. Participants in this seminar will be encouraged to address our living relationship with utopia by asking how we might, both individually and collectively, work to create, experience, or perform utopia without ascribing a totalizing vision to it. Student projects might take the form of a close examination of specific utopian practices or be based on creative projects and/or fictional utopias frequently encountered in science-fiction novels and film. Particular activist movements—such as Black Lives Matter, LGNTQ+ activism, and feminist movements—can also be seen as ways of visualizing futures that depart from the historical present, out of which such movements emerge and in which they are embedded. As such, these, too, have a vision of the future that is at odds with the present and will provide fertile ground for conference work. Finally, while the course will not specifically address the vexed relationship between utopias and dystopia, an examination of the latter remains yet another possible line of inquiry for student projects.

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Beginning Spanish: A Glimpse Into the Hispanic World through its Language and Culture

Open, Seminar—Year

This course aims to introduce students to the language and culture of the Spanish-speaking world and to promote the development of students’ communicative competence in Spanish. Additionally, the objective is to improve students’ intercultural understanding of—and social conscience about—problems that affect this cultural complex. From the beginning, students will be in touch with authentic Spanish-language films, TV shows, comics, and poems, as well as short literary and nonliterary texts. Throughout the semester, we will actively implement a wide range of techniques aimed at creating an atmosphere of dynamic oral exchanges. Grammatical structures will be taught by resorting to everyday situations and by the incorporation of a wide set of functional-contextual activities. Group conferences will help hone conversational skills, focusing on individual needs. Watching films, documentaries, and episodes of popular TV shows, as well as listening to podcasts and reading blogs and digital publications, will take place outside the seminar meetings and serve as material for class discussions and debates. Weekly conversation sessions with the language assistant are an integral part of the course, since the emphasis of the course is on the communicative approach.

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Advanced Beginning Spanish: Forms of Culture in the Information Age

Open, Seminar—Year

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, song lyrics, 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 and 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 the 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 I: Latin American and Spanish Visual Culture

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course is intended for students who have had at least one year of college-level Spanish or the equivalent and who wish to review and expand the fundamentals of the Spanish language. With this, Latin American and Spanish comics, films, and TV shows—such as La casa de las Flores from Mexico, Paco Roca’s Los surcos del Azar, or Luis Ortega’s El Ángel—will provide the cultural and historical background for discussion in class. Films and TV shows work especially well for teaching language, because they can be used to quickly introduce or reinforce vocabulary or a grammatical point and also show their use, in context, by native speakers. Besides, space restrictions force comic-strip writers to get to the point, making comics a perfect source of useful vocabulary. The goal that most comic writers have of appealing to as many readers as possible also means that comics are a perfect source of basic, everyday terms and expressions. Students will gain key vocabulary for discussing cultural objects, write descriptive profiles, and even make their own comic book or record a podcast in Spanish. In addition, students will watch films, TV shows, and read comics outside the seminar meetings in order to reinforce the work that we do in class. Individual conference meetings will offer students an opportunity to complete independent research projects and to address individual language-acquisition needs. Weekly conversation sessions with a language assistant are also an integral part of the course.

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Advanced Intermediate Spanish: Political Creativity

Open, Seminar—Year

This course looks at ways in which individuals and communities across the Spanish-speaking world have gotten creative about politics and political about creativity. Students will develop analytic skills and explore social-justice issues through the literature, film, music, and visual art of Miguel Ángel Asturias, Gloria Anzaldúa, Nancy Morejón, Sara Gómez, Rebecca Lane, Yásnaya E. Aguilar Gil, Lia Garcia La Sirena, and many more. We will also learn about the politically creative actions of communities and organizations working outside the structures of the nation state; an important aspect of this course will be engaging with activist efforts in real time. Students will produce both critical and creative written work. This discussion-based course will be conducted in Spanish and is intended for students who wish to further hone their communication and comprehension skills through advanced grammar review.

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Literatures From the Spanish-Speaking World: 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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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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First-Year Studies: History and Histrionics: A Survey of Western Drama

Open, FYS—Year

This course explores 2,500 years of Western drama and how dramaturgical ideas can be traced from their origins in fifth-century Greece to 20th-century Nigeria, with many stops in between. We will try to understand how a play is constructed, rather than simply written, and how how each succeeding epoch has both embraced and rejected what has come before it in order to create its own unique dramatic identity. We will study the major genres of Western drama, including the classically structured play, Elizabethan drama, neoclassicism, realism, naturalism, expressionism, comedy, musical theatre, theatre of cruelty, and existentialism. We will look at the social, cultural, architectural, and biographical context for the plays in question to better understand how and why they were written as they were. Classroom discussion will focus on a new play each week, while conference work with be devoted mostly to the students’ writing about them. This FYS in Theatre will occasionally interact with the other FYS in Theatre course, Dave McRee’s Directing in the American Theatre. This will include, but not be limited to, attending theatre in New York City regularly (pandemic allowing), after which the two groups will then meet to discuss the play and the performance.

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Black-and-White Darkroom: An Immersion

Open, Seminar—Fall

This class will focus on the technical and conceptual underpinnings of black-and-white photography. Students will learn how to use the 35mm film camera and how to print in the darkroom. We will cover a wide range of technical topics, including exposure, film development, printing on RC and fiber paper, toning, and split-filter printing. In-class lectures will introduce students to historical and contemporary practitioners, with a focus on voices and perspectives that have too often been sidelined in photo history curricula. Weekly shooting assignments will challenge students to engage with the complexities of the medium and think beyond traditional modes of presentation. Reading and writing assignments will supplement studio work. In addition to art criticism, we will read fiction and poetry by writers such as Mary Karr, Elena Ferrante, Rebecca Solnit, and Jorie Graham. Some of the guiding questions for our class will include: How can we use photography, the indexical medium, to investigate what we don’t understand? How can making images teach us about the people and places closest to us? And how can printing and installation choices support our artistic arguments? At the end of the semester, each student will present a body of work on a topic of their choice.

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Senior Interdisciplinary Studio

Advanced, Seminar—Year

This course is intended for seniors interested in pursuing their own art-making practice more deeply, for a prolonged period of time, and culminating in a solo exhibition during the spring semester. Students making work in and across painting, drawing, sculpture, video, photography, sound, new genres, performance, and more 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. Over the course of the year, students will focus exclusively on their own art-making practice and will be expected to develop a rigorous body of independent work to be presented in their spring semester exhibition, accompanied by a printed book that documents the exhibition. We will have regular critiques with visiting artists and faculty across our visual-arts program, along with readings, image discussions, and trips to galleries and artist’s studios. We will participate in the Visual Arts Lecture Series. Your art-making practice will be supplemented with other aspects of presenting your work—writing an artist statement, interviewing fellow artists, and documenting your art—along with a range of professional-practices workshops. This will be an immersive studio course meant for disciplined art students interested in making work in an interdisciplinary environment.

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First-Year Studies: Two Lenses on Writing

Open, FYS—Year

The first semester of this FYS course will be focused on words and pictures, with its central lens on stories: how to find them, tell them, and make your listener, viewer, or reader come along with you. The course includes adding a visual element, photography, drawing, paste-ups, collage, animations, anime. We will read and then make a few of the following: a collective graphic novel, some children's books, adult books with pictures, illuminated manuscripts, comics. Your conference work will be a finished version of a project of your choice. The second semester of the course will be a class in episodes: pieces of a continuing story that follow a thread but may have different leading characters in each episode; or a frame, with many peoples' stories inside; or movement from one time, place, and set of characters to another. We will bring in and discuss episodes that we love in books, TV, podcasts. We will do exercises until we come upon something that engages us and then start our conference work, which will involve six episodes, more or less. In both semesters, we will have an extra meeting every other week to discuss whatever comes up: paper writing, social issues, food, procrastination. These sessions may be led by the professor, outside speakers, or a rotating group of students.

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First-Year Studies: Fiction: A User’s Guide

Open, FYS—Year

Many students enter college as avid readers and writers, but their understanding of what fiction is—its range and possibilities—will greatly expand during these undergraduate years. This FYS writing workshop is designed to both invite and fast-track that experience by exposing students to fiction’s aesthetic diversity and the myriad ways it can enchant, enlighten, and unsettle us—without privileging any single approach. To that end, we will read everything from the psychological realism of Anton Chekhov and Jhumpa Lahiri, to the eerie expressionism of Franz Kafka and Haruki Murakami, to the funhouse narratives of Donald Barthelme and Angela Carter, to the genre-bending work of Brian Evenson and Kelly Link. We will not only explore the logic behind stories but also analyze their construction: the way point-of-view decisions steer us through a work of fiction, the way meaningful patterns drive us deeper, and the way sentence-level choices engineer a story’s lasting effect. But the course—a “user’s guide,” after all—is as much about writing as it is about reading. Students will bring what they are learning to their own work, initially by responding to weekly writing prompts and later by sharing several longer pieces with their classmates during focused peer-critique sessions. Students are encouraged to play on the page, as we build a community determined to seek out the borders of fiction. The class will culminate in a final portfolio, giving students the opportunity to collect, arrange, and reflect upon the diverse work that they have created over the course of the year. 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.

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First-Year Studies: Poetic Form/Forming Poetry

Open, FYS—Year

Radial, bilateral, transverse: symmetries that change over a life; radical asymmetries. Sea shells unfurl by Fibonacci. Horn, bark, petal: hydrocarbon chains arrange in every conceivable strut, winch, and pylon, ranging over the visible spectrum and beyond into ultraviolet and infrared. Horseshoe crab, butterfly, barnacle, and millipede all belong to the same phylum. Earthworms with seven hearts, ruminants with multiple stomachs, scallops with a line of eyes rimming their shell like party lanterns, animals with two brains, many brains, none. —from The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers

This FYS course is part workshop, part an exploration of reading and writing in established, evolving, and invented forms. We will use An Exaltation of Forms, edited by Annie Finch and Katherine Varnes (featuring essays on form by contemporary poets), alongside books by a wide array of poets and visual artists to facilitate and further these discussions. You will direct language through the sieves and sleeves of the haiku, sonnet, prose poem, ghazal, etc. Expect to move fluidly between iambic pentameter, erasures, comic poems, and the lipogram (in which you are not allowed to use a particular letter of the alphabet in your poem). Expect to complicate your notion of what “a poem in form” is. We will utilize in-class writing exercises and prompts. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet every other week.

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Near to Life: The Art of the Short Story

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

After reading a story by an older writer, the young James Joyce wrote, “Is this as near as [he] can get to life, I wonder?” You could say that Joyce was pointing toward a goal that many great fiction writers strive for: the goal of bringing to the page one’s unique way of apprehending life rather than relying on formula and convention. Something like this striving lay behind Chekhov’s revolt against traditional plot, Woolf’s search for new ways to render the subtleties of consciousness, Stein’s experiments with language, Proust’s explorations of time and memory, and Garcia Marquez’s adventures in magical realism. In this lecture class, we’ll read short stories old and new, with the aim of learning both from those who’ve come before us and those who are working now. Writers we’re likely to encounter include Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Toni Cade Bambara, Anton Chekhov, Kate Chopin, Edwidge Danticat, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Gaitskill, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, Carmen Maria Machado, Katherine Mansfield, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Herman Melville, Lorrie Moore, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Bryan Washington. We’ll also read criticism, letters, and a little bit of theory. Although the understanding that writers learn from other writers is inscribed in the very nature of the class, we’ll be guided above all by the idea that imaginative writing is a domain of freedom—that the history of fiction is the history of writers shaping their work in ways that previous generations couldn’t have imagined.

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Writing Colloquium

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Each session of this multidisciplinary series of weekly craft talks and generative writing sessions will be taught by a different member of our writing faculty. For example, April Mosolino will talk about “How to Tell a Lie”; Marie Howe, about “The Art of the Sentence”; and Marek Fuchs, about “How to Get a Bead on Your Lead.” (See the complete list of talks in the syllabus, available on MYSLC.) This series is meant to familiarize you with various aspects of craft in our different disciplines of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction, as well as to stimulate your own writing. Each writer will assign readings and exercises for their week. There will be a class board on MYSLC to post your assignments and for you to read and respond to each other’s writing.

Writing and Reading Fiction

Open, Seminar—Year

If you're a young writer, these three habits are important to cultivate: the habit of writing a lot, the habit of reading a lot, and the habit of trusting your imagination. The aim of this class is to help with all three. We’ll meet once a week to talk about both published fiction and your own work in an atmosphere of encouragement and support. Students won’t be looking for weaknesses in one another’s work; instead, you’ll be helping one another identify your strengths and clarify your literary goals. We’ll also meet for one hour on each of the other four weekdays to write in one another’s company. Writers whose work we’ll discuss include Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Anton Chekhov, Percival Everett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, R. K. Narayan, Z. Z. Packer, Grace Paley, Delmore Schwartz, and Nafissa Thompson-Spires. The only prerequisites for the class are an interest in writing a lot, an eagerness to read the work of your peers in a genuinely supportive way, and a willingness to get up early. (The four weekly writing sessions will begin at 8:30 a.m.)

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The Rules—and How to Break them: A Prose Process Class

Open, Large seminar—Spring

In this class, we will interrogate and test the rules for writing fiction. We’ll look at how some writers explode those rules—and we’ll see how we can do the same in our own writing by asking questions. What does it mean when we ask what’s at stake in a story? What makes dialogue believable? How do we create embodied characters? What makes an ending resonate? How do we build cohesive worlds? What is a beginning? An end? With an eye toward playfully disrupting the rules of fiction, we’ll use lists, footnotes, erasures, numbering, and omissions; we’ll study verb mood, unexpected points of view, and tense; and we’ll collaborate on other formulae that can help us and our readers find new paths to our imaginations. Students will work with writing assignments, play writing games, and do in-class exercises to generate stories. We will read work by authors such as Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Yasunari Kawabata, Gari Lutz, Philip K. Dick, Anton Chekhov, Elizabeth Crane, Robert Lopez, Matthew Sharpe, Renee Gladman, D. Foy, Stefanie Sobelle, and members of the Oulipo movement.

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

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

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

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The Basics, Not Excluding the Virtuosic

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this one-semester, fiction-writing workshop, you will acquaint yourselves with basic elements of fiction such as point of view, character, plot and structure, dialogue and exposition, detail and scene. We will study these elements as put into practice by a wide range of virtuosic writers: Jamaica Kincaid, Donald Barthelme, ZZ Packer, James Baldwin, Raymond Carver, and Gina Bierault, among others. We will also familiarize ourselves with concepts related to the craft and imaginative process of fiction, such as counterpoint characterization, defamiliarization, narrative urgency, etc. The core of the course is the students’ own development as fiction writers. We have a lot of fun trying numerous exercises and approaches to stories. We work closely in conference on your writing to develop your crafting of scenes, at first, and then meet in small groups to workshop your first drafts. You are responsible for writing critiques of each other’s stories, as well as participating thoughtfully and actively in the workshop discussion. By the end of the semester, each of you will present at least one final developed story for our workshop discussion.

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Fiction Writing Workshop

Open, Seminar—Year

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

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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 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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Fiction Workshop: Portraiture

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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Nonfiction Workshop: Writing the Essay of Opinion

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course is for students interested in writing essays about political and cultural questions. Each week in class, in addition to talking about your work, we’ll discuss two or three published pieces (some of them long, some not so long) that look at social questions from widely different points of view. Our aim will not be to arrive at a consensus as to which ideas have greater merit; rather, we’ll be examining the rhetorical strategies by which different writers seek to persuade. Writers we’re likely to read include James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joan Didion, Ralph Ellison, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Jeannie Suk Gersen, Vivian Gornick, Irving Howe, Laura Kipnis, John McWhorter, Dwight Macdonald, George Orwell, Claudia Rankine, David Foster Wallace, and Zadie Smith, as well as a few earlier thinkers such as G. K. Chesterton, Frederick Douglass, William James, John Stuart Mill, and Virginia Woolf. Given the range of writers and opinions we’ll be reading, it’s safe to say that everyone in the class will be encountering many ideas they consider objectionable over the course of the semester. So, if you believe you can be harmed by exposure to points of view that differ starkly from your own, it would be best not to register for this class. Otherwise, it’s open to all interested students

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Nonfiction Workshop: Cultural Criticism

Open, Seminar—Fall

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. —Walter Benjamin

In this writing workshop, we will deepen our understanding of how to read, analyze, and articulate the world around us. Each week, we will read and discuss a text that locates and articulates ruptures and contradictions in the culture, works that provide new problems or solutions. Texts that we may read include the work of Walter Benjamin, Mark Fisher, Kristin Ross, Sigmund Freud (from Civilization and Its Discontents), and Alenka Zupancic. In addition, each week we will also workshop students’ drafts of works in progress. The final project for this course is a 10-12 page work of cultural criticism, a work of writing that may be focused on any aspect of contemporary society.

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Experiments With Truth: Nonfiction Writing From the Edges

Open, 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 by writers such as Claudia Rankine, Nathalie Sarraute, and George W. S. Trow. These readings will serve as the inspiration for brief assignments that will be read aloud and discussed each week. During the second half of the semester, students will workshop longer pieces, which they will have written in consultation with the instructor as a part of their conference work. Required texts: The Next American Essay, edited by John D’Agata, and Multiple Choice, by Alejandro Zambra. All other readings are in the PDF packet.

Faculty

A Question of Character: The Art of the Profile

Open, Seminar—Spring

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

Faculty

Writing Our Moment

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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 focus on poets with a strong sense of voice. We will spend half of each class discussing the weekly reading and the other half of 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; rather, it 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. Think of the additional effort to be like group conferences, every other week.

Faculty

Hybrids of Poetry and Prose: A Multigenre Creative Writing Workshop

Open, Seminar—Fall

One of the exciting literary developments in recent years is the plethora of work that disrupts the notion of genre from 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 write critical responses to the reading. This class is 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 a separate hybrid project.

Faculty

Reading and Writing Poetry: A Workshop

Open, Seminar—Year

We will read, roughly, a book of poetry each week and discuss the reading in detail. We will read, not chronologically, mostly American poets from the 19th (Dickinson and Whitman), 20th (Hayden, Bishop, Lowell), and 21st centuries (Terrance Hayes, D. A. Powell, and others). There will be critical response assignments, in-class exercises, small-group meetings, and writing prompts in order 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 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 a part of a community of writers, and write (and re-write) your own poems and grow, then this will be a good class for you.

Faculty

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 point of view, tone of voice, imagery, the poetic line, meter, and stanza form. We’ll examine the artistic thinking behind free verse, contemporary experimental idioms, the sonnet, the ghazal, and haiku. We’ll read widely—foundational masters like Elizabeth Bishop and Gwendolyn Brooks, contemporaries like Terrance Hayes and Yusuf Komunyakaa, and poets from radically different cultures. We’ll explore The Vintage Book of African American Poetry, The Penquin Anthology of 20th-Century American Poetry (Rita Dove), The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, prose poems, fables, proverbs, 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 often be individual. The class will be part humanistic workshop, part writing community, part critical inquiry. Expect to write freely and read voraciously. This course is open to anyone with a commitment to poetry.

Faculty

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.

Faculty

To Hold the Unsayable: A Poetry Workshop

Open, Seminar—Spring

A true poem can’t be paraphrased. In bright and interesting language, a poem seems to hold the unsayable. That’s the miracle of it. How do we do that? In this course, we will immerse ourselves in the practice of the art of poetry, focusing on a specific aspect of the art each week: image, metaphor, diction, syntax, musicality, tone, etc. We will write a poem every week and read poems that will instruct and inspire us. (Poet Spencer Reece calls books of poems “Sacred Suitcases”—you can take them anywhere.) We will read each other’s poems. We will read essays written by poets. We will write observations in our journals. We will look at visual art, listen to music, watch films. If you have never taken a poetry class before, this class is for you. If you have taken poetry classes before, this workshop is for you. I ask for generosity of spirit, curiosity, respect, and commitment. We form a community of artists and, within that community, find support and strength. We will have a wonderful time.

Faculty