2014-15 Courses

2013-14 Courses

2012-13 Courses

2011-12 Courses

2010-11 Courses

Comparative Literature Grading Policies



Course Descriptions

Winter 2011

COLT 102

Introduction to Comparative Literature II


Kenneth Calhoon


May be taken independently from Comparative Literature 101

With an emphasis on the social components of literature and its institutions, this course will pay particular attention to the role played by language in the formation of social, ethnic and national identities. An introductory analysis of two poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, "The Ballad of Rudolph Reed" and "We Real Cool," will serve to introduce the concept of the vernacular as it relates to distinctions of race and class. This will help lay the groundwork for a discussion of the common tongue as a marker between inside and out, between "high" and "low." Following a brief discussion of Aristotle’s association of comedy with the lower classes, we will move through a series of moments in which the "low" is sometimes stigmatized, sometimes mined as a source of creative vitality. These include:  Dante’s choice of vernacular Italian for his Divine Comedy; Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into vernacular German; the ghetto in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice; the aristocracy’s ridicule of the ascendant merchant class in Molière’s The Bourgeois Gentleman; class and sexuality in Strindberg’s Miss Julie; Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry written in the dialects of  both African- and German-Americans; the materiality of language in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Prague’s Yiddish theater; wealth and assimilation in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. No prerequisite for this course. 
[Winter] [4 credits]                                                                 

COLT 211

Comparative World Literature: “Poetry and Philosophy”


Michael McCann


A poet makes music with words, crafting lyrics and verse to enrapture his readers; a philosopher builds concepts with logic, erecting word walls and bridges to support his ideas. What do these two oldest forms of literature have in common? Can one be both a philosopher and a poet? This course seeks answers to these questions by examining the work of philosophers who wrote poetry, poets who wrote philosophy, and philosopher-poets whose works on both poetry and philosophy are among the best written. We compare and contrast the works of several philosopher-poets from various cultures and time periods, exploring the beauty, method, and madness of their message and meaning through innovative “genre translations.” No previous knowledge of poetry or philosophy required. Likely texts include the works Omar Khayyam, William Blake, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, Martin Heidegger, and Lao Tzu.
[Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 211

Comparative World Literature: “Traveling Plots”


Jamie Richards


“Plot is like a ship that touches the shores with its side; it transports something from one continent to another,” writes Viktor Shklovsky. While there are numerous theories claiming that fiction contains a limited number of basic plot structures, we might instead think of plots as traveling narratives, vehicles that transmit fundamental stories and figures that are rewritten according to new languages and contexts. This course will consider a few of these plots as they travel from one era to another, or one nation to another, and the way that these familiar narratives are made unfamiliar and transformed. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 211

Comparative World Literature: “The Caribbean Uncanny”


Laura Selph


In this course we will encounter some of the zombies, doppelgangers, and ghosts that haunt Caribbean fiction.  Exploring the territory of the uncanny in Caribbean narrative, we will consider stories that give voice to histories buried but not dead, and stories that unsettle the master narratives of European colonialism and modernity.  Readings will include Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Derek Walcott’s “The Schooner ‘Flight,’” Gisèle Pineau’s The Drifting of the Spirits, Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night, Maryse Condé’s Crossing the Mangrove, and Erna Brodber’s Myal. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 212

Comparative World Cinema: “Poverty in Motion Pictures”


Max Rayneard


Cinema and poverty make uncomfortable bedfellows, if for no other reason than the cost of production, not to mention the massive profits made by major studios. In this regard, film is often seen as exploitative of the poverty it represents: even films that seek to highlight the plight of the poor pander to middle-class constituencies in order to recoup costs. This course will examine the ways in which poverty is represented in global cinema, from the class critique of Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film Modern Times, and Edward Dmytryk Give Us this Day,  to more recent films (Rue Cases Nègres, City of God, Tsotsi, Slumdog Millionaire) that employ hyperrealism, an aesthetic that Umberto Eco has described as “the authentic fake.” It will examine contemporary films that may be critiqued for seeking to assuage the discomfort of audiences (Precious, Angela’s Ashes) rather than to understand poverty in any real sense, as well as ways in which film adaptations differ in the way they relate poverty from the literary texts upon which they are based. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 303

Theory of the Novel


Moshe Rachmuth


Franco Moretti is arguably the most influential (and surely the most provocative) theorist of the novel in the turn of the Twenty-First Century. His theory of distant reading and his frequent application of “foreign” methodologies (from fields such as geography and biology) to literary texts is “a thorn in the side” (as he puts it) of traditional literary research.

This course will have two parts: in the first weeks, students will become acquainted with classic theorists of the novel (Lukács, Bakhtin and Auerbakh) through their handling of Madame Bovary by Flaubert, the only novel that we will read together in class. In the second part of the course, students will close-read Moretti's essays on distant reading and on maps and each student will produce a paper “mapping” the novels of an author of his or her choice. In the last week we will combine all projects to make our assessment, as a research community, of Moretti's methodology and whether or not the results found by the students support Moretti's conjectures or refute them. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 360

Gender and Identity in Literature: “Care”


Jeong Chang


This course will focus on representations of care in world cinema.  What does it mean to care?  Who needs care?  Who are the caregivers?  And what are the standards of care?  Starting with these questions, we will examine how globalization affects cinematic and literary representations of care, and whether these texts attempt to articulate an ethic of care.  We will be examining how genres such as melodrama, the buddy movie, and the romantic comedy use abide by and deviate from their formal structures to shape this representation.  The course will trace how care came to be associated with women, and how globalization and late capital have altered expectations of who should care and shifted some of the burden (we will also examine why care is seen as a “burden”) onto men while also maintaining many of the attributes that continue to place the burden of care on women.  Readings will encompass feminist film theory and readings about the contemporary family and how demands on the individual and social groups shape and inflect what it means to care, and our capacities for caring.  [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 360

Gender and Identity in Literature: “Gendered Cartographies”


Laura Selph


In this course we will be reading texts that explore the relationship between women and place in a transnational and global context. We will begin by historicizing the contemporary context by looking at the ways in which women have been placed both in narratives of empire and in discourses of anti-colonial nationalism. We will then turn our focus to postcolonial women writers who are working through these historically inherited positions in their fiction. We will consider how these writers express a sense of place and displacement, and how gendered concerns shape their expression. Possible texts include Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, Michelle Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven, Assia Djebar’s Women of Algiers in their Apartment, Angie Cruz’s Let It Rain Coffee, Gisèle Pineau’s Exile According to Julia, or Patricia Grace’s Potiki.  [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 461/561

Studies in Contemporary Theory: “Colonialism & Post-colonial Theory”


Michael Allan


Our course will explore some of the key arguments and debates underlying the analysis of colonialism and the emergence of postcolonial theory. We will investigate texts considered foundational to anti-colonial discourse (Aimé Césaire, Albert Memmi and Frantz Fanon), as well as critical trajectories within postcolonial studies (Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, and Dipesh Chakrabarty). Our discussions will draw upon works ranging from Gustave Flaubert’s writing on Egypt to Gilles Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers, and will emphasize critical interactions between colonialism, history, literature and philosophy. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 614

Graduate Studies in Comparative Literature: “Comparative Literature and its Histories”


Michael Allan


Our class will focus on the emergence of Comparative Literature with attention both to local and global histories of the discipline. The first half of the course will combine essays on Comparative Literature with more general studies in philosophy, sociology and culture; and the second half will be conducted as a workshop with each student focusing on the emergence of literary study in his/her particular field. Readings tentatively include Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things, Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction, Frantz Fanon’s “On National Culture,” Edward Said’s Humanism and Democratic Criticism, as well as works by Natalie Melas, Susan Bassnett, Jacques Derrida, David Damrosch, Claudio Guillén, Michael Warner, and Emily Apter. [Winter] [5 credits]