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Course Descriptions

Winter 2012

COLT 102

Introduction to Comparative Literature II "Dialects and Diasporas"


Emily Taylor

May be taken independently from Comparative Literature 101
What happens to culture in the wake of mass migration or forced immigration? How does diaspora inspire the mixing and cross-pollination of cultural forms? In this course, we will consider various historical moments that have inspired the emergence of “mixed” or “creole” literary texts. We will read novels that use dialect such as The Lonely Londoners by Trinidadian writer Sam Selvon and Rolling the R’s by Hawaiian author R. Zamora Linmark. We will also consider how postcolonial and radical authors take up rewriting the Western literary canon (from Homer to The Tempest to Jane Eyre). Ultimately, our goals for the course will be to consider how rewriting a story, or remixing a form, can have revolutionary potential. In this reading intensive course, students can expect to write two essays as well as complete two exams, including a midterm and final comprehensive exam. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 211

Comparative World Literature: “Modern Fairy Tales”


Yvonne Toepfer

“The art of story telling nears its end,” feared Walter Benjamin (The Storyteller, 1936) at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Although oral story telling tradition, indeed, seems less significant in our time than it was 100 years ago, we do encounter fairy tale motifs in twentieth century cinematic productions such as Princess Bride (1987) and Red Hiding Hood (2011). In this course, we will explore an array of traditional and modern fairy tales challenging Benjamin’s statement. Instead of dismissing story telling and fairy tales as an ancient, out-dated phenomenon, we will not only rediscover the art but also find that the human psyche is exposed and dismantled in these modern tales compared to the traditional ones. In light of this, we will include a brief discourse on Sigmund Freud’s Uncanny (1919). With Freud and his exploration on the human psyche in mind, we will investigate, through close readings of several texts from the 18th to the 21st century, why fairy tales remain vastly appealing to us today. In addition to the reading assignments we will watch and analyze a small selection of movies, including Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997) to situate fairy tale adaptations into the modern context of story telling. All materials presented in this course will also aim to provide a conceptual understanding of the Fantastic, as introduced by Tzvetan Todorov in 1970, and we will learn to apply this concept in close-reading exercises of the different forms of media. By the end of this course, we will be able to identify characteristics of modern as well as traditional fairy tales, define terms such as “motif”, “variant”, “fantastic” and “irony”, and clearly formulate our findings and opinions in short writing assignments. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 211

Comparative World Literature: “International Detective Fiction”

TR 8-10

Michael McCann

From the barrooms of Libreville to the commercial stations of the interior waterways, a feckless young immigrant undergoes a quick and brutal education in colonial ways that will cost him both his self-respect and his sanity. An impoverished, handcuffed young student, on the run after committing a petty crime, relies on increasingly desperate maneuvers to make his way through the nightmarish crannies of Franz Joseph's Vienna. A detective struggling to solve a mélange of serial murders must decipher an assortment of logical paradoxes and ominous encrypted messages in a puzzle mystery set in Argentina. International detective fiction features all the excitement, intrigue, and mystery of traditional English and American detective fiction with the added twists and color that only a diversity of cultures can provide. See how far detective fiction has come in this heart-pounding course on international whodunits. Authors studied may include Karin Fossum, Guillermo Martínez, Leo Perutz, Paul Auster, and Kobo Abe. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 211

Comparative World Literature: “The Rise of the Novel”

TR 10-12

Michael McCann

What cultural and historical factors prompted the emergence of the novel as the dominant literary form? More specifically, which formal elements, in addition to its characteristic long narrative prose, set the novel apart from its shorter poetic, dramatic, and narrative (i.e., short story, novella) predecessors? This course traces the interworkings of the social conditions, changing attitudes, and literary practices during the eighteenth century—the so-called individualist era—that lead to the development of literature's most complex medium. We explore the novel's near-simultaneous birth in China and England, and its later development in Germany and France, examining the novel's incorporation of romanticism, realism, and metafiction in its early evolution as a cultural artifact. Authors may include Jingzi, Defoe, Goethe, Fielding, Sterne, Aphra Behn, Samuel Richardson, Ian Watt, and Franco Moretti. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 212

Comparative World Cinema: "Stills and Films"


Amanda Cornwall

Explores the moving picture’s enduring fascination with still photography. Films considered include La Jetée, Rear Window, Pecker, Memento, One Hour Photo.

[Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 303

Theory of the Novel


Emily Taylor

What is the relationship between genre and history? Why does the novel emerge as a literary form, and what explains its current dominance worldwide? How does a novel work? What are its parts? We will take on these questions, among others, in this foray into theories of the novel. We will read one novel together as a class, as well as a number of secondary and critical readings on the novel by Ian Watt, Northrop Frye, Benedict Anderson, Franco Moretti, James Wood, E.M. Forster, Georg Lukács, Nancy Armstrong, Doris Sommer, and Gérard Genette, among others. Assignments will include writing a small part of a novel, two formal essays, and a final comprehensive exam. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 360

Gender and Identity in Literature: “Imagining Salome”


Elena Villa

Figure of desire and disavowal, fantasy and nightmare, Salome–daughter of Herodias–has danced through the imaginations of writers and artists for centuries, embodying the visions of each era, and revealing much about deep-seated views on gender, sexuality, the body, and the cultural other. Salome has taken many forms. Whether as an Eve-like symbol of destructive female sexuality and the sins of the flesh, a decadent Orientalist trope of the seductive femme fatale, or a figure of exotic sexual liberation for the New Woman, Salome’s longevity as an object of fertile imaginings is indisputable. In this course, we will explore representations of Salome and her dance, from the New Testament to modern literary narrative, and into the realms of poetry, art, theater, opera, dance performance, popular culture, and contemporary film. We will analyze works by Gustave Flaubert, Gustave Moreau, J.-K. Huysmans, Oscar Wilde, Richard Strauss, Carlos Saura, and others. [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 360

Gender and Identity in Literature: “Diaries, Autobiographies, Blogs”


Moshe Rachmuth

In this course we will explore the different forms of recording one's own life. From testimonies of childhood during the Holocaust to Chelsea Handler's one-night stands, from the ironic memories of Benjamin Franklin to the daily routines of a Muslim girl in rural China and from the lately published poignant remarks of Mark Twain (that he ordered not to publish until one hundred years after his death in 1910) to the inglorious conception of comedian George Carlin, people record, remember and reflect on their lives. Reading autobiographies (memoirs, diaries, blogs...) will allow us to follow the formation of one's identity through one's life. Furthermore, we will debate the elements that create identity – gender, race, nationality, religion, socio-economic background, choices, relationships and pure luck. Beyond these elements, I will try to convince the students, the act writing not only expresses but defines the identity of the writer.

Students will read (and watch) works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Anne Frank, Chelsea Handler, David Perlov, Julie Powers, George Carlin and Ma Yan.
The course also contains a creative element: each student will keep a blog to which he or she will add entries on a weekly basis.


"Your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It's all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a self-portrait. Everything is a diary." (Diary, Chuck Palahniuk).

"June 12, 1942. I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.” (The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank) [Winter] [4 credits]

COLT 460/560

Major Theorists: “Arendt”


Martin Klebes


While Hannah Arendt has long been recognized as one of the major political theorists of the 20th century, her wide-ranging contributions to the study of literature and culture have only recently begun to be more widely appreciated, particularly in the anglophone realm. We will primarily focus on this latter part of Arendt’s work; her important and controversial contributions to an understanding of totalitarianism, the Shoah, and revolution will selectively be discussed as these intersect with her reflections on aesthetics and culture. Texts to be read will include The Human Condition, The Life of the Mind, and a selection of essays, as well as some of the (mostly modernist) literary texts Arendt discusses in her work. All readings in English; students are invited to read those essays first written in German in the original.

[Winter] [4 credits]