Spring 2018

  • Topics in Literary and Cultural Theory: Erich Auerbach and the Origin of Existential Realism

    This seminar takes seriously Auerbach's statement that "existential realism" lies at the core of Mimesis, and look for that realism's "origin" in the theo-philosophical apparatus of the book as well as in a selection of the texts about which he writes. Theories of Realism and existence are also explored. Students gain an overview of Auerbach reception to date and challenge some of the ways his work has been read as only concerned with a Eurocentric canon or as an expression of a post-colonial habitus.
  • East Asian Humanities II: Traditions and Transformations

    Second in the two-semester sequence on East Asian literary humanities, this course begins in the seventeenth century and covers a range of themes in the history, literature, and culture of Japan, Korea, and China until the contemporary period. Looking into the narratives of modernity, colonialism, urban culture, and war and disaster, we will see East Asia as a space for encounters, contestations, cultural currents and countercurrents. No knowledge of East Asian languages or history is required and first-year students are welcome to take the course.
  • Cybernetics, Literary Ghosts and the Italian Way

    "Will we have a machine capable of replacing the poet and the author?" asked Italo Calvino in 1967, hopeful that computers would write "the literature." In 1962 poet Nanni Balestrini instructed a computer to write a poem eager to hear "the voice of the machine." Rough novels and 200,000 non-fiction books have already been written through algorithms and a literary novel is expected soon. Can we instruct a computer to write a novel? Should we use an algorithm or machine learning?
  • South Asian American Literature and Film

    This course examines literature and film by South Asians in North America. Students will gain perspective on the experiences of immigration and diaspora through the themes of identity, memory, solidarity, and resistance. From early Sikh migration to the American West Coast, to Muslim identity in a post 9/11 world, how can South Asian American stories be read as symbolic of the American experience of gender, class, religion, and ethnicity more broadly? Students will hone their skills in reading primary materials, analyzing them within context, writing persuasively, and speaking clearly.
  • Philosophy and Literature: Western Thought and the Russian Dialogic Imagination

    This course is a study of the relationship between Western philosophy and Russian literature, specifically the many ways in which abstract philosophical ideas get `translated' into literary works. Russia does not have world famous philosophers. Yet, most Russian writers were avid readers of philosophy and are often considered philosophers in their own right. On what grounds can, for example, Dostoevsky, such a notorious opponent of "reason," be considered a philosopher? Or what happens when Tolstoy meticulously studies Kant's Critique of Pure Reason or falls in love with Schopenhauer?
  • Literature and Medicine

    What does medicine have to do with literature and vice versa? What stories are told, negotiated, juxtaposed in doctor-patient interactions? Why do doctors tell and need stories? How does literature, with its imagery and its structural features, illuminate medicine as a system of representation? What rhetorical and stylistic devices are embedded in the way we commonly conceive of illness, healing, the medical institutions and caregiving?
  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace: Writing as Fighting

    We start with Tolstoy's artistic stimuli and narrative strategies, explore the author's provocative visions of war, gender, sex, art, social institutions, death, and religion. The emphasis is placed here on the role of a written word in Tolstoy's search for truth and power. The main part is a close reading of his masterwork The War and Peace (1863-68) - a quintessence of both his artistic method and philosophical insights. Each student will be assigned to keep a "hero's diary" and speak on behalf of one or two major heroes of the epic (including the Spirit of History).
  • Vladimir Nabokov

    In 1919, at the age of twenty, Vladimir Nabokov fled "the bloated octopus of state" of his native Russia and embarked on a dazzling bilingual literary career in emigration. This course focuses on Nabokov's masterly writing, which reflects a modernist preoccupation with narrative, temporality, and memory. The Russian and American novels are at the center of our attention, but readings include also a sampling of his shorter fiction, poetry, essays on literature, and the memoir Speak, Memory.
  • Dreams and Nightmares in Hispanic Fiction and Film

    From Artemidorus in antiquity to Freud and other thinkers in modern times, dreams and nightmares are a perennial human concern. This course will consider artistic, political, philosophical, medical and psycho-sexual representations of dreams and nightmares in short stories and plays by such authors as Cervantes, Zayas, Calderón, García Lorca, Borges, Cortázar, and Fuentes. Several films inspired by the works of these authors or that served to inspire their writing will also be examined.


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