Comparative Literature Graduate Course Descriptions


Fall Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
Debating World Literature

The title of this course might have been “Is there a world literature? If so, what is it?” Some would claim that this is the field that Goethe desired, Marx predicted, Auerbach conceived, and just the right way to do comparative literature in this age of globalisation. A further claim would be that there once was a time when comparative literature was a story of Europe while excluding its Others; that comparative literature has now expired and, rising out of its own ashes, it is re-born as World Literature that seeks to cut
Europe down to size while including great many of its Others. Multicultural on the world scale, as it were. A related, more modest
claim would be: This is how we now do what was once called ‘Third World Literature’.

We will study the genealogy of these claims. Increasingly, though, the field has come to be constituted not so much by these claims but by debates interrogating them. What is the status of translation versus the original text in this field? Does the teaching of world literature amount to much more than doing globalisation’s work for it in the literary field? In what language would the archive of this world literature be assembled and taught? Presumably in English. What are the critical and theoretical apparatuses to which these texts, culled from all over the world, would be submitted for scrutiny?  Presumably Euro-American. Is world literature then not just an “Anglo-Globalism”, as Jonathan Arac once asked?

Starting with the founding texts of Said, Jameson, Moretti, Spivak and others, these debates have produced a distinguished body of critical thought. The course will engage with the complexity of that thought. 
 An Introduction to Theories of Translation: Fidelity, Treason, and the Question of Voice(s)

Wednesdays, 2-5 p.m.

Comparative Literature, with its proclivity for crossing borders of all sorts—linguistic, medium-specific, and theoretical—has long emphasized the centrality of translation as a concept and practice crucial to the field. Indeed, there could be no “comparative” literature without the implicit attempt to bridge, or to “translate,” the space between languages, cultures, nationalities, and traditions, on the one hand, and theories and methodologies, on the other. It is in terms of this in-between of literary-textual-theoretical studies, also in other media, across a wide range of languages and cultures that scholars of Comparative Literature have been occupied by the inherently intercultural questions of translation theory and methodology. Moreover, post-colonial theorists, students of cultural studies, and practitioners of interdisciplinary approaches to reading writ large all agree that both literal and figurative translation is central to what they do. Literary translation—and the translation of literature—is, finally, both a major field in itself and a pre-condition of much that we do in our courses. This seminar will examine some of the fundamental questions about the practice, art, and politics of translation. Readings will address the history of translation theory, historical and recent problematizations of the use of translations in Comparative Literature as a discipline and the often minoritized place of translation studies in the field, feminist and post-colonial approaches to the ethics of what is often the asymmetrical practice of translating, theories of authorship and the cultural authority of ‘originals’ and translated texts, the challenges of creating ‘domesticating’ or ‘foreignizing’ translations that render original and translation visible or invisible in both the texts themselves and in the marketplace of ideas and material goods, and questions of multi-voicedness as both a political and an aesthetic position and act. Students may fulfill one of the Comparative Literature language requirements by enrolling in this class and completing a translation project, which must be accompanied by a substantial preface that engages the theoretical materials covered in the course. If the original text is in a language other than French or German, the instructor will help the student locate a faculty member competent to supervise the project. Seminar options include such a project or a research paper. Pro-seminar options include two translation exercises and a short essay that embeds the student’s translating practice in the materials covered in the course. The pro-seminar option will not fulfill a Comparative Literature language requirement.

In this course we will use the concept of an “ecology of mind” (Bateson) to explore the entangled relationship between two major dangers to planetary life: nuclear necropolitics and climate change.  With a focus on the psychopolitical implications of these forces, we will deal with issues such as deep history, scale and the limits of human imagination as they manifest themselves in the politics and limits of representation, the politics of denial and splitting, or in imaginaries and phantasms of extinction, in species life, trans-species lives and subjectivities.  We will discuss selections of the following texts.

1. Günther Anders, The Obsolescence of Man
2. Horkheimer/Adorno, Negative Dialectic of Enlightenment
3. Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement
4. Arundati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story
5. Charmaine White Face, Indigenous Nations’ Rights in the Balance
6. Valerie Kuletz, The Tainted Desert
7. Kate Brown, Plutopia
8. Helen Caldicott, Missile Envy
9. Sally Weintrobe, Engaging with Climate Change
10. William Connolly, Facing the Planetary
11. Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter
12. Mel Chen, Animacies

Derrida, “No Apocalypse, Not Now”
Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History”
Mbembe, “Necropolitics”
Film: Michael Madsen, Into Eternity
Haitian Revolution: Historiography, Literature, Philosophy

This seminar will investigate the contemporary theoretical implication of the terms of an intervention into contemporary historiography offered by the work of W. E. B. Du Bois and C. L. R. James during that momentous decade of modern world history, the 1930s, building from a theoretical account of a little known dialogue between them that stretched across the 1960s. The course will do this by examining the contemporary resurgence of engagement of the legacy of the Haitian Revolution across literature, philosophy, and historiography, in particular since the 2003 bicentennial of the Haitian revolutionary declaration. This seminar will thus bring the investigation of this early dialogue and the recent scholarship and discussion  into dialogue with certain nodal references on the horizons of a contemporary thought – from theories of historiography across the twentieth century and into the present, critical theory (both the 1930s emergent moment, and the efflorescence of the past half century), to theories of colonialism and post-colonial studies, to the “black radical tradition” then and now, and beyond, to contemporary accounts of globalization, to theorizations of radical or new forms of democracy, and theories of historical social difference, as they may yet arise across the decades of the twenty-first century yet to come. This seminar follows out and complete two previous seminars on the work of W. E. B. Du Bois and C. L. R. James.