Comparative Literature Graduate Course Descriptions


Winter Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
The starting point for the course is the promiscuous use of the term ‘nationalism’ for a whole range of right-wing pathologies that are currently swirling around in various regions of the world: the so-called ‘Hindu nationalism’ in India, ‘Islamic nationalisms’ of various sorts across the Greater Middle East, ‘white nationalism’ in the US, and, again, a large variety of movements in different zones of Europe, from Poland and Hungary to France and Britain.
This straightforward identification of nationalism with rightwing projects is itself problematic. It occludes the whole history of anti-colonial movements which too used the term ‘nationalist’ for themselves. Similarly, any concerted movement against corporate globalisation of our time or against the autocratic financial regime of the Brussels bureaucracy in the EU can be dismissed as forms of xenophobic nationalism. Even any affirmation of a national culture, national economy, national sovereignty can be dismissed as nostalgic longing for pre-postmodern world swept aside by the forces of globalisation.

The conceptual premise that will generate our exploration is that as a system of interpellations 'nationalism' has had enormous mobilising power over the past two centuries but it has no inflexible, a priori content. That content is given to any particular nationalism or any particular theory of the nation by the power bloc that takes hold of this ideological artefact and mobilises it in pursuit of power for itself.  The meanings, in other words, are not static but conjunctural and there always are particular social agencies that generate those meanings. Thus, we shall be studying particular moments in this complex history: the powerful discourses generated during the Enlightenment and then in opposition to the French Revolution as well as its Napoleonic aftermath; the Marxist tradition (Lenin/Luxemburg debate, Gramsci’s theory of the ‘national-popular’); theorisations in anti-colonial movements and their conjunctions with the Marxist tradition; thought worlds of the Right, including the Nazi/fascist configuration, between the two World Wars; and of course some of the salient moments in our precarious present.
2018 marks forty years since the publication of Edward Said’s influential work, Orientalism. Is Said’s work still relevant to our conception of “the East” today? What is “the East” today? How is Orientalism, per Said, different from other forms of racism or colonization? Are there other ways of thinking through the relationship between East and West? And what could literature contribute to this theorization? This seminar is dedicated to critically exploring the implications and relevance of Orientalism to our current theoretical understandings of "the East." We will examine this work in the context of Said’s broader oeuvre and in relation both to Said’s critics and to his disciples. In addition to reading different theoretical conceptions of Orientalism and various works on colonization in the Middle East and North Africa, we will attempt to theorize the perception of this East, as well as its relationship to the West, out of literature. We will therefore also examine literary works that take on the questions raised by Orientalism or perform different forms of "self-Orientalization."

Readings may include: Edward Said (mainly, Orientalism, The question of Palestine, Reflections on Exile), Aijaz Ahmad, Hamid Dabashi, Talal Asad, James Clifford, Samera Esmeir, Shaden Tageldin, Gil Anidjar, Leela Gandhi, Lila abu-Lughod, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Assia Djebar, Elias Khoury, and the art of Sharif Waked. This seminar could be taken as a proseminar as well. 
The course examines issues and themes in African fictional narratives in the context of postcolonial theories. Central to the course is the exploration of the intersection of class, gender, ethnicity, the cold war, military coups and dictatorships in the shaping of nations and nation-states in the decades that follow independence from colonial rule. The course tries to narrow down the concept of the postcolonial by examining closely the ‘neo’ hidden in the ‘post’ of many  theories of the post-colony and the globe.
Deleuze’s two books on cinema (Cinema 1 and 2) are still arguably the most important works on the image and the cinematic image for our time.  He sees the task of cinema to be one of ‘extracting an image from the cliché’, and so administering ‘a shock to thought’. In this course, ‘after Deleuze’ suggests less an ‘updating’ of Deleuze than following up on the provocations and insights found in his work on the image. While assuming no detailed knowledge of these books, the course will place some of his key arguments side by side with other important theorizations of the image, including: Deleuze’s related work on the painter Francis Bacon; Guy Debord on the ‘informational image’ or ‘the spectacle that is no longer spectacular’; Jean Baudrillard on ‘simulation’ and Paul Virilio on ‘speed’;  Vilem Flusser on ‘the technical image’ and Gilbert Simondon on ‘the mode of existence of technical objects’; the important work on the ‘neoro-image’ (‘The Brain Is the Screen’) and the phenomenon of ‘phantom limbs’ in studies by neuroscientist V.S.Ramachandran and others. Throughout the course, films and other visual documents will be an integral part of the theoretical discussion. 
Crosslisted with Visual Studies 295
"If we are victorious in one more battle . . . we shall be utterly ruined." Plutarch's famous paraphrase of Pyrrhus indicates a moment when strategy turns around to look at itself and the identity of the "we" is no longer secure. It also indicates, however, that others not the "we" have already lost even more. Taking the figure of pyrrhic victory broadly to encompass various lose/lose and anticlimactic situations, this seminar aims to track closely what happens in encounters between various forms of political and ethical thought and flatlining cost-benefit analyses of  history. One principle for this tracking is that ruin that is feared and avoided in most political and strategic discourses has already occurred along racial lines (as we can read in those same discourses). Another is the appearance of a conceptual space for something incapable of being affected by the ongoing calculation of historical loss and win, for having nothing to lose without having something to gain.

The seminar will spend a little to some time on a canonical Romantic genealogy of historical anticlimax (Rousseau, Nietzsche, Freud), reconsidering it in light of colonialism and race. Then it will spend more time on the difficult fine-tuning of historical thinking by Hegel and Marx (with reference also to Du Bois and Luxemburg). The main texts for this part are Phenomenology of Spirit and Grundrisse. The auto-destructive elements of capital in Marx (capital's victory is Pyrrhic for capital) are part of the larger problem--that is, not just a problem for capital--of  what Etienne Balibar and others call Marx's "catastrophism." There may also be other readings or viewings TBA. Throughout, what this figure opens up is not passivity or inner contradiction for contradiction's sake but avenues for exploring situations beyond the current bounds of historical and world-systems thinking.

Seminar and proseminar members are invited to discuss exactly how we would like to work collaboratively, and what we would like to write, at the first meeting. Possibly, we could make intensive and copious notes together, as has happened in some past seminars, or possibly something else. It would be nice if all seminar members did a presentation based in their own area of interest.
This course will explore some of the anxieties that build up at the borders of the “world of work,” particularly the borders between what is called “work” and what is called “play.” A central aim of the course is to get some handle on the fascism involved in the policing of these borders at the present moment—to get a handle on the fascism of the present moment this way. This aim determines the parameters of the course reading, none of which predates the rise of fascism in the early 20th-century, even though plenty of work and play happened before then. Reading will include texts on the relation between work, play, and unemployment by psychoanalysts (Freud, Klein, Reich, Winnicott) and by major figures of the Collège de Sociologie (Bataille and Caillois); on the questioning of the thesis of the “alienation of labor” in post-WWII French Marxism (Althusser); on “workerism,” the strategy of the “refusal of work,” and unpaid work in post-WWII Italian Marxism (Bifo; Tronti; Federici); on issues with Marxist accounts of “work” (Arendt and Foucault); and on “désoeuvrement” and “inoperativity” (Blanchot and Agamben). Fascist and neo-fascist problem-areas to be considered will include discourse in and around the professionalization of sports—particularly of men’s team sports, beginning in the early 20th-century; and of “extreme sports,” “esports,” and women’s team sports, beginning in the early 21st. Papers can be written on any topic where anxiety about “work” is near enough to a breaking point that a push from the theorists on the syllabus might help.

(Crosslisted with Hum 270 and French 250)