Comparative Literature Program - Course Descriptions


Winter Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
What happens to the common conception of travel literature when we consider the context of colonialism in the Americas, including Indigenous peoples’ stories of how settlers forced them to move from their traditional homelands onto reservations and took their children to live in government institutions? This course focuses on the narratives of American Indian and Canadian First Nations peoples who were displaced to Indian boarding schools (U.S.) and residential schools (Canada) as part of colonial government policies to assimilate Indigenous peoples to settler cultures. Course readings include works by former Indian boarding school and residential school students from the Lakota, Dakota, Hopi, Paiute, Cree, and Ohlone nations. While this course foregrounds the autobiographical practices through which former Indian boarding school students craft personal narratives to respond to conditions of physical, emotional, and spiritual violence, students will also explore diverse forms of cultural production in boarding school discourses, including poetry, films, essays, and music videos.
The definition of terror is quite elusive, as is evident from the cliché that “one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." The possibility of understanding terror is further complicated by the fact that most of the current public discussion of this concept narrows its broader historical meanings: Since 9/11 , the notion of terror has come to be tied to certain forms of political violence and religious extremism. However, terror as a concept has a much longer history, one which is rooted in politics, philosophy and the arts and is linked to attempts to better comprehend aesthetics and the human psyche. From Aristotle’s musings on theatrical terror as emotional catharsis, through Edmund Burke’s notion of sublime terror in poetry and its relation to the French revolutionary terror, to the themes of terror and alienation in contemporary Middle Eastern literature, the notion of terror has long joined aesthetics to politics and vice versa.

In this course we will therefore explore different conceptions of terror by examining the ways in which its aesthetic and political dimensions interact. Specifically, we will focus on the relationship between terror and literature. How is terror related to reading and writing? How does it function, at one and the same time, as an everyday feeling, an aesthetic effect and a political category? How does the “terrorist” or the “terrifying” define the limits of what is considered normal, or even human, in a given society? Topics may include: terror as catharsis, the grotesque, horror and monstrosity, the relationship between terror and colonization and between terror and gender, revolutionary and sublime terror, terrorism in the era of globalization, the case of Israel-Palestine and the War on Terror.
Reading With Theory is one of the core courses of the introductory sequence to the comparative literature major/minor. When scholars in the humanities today refer to “theory” they mean something like the twentieth century continuation of a form of questioning begun with philosophy. Theory thus refers to attempts to inquire into why things are the way they are in our world today and/or build new models of how they can be. This course aims to give you some sense of the main traditions in theory that are at the root of important theoretical discussions today. In other words, the course aims to give you the tools to engage with contemporary theorization by showing you where they come from, how they dialogue with, challenge or extend earlier formulations in order to open up thinking about the world and make thinking more conscious and critical. The course will also pair theoretical material with fictional work (videos, movies, literary pieces) that help stage, visualize or extend the theoretical models we will be discussing.
In this course we will study the entanglement of two of the gravest dangers humanity faces today, namely nuclear politics and environmental violence.  The course will be divided into two sections: 1. Nuclear Politics; 2. Ecological  Violence, Resource Depletion and Climate Change.  Drawing on Gregory Bateson’s “ecology of mind,” we will open with questions regarding the production of ecological knowledge and consciousness.  We then move to the legacy of Hiroshima and nuclear politics.  In this section, we will discuss nuclear colonialism, critical nuclear race theory and the gendering of nuclear politics, nuclear war and transgenerational nuclear trauma, nuclear energy, nuclear accidents and nuclear waste.  In the second section, we will discuss the anthropocene, slow ecological violence, climate change and the extinction of species and planetary life as well as a possible politics of resistance and ethics of trans-species care.
This course will introduce students to the history of the African American intellectual and literary construction of the American experience, focusing on the 18th and 19th centuries – highlighting its early emergence, intensity and breadth – the colonial period through the advent of the Twentieth century. The will focus will be on Phillis Wheatley, Oluadah Equiano, Ottobah Cugoano, David Walker, Maria Stewart, and Frederick Douglass. W. E. B. Du Bois’s reflections on African American intellectual traditions will be of basic reference. In addition to established and recognized literary and intellectual texts, the readings and lectures also include, or consider, inscribed oral texts such as orations and public addresses, sermons, testimonials, songs, especially spirituals, and folklore. Other readings referenced or discussed in the class include published poetry, essays, petitions, legal appeals and declarations, editorials, slave narratives and other autobiographical narratives, fiction, and histories. The student who completes this course will have an understanding of the African American intellectual and literary construction of the American experience and thus the emergence of a modern literature and intellectual tradition, noting its early announcement within the history of the United States and a profound sense of its intensity and breadth.
This seminar considers the problem of how to understand the time of our own lives historically according to our senses of the future. It does so by way of an engagement with speculative fiction – the work of which is conceived as a critical archaeology of the future. This course is devoted to Octavia Butler’s Parable series, 1993-1998 (Parable of the Sower, 1993 and Parable of the Talents, 1998, of which a third volume remained incomplete upon her passing) and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy from 2003-2013 (Oryx and Crake, 2003, The Year of the Flood, 2009, and MaddAddam, 2013). The 2015-2017 made-for-television Netflix series – led by Lana Wachowski – Sense8, along with the series long adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, presented by Hulu will serve as counterpoint genre and technique for our novels. The classic study They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (1954), by Milton Sanford Mayer, will be referenced. If possible, the seminar members will visit the Octavia Butler’s papers and archives at the Huntington Library in Pasadena/San Marino. This is an upper division writing intensive seminar, fulfilling such criteria. In practical terms, this means that a student who takes this course should be prepared for both substantial reading and substantial writing
In “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Walter Benjamin famously “asks with whom the adherents of historicism actually empathize” and argues that “The answer is inevitable: with the victor.” Certainly, popular histories of the United States marginalize the experiences and viewpoints of indigenous Peoples and portray the vanquishing of Native nations through genocidal violence as inevitable or justified for the sake of spreading Western civilization. This course explores how American Indian people have authored autobiographies as a way of telling the histories of their lives, tribes, and Indian-white relations from their own perspectives. In the process, Indian autobiographers have established a structural pattern of blending personal experience with tribal mythography and oral traditions. Students will gain a transnational indigenous perspective as course texts include autobiographies by Native people from the Pequot, Paiute, Lakota, Dakota, Kiowa, Hopi, Laguna, and Ohlone nations. The historical and social contexts of these autobiographies include: Euro-Americans’ desire to abolish Indian nations’ sovereignty and treaty rights, the enactment of the Indian Removal Bill of 1830 and the westward migration of whites who settled on Indian land, the relocation of all Indian tribes onto reservations by the 1880s, the passage of the General Allotment Act of 1887, the displacement of Indian children to off-reservation federal boarding schools by the turn of the twentieth century, and contemporary Native authors’ use of autobiography and memoir to give voice to indigenous Peoples’ continuing presence and resistance to ongoing U.S. settler colonialism.
Whatever the eventual verdict on the ongoing experiment that is California, few can deny the range and fecundity of its literary traditions which span from Native American inhabitants and European explorers and missionaries to contemporary immigrants. This class will consider a wide range of California writing in the modes of folklore, the short story, novel, diary, literary essay, natural history, poetry, and cultural criticism. It will cover by texts by Spanish missionaries and conquerors, Native Americans, Sarah Royce, Helen Hunt Jackson, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Frank Norris, Robinson Jeffers, Joan Didion, Blaise Cendrars, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes, Raymond Chandler, M.F.K. Fischer, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Thomas Pynchon, Amy Tan, John Steinbeck, Clifford Odets, Louis Adamic, Nathanel West, Reyner Banham, Tom Wolfe, John Muir, Carey McWilliams, and Vikram Seth. Our goal will be to understand the interactions of culture and nature and the formations of community in a place defined by the myths of the Gold Rush, abundant natural resources, sunshine, noir, and boundless opportunity. Course assignments include take-home midterm and final research paper.