Comparative Literature Program - Course Descriptions


Fall Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
In The City of God, Saint Augustine recounts the following exchange between Alexander the Great and a pirate he captured. “What gives you the right to disrupt the sea-lanes by force?” asks Alexander. To which the pirate boldly replied, “What gives you the right to disrupt the whole world by force? I use a small ship, so I’m called a thief; you use a great fleet, so you’re called an emperor.” In this class we’ll explore popular depictions of pirates (in movies such as the Pirates of the Caribbean series and literature) and compare these with historical narratives of piracy. We will also, as St. Augustine’s anecdote suggests, inquire into how piracy gets defined and what it might tell us about the dividing line between legality and illegality, relations of force, and the fantasies and practices of opposition to dominant social structures. While our main focus will be on piracy in the Atlantic Ocean in the 17th and 18th centuries, we will also discuss contemporary forms of piracy such as the Somali pirates and internet piracy.
This course introduces you to the development of literary genres across time and place. You will become familiar with the concept of world literature and how it has been understood at different moments in history. Because we are reading literary works originally written in various languages, we will also discuss the role translation plays in providing access to world literature. You will learn how to read literary texts closely, be attentive to linguistic, cultural, and historical differences, and how they inform our understanding.
“History does not exist until it is created.” -- Robert A. Rosenstone

In his essay in Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies (1996), scientist Stephen Jay Gould writes that the film Jurassic Park contains several errors, but that these errors “belong to the juicy and informative class of faults” that has been described in the following way: “Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truths for yourself.”

In this course, we will examine the “juicy faults” about the European Renaissance that we find in a series of movies from the 1940s up through the early twenty-first century, and look at them in conversation with primary and secondary historical and literary texts from and about the period. We will ask what role cinematic representations of the European Renaissance and European early modernity (c. 1500-1650) played in the fashioning of modern and post-modern political, religious, cultural, and scientific identities in the West from the Cold War up through the aftermath of 9/11 (c. 1945-2007). Among the topics we cover will be the persecution of witches, female leadership, Machiavellianism, the Reformation, Dutch and Italian Renaissance art history, contact with the Muslim Ottoman Empire, and the endless series of wars. Lecture attendance, completion of short reading assignments, and watching the films mandatory; on-line quizzes, two movie reviews, and short final paper.

Enrollment in discussion is required
The study of "the voice" in literary and cultural productions becomes an investigation into central notions of our culture, such as identity, representation, narrative. In philosophy and critical theories, the "voice" has predominantly served as a metaphor for the representation of a subject (think of "the voices" of the marginalized, the "voice" of an author, the "voice" of poetry), but such an understanding of voice does not consider its material aspect: sound. In this class, we will examine the productive tensions of different notions of "voice," and investigate how speaking and singing voices are staged in different media, such as literary texts, film and audio narratives. How can literature, a medium of writing, stage "voicing"?  How do "voice techniques" in movies, e.g. the voice-over, reinforce or undermine the visual narrative? How does the voice operate in performance genres (stand-up comedy or critical performance)? What is the relationship between productions of "voice" and "identity"?
Grades will be based on midterm, final, class participation and a longer writing assignment. An academic essay (12-15 pp final paper based on individual research) is one option. Students will be encouraged to experiment with alternative forms, such as a critical or creative project that uses the material voice (e.g. a sound essay). Projects will be work-shopped in class.
The course examines the dialectics of the colonizer and the Colonized in the making of  Europhone African literature.  The two linked social forces have impacted the ethics, aesthetics and politics of contemporary African literature including choice of themes, language and even publishing options. Though the course is based on individual texts and writers from the colonial to the post-colonial period, the connecting link is the struggle between  the two forces,  whose consequences underly the anxieties globalization today.
Outsider artists and writers by definition do not have significant exposure to mainstream art and writing, or operate so far outside the norms of other literature as to seem that way.  Generally they work alone and for themselves.  Many have been lifelong inmates of hospitals for the insane, or have lived in isolation.  The work we will read is sought out and collected, often after the authors’ death.  Does it embody social obsessions, reflecting society back to itself in a raw form?  Or does it show inclinations of the human mind toward the paranoid fantasies that often structure this work?  Or maybe these are the same? 

This course will ask such questions by focusing on religious vision, paranoia, and ideas of space, capital, identity, and the law in the mostly 20C American work.  Authors studied will include the amazing writer and painter Henry Darger, body artist Yayoi Kusama, paranoid racist Frances E. Dec, preacher and spaceman Howard Finster, pacifist topiary artist Pearl Fryer, songwriter Daniel Johnston, worst writer ever Amanda McKittrick Ros, Watts Towers builder Simon Rodia, and hallucinatory spiritualist Hannah Weiner, along with theoretical work by Artaud, Klein, and Laplanche, and McLuhan.
1960s Japanese Cinema

This course considers how both art cinema and popular cinema (yakuza film and "pink" film [soft porn]) explored the limits of work, sexuality and politics in 1960s and early 70s Japan. Filmmakers whose art we'll view formed live/work collectives, engaged in physical revolutionary activities, and turned their own lives into art. Topics likely to come up include women's labor; the sexualization of politics; Japanese citizens' struggle with Japanese racism, classism, misogyny, and colonial mentality; psychedelia; and communism. Discussions of film will also make room for discussions of art and performance (A. Tanaka, Yayoi Kusama). Directors and films likely to be included are: Naruse, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs; Suzuki, Tokyo Drifter; Imamura, Intentions of Murder; Wakamatsu, Sex Jack; Adachi, A.K.A. Serial Killer; Ogawa, The Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka; Teshigahara, White Morning (short); Matsumoto, Funeral Parade of Roses.

Requirements consist in posting on a messageboard, midterm, and final writing project done in stages. As ever, I hope for low-key, low-stress and collaborative social relations among us.