Comparative Literature Program - Course Descriptions


Spring Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
This class will focus on urban novels by Andre Bely, Jonathan Lethem, Kobo Abe, Yashar Kemal, Raymond Queneau, Javier Marias, and Ricardo Piglia set in St. Petersburg, New York, Tokyo, Istanbul, Paris, Oxford, and Buenos Aires.   We will explore the different possibilities of urban storytelling and the potential of the modernism and postmodernism to illuminate relations among the structures of the family, society, and politics. Readings by Charles Baudelaire, Franz Hessel, Georg Simmel, Lewis Mumford, Richard Sennett, Sharon Zukin, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, and Rem Koolhaas will focus on the experiences of speed, crowds, luxury, ugliness, spectacle, and density in the modern city.  Course assignments include take-home midterm and final research paper.  

This course will provide students with an introduction to the concept of “multiculturalism” by focusing on its critics. The USA mythically conceives of itself as a nation of immigrants whose various geographical origins, ethnicities, and cultures coexist harmoniously in the proverbial melting pot of shared national identity as Americans. However, critics demonstrate how the rhetoric of American multiculturalism serves to manage the nation-state’s ethnic minority populations while upholding the white supremacist ideology and practices on which the US was founded. Furthermore, the notion of American multiculturalism obscures the settler colonial system that continues to suppress the sovereignty of Native American nations by racializing their citizens as “Indians” and misrepresenting them as ethnic American minorities rather than dual citizens of the US and their own Native nations. One example of this is the common academic practice of relegating Native American literature and cultural studies to ethnic studies, “minority discourses” within American studies, or a marginal branch of American literature within English departments.

This course will work beyond a multicultural framework to recenter the problem of political equality. Students will read Native and African-American literatures in comparative contexts to examine the establishment of social and ethnic hierarchies in the US. Whereas Africans and their descendents were racialized as Black through slavery, the one-drop rule, and Jim Crow laws designed to proliferate Black people as a source of exploitable labor, Indigenous Americans were racialized as Indians through blood quantum requirements and compulsory institutionalization in Indian boarding schools that were designed to eliminate the population of Native people over time, opening their lands up for further colonial settlement. Students will explore theories and practices of discipline and punishment as they pertain to sociopolitical processes of constructing racial difference in the US. Course readings will include slave narratives, Indian boarding school narratives, and scholarship on the prison industrial complex.
Is it true that the value of cultural studies lies in its enlarged, non-elitist and inclusive notion of culture, where all marginalities can find a place in the academic curriculum? Is cultural studies a more populist, media-wise and sexy replacement for literary studies? While it is important for cultural studies to develop an enlarged and inclusive notion of culture where alternative positions can find a place, it is even more important for it to problematize the notion of culture itself.  Cultural studies did not emerge only out of a sense that previous notions of culture have been privative and limiting -- ethnocentric, imperialistic, chauvinistic, racist and so on; it emerged also out of a sense that the very space of culture is somehow not what it used to be, that something has shifted.  Cultural studies can therefore be regarded as an attempt to rethink the problematic place of culture today, by a study of its dis-locations.  We have cultural studies because we do not know what or where culture is, even though a lot of things are carried out in its name. Through a discussion of different kinds of texts, images, and films, the course will introduce issues like ideology, ethnocentrism, media, race, ‘x-coloniality’, and gender that dis-placed our understanding of what culture is.

The term ‘globalization’ has become popular only over the past quarter century, since about 1990. By the end of the 20th century a decade later, ‘globalization’ had become one of the dominant terms for academic analyses, in the social sciences as much as in studies of culture, literature, film, media, ecology the arts and so on.

It is also true, though, that the United States has been the world’s most globalized country in its very formation, with settlers and slaves arriving in the earliest phase, followed by migrants and refugees from all corners of the world over centuries, mostly at the expense of the original indigenous population. ‘Globalization’ can then be seen not as a phenomenon of just recent origin but as something much older that begins with the beginning of Europe’s world-wide colonial expansion several centuries ago.

The course will be structured along these two emphases: (1) the historical processes that account for long-term but very unequal social, cultural and economic integration of the world across continents; and (2) the historical changes unfolding over the past few decades which are now seen as the main features of contemporary globalization. In other words, globalization is seen not as a static contemporary condition but a dynamic process involving continuous change.

Today "anti-political" sentiments are common globally: the sense that elections, legislative processes, and political candidates are inadequate, irrelevant, or even harmful to societies. In this class we'll explore the various things that these sentiments can mean in contemporary discourse, media, and literature. Anti-political stances may be part of neo-fascism and can express disdain for any aspiration to justice. They influence the rise of so-called "strong man" figures like Trump, Duterte, and Modi. They can also, separately, reflect legitimate discontents with what passes for justice and the desire for something better than just being governed. Marx was a critic of "politics." Direct action activism bypasses calling your congressman in favor of doing something ourselves. In many rural and urban areas social organization operates somewhat independently from national government; a political system is not an inevitable way of organizing community life. How should we think about aversion to politics in connection with racial, gendered, and sexual justice today, and in various parts of the world? The class will emphasize guest lectures, media, critical theory, feature films and documentaries, possibly including  Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver, Sky Hopinka's Dislocation Blues (about Standing Rock), and Wang Bing's Three Sisters (a documentary located in Yunnan). As well as a midterm and final, requirements emphasize oral and written participation and collaboration in a friendly relaxed atmosphere.

Training a critical gaze at existing social realities has been one of the oldest vocations of the literary imagination. This may not involve direct advocacy of particular forms of resistance but there is almost always a utopian moment in literary texts, a reaching out toward something beyond what is represented, something better, an ‘otherwise’. In Western literature, conscious forms of resistance become more common after the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Rise of Realism as well as Romanticism. In the colonised zones, resistance tends to be focused as much against colonialism and racism as against the ills and anachronisms prevailing within those societies.

We will read mostly poetry and fiction but also some critical writings. Much of the syllabus will be drawn from the so-called ‘Third World’ but we will also read some dissident texts from inside the Anglo-American zones. We will engage with seminal figures such as Cesaire (Martinique), Neruda (Chile) and Lu Xun (China) but it may also be interesting to read, as a single cluster, such feminist writers as Adrienne Rich (US), Assia Djebar (Algeria) and Michelle Cliff (Jamaica). In other words, World Literature as Resistance Literature.
Walter Benjamin once described the city dweller as ‘a kaleidoscope equipped with consciousness’, reflecting the many facets of the city like a broken mirror. More and more, the city exists not just as a physical, political, and economic entity that can be mapped, but also as a cluster of images, a series of discourses, and a problematic experience of space. This course will focus on Chinese cities and cinemas. Through a discussion of films and theoretical texts, this course will study the relationship between a puzzling urban space and our often bizarre affective responses to such a space. The film makers discussed will include Wong Kar-wai, Jia Zhangke, Tsai Mingliang, Lou He, Zhang Yuan, and others.