Comparative Literature Graduate Course Descriptions


Fall Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
Object Relations - Comparative Literature 200A

R. Terada,

The points of an object which make up the illuminated surface are laid out in ordered perspectives and open up for us the way to the object, putting a limit to the risks and fancies. (Levinas, Existence and Existents)

Most of the unpleasure we experience is perceptual unpleasure. It is the external perception of something distressing. (Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle)

The fact of being alone is that he belongs to "that within" who is not himself, or anyone else. (David S. Marriott, Haunted Life)

This course is an introduction to and close textual reading of psychoanalytic theories of object relations, and at the same time a questioning of its anxieties and implications. Object relations theory is both a relatively under-read psychoanalytic world and one that lies especially close to current clinical practice. In this school of thought "objects" refer solely to interpersonal relations that are not ideal nor empirical, their interiorization or not, and the environment created by the vicissitudes of ongoing disturbance. The readings follow a thread inaugurated by Freud and Melanie Klein, which then moved with them to mid-20th c. England through the writing and practice of D.W. Winnicott, W.R. Fairbairn, Wilfrid Bion, Paula Heimann, and others. These readings will be framed for discussion by earlier and later approaches to object relations: selections from Kant, Jean Laplanche, David Marriott, Fred Moten, and Denise Ferreira da Silva. Some of the figures and problems original to this field that will come up include: arbitrarily "good" and "bad" objects, manic defense, the productivity of destructiveness, the structure of breakdown, the false self, persecutorial fantasy, and the capacity or not to be alone. All texts will be provided.
In his 1954 “Epilegomena to Mimesis,” the German-Jewish Romanist and Comparatist, Erich Auerbach (1895-1957), wrote that he could have just as easily described the project of his soon-to-be famous book as “existential realism.” The apparent ease with which he yokes together what might appear to be quite different ways of “interpreting human events” and representing the human “situation” in the world asks us to consider the relation between Existentialism and the analysis of representation in the early to mid-twentieth century, a moment whose social and political turmoil quite resembles our own. Can this relation justifiably be reanimated today as a way of addressing what role the techniques of representation in any medium play in the shaping of our upended material-social and psychic-affective lives? In this course, we will begin with several overviews of both the Realism debates and the contest between theological and ‘atheistic’ Existentialism in the early 20th century, and then consider some of the foundational texts in both canons – Heidegger with Lukacs, for example – in dialogue with one another. We will then read a series of paired sets of texts from both well- and lesser-known corners of the Existentialist and ‘realist’ worlds – among them, Kierkegaard and Auerbach on Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac; Heidegger, Arendt, and Auerbach on Saint Augustine; Hugo Friedrich and Auerbach on Montaigne. Finally: We will examine the possibility that Existentialism had a poetics (Fredric Jameson’s Ph.D. dissertation on Sartre’s style will be our guide here) and how close reading might be understood as a philosophical and theoretical – and perhaps also political – act. Weekly discussion board posts, annotated bibliography or research paper options for final work.
As a figure of thought, the term postcolonial was first used in the early 1970s not in cultural discourses but in the field of political theory when there was a famous debate on the nature of the postcolonial state-- the type of state that arose in the former colonies after the dissolution of state systems of the colonial period. By the late 1980s, the same term re-emerged but now in several disciplinary fields across the Humanities, together with other post-marked words such as post-Marxism, post-feminism etc, in an intellectual milieu very much re-structured by postmodernism and poststructuralism. As the term was adopted in very many kinds of academic work, the meaning became more expansive but less clear. It could be a periodizing concept, with the prefix ‘post’ simply meaning ‘after’. Or, the term ‘postcolonial literature’ could be a new name for what used to be called Third World Literature. Or, ‘postcolonial theory’ could be that branch of poststructuralist theory which takes the literatures and cultures of the former colonies as its primary object of analysis. As the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah asked, already in 1991: ‘Is the Post in Postmodernism the Post in Postcolonialism?’

The earliest debates in the field occurred around these very issues and postcolonial studies started taking a richer and more complex form as a result of those debates, as well as through its encounters with new theoretical work in diverse fields such as feminism, cultural Marxism, Subaltern Studies, critical race theory, history and anthropology of the colonial formations. By now, the field has in fact become so vast that it is now difficult to say what it is in the history of Modernity that may not be within the purview of postcolonial studies.

The course begins with some of the earliest texts of writers such as Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, Robert Young, Simon During and Helen Tiffin who shaped the terms of thought of what came to be known as postcolonialism. Then we will examine some of the earliest anthologies which begin the task of canonisation in the field. This will be followed by close examination of some of the early critics of the field such as Arif Dirlik, San Juan Jr., Benita Perry, Neil Larson and Neil Lazarus. Some of my own work will be discussed in this part of the course and we shall also be asking whether or not it is appropriate to designate Edward Said a postcolonial thinker.

Those issues will be covered in the first four weeks of the course. During the later weeks, we shall examine a range of broader questions such as the relationship of postcolonialism with postmodernism on the one hand, Marxism on the other. And, we shall also examine some work that purportedly belongs in the field, such as Achille Mbembe’s On the Postcolony, but observes none of its established protocols.
This course foregrounds three appropriations of Plato’s Cave in the second half of 20th century European literature and film: Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970), Emir Kusturica’s Underground (1995), and Jose Saramago’s The Cave (2000). Mining the Cave’s epistemological and sociopolitical implications, I examine the ways in which these textual and cinematic narratives use Plato’s allegory to reflect on intertextuality, illusion and reality, power and ideology, utopia/dystopia/heterotopia, the apparatus, borders, social space, fiction and memory, and the politics of desire.

Readings include: Plato, Republic VII; Martin Heidegger, “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth”; Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space; Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays; Fredric Jameson, Allegory and Ideology; Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, Logic of Sense, Cinema II; Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology; Christian Metz, “The Imaginary Signifier”; Jean-Louis Baudry, “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus.”