Comparative Literature Graduate Course Descriptions


Fall Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
Debating World Literature
The title of this course might have been “Is there a world literature? If so, what is it?” Some would claim that this is the field that Goethe desired, Marx predicted, Auerbach conceived, and just the right way to do comparative literature in this age of globalisation. A further claim would be that there once was a time when comparative literature was a story of Europe while excluding its Others; that comparative literature has now expired and, rising out of its own ashes, it is re-born as World Literature that seeks to cut Europe down to size while including great many of its Others. Multicultural on the world scale, as it were. A related, more modest
claim would be: This is how we now do what was once called ‘Third World Literature’.

We will study the genealogy of these claims. Increasingly, though, the field has come to be constituted not so much by these claims but by debates interrogating them. What is the status of translation versus the original text in this field? Does the teaching of world literature amount to much more than doing globalisation’s work for it in the literary field? In what language would the archive of this world literature be assembled and taught? Presumably in English. What are the critical and theoretical apparatuses to which these texts, culled from all over the world, would be submitted for scrutiny?  Presumably Euro-American. Is world literature then not just an “Anglo-Globalism”, as Jonathan Arac once asked?

Starting with the founding texts of Said, Jameson, Moretti, Spivak and others, these debates have produced a distinguished body of critical thought. The course will engage with the complexity of that thought. 
The eighteenth-century Neapolitan scholar Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) is best known for his Principles of [the] New Science…Concerning the Common Nature of the Nations (1725 /1744), in which he develops an anti-progressivist theory of history based on the permanent tug-of-war between human civilization and its barbarisms that he claims orders human history. It is for this reason – and alongside his oft-stated antipathy to Descartes – that Vico can be understood as the ‘father’ of a kind of anti-Enlightenment cultural anthropology. In this context, it is not surprising that his work became the object of fascination for an entire generation (or two) of some of the most famous thinkers of the early to mid-twentieth century, including Croce, Gramsci, and Lukacs, Horkheimer and Adorno, Collingwood and Joyce, Arendt, Bultmann, Löwith, Auerbach, and Said, as they grappled with the consequences of humanity’s expression of its darker sides in their own times. In this course, we will study several of Vico’s often cited, but seldom read texts, including the New Science, On Humanistic Education (1699–1707), On the Study Methods of our Time (1709), and The Autobiography of Giambattista Vico (1725-31) with and against readings of his corpus by some of these thinkers. Among the questions we will ask will be, on the one hand, what were the philosophical and textual origins of Vico's system and when and why has it so often dropped out of intellectual history's sight, and on the other, what about Vico’s philosophy of history so fascinated these theorists that they turned to it again and again (often in conversation with one another)? Finally: Why might we in turn want to re-center his work as we try and understand the contours of the apparently unavoidable (and anthropogenic) flaws of our own politically, ecologically, and socially damaged world? The Baroque Vico found the origins of his theory of history in Providence, or God’s grim plan for the world; returning to him in our own post-secular age, even if it means reconceptualizing 'Providence’, might make sense as a way of rethinking the place of the human in history. Additional readings of selected texts by surrounding thinkers with whom Vico’s work has been associated (Descartes, Herder, Michelet, Hegel, and Marx) will help set the stage.
This course explores the ecological imaginary from a double perspective: on the one hand, we will look at ecology proper and the way sites of ecological devastation are envisioned in critical discourses as well as literary texts (and to a lesser extent, film and art).  On the other hand, we will revisit Bateson’s Steps toward an Ecology of Mind to ask how ecological hotspots (oil, water, air and related issues of toxicity, including nuclear and chemical contamination) impact mind and psyche, emotion and affect, transgenerational memory and visions of the future.  Tracing the entanglement between ecology proper and a concomitant “ecology of mind,” the course focuses on literary and artistic figurations of today’s most far-reaching ecological challenges. I have selected theories that frame current ecological debates in order to provide conceptual tools to analyze the impact of ecological violence on mind, affect, and psychic life as well as the mobilization of resistance, resilience and creativity.  

The following text basis is subject to minor revisions (mainly cutting a few texts and possibly substituting one of two).


Selections from:
Gregory Bateson, Steps Toward an Ecology of Mind (“Form, Substance, and Difference”; “Style, Grace, and Information in Primitive Art”)
Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies
Matthias Fritsch, Philippe Lynes, and David Wood, eds., Eco-Deconstruction: Derrida and Environmental Philosophy (Chapters: Introduction, David Wood, Timothy Clark, Karen Barad, Cary Wolfe, Kelly           Oliver)
Elizabeth Povinelli, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism, (Chapter 1 “The three Figures of Geontology;” Chapter 3 “The Fossils and the Bones”
Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, The Ends of the World, (Chapter 7 “Humans and Terrans in the Gaia War;” “Conclusion: World on the Brink.)
Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Introduction and Chapter 8: “The Camille Stories”)
Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Chapter on Munif’s Cities of Salt)
Vandana Shiva, Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit (selections)


Abdelrahman Munif, Cities of Salt
Linda Hogan, Mean Spirit
David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, (creative nonfiction)
Indra Sinha, Animal’s People
Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream
Film: Estamira
Emmi Itäranta, Memory of Water
Frank Schätzing, The Swarm
Nuclear Power:
Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl
Film: Into Eternity
Experimental Ecological Visions:
Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods
Samuel Beckett, Happy Days
Film melodrama depicts emotions that seem at once extravagant and scripted, leading to the assumption that the films' deployment of emotion is cathartic and escapist, and ideologically so. The reception of film melodrama accepts a normative notion of social emotion in order to argue that melodrama presents moralized dichotomies and visual extravagance to channel disquiet and license forbidden desires. Almost all of the criticism theorizing melodrama connects its excitement to its (that is, criticism's) historical, globalized, and technological vision of modernity. These accounts of melodrama position it at the intersection of morality and sensation. It either symptomatically deflects the anxiety of modernity or asks a critical question about it. Melodrama appears differently, however, when theses of modernity are more in doubt. Conceiving the "hyperbolic" emotions and "restricted" possibilities of melodrama scripts requites normative models of self, concepts, and possibility, and suggests that the ordinary life that social actors are supposed to be leading ("drama" that is not melo-) is also an idealization. Often, melodrama’s world of people who can’t seem to produce the “right” emotions erodes the assumption of working social order in its various locations. Its effect is to project an unconvincing image of a missing center even more irreal than melodrama's visual surface. For the reason that an irreal image of ordinary life is projected beside melodrama,  film melodrama racially and otherwise focuses only those parts of society from where such an image can be projected during the high growth era (about 1945-1965). Further, most of the films of melodrama's peak lack a vocabulary for dissent. Their visual and other perplexities resist separation from filmic and directorial consciousness that can be imagined to be arranging them from a position of reason. Melodrama's immanence and lostness--its having already "lost it," let go--appears as a possible alternative source of its enormous pleasure. Because melodrama's immanence has been difficult to register from within film studies that look for possibilities of political reform, its appearance of having given up also offers leverage on aspirational paradigms of the political in the post-melodramatic period. Melodrama is not merely a critical commentary on social roles. What is it? We’ll read the film and narrative literature on melodrama while watching several films from the period of classic melodrama and some that comment on it or stand necessarily elsewhere: for instance, Douglas Sirk, All That Heaven Allows (1954), Todd Haynes, Far from Heaven (2002); Alberto Gout, Aventurera (1950); Ki-Young Kim, The Housemaid (1960); Ritwik Ghatak, The Cloud-capped Star (1960); Kent Mackenzie, The Exiles (1961); Vincent Minnelli, Two Weeks in Another Town (1962); Barbara Loden, Wanda (1970).
The concept of the infinite has gotten a lot of play in recent French philosophy: Gilles Deleuze expounds on calculus in his book on Leibniz; it is central to Alain Badiou and Quentin Meillassoux, who envision the demand of contemporary philosophy as challenging fixations on finitude. And Jean-Luc Nancy, in a chapter called “Infinite Finitude,” makes the startling claim: “Everything at stake at the end of philosophy comes together … in the need of having to open the thought of finitude.”
This course will explore what is at stake in embracing the concept of infinity (and its necessary counterpart, we will see, the infinitesimal).
We will begin with a story about how the infinite came to be a part of modernity itself, looking at the following stages. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake, in large measure for his heretical view that the universe is infinite and contains an infinite number of worlds (On the Infinite, the Universe and the Worlds). Leibniz’ and Newton’s simultaneous (independent?) discovery of calculus introduced the most powerful mathematical tool since Euclid’s geometry by finding a way to work with the infinite and “infinitesimals.” Fontenelle encouraged a “marquise” to overcome her terror at the thought of an infinite “plurality of worlds” in his 1686 dialogue of that name. By the early 19th century (in part thanks to 18th-century developments in theology and religious poetry), the infinite is no longer terrifying but comes to be embraced by Romanticism and Idealism. (We’ll look at Kant’s ambivalence toward the infinite in the Critique of Pure Reason and his use of it in his theory of the sublime. Also samples of Romantics’ writings.) Indeed, Hegel famously has a long section of his Science of Logic (which we will read with other selections) that discusses calculus and he claims: “The essence of philosophy [is located]…in the task of answering the question: How does the infinite go forth out of itself and come to finitude?” By the end of the century, Georg Cantor, the inventor of set theory, developed a conception of levels of infinities which has been crucial for Badiou. (We’ll supplement these primary historical readings with Alexandre Koyré’s From a Closed World to an Infinite Universe and selections from Hans Blumenberg’s The Legitimacy of the Modern Age.)
This historical discussion of how the infinite, so to speak, comes to be “at home in the world” will form the foundation for a discussion of the French thinkers mentioned above.
For fun background reading, I’d suggest David Foster Wallace’s, Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity.