"'Speke, sweete bryd, I noot nat where thou art!' This Nicholas anon leet fle a fart...” From "The Miller's Tale," Chaucer. Here two men speak to each other literally through their asses, one of them thinking that he's speaking to a woman, the other one thinking that he's got the "upper hand." This course examines discursive relationships in medieval European literature with an emphasis on the carnal. But what is the carnal? Can it have a spiritual dimension? How does the body "speak" and what about; what do fabliaux, romances, allegories, homilies, theological treatises, passion plays and medical texts tell us about medieval society and this fragile flesh? We will read three tales by Chaucer (Miller's, Wife’s, Pardoner's), but also Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Lanval, Degarre, Gowther, some Old French fabliaux, Saints’ Lives, and medical texts.
The course approaches The Divine Comedy both as a poetic masterpiece and as an encyclopedia of medieval culture. Through a close textual analysis of selected cantos from Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, students learn how to approach Dante's poetry as a vehicle for thought, an instrument of self-discovery, and a way to understand and affect the historical reality. They also gain a perspective on the Biblical, Christian, and Classical traditions as they intersect with the multiple levels of Dante's concern ranging from literature to history, from politics to government, from philosophy to theology. A visual component including illustrations of the Comedy and multiple art works pertinent to the narrative complement the course. Class format includes lectures and discussion. Intensive class participation is encouraged.
In the eighteenth century the Novel was a new genre, its conventions far from stabilized. As authors experimented with new modes of portraying consciousness and the external world, and explored new ideas about plot, character, and narrative voice, they questioned what the novel could do: how does the novel, as opposed to other genres, approach the relationship between reality and representation? Does it imply a new kind of reading experience? a new kind of reader? Does it owe its existence to certain historical, social, or cultural circumstances? Authors include Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and Jane Austen.
"Romanticism" (1780-1830) names both the thrills of literature in extremis and a new interest in ordinary people. In an era of radical change, writers of astounding talent probed the extremes of imagination and sought new ways of expressing pleasure and pain, fear and grief, perversion and depravation. Their drive to pursue experience to its limits brought them to the dangerous edge where dreams meet reality in "visions.” In other cases they experimented with new ways of capturing everyday life with unprecedented depth and intensity. We shall sample the scope of British romantic writing, such as Blake's apocalyptic fusions of text and designs, Wordsworth's groundbreaking autobiography The Prelude, Coleridge's aborted opium dream "Kubla Khan," Mary Shelley's philosophical gothic novel Frankenstein, and Byron's outrageous comic-erotic satire Don Juan. Our strategy will be governed by four fundamental concepts: sound, sight, metaphor, narrative.
We will investigate the peculiar quality of romanticism and the particular achievement of romantic writers in the United States during the period before the Civil War. Three capacious topics will organize discussions: nature and art, society and history, and individuals and communities. We will read works by Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, Melville, Poe, Douglass, Hawthorne, Jacobs, Stowe, Whitman, and Dickinson. Of particular interest throughout the term will be the hopes that American romantic artists invested in literature and the imagination as crucial parts of the nation's life and as indispensable resources for America's people.
How does an American become an American? How do new immigrants adjust to life in the United States while still maintaining ties to their countries of origin? In this class, we will study contemporary novels, short stories, and autobiographies that describe experiences of immigration and assimilation into American life. What is the relationship between the immigrant and his or her home country and culture? What does it mean to become an American? We will study how immigration affects changes in language, culture, values, and social relationships, and also consider how certain narrative conventions and innovations are employed to describe experiences of Americanization and alienation from the family homeland. Our exploration of these issues begins with a reading of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, a canonical narrative of self-development that offers an important point of contrast to texts written by later Americans.
Autobiography is the foundational genre in the tradition of African-American literature. It is also the genre that both illustrates and represents the process of the construction of identity. Autobiography is not only writing about a life authored by oneself, but also the life of the self made manifest in the form of writing. This course surveys the tradition of autobiographical writings by African Americans, from slave narratives to recent bestsellers, in order to promote an understanding of autobiography as a narrative form shaped by its historical context and the purposes of the author. In addition, the course provides students with insights into various topics in African-American culture and history. Readings include texts by Maya Angelou, Frederick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, Zora Neale Hurston, Harriet Jacobs, Audre Lorde, Barack Obama, Booker T. Washington, Richard Wright, Malcolm X, and more.
When the now-classic novels of writers like Conrad, Woolf, Joyce, and Lawrence were published in the first part of the twentieth century, readers were shocked by both their style and content. In the face of revolutionary upheavals in social and political life and in the understanding of human psychology and personal relationships, these writers proclaimed the end of fiction as we know it. In this course we will examine what made this work appear so shocking. We will look at the way modernist fiction explores the limits and possibilities of language and representation, and we will consider how this literature changed in the second half of the century with the construction of postmodern and postcolonial identities. A recurring focus will be on the relationship between landscape and inner consciousness, cultural and psychic displacement, and the changing understanding of what constitutes “Britishness” in this turbulent century.
Looking back over the twentieth century, this course will concentrate on the innovative, often wildly experimental writing produced in the period we still call "modernist." We will concentrate on five writers, two of them American (T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound), two of them Irish (W.B. Yeats and James Joyce), and one of English (Virginia Woolf). We will read some of the most beautiful and ambitious works of the century (Eliot's The Waste Land, Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway), but the centerpiece of the course will inevitably be our extended reading of Joyce's novel Ulysses—one of the most difficult, most rewarding books in our language. And while we will consider the individual achievements of all the writers, we will also consider their work in the context of the avant-garde aesthetic and social movements in which these writers participated.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky once described Czeslaw Milosz as "an essential American poet—perhaps even the most important living American poet.” When Milosz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, he had already been living in California for twenty years. Exiled from their native Poland, several major poets of the twentieth century, such as Milosz, Zbigniew Herbert, and most recently Adam Zagajewski have spent long periods of time and written poetry in the United States and thereby have become an essential part of American poetry. This class will consider two aspects of this phenomenon: the ways in which contemporary American poets have read Polish poets and, conversely, the way the new generation of Polish poets have read American poetry (most notably New York School poets Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery. (All readings will be in English or English translation.)
This course, “When Cultures Make Contact,” examines two stellar writers in the ranks of both science and mainstream fiction. How they complement each other in representing cultural friction and communication (and how much science fiction presents allegories of political and cultural struggles among different peoples) will be our focus. Both Clarke and Le Guin explore the perilous issues of voyage into foreign terrain: Clarke's novels 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequel 2010 (an apt year for study), Rendezvous with Rama, and Childhood's End will be read (and film versions analyzed) in conjunction with Le Guin's novels The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Word for World Is Forest, among other texts by each author. A major theoretical approach will examine the problematics of “personhood"—the assumptions made by the characters about the cultural and moral consciousness of the people they encounter, which directs their treatment of them.
What can fiction tell us about the action of imagination? Who imagines what in the formative novels and stories of the twentieth century? What can we learn from imaginative literature about the idiosyncratic workings of the mind, the expressive potential of language, the relevance of the unreal? These are some of the questions we’ll ask in this exploration of modern and contemporary international fiction. As we read fiction written in English and in translation, we’ll pay close attention to issues of cultural transmission and influence. Authors include Beckett, Kafka, Borges, Woolf, Faulkner, Dinesen, Garcia Marquez, Calvino, and Sebald.
In recent years, we have seen a virtual explosion of writing by women, with women’s novels constituting some of the most widely read and critically admired work being produced today. The global reach of both its authors and audiences has made contemporary women’s writing a truly international phenomenon. We will examine what makes this work especially innovative: its experimentation with new voices and narrative forms and its blurring of genre boundaries. We will look at the dialogue it has established with the past, where it often finds its inspiration, self-consciously appropriating earlier literary texts or rewriting history. We will also consider what special challenges this work poses for its readers. Looking at a range of recent novels by women whose homelands include the U.S., the UK, Africa, India, and the Caribbean, this course, then, will explore the diverse shapes of contemporary women's imagination and attempt to account for the compelling interest of this new body of fiction.
This four-credit intersession course is conducted in London, UK, from December 29, 2009, through January 9, 2010. We will see, discuss, and write on 16 to 18 plays. The itinerary this year will include world premieres of plays by Alan Bennett, John Logan, Lee Hall, and David Hare; Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, John Guarre’s Six Degrees of Separation, Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn’s Every Good Boy Deserves a Favour, several musicals, and splendid extravaganzas from the National Theatre such as War Horse and Nation, to name a few. The fee for the course is $2550. Instructor’s permission is required.
An introduction to the history, technology, and cultural significance of motion pictures of the "pre-sound" era, with screenings of 35mm prints accompanied by live music in the Dryden Theatre. Special attention will be paid to the major pioneers, Dickson, Porter, Lumière, Méliès, and Griffith, but the course will include a variety of internationally produced films selected from the world-famous archival film collection of the George Eastman House. Discussion sessions will cover the origins and development of the motion picture industry and its leading genres up to the general introduction of movies with pre-recorded music, sound and dialog, beginning in 1927. Broad issues relating to the transformation of American and world popular entertainment forms and traditions, in relation to the established performing arts of the period, will also be covered. Relevant connections to preserving the world's film heritage will be highlighted and the film restoration facilities of the Motion Picture Department will be visited in the course of the semester. Students will be expected to take a mid-term exam and write one paper. Enrollment limited to 20.
We will screen and study approximately 12 gangster and crime films from the rich genre of such movies. We will also read some related fiction and some critical studies of the form. We will look at films spanning the history of cinema from Little Caesar to The Godfather, examining the devices of the form, those elements that seem to define it, the relation of the subject to the culture, the meaning of the film, and so forth. The course will include lectures and discussion. Applicable English Clusters: Modern and Contemporary Literature; Media, Culture, and Communication.
This course examines the philosophical, aesthetic, and social issues that are central to classical film theory. It traces the historical development of film theory from 1900 to the 1950s. We will begin with thinkers in the period of early cinema, including Germaine Dulac and Jean and Marie Epstein, and then we will examine the development of film theory in the work of later theorists, such as Jean Mitry, Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, Andre Bazin, and Christian Metz. Weekly screenings of historically contemporary films will allow us to examine the ongoing dialogue between the evolving medium and the developing theoretical discussion.
This course combines a survey of major historical movements and styles in documentary film with an examination of more recent trends and challenges to the tradition. So, in addition to studying the expository political documentary, ethnographic film, and the direct cinema and cinéma vérité movements, we will explore forms including reality TV, mock documentary, and autobiographical film. Screening period: T, 1940 2055.
This course contests its title. There is language and literature/film that records how language has failed as a means of (human) species adaptation toward conflict resolution in domestic and international contexts. This course, following the observations of Virginia Woolf in Three Guineas (1939), tries to document the language/literary connections between domestic violence and war making. In domestic situations, violence is protected by traditions of privacy and male governance of households; in public situations, there has been an inertia throughout recorded history in enacting the ideal announced in Isaiah: “[nations] shall not learn war any more.” In our own society, genres of popular and elite culture teach the necessity and glory of war through literature, film, toys, sports, and ideals of heroic behavior. Our normal ways of speaking still presuppose violence and war as a “last resort” in solving domestic and international antagonisms.
This is a workshop for students who have experience writing fiction on their own and are ready to concentrate
on more ambitious projects. We'll read short stories by contemporary writers
along with fiction by the students in the workshop, and we'll discuss ways
writers can sharpen the conversation between text and reader. We'll also
consider editing and reviewing techniques. Students will be expected to write
and revise at least three original stories or three sections of a longer work
of fiction. Permission of instructor required.
An introduction to the three-act film structure. Students will read and view numerous screenplays and films, and develop their own film treatment into a full-length script.
Using medieval brain diagrams designed to map the avenues of cognition, this research seminar will study ways in which three English authors of the fourteenth century—Langland, Gower, and Chaucer—understand cognition and the relativities of choice. Brain theory, in conjunction with concepts of intuition, is crucial to the beginnings of empirical science which not only flourishes at Oxford at this time but affects literary theory as well: the mind and its choices become the center of attention in romance and dream vision literature, studies in reading, development beyond Aristotle’s concepts of fantasy, imagination, memory, and motive, particularly through the ontological insights of neo-platonists like Boethius, Anselm, and Bonaventure. Perplexing issues of language (theories of metaphor, tropology, plot construction, and mental therapy) inform every phase of the writings of the three writers whose writings will constitute our workshop.
This course reads examples of the Early English Novel while interrogating what that definition entails. Literary history tells us that the novel "rose," along with domesticity, bourgeois morality, and widespread literacy. Meanwhile, drama allegedly "declined," and with it the values of social identity, public honor, and performativity. We will read such accounts alongside newer ones, while of course adding our own to the mix: how does the novel, as opposed to other genres, approach reality and representation? It is often called a "print-genre" par excellence; how much of its worldview does the novel owe to print and its tendencies toward privacy, descriptive detail, and psychological immersion? How "historically determined" is it as a form? Syllabus includes works by Behn, Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, Austen; and by Watt, Hunter, McKeon, Bender, Bakhtin, Gallagher, and others.
This year the Romantics seminar will focus on the work of poet, painter, printer, and prophet William Blake (1757-1827), whose remarkable literary and artistic experiments, in an era of astounding change and stress, attempted to capture the most intense and significant range of human thought, emotion, and experience at their very origins. We shall also study Blake's radically oppositional aesthetic theories and the unanticipated "discovery" of Blake by a talented later generation who made him their prototype of artistic genius and the life of imagination.
The Great American Novel is as mythic as the ideological destiny of the United States: to be the City upon a hill, a shining beacon of liberty and justice. Novelists throughout American history have explored our country's foundations, using narrative as a way to critique and champion certain national values. In this course we will read a wide range of novels from the nineteenth century to our contemporary moment in order to interrogate our national mythologies and understand how American identity has been conceived according to specific distinctions of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Students will focus in particular on the construction of a national homespace, the relationship between citizenship and exile, conflicts between the individual and social institutions as well as the nature of racialized identity.
Aesthetics, in the philosophical tradition, has included not only formal analyses of beauty and the nature and function of art but also essentially ethical interrogations of freedom, judgment, and otherness. In this seminar we will read central texts in the Western tradition and more recent works that take aesthetics as their standpoint in considering ethical questions. A principal objective of the course is to undertake a reevaluation of the received ideas associated with the nature and operation of the sublime in literature and art. Themes in the course will include the sublime, the beautiful, and the picturesque, taste, judgment, law, and the other. To this end we will consider work by Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Adorno, Benjamin, Derrida, Kristeva, Levinas, Agamben, and Badiou, among others.
The course pays attention to orality as it appears in the bible and in some classical sources (with interest in Plato's suspicion of the power of oral poetry) and in European medieval traditions. Also of interest are the roles of language and literature in the lives of non-literate people as contrasted with their roles in the lives of the literate. The focus of orality-and-literacy in modern periods is on how literature and oral speech genres are mutually dependent, how the postmodern conception of writing includes speech and other symbolic activity. Attention is given to the roles of language and literature in African American contexts and to comparable roles in European American contexts. The course emphasizes political gender values, the complementarity of oral and literate uses of language in literature, daily speech, electronic media, and non-literary contexts. Attention is given to contrasting scholarly approaches of female and male scholars. Writing: weekly commentaries on the reading; final project.