Fall Term Schedule
This course provides a transnational survey of film history, examining the technical and formal aspects of the medium in its production and exhibition. As we explore the development of cinema during this period, we will address a number of aesthetic and technological issues. For example, how did the development of sound technology affect film form? How did it affect cross-cultural cinematic exchange? What is the significance of genre across various film traditions? What did the studio system contribute to Hollywood's success in the international market? How did immigrant and exiled film personnel shape the industries they joined? Weekly screenings and film journals required.
At present, parts of the world seem to be transitioning from liberal democracy to another (or other) regime(s). The duration and nature of that transition are unknown; however, historical transitions and the art describing them are available to study. We will examine possible valences offered by theories of transition that range from gender transitions to psychoanalytic of “transitional object theory,” as well as art from the last few decades attesting to the transition out of state socialism and dictatorships. Work on and discussion of aspects of visual culture outside art are more than welcome, as are topics from the present.
When Spanish and Portuguese explorers stumbled upon a sunny "America" that was new to them, they encountered balmy wonders – armadillos, cities, and gold. By contrast, when the English crashed into their own unseen continent a century later, they landed in the arctic, and found, to some extent, nothing. Icy, unpopulated, commodity- poor, visually and temporally “abstract,” the Far North - a different kind of terra incognita for the early modern imagination than the sun-drenched Indies, offered no clear stuff to be seen or exploited. With this, this seminar contends, the Arctic quietly yet powerfully challenged older narratives of world- and picture-making. Neither a continent, nor an ocean, nor a meteorological circumstance, the Arctic forced explorers, writers, and early artists from England, the Netherlands, and Germany to grapple with a different kind of “ecology.” Here, there were virtually no exotic animals, teeming forests, or enchanting civilizations to study, exploit, or exterminate - yet. In the frigid North, that is, the idea of description as a kind of accumulative endeavor of “representation” - of exoticism as synonymous with abundance - was thrown into question; the North was unsettling not because of dazzling difference, but because of monotonous sameness. Rather than an Eden, to Renaissance travelers the arctic was something like the moon.
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 on thinkers in the period of early cinema, including Germaine Dulac, 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.
The Colloquium introduces students in the Visual and Cultural Studies Program to aspects of the histories, theories, and methodologies of our field of study. We proceed in three ways: First, we read and discuss together a series of texts on and in visual and cultural studies. Second, various faculty members in the program conduct sessions in their areas of expertise based on readings that they select for us. And third, each student presents his or her own work to the colloquium. For this final part, it is important that students engage with visual and cultural studies models and provide relevant readings to other members of the colloquium.
This course examines the arguments and the rhetoric of radical thinkers who have tried to change the world rather than just interpret it since the revolutions of 1848
This course focuses on the horror genre as popular entertainment in Germany, England, and the US in the 19th and 20th centuries. Particular attention will be paid to the construction of 'others' as monsters in literature and film (Frankenstein, Vampires, Devils, Aliens, etc.). Authors/filmmakers include: Hoffmann, Poe, Shelley, Stoker, Jackson, Rice, Harris, King, Murnau, Jordan, Wise, Siegel, Kubrick, Demme, . This course is part of the Horror in Literature & Film Cluster.
This course examines developments and innovations in Russian cinema from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the present day as the Russian film industry struggled to move from a command to a market economy and adapt to new challenges. We will consider these films as works of cinematic art, as cultural/historical artifacts, tools of propaganda and nation building, aesthetic manifestations of political dissent, and (most importantly) how these ways of "thinking about film" relate to one another and reflect the cultural and ideological complexities of post-Soviet modernity. Fall 2022 subtheme: Depicting War
Female genital cutting encounters vaginal cosmetic surgeries at the intersection of poverty and wealth, race and class, barbaric practices and the pleasure principle. Bodies of poor, African, and mostly black women and children embody a fateful condition that can be redeemed by technologies of progress and humanitarian discourses. This course invites students to challenge assumptions related to agency, race, class, the representation of the body, and the fragmented transnational sisterhood. The discussion expands to bodies caught in domestic violence, rape, lynching, and skin whitening. Readings and films: Alice Walker's "Warrior's Marks" and "Possessing the Secret of Joy"; "Manya Mabika"; "Fantacola"; "Sarabah"; "Women with Open Eyes"; "Black Sisters, Speak Up"; "The Suns of Independence"; "Desert Flower"; and Maryse Cond's "Who Slashed Clanire Throat?" Conducted in English.
This course studies the singular contribution of French thinkers to the development of the social sciences in the twentieth century, in particular the theory of history, anthropology, sociology, and media theory. Topics studied include Sartre’s theory of groups in history; Levi-Strauss’s structuralism; Bourdieu’s concepts of “habitus,” “social capital,” and “the theory of practice”; Girard’s theory of scapegoating and mimetic desire; Baudrillard’s critique of capitalist consumption and mass media. Conducted in English.
This course studies the evolution—social, political, artistic, urban—of Paris during the nineteenth century, exploring how Paris became the archetypal modern city. To this end, we will examine the realist novels of Balzac and Flaubert, as well as the urban poetry of Charles Baudelaire. Haussmann’s spatial and architectural reorganization of the city during the second half of the nineteenth century will be analyzed in light of Walter Benjamin’s writings on Paris and recent work by cultural historians David Harvey and Patrice Higonnet. Paintings, illustrations, and photographs will accompany our investigations. Conducted in English.
The nineteenth-century novel is usually associated with Victorian values: happy marriage; wholesome homes; moral propriety; properly channeled emotions and ambitions. Many of the most popular novels, however, paint a very different picture: with madwomen locked in attics and asylums; monsters, real and imagined, lurking behind the façade of propriety; genteel homes harboring opium addicts; fallen women walking the streets; and sexual transgression and degeneracy popping up everywhere. Indeed, for novels centrally structured around marriage and society, madness and monstrosity appear with alarming regularity. The intertwining of these tropes suggests some of the cultural anxieties unleashed by the new body of women writers and women readers. We will begin with Frankenstein and end with Dracula, two novels from opposite ends of the century. We will also consider such classic marriage plot novels as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and some popular sensation fiction of the 1860s.
With advances in digital technology, space exploration, and molecular biology—as well as converging social, health, and environmental crises—life in the 21st-century is increasingly Science Fiction-like. Moreover, mainstream contemporary literature increasingly draws from Science Fiction for formal innovations and thematic insights. This course focuses on the Science Fiction short story to introduce students to the history and diversity of this genre, from 19th-century European literary antecedents to early 20th -century pulp fiction, the Golden Age, the New Wave, cyberpunk, Afrofuturism, and beyond. The course also features works of cultural criticism that demonstrate how the genre has addressed a variety of topics. Assignments include periodic one-page Reading Responses, an in-class presentation, and a formal paper, as well as class attendance and participation.
This course will introduce students to the theoretical backgrounds, practical challenges, and creative activity of literary translation. We will consider varied descriptions by translators of what it is they believe they are doing and what they hope to accomplish by doing it; and we will study specific translations into English from a variety of sources to investigate the strategies and choices translators make and the implication of those choices for our developing sense of what kinds of texts translations are. Finally, students will undertake a translation project of their own. By the end of this class each student should have a working knowledge of both the theory and the craft of literary translation.
At the start of the semester, we will engage with recent work in critical race studies, and investigate the ways in which historical models of racialization are (or are not) in dialogue with the practices, ideas, images, institutions, and documents that instantiate race in the Western Middle Ages. We will also investigate the appropriation of medieval images and symbols by alt-right groups as evidence of Europe’s “white” origins. The works we will read include the Helenistic Alexander Romance and related medieval writings on Indians and the “East,” chronicles of the Crusades and other European encounters with Muslims, Gerald of Wales on the Welsh and Irish, the Letter of Prester John, Mandeville’s Travels, romances of Alexander the Great, and early writings on New World “Indians” by Columbus, da Gama, Vespucci, and others. Visual evidence (including maps, exotic alphabets, ethnographic portraits, “monsters,” body types, and skin pigment) will be a crucial source of investigation. Throughout we will address the ways in which our materials reflect the “global turn” that has recently emerged in visual, historical, and literary studies.
Toni Morrison’s essay “Unspeakable Things Unspoken” and her volume Playing in the Dark revolutionized the study of American literature. By identifying the “Africanist” presence in the work of white writers, Morrison deconstructed oppositional stances in debates about canonicity and generated new interest in—and approaches to—American fiction. Using Morrison’s claims as starting points and her methodology as an example, this course will analyze the fiction of American writers with a sensitivity for the representations and figurations of blackness in their work in order to understand those works as examples and analyses of racial discourse. The course will ask and seek to answer the following questions: How is the tradition of American literature a tradition of racial representation? How is blackness figuratively represented? What roles do such “Africanisms” play in the discursive construction of whiteness, masculinity, citizenship, and an “American” identity? In addition to Morrison’s writings, readings include novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Edgar Allan Poe, and more. Assignments include a research paper and an in-class presentation on a related work of literary criticism, as well as attendance and participation in discussion.
“The lyric” has always been an elusive quarry, as is the question of what kinds of critical tools we need to understand lyric poems. The seminar will combine the intense study and “close reading” of the work of particular lyric poets with the exploring of diverse texts by critics and theorists who have written about the lyric. I’m curious about poems as made things and forms of making, about the stories that poems tell about themselves and their makers, different myths of poetic vocation and survival. I’m curious about how we listen to poems, how we feel their ”voice,” also how poems play with what’s unspoken or silent, how they evoke banished or unacknowledged forms of thought. We’ll be thinking hard about the work of metaphor (“the cardinal inward burning source of poetry,” as John Ashbery wrote), the importance of formal elements (meter and rhyme, sound and syntax), also about the fate of the lyric “I,” the nature of linguistic play, changing ideas of poetic difficulty, and the nature of poetic memory—how poetry places itself in time and history. The poets whose work we’ll be reading include William Shakespeare, John Keats, Emily Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and Elizabeth Bishop. We will also be devoting time to important critical texts by William Empson, John Hollander, R. P. Blackmur, Christopher Ricks, Helen Vendler, Paul de Man, Sharon Cameron, Anne Carson, Jonathan Culler, Allen Grossman, Susan Stewart, Victoria Jackson, and Jahan Ramanzami among others. It’s not irrelevant that a number of these critics are themselves poets.
The historical analysis of emotions – anger, fear, love, shame, joy and so on - has blossomed in the past twenty years. Arguing that emotions are at least partially defined culturally (in other words, that they are not universal biological reactions), historians have attempted to determine how past peoples understood and experienced emotions and how these understandings helped to shape historical events and processes. In this course, we’ll read a variety of materials, including theoretical treatises, case studies, and primary sources in order to answer a variety of questions, beginning with: what are emotions and how can they be studied historically? In doing so, we will explore a topic that is central to human experience, but which has received relatively little direct attention until recently.
This course will approach the tortured history of the 20th century by way of the life and writings of George Orwell. Best known for his late dystopian novels 1984 and Animal Farm, Orwell wrote many other memorable books and essays commenting on the signal events of his time. He experienced first hand (among other things): India, the British Empire, the Depression, the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, post-war austerity and affluence, and the Cold War. And he wrote about them all with unrivaled clarity and force. Students will immerse themselves in Orwell's life, work, and times and write a substantial research paper on a relevant topic of their own choice and design.
Mexico and Brazil are countries with complex cultural, racial and ethnic histories. This advanced seminar will explore the process by which these two countries grappled with their diverse populations during the modern era and how policies and attitudes impacted citizens, residents and perceptions. The course will investigate the limitations that arose from Mexico’s pursuit of a “cosmic race” and how the myth of Brazil’s “racial democracy” was created and dispelled. We will use more modern Black migrations to these countries, for example Haitian communities in the twenty-first century, to debate the durability of these constructions and the limitations that arise from cross-country comparisons. The course will also challenge students to think theoretically regarding the salience of racial binaries. In addition to thought-provoking scholarly studies, students will read translated discourses from leading Mexican and Brazilian intellectuals and will generate their own final research papers.
What ideas, values, and anxieties found expression in the United States during the twentieth century? This seminar will pursue that question by exploring fiction, social commentary, the visual arts, and music in relation to such developments as the conduct and aftermath of war; the emergence of modern consumer culture; changing gender roles; economic hardship and affluence; and technological innovation. Reading will emphasize primary sources. Students will write a research paper reflecting their particular interests.
This course runs in combination with an internship at Open Letter Books and focuses on explaining the basics of the business of literary publishing: editing, marketing, promoting, fundraising, ebooks, the future of bookselling, etc. Literature in translation is emphasized in this class, and all the topics covered tie in with the various projects interns work on for Open Letter Books.
MHS 594 (I-3) Music and Digital Culture: Digital technologies have enabled unprecedented access to musical cultures. Far-flung performances on YouTube are simply a click away. Esoteric facts are instantaneously accessible. Entire histories of music are searchable and streamable. How did we get here? And what does our current situation mean for the contemporary musician? In this seminar, we will survey the bumpy terrain of digital culture and listen widely: to professional music makers; to amateurs on social media; to explanatory and “how to” videos; to Wikipedia entries and artist websites; and to historical recordings newly brought into circulation. Through reading, class discussions, individual and in-class listening, and weekly written responses, students will learn to evaluate how digital technologies influence our everyday interactions with music, its history, and our imaginations of the future musical world.
Throughout much of Southern Africa, the word ngoma? means drum. It also refers to specific musical styles that combine drumming, dance, and song. Finally, there is often a ritual dimension to ngoma, which is used in ceremonies focused around individual and social healing. In this class, students will bring ngoma alive by learning to perform various Zimbabwean ngoma genres, with the option of specializing in either drumming or dance. Through video clips, audio recordings, photos, and articles, we will also learn to understand ngoma within a larger cultural framework.
An exploration of basic issues in social & political philosophy, including the nature and justification of government, the nature and value of rights, freedom, and democracy, justice and equality,and the morality of war and peace (not necessarily all of these).