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Graduate Courses

Fall 2014


COML 501.401

R 3-6 de la Campa
Cross listed with CLST 511, GRMN 532, SPAN 682

History of Literary Theory

Over the last three decades, the fields of literary and cultural studies have been reconfigured by a variety of theoretical and methodological developments. Bracing-and-often confrontational-dialogues between theoretical and political positions as varied as Deconstruction. New Historicism, Cultural Materialism, Feminism, Queer Theory, Minority Discourse Theory, Colonial and Postcolonial Studies and Cultural Studies have, in particular, altered disciplinary agendas and intellectual priorities for students embarking on the /professional/ study of literature. In this course, we will study key texts, statements and debates that define these issues, and will work towards a broad knowledge of the complex rewriting of the project of literary studies in process today. The readiing list will keep in mind the Examination List in Comparative Literature-we will not work towards complete coverage but will ask how crucial contemporary theorists engage with the longer history and institutional practices of literary criticism. There will be no examinations. Students will make one class presentation, which will then be reworked into a paper (1200-1500 words) to be submitted one week after the presentation. A second paper will be an annotated bibliography on a theoretical issue or issues that a student wishes to explore further. The bibliography will be developed in consultation with the instructor; it will typically include three or four books and six to eight articles or their equivalent. The annotated bibliography will be prefaced by a five or six page introduction; the whole will add up to between 5000 and 6000 words of prose. Students will prepare "position notes" each week, which will either be posted on a weblog or circulated in class.

COML 504.401

Undergrads Need permission
R 12-3 English

Cross listed with ENGL 505

Empirical Method

The use of empirical methods – involving collection and analysis of data – is not new in literary studies, but it has rarely attracted any serious attention in a discipline dominated by qualitative forms of historical and hermeneutical criticism. Lately, however, scholars exploring the potential of digital tools for literary analysis as well as those proposing new articulations of literary studies with sociology have reopened the question of empirical method. In this class, we will look at some emergent quantitative approaches together with the theoretical and political debates they have occasioned. We will consider the core concept of "data" and the ontology of datasets as these pertain to literature; the kinds of research project that can or cannot be assisted by surveys, statistics, and measurements; and the social and institutional stakes of embracing a computational paradigm in the humanities. Readings are likely to include work by Tony Bennett, Pierre Bourdieu, John Frow, Hans Robert Jauss, Lisa Gittelman, David Golumbia, Wendy Griswold, Meredith Martin, Mark McGurl, Franco Moretti, Janice Radway, Ted Underwood, and others. A syllabus will be posted in mid-summer. Prospective students are welcome in the meantime to send suggestions for particular authors, readings, or units to Jim English.

This is an introductory-level graduate class, open to advanced undergraduate majors by permission. No particular background knowledge is expected and no full-length research paper will be assigned. Work for the class will consist in a number of short papers and projects, handouts, and oral presentations. Some of our class meetings will be devoted to hands-on workshops in Van Pelt library.

COML 505.401

W 2-5 Allen
Cross listed with COML 535, NELC 434

Arabic Literature and Literary Theory

This course takes a number of different areas of Literary Theory and, on the basis of research completed and in progress in both Arabic and Western languages, applies some of the ideas to texts from the Arabic literary tradition. Among these areas are: Evaluation and Interpretation, Structuralism, Metrics, Genre Theory, Narratology, and Orality.

COML 506.640

Topics in 20th C. Literature
T 5-7 Met

Cross listed with CINE 500

MLA Seminar: Horror Cinema

The purpose of this course is to provide an overview of classic and obscure (or lesser-known) cult horror films through the history of the genre and from an international perspective (USA, UK, Continental Europe, Asia). In an effort to better grasp the extent to which horror cinema makes us confront our worst fears and our most secret desires alike, we will look at some of the genre's main iconic figures (the monster/freak, the witch, the doppelgänger, the vampire, the ghost, the zombie, etc.) and key thematics (ideology, ethics, gender, sexuality, violence, spectatorship) through a variety of critical lenses (psychoanalysis, socio-historical and cultural context, aesthetics, politics).

COML 522.401

Undergrads Need Permission
M 9-12 Wallace

Cross listed with ENGL 525, GSWS 524

Chaucer: Poetics and Performance

Chaucer is the most versatile and innovative of English writers. Not quick to call himself a poet, a title passed down from ancient Rome and newly appropriated by Italian writers, he settles for the term normal">maker, suggestive of artisanal practice as much as artistic accomplishment. Yet it is precisely through lack of a poetic tradition that Chaucer is moved to experiment, in form and diction, in rhetorical strategies, with unimaginable freedom; such an opportunity presents itself perhaps just once in the history of any vernacular. In escaping the cultural hegemony of Latin and French, Chaucer's English proves plastic and unencumbered. Confluences of differing tongues-- Anglo-Saxon and Norse; Anglo-Norman and Italian, as well as French and Latin—are tapped as Chaucer writes across a vast range of literary genres: dream visions, animal fables, knightly adventures, scientific measurement normal"> (applied to the heavens, and to the acoustic properties of a fart), saints' lives, orientalist fantasies, representations of Islam and of Judaism, classical legends, fables of damnation, and so on. In performing Chaucer's verse, Chaucer's fictional creations are especially concerned to manipulate and persuade you, as targeted audience: especially talented performers here include a professional wife (looking for a sixth husband), an alchemist, and a life insurance salesman of uncertain gender. And there is no omniscient narrator in Chaucer; the Chaucerian I is fallible, wants you to believe that he doesn't know much, and prefers that moral judgments be made by you, not by himself.

Poets down the centuries have derived great freedom and inspiration from Chaucer, beginning with his pupil Thomas Hoccleve, who gives us the first nervous breakdown in English verse. Shakespeare, working from Thynne's 1532 edition, was an avid reader of Chaucer and a brilliant exponent of Chaucer's dramatic properties. More recent admirers and imitators include Sylvia Plath, Mike Poulton (for the Royal Shakespeare Company), Marilyn Nelson, and Caroline Bergvall. Marilyn Nelson, having studied Chaucer at Penn more than thirty year ago, was recently poet laureate of Connecticut; her normal">Cachoeira Tales, written in neo-Chaucerian metre, sees a diverse group of African-Americans go on pilgrimage. Caroline Bergvall, a language poet and performance artist, feels especial empathy with Chaucer as a French-Norwegian writing in English. Her Meddle English, and her brilliant conception of modern English as a midden or accumulated pile of lexis with deep medieval layerings, prove her to be a brilliant interpreter of Chaucer; hopefully, she will visit our class. New excitement to come, and certain to feature in our class, is Patricia Agbabi's "remixing" of Chaucer (published April 2014).

This class begins a month or so after the New Chaucer Society meets in Iceland, so we will be able to review the latest scholarly developments and discoveries, fads and fantasies, as presented by some 700 Chaucerians and camp followers. Emphasis, for us, will be laid on normal">performing Chaucer, that is, on reading the verse aloud, with confidence, and with a sure sense that every act of reading is an act of interpretation. It is in performing Chaucer for and with new generations of students, rather than having them wrestle with the dumb page, that we will help extend this poetry's life.

COML 523.401

T 3-5 Weissberg
Undergrads Need Permission
All readings and lectures in English

Cross listed with GRMN 526

The Trouble with Freud

For professionals in the field of mental care, Freud's work is often regarded as outmoded, if not problematic. Psychologists view his work as non-scientific, dependent on theses that cannot be confirmed by experiments. In the realm of literary and cultural theory, however, Freud's work seems to have relevance still, and is cited often. How do we understand the gap between a medical/scientific reading of Freud's work and a humanist one? Where do we locate Freud's relevance today? The graduate course will concentrate on Freud's descriptions of psychoanalytic theory and practice, as well as his writings on literature and culture.

COML 531.401

R 2-5 Brownlee
Cross listed with ITAL 531



Dante's Works

A close consideration of Dante's earlier works (the Vita Nuova, the Convivio and the De vulgari eloquentia), which leads to a reading of the Commedia, concentrating on the Paradiso. We will focus on a series of interrelated problems: authority, representation, history, politics, and language. Particular attention will be given to Dante's use of Classical and Christian model texts: Ovid's Metamorphoses, Virgil's Aeneid, and the Bible. Dante's rewritings of model authors will also be studied in the context of the medieval Italian and Provençal love lyric. The course will be taught in English and cross-listed in Comparative Literature.

COML 549.401

M 2-4 DeJean
Cross listed with FREN 550

Origins of Modern Prose Fiction

We will consider the development of several kinds of prose fiction in the 17th and 18th centuries: the epistolary novel, the historical novel, the psychological novel, and the memoir novel in particular.

We will read both very early examples of each form – in the case of the epistolary novel, the so-called first epistolary novel, the Lettres portugaises. We'll then consider how the sub-genre developed in the 18th century – for the epistolary novel there are so many options that it will be hard to choose, but we will probably read two that fall into an obvious line after the Lettres portugaises: the Lettres persanes and the Lettres d'une Péruvienne.

Course will be taught in Engilsh; readings will be in French.

COML 550.401

W 2-5 Platt
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with RUSS 549



Stalinist Culture in Global Context *cancelled*

Description TBA.

COML 559.401

W 3:30-5:30 Spoerhase
Undergrads Need Permission
All readings and lectures in English
Cross listed with GRMN 560

Adorno & Literary Theory *cancelled*

Theodore W. Adorno consistently developed his cultural and social theory in close engagement with art works. During the seminar, therefore, we will be reading both the theoretical reflections of Adorno on art (especially literature) as well as his interpretations of literary texts. We will be taking a closer look at (a) his reflections associated with literary form, (b) his fundamental reflections on the relationship between literature and society, and (c) his specific interpretations of German literature--including his famous interpretations of Goethe, Hoelderlin, Eichendorff, and Hebbel.

COML 570.401

W 6-9 Kazanjian
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with ENGL 573

Freedom: Afro-Diasporic:
Improvisations with the Enlightenment

This course will consider various interruptions of and improvisations with Enlightenment thought about freedom staged by the African diaspora in the Americas through the early nineteenth century. We will focus almost exclusively on primary texts and emphasize Anglophone literature. However, rather than aim for historical or geographical coverage we will instead attend to the philosophical and political density of freedom. Our central questions will be: how do these texts perform freedom's future?

COML 590.401

R 3-6 Eng
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with ENGL 590

Recent Issues in Critical Theory:
Trauma and Repair

Trauma has become the privileged vocabulary for claims of injury in modern times. How does trauma operate in legal and psychoanalytic theories of harm and repair? How do we think an ethics of repair after genocide and nuclear holocaust? Indeed, how does such an ethics allow us to reconsider the universalizing aspirations of the human and human rights? Our seminar will explore problems of trauma and repair in law, political theory, and psychoanalysis as well as in a number of literary texts and films. Throughout the semester, we will pay attention to the relationship between human rights and decolonization movements in the postwar and Cold War periods and, in particular, to their collective impact on the evolution of trauma studies and discourses of reparation.

COML 592.401

T 12-3 Corrigan
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with CINE 592, ENGL 592

Documentary Cinema

Over the last twenty years, no film practice has been more dynamic and innovative than documentary cinema, a trend that will be the main focus of the course. We will begin with a broader survey of the history of documentaries since the films of John Grierson and Robert Flaherty in the 1920s and through the evolution of modern documentaries such ascinema vérité and meta-documentaries. As part of our inverstigationwe will attend to different cultural movements around the world, as well as the impact of technological changes and industrail shifts. The course will also focus on the theoretical positions that have engaged documentaries especially after 1945. There are no prerequisites. Requirements will include a seminar presentation and a research essay.

COML 594.401

R 3:30-6:30 Bersani
Cross listed with ARTH 594, ENGL 797, CINE 594

Topics in Contemporary Art:
Fictions and Frictions of Power

A study of various exercises of power, as well as of types of resistance to power in philosophy, literature, and film. Theory of power: Foucault. Power through language (Socratic dialogue). Erotic power (Racine, Andromaque; Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train; "Pauline Réage," Story of O). Social power (Pierre Bourdieu; Mike Leigh, Vera Drake). Resistance to power: Withdrawal (Polanski, Revulsion; Haynes, Safe); psychic work (the body "scarred" by the real, and the thinking body (Freud, Bollas, Laplanche.)

COML 602.401

F 2-4 Locatelli
Cross listed with ITAL 602



Literary Theory: A Historical Outline

Description TBA.

COML 603.401

Mellon Program Initiative
Humanities/Urban Design/Architecture
W 3-6 p.m. Weissberg/Barnett

Cross listed with ARTH 781



Does Architectural Theory Define Architectural Practice?

Does architectural theory define architectural practice? The present seminar will explore this question in a number of ways. It will look at prominent examples of contemporary architecture and their evaluation by prize committees and architectural critics; recent theoretical work and architectural manifestoes and the practice of architectural firms; and the writings and work by architect-critics such as Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Daniel Libeskind, Peter Eisenman, and Peter Zumthor. In the course of our seminar, we will also reflect on the question whether architecture, a discipline that deals with an inhabitable environment, may differ in its relationship between theory and practice from other arts, such as painting or literature.

COML 620.401

R 9-12 Yang
Cross listed with ENGL 748

Racial Enlightenment

This course examines eighteenth-century writings on race in the Enlightenment period, with a focus on natural history, philosophy, and aesthetic theory. We will explore topics including cultural and species distinction, global circulations of commodities between the East and West Indies, the transatlantic slave trade, the casta system of racial classification in the Americas, religious and scientific explanations of blackness, and visual representations of exotic others. Readings will include scientific texts by Linnaeus, Maupertuis, Buffon, and Blumenbach; philosophies and aesthetic theories of Rousseau, Burke, and Kant; accounts of slavery by Edward Long; and key literary texts such as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.

COML 630.401

T 2-5 Brownlee
Cross listed with FREN 630

Medieval French Literature

From the songs of the troubadours and trouvères to the early modern period, some aspects of courtly love remain constant, such as the supposition that courtliness will be received gracefully and the need to keep the relationship safe from the ever-present danger of médisants. Yet, courtly love and the literature to which it gives rise is also a reflection of the specific literary, cultural, and historical context of a given period, and it is in this vein that we will consider how Renaissance French authors call both the behavior and the language of courtly love into question.

We will consider how poets like Jean Lemaire de Belges and Maurice Scève both situate themselves within and separate themselves from the tradition of Petrarchan love poetry, as well as how female poets like Pernette du Guillet and Louise Labé question the motivations of this poetry through their own works. We will see how sixteenth-century French authors like François Rabelais and Marguerite de Navarre selectively draw upon medieval sources like Jean de Meun and Christine de Pizan to raise the reader's suspicions about courtly love. Finally, by focusing on the poems and plays that sprang from the so-called Querelle des amies in the middle of the century, we will see how conceptions of courtly love are affected by Neoplatonic philosophy and the Reformation with its emphasis on Pauline charity, or love that does not seek its own advantage.

Each week, we will combine close reading with a consideration of the work's context, and we will also read and discuss a selection of the scholarship on each work in order to assess its approach and conclusions. Students will be expected to actively participate in the discussion, and will be required to give at least one oral presentation in addition to the final paper.

The course is taught in English, and discussions will be based on texts in the original Middle French, though students may have recourse to translations in Modern French and English.

COML 633.401

T 4-7 Platt
Cross listed with SLAV 633

Russian and Soviet Culture and Its Institutions: Media, Publics, Genres

In this seminar, we will study Russian and Soviet culture through the history of its institutions. The course will include material from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries, but attention will be focused disproportionately on the twentieth century. Each unit will focus on a specific social institution of culture, yet will also require the reading/viewing of canonical texts and films. Topics will include: reading publics and education; authorship and professionalization; journals and publishing houses; genres; the Union of Soviet Writers; censorship and unofficial dissemination; jubilee celebrations; the culture industry; translation; tradition and history; memory and memoirs. Works will include: Pushkin's Evgenii Onegin; Anna Akhmatova's Vecher; Fedor Gladkov's Tsement; Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan Groznyi; Solzhenitsyn's Odin den' Ivana Denisovicha; Andrei Bitov's Pushkinskii dom; Evgeniia Ginzburg's Krutoi marshrut; Viktor Pelevin's Generation «П»; and others. Discussion will be in English. Readings will be in Russian, with English translations available for students who require them.

COML 685.401

F 2-5 Staff
Cross listed with EALC 755

Literary Critical Theory in Japan

Description TBA.

COML 714.401

F 12-3 Copeland
Cross listed with CLST 610, ENGL 715

Classical Reception in the Middle Ages: A Matter of Thebes

Bad things happened at mythical Thebes: it was ill-starred from the start. Most famously, it was the kingdom that Oedipus came to rule, and where his unknowing patricide and incest spawned destructive civil war (over a "paltry kingdom") and bitter fratricide. This is the chaotic world that Statius depicted so brilliantly and painfully in his Thebaid. Early and later medieval readers were by turns fascinated and repelled by the Theban story they received from Statius, but fascination with the story overcame repulsion, and Statius himself emerged as one of the most revered of classical authors, second only to Virgil. In this seminar we will read the Thebaid and other mythographical sources on the Theban legend that were available to medieval audiences, and we will trace the receptions of the Theban story through the Middle Ages, from commentaries and citations to vernacular reinventions of the legend and the literary apotheosis of Statius in Dante and Chaucer. Along the way we will look at the Thebes story in the French Roman de Thebes and the Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César. The Thebes story is embedded and enfolded in medieval understandings of the recursiveness of human history as tragedy (Chaucer's Troilusand Knight's Tale), even as that narrative can also be joined up with powerful teleological outlooks (Virgilian imperialism, Boethian transcendence, Christian salvation). We will look beyond the Middle Ages briefly to the earliest English translation of the Thebaid published in 1648 (a significant year for the Englishing of a classical narrative about civil war). All texts can be read in their original languages (Latin, French, Italian) or in English translations, so the readings will be accessible to all interested students no matter what their linguistic backgrounds.

The day and time currently set for this class in the course register system is Friday afternoons; but this is negotiable, and if students desire we can agree on another day and time for the course as long as we stay clear of other schedule conflicts.

COML 769.401

M 3-6 Loomba
Cross listed with ENGL 769, GSWS 769

Postcolonial Feminisms

How are feminisms in different parts of the world, and as espoused by different subjects, historically constructed? How have these feminisms intersected with and debated one another? How do the histories of colonialism, postcolonial nationhood and global capital shape these intersections and debates? In the academy, we often pay lip service to the idea of "differences" among women, and yet forget that, as Heidi Tinsman puts it, "what constitutes useful categories of feminist analysis is a matter of geopolitics rather than epistemological catch-up." This seminarprovides an opportunity to read and think about such debates, categories, histories and contemporary global relations.

We cannot cover all parts of the world, and the syllabus does not include "token" essays to ensure coverage. Rather, it features representative writings that best allow us to explore key intersections of gender and sexuality with the dynamics of colonialism, decolonization, nationhood, and globalization. Materials produced in the US and Britain will be juxtaposed with the work of scholars and activists working in the Global South, or with those writings that tend to be less visible in the Western academy. Our readings will include the work of Maria Mies, Hazel Carby, Inderpal Grewal, Caren Kaplan, Susan Okin, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Gayatri Spivak, Lata Mani, Joan Scott, Ratna Kapur, Nivedita Menon, Afsaneh Najmabadi, Ifi Amadiume, G. Arunima, Urvashi Butalia, Vandana Shiva, Chela Sandoval, Valentine M. Moghadam, and Saba Mahmood.

Through these diverse materials we can consider how different types of feminist theory and practice can engage with questions of sexual identity, with racial, religious and ethnic difference, as well as with historical transformations rendered by globalizing capital, migration, and ecological change. Ultimately, our goal will be to grapple with the three key issues that feminisms everywhere must always engage: identity, agency and social justice.

COML 790.491

W 9-12 Kaul
Cross listed with ENGL 790

Reading in Depth

Literary studies continues to be reconfigured by a variety of theoretical and methodological developments. Various forms of post-structuralist enquiry (broadly understood as the often confrontational dialogues between theoretical and political positions as varied as Deconstruction, New Historicism, Cultural Materialism, Feminism, Queer Theory, Minority Discourse Theory, Colonial and Post-colonial Studies and Cultural Studies) have altered disciplinary agendas and intellectual priorities for students embarked on the professional study of literature. In this course we will study key texts, statements and debates that define these issues, and ask what it means to read in depth, on the surface, or somewhere in-between.

COML 795.401

M 12-3 Cavitch
Cross listed with ENGL 795

Historical Poetics

Poetry, it seems, can resist anything better than its own idealizations--particularly its idealization as "lyric": that dubious yet seemingly unshakablene plus ultra of the personal voice, the "singular voice," as T. J. Clark puts it, "uninterrupted, absolute, laying claim to a world of its own." The idealization of poetry as lyric has been especially tenacious since the rise of the novel and what Bakhtin later called the "novelization of genre." And this is just part of a much longer history, from Aristotle to Hegel to the present day. But it's a history frequently ignored or misunderstood when literary critics and theorists sit down to read poems. Or when they ask others to do so in a certain way, as when lyricists insist too broadly on what W. J. T. Mitchell calls poetry's "freely moving temporal subjectivity," or when narrativists too narrowly require an interpretive commitment to historical continuity.

This seminar homes in on the century during which one can see, hear, and feel most readily, in English-language poetry and poetics, persistent idealizations of lyric taking shape--and taking over reading practices in ways that have yet to be widely understood. "Historical poetics" is a means to such understanding, and it involves reading together 1) the poetry of the period, 2) the poetic theories that the poetry manifests or that develop alongside it, and 3) the retrospective criticism and theory of more recent times. Because the second of these tends to be the most conspicuously disregarded, we'll pay special attention to key works of nineteenth-century poetics by Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Poe, Mill, Ruskin, Pater, Whistler, Wilde, and Symons, as well as fascinating but now rather obscure works by Sydney Dobell, William Aytoun, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sidney Lanier, and Robert Bridges. For poets, we'll range widely, taking special interest in those whose works best exemplify and/or challenge the idealizations of narrativism and lyricism--poets such as Blake, Wordsworth, Poe, Shelley, Tennyson, the Brownings, Whitman, Dickinson, Meredith, Hopkins, Michael Field, and Stephen Crane. For recent and contemporary criticism and theory, we'll look to such figures as Aleksandr Veselovsky, Theodor Adorno, Sharon Cameron, Jonathan Culler, Paul de Man, Northrop Frye, Virginia Jackson, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Yopie Prins, Herbert Tucker, and Simon Jarvis--the nature and extent of these critical/theoretical readings, especially in the latter part of the semester, depending to some degree on the individual research projects of the members of the seminar, who will each deliver an in-class presentation with annotated bibliography and write an article-length essay. Students are welcome to pursue projects in other nineteenth-century linguistic traditions (e.g., on Baudelaire, Heine, Hugo, Hölderlin, Mallarmé, Mistral, Pushkin, etc.), inasmuch as they bear on Anglophone poetry and poetics.

Last modified August 29, 2014
Maintained by Cliff Mak
Program in Comparative Literature
School of Arts & Sciences
University of Pennsylvania