Graduate Courses
Fall 2015

COML 501.401          History of Literary Theory
W 6-9  Kazanjian
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with GRMN 534, SLAV 500

This course will survey what has come to be known in literary and cultural studies as “theory” by tracking the genealogies of a select range of contemporary practices of interpretation. In particular, we will examine how these contemporary practices take shape as readings of classical, medieval, early modern, and modern texts. We will also consider how certain aspects of classical, medieval, and early modern texts have been left behind and, perhaps, still hold promise for literary theory today. This will allow us to address the following questions. What are some of the historical and rhetorical conditions of emergence for contemporary critical theories of interpretation? What does it mean to interpret literature and culture in the wake of the grand theoretical enterprises of the modern period? How do conceptions of power and authority in literature and culture change as symbolic accounts of language give way to allegorical and performative accounts? How might we bring frameworks of globality and translation to bear on literary and cultural criticism? A central, practical goal of the class will be to aid students in preparing for their MA exam, so we will do our best to work through a significant amount of the material on the exam list.


COML 502.401          Old English and its Afterlives
W 9-12  Steiner, E.
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with ENGL 501, GRMN 510, HIST 590
The first half or more of this course will be devoted to the study of 8th-12th-century language and literature, with attention to grammar, metrics, translation, and transmission. We will cover a wide range of texts, such as the Life of Saint Andrew, a saint who saved his followers from cannibals; Aelfric's Preface to his landmark translation of the bible; King Alfred the Great's Preface to Gregory's Pastoral Care, a brilliant meditation on the relationship between memory and culture; Wulfstan’s thunderous Sermon to the English, which rebukes the Anglo-Saxons for stooping to fratricide, incest, and child slavery during the Viking invasions; the very strange collection of monstrosities and prodigies, which we call The Wonders of the East; “Caedmon’s Hymn”, what might just be the first recorded poem in English, supposedly composed by an illiterate cowherd; and the stunningly beautiful lyric poem “The Dream of Rood” in which the Cross recounts its heroics during the Crucifixion.
In the second half of the course we will turn to post-Conquest literature (and beyond), as we explore the ways that medieval and early modern writers documented and theorized the Anglo-Saxon past. This section of the course will be determined part by student interests. Our questions will include the following: what constitutes a significant event? In what ways do different genres - chronicles, saints' lives, encyclopedias, sermons, romances, genealogies, geographies - offer competing or affirming views of the past? How do linguistic change and continuity matter? What impact did the Anglo-Saxons’ pressing concerns with conquest, anonymity, decadence, and suffering have on later writers? And how did pre-Conquest England serve the needs of later English propaganda, antiquarianism, and reform?
Students are not expected to know Old English, but we will need to get up to speed pretty quickly.

COML 533.401          Dante Visualizing
M 2-4  Del Soldato/Caneparo
Cross listed with ITAL 531

Dante's Comedia has inspired art, but at the same time art is present within the Comedy itself, through images, metaphors, descriptions and even more concrete examples. This course aims at discussing these aspects, taking into consideration also the philosophical, political and religious background of these motifs. While analyzing images in and from the Comedia, we will look at illustrations and artistic interpretations, spanning from medieval illuminations and Renaissance printed books (mainly from Van Pelt Library) to contemporary examples, and focusing on artists such as Giotto, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Blake, Doré, and Dalí. The course will be taught in English.


COML 559.401          Adorno and Literary Theory
M 3-5  Spoerhase
Undergrads Need Permission
All readings and lectures in English
Cross listed with GRMN 560

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 561.401          Geography and the Novel
T 2-4   DeJean
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with FREN 560, ENGL 545
Is the novel somehow inherently trans-national?  How did the novel escape the confines of the national borders within which it began its modern existence?  Why, when, and how did the quintessential genre of the here and now become cosmopolitan?
We’ll compare key works from the two national literatures in which complex traditions of prose fiction developed in the course of the long 18th century: English and French.  Thus, for example, we’ll consider the very different origins implied for those traditions by the works often seen as their first modern novels: La Princesse de Clèves and Robinson Crusoe.
Throughout our readings, we’ll focus on the question of geography.  We’ll use the insights found in Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel to contrast the two dominant geographical models between which the prose fiction of the long 18th century alternated: big-world roaming and small-world  claustrophia.
Some of the questions that we’ll ask include: why is it that some novelists such as Jane Austen systematically construct constricted and constricting universes, worlds in which characters never see the wide world?  In contrast, why do others – Voltaire, Mary Shelley – move their characters all across Europe, if not all over the globe?  And why do still other novelists (Lafayette) alternate between cosmopolitan fictions and claustrophobic ones?  Finally, in what ways does the big world outside almost always invade even the most confined fictional universes?   
The course will be taught in English.  All readings, including French ones, will be available in English.  French titles will also be available in French.  Students wishing to take the course for French credit will do the reading and some of the writing in French. 
 The course is open to advanced undergraduates WITH PERMISSION OF THE INSTRUCTOR.

COML 579.401          Slavic Literary  Theory in Western Context
W 3-5:30    Steiner, P.
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with SLAV 575

This course will compare selected theoretical concepts advanced by Russian Formalists, Prague Structuralists, and the Bakhtin group (e.g., defamiliarization, aesthetic sign, dialogue) with similar or analogous notions drawn from Western intellectual tradition.

COML 582.402          Walter Benjamin:  Art, Philosophy, Literature
T 3-5   Weissberg
Undergrads Need Permission
All readings and lectures in English
Cross listed with GRMN 580, PHIL 480

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) is a philosopher whose writings on art,
literature, and politics have had tremendous influence on cultural studies.
He has been variously described as one of the leading German-Jewish thinkers,
and a secular Marxist theorist.  With the publication of a new four-volume
collection of this works in English, many more of his writings have been made
accessible to a wider public.  Our seminar will undertake a survey of his work
that begins with his studies on language and allegory, and continues with his
autobiographical work, his writings on art and literature, and finally on the
imaginary space of the nineteenth-century.

COML 602.401     Institutions of Criticism and Forerunners of Theory: A Thematic and Historical Outline
T 2-4   Locatelli
Cross listed with ITAL 602

Where does contemporary Literary Theory? come from? What are the recurrent themes that bring critics and writers back to crucial questions about language, representation, interpretation and the uses of literature? Where did it all start?

Commentary, exegesis, hermeneutics exhibit different forms of knowledge of texts in a Eurocentric tradition developed in ancient Greece, pursued in Roman and medieval times, further developed at the end of the 18th Century and at the beginning of the 19th. This will be the span of time covered by the texts examined in the course, keeping in mind the relevance they have in shaping today's theoretical landscape. Plato, Dante, Vico, Hume, Kant, and Coleridge are but a few of the authors critically approached in this course. They are at the root of today's Theory an Cultural Studies.


COML 604.401          Structuralism. System, World
W 3-6  Hayot
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with ENGL 571

This course introduces students to several of the major syncretic modes of thought of the post-WW2 period: structuralism, systems theory, and, via a series of cognates circling around the word "world," globalization, world-systems, and world literature. Our readings will be primary texts from major authors in each field, hence: Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude Lévi-Strauss, A.J. Greimas, Juri Lotman (for structuralism); Vilfredo Pareto, Norbert Wiener, Talcott Parsons, Niklas Luhmann (for system); Immanuel Wallerstein, Franco Moretti, David Damrosch, Gayatri Spivak, and others (for world). We will trace the history of the modes of systematic/syncretic thought into various little corners (chaos theory, complexity theory) and discuss our examples both as primary texts in the intellectual trajectory of the twentieth century and as sites for the exposition of theories of poetics that can, or have, influenced the study and history of literary aesthetics.


COML 620.401          Eighteenth-Century Literature: Theorizing Orientalism [cancelled]
F 12-3 Yang
Cross listed with ENGL 748
Since its initial publication, Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) has transformed the field of literary studies as well as any number of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences through its treatment of European imperialism and the politics of cultural production.  Beginning with a study of this text, the course will take stock of the critical scholarship on Said, including feminist and Marxist revisions of his conceptualization of East/West relations and key debates that have ensued.  A central aim of the course will be to study Said's key theoretical influences (i.e. Hegel, Marx, Foucault) and generally overlooked scholars of Orientalism (Schwab, Tibawi) pre-dating or contemporaneous with Said.  We will also consider the influence of Said on the current field of China-related Orientalism at a moment when the term 'postcolonial' is itself giving way to the ‘global Anglophone.’   The course does not attempt to fill in the entire field of postcolonial studies; rather it traces, albeit unevenly, several strands of the legacy and impact of Orientalism. 
The course is structured in three parts: Orientalism and its immediate contexts, 18th and 19th century precursors including key concepts of Oriental despotism, exoticism, and the Asiatic Mode of Production, and contemporary scholarship on Afro-Asian connections with relevance to 20th and 21st century visual culture and political theory.

COML 620.402          Land, Labour and Literature in the Long 18th Century
W 3-6 Kaul
Cross listed with ENGL 748

In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, literary writing engaged strenuously with shifts and innovations in forms of landownership and labor, both within England and then across the lands that came under British control. Many writers were greatly anxious about—even when they celebrated—social changes attendant upon the capitalization of land and labor at home and in plantation society. We will read in a variety of literary genres, but also key texts in world systems theory and social and labor history, as well as relevant literary criticism. We will begin with Aphra Behn (OroonokoThe Widdow Ranter) and end with Maria Edgeworth (Castle Rackrent).



COML 622.401          Postmodernism: Prose and its Discontents: The History and Practice of Aversive Prose
M 7-10            Bernstein
Cross listed with ENGL 774
The seminar will examine an abbreviated history of exceptional approaches to essays in prose while at the same time focusing on a set of prose experiments by seminar participants. Writing assignments will be given for most weeks and the results discussed in class. On the conceptual side, Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style (multiple stylistic versions of the "same' content) will frame the seminar. Participants will be asked to take a paragraph from their scholarly work and subject it to continual deformations and permutations throughout the semester. Other works that will frame the discussion include Frame Analysis by Erving Goffman, Ways of Seeing by John Berger, Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff, The Emergence of Prose by Kittay/Godzitch, Theory of Prose by Viktor Shklovski, and "Attic Prose" & "The Baroque Style in Prose" by Morris Croll. Also on the agenda (subject to change!) samples from  Heraklitus,  Lucretius , Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Montaigne, Emerson, Wilde's Critic as Artist , Wlliams's Spring and All, Wittgenstein, Cage's "Lecture on Nothing," Olson's Berkeley talk, Haroldo de Campos's Galáxias, David Antin's talk poems, Samuel R. Delany's Motion of Light in the Water, Bernadette Mayer's Memory, Rosmarie Waldrop's Reproduction of Profile, Ron Silliman's "new sentence," Clark Coolidge's "prosoid" works, Jerome McGann's dialogs, Leslie Scalapino's essays, Susan Howe's Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives, and Nathaniel Mackey's From A Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. PLUS: Seminar visits by Michale Davidson and Al Filreis. Working versions of the syllabus will be posted at

COML 643.401          Cannibals, Monster, and Ottomans:  Alterity 16th C. France
M 2-4  Francis
Cross listed with FREN 640
The sixteenth century in France is characterized by an increasing exposure to the Other in various forms: Amerindians encountered through conquest and colonization and described in travel literature, monstrous beings or humans suffering from deformities seen as signs of divine wrath or examined by increasingly observational medical practitioners, and Ottomans, who figured increasingly in the French national consciousness after Francis I’s “impious alliance” with Suleiman the Magnificent in 1536. This course will examine how these Others were represented and received, and will attempt to determine how they were absorbed into religious, political, and philosophical discourses, as well as ways in which their alterity was respected.
We will begin by looking to the works of Emmanuel Levinas and Édouard Glissant to provide us with a theoretical framework for discussing alterity in the sixteenth century. The first unit, “Cannibals,” will look at French accounts of the Tupinamba, the inhabitants of the short-lived “France Antarctique” (modern-day Rio de Janeiro) best remembered for their custom of cannibalizing slain enemies. Authors studied will include André Thévet, Jean de Léry, and Montaigne. The second unit, “Monsters,” will focus on Des monstres et prodiges by Ambroise Paré, a barber-surgeon considered by some to be one of the fathers of modern surgery, and on Montaigne’s use of monsters in the Essais. In the third unit, “Ottomans,” we will briefly consider the role played by Turks in some of the major authors of the period (Lemaire de Belges, Marguerite de Navarre, Rabelais) before moving on to the works of Guillaume Postel, a diplomat and mystic who drew upon his voyages to Turkey in an attempt to reconcile Christianity with Islam and Judaism. We will conclude with Gabriel Bounin’s La Soltane (1561), the first French play in which Ottomans appear onstage.
Discussions will be in English. Readings will be in the original French where applicable; primary texts will be accompanied by secondary readings to help contextualize the works and familiarize students with critical discourse on them, and one class session will take place in Van Pelt and will revolve around an introduction to and examination of original editions. Papers may be written in English or in French.

COML 682.401          Topics in Literary Theory: Debates in the Age of Neoliberalism
R 3-6   de la Campa
Cross listed with SPAN 682

This course will cover the field of contemporary theory through its most productive paradigms of the past few decades, with a special emphasis on the way in which they respond or correspond to neoliberal readjustments to issues such as nation-states, gender formation and migration.  The paradigms discussed will include: a) various models of cultural studies and deconstructive work, b) new approaches to literary communities and comparative literature, c) debates around coloniality and subalternity and d) transatlantic mappings.  We will specifically place these paradigms within the scope of Latin American and Hispanic literary and cultural areas. In that pursuit, we will look at three modes of instantiation: theoretical sources as such, specific works of criticism, samples of literary and cultural production.


COML 685.401          Literary Criticism  and Theory in Japanese Literature
R 3-6   Kano
Cross listed with EALC 755

While the focus of this seminar will shift from year to year, the aim is to enable students to gain 1) a basic understanding of various theoretical approaches to literature, 2) familiarity with the histories and conventions of criticism, literary and otherwise, in Japan; 3) a few theoretical tools to think in complex ways about some of the most interesting and controversial issues of today, such as nationalism, imperialism, colonialism, postmodernism, and feminism, with particular focus on Japan's position in the world. The course is primarily intended for graduate students but is also open to advanced undergraduates with permission of the instructor. The course is taught in English, and all of the readings will be available in English translation. An optional discussion section may be arranged for those students who are able and willing to read and discuss materials in Japanese.


COML 769.401          Feminist Theory: Race and Sexuality Across Time and Space
T 12-3 Loomba
Cross listed with ENGL 769, GSWS 769

The seminar will bring together the study of early modern English literature and culture with histories and theories of gender, sexuality and race. Contact with  ‘the East’ (Turkey, the Moluccas, North Africa and India) and the West (the Americas and the Caribbean) reshaped attitudes to identity and desire. How does this history allow us to understand, and often interrogate, modern theories of desire and difference? Conversely, how do postcolonial and other contemporary perspectives allow us to re-read this past? 


COML 790.401          Queer Method
T 6-9   Love
Cross listed with ENGL 790, GSWS 790

Scholars in queer studies have contributed powerful critiques of the disciplines and of academic business as usual. For this reason, we might see the field as being anti-method rather than producing alternative or counter-methods. This course explores the paradox of producing positive knowledge in the absence of or in opposition to disciplinary dictates about what counts as knowledge. We will consider queer and feminist studies alongside other inter- and anti-disciplinary formations including critical race studies, disability studies, border studies, transgender studies, affect studies, and feminist science studies. Acknowledging the extent to which queer and feminist scholarship incorporate the work of traditional disciplines, we will consider several ethical and methodological cruxes in these fields.  We will focus on a range of methodological experiments in these fields including critiques of historicism, the affective turn, queer materialism, surface reading, memoir, low and high theory, queer empiricism, extravagant formalism, and assemblage theory, among others, and will attend to the ways that academic institutionalization has shaped these fields. Readings by Gloria Anzaldúa, Carolyn Steedman, Samuel Delany, Gayle Rubin,  Donna Haraway, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Robyn Wiegman, Fred Moten, Sandra Harding, Roderick Ferguson, Lauren Berlant, Gayatri Spivak, Ann Cvetkovich, Cathy J. Cohen, Susan Stryker, and others.


Last modified August 21, 2015
Maintained by Cliff Mak
Program in Comparative Literature
School of Arts & Sciences
University of Pennsylvania