Graduate Course Descriptions
Spring 2010

COML 548.401 Cracking the Code: Numerology and Literature
T 1:30-4:30 Kirkham Cross listed with ITAL 539

This course reconstructs traditions of Western number symbolism from antiquity (Plato, the Pythagoreans) to the early modern period with readings both in encyclopedic treatises on Arithmetic (Macrobius, Martianus Capella, Rhabanus Maurus) and in literary texts that are numerical compositions (Augustine's Confessions, Petrarch's epistle on the ascent of Mt. Ventoux, Dante's Vita Nuova and Commedia, Boccaccio's Diana's Hunt, the Old French Vie de St. Alexis, and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose). Discussion will focus on numerology as it relates to the medieval esthetic of order, the literary text as microcosmic counterpart to God's macrocosm, veiled meaning, and "difficult" poetics. We shall also consider the end of the tradition and what changes in science and culture brought about the disappearance of number symbolism in literature, except for a few moderns (e. g. Thomas Mann).

COML 551.401 The Global 1790’s
T 6-9 Gamer
Cross listed with ENGL 551

The 1790s were a tumultuous decade in Britain, fueled by a revolution across the Channel that, by 1801, had utterly changed the political map of the world. Much that transpired in these years will still seem utterly modern, from the beginnings of radical class politics (everywhere), to a successful slave rebellion (in Haiti), to the first implementation of the metric system (in France). Other events will seem so familiar as to be almost uncanny: widening and increasingly bitter partisan divides between the two major political parties; a government dramatically expanding its powers to spy on its own citizens; the erosion of habeas corpus, freedom of the press, and other civil liberties; the near failure of the central banking system; and popular protests over a ruinously expensive war.

Yet, the 1790s were also years of artistic innovation and renaissance, in which writers, finding inherited forms inadequate for the task of representing a changing world, invented new forms of fiction, drama, journalism, poetry, and criticism. It is no accident, for example, that this decade of political paranoia should witness the popularization of the Gothic and the invention of melodrama, not to mention an equally conspicuous consumption of millenial pamphlets, revolutionary treatises, reactionary prophecies, and apocalyptic imaginings.

We'll begin the semester with the Impeachment Trial of Indian Governor Warren Hastings as a context for understanding the response of British writers to the French Revolution. Our emphasis will be on reading primary texts across the full range of genres and on individual archival work. Somewhere after its midway point, however, the course will transform itself into a true seminar, our readings following the interests of each participant as we move to such events as the Treason Trials and the Bread riots, through Naval Mutiny, Haitian revolution, and India conquest, finally ending with the Anglo-Irish Union. Assignments will be 1-2 presentations, an annotated bibliography, and a final essay (12-15 pp). If you have particular suggestions for our reading, please contact me. 

COML 570.401 Auteurism: Theories and Practices
R 12-3 Corrigan
Cross listed with ARTH 573, CINE 515, ENGL 573, FREN 573, GRMN 573

Auteurism has arguably been at the center of film practice, theory and historiography since the 1950s. Originating in the work of the French New Wave, auteurism has shaped our understanding of many film cultures around the world and across different media beyond the cinema. This course will examine the history of auteurism as it has evolved from France to the U.S. and through national cinemas from China and India to Iran and Denmark. As part of this study, we'll investigate the changing theoretical terms of auteurism as it has adapted to the pressures of post-structuralist theory, feminist interventions, cultural and racial distinctions, and the challenges of new media.

Evening screenings Tuesdays 5-7:00 pm

COML 573.401 Songs of the Underground: Music and African-American Literature
M 12-3 Tillet
Cross listed with ENGL 570

In 1951, James Baldwin wrote that “It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story.”  Here, Baldwin points to the fact that African-American writers have long considered black music to be a singular site of origin and a space of self-fashioning and occasionally, racial transcendence.  In this course, we will trace the manner in which 20th century African-American writers and critics have turned to musical practices, from the sorrow songs to jazz, from European classical music to hip hop, ragtime to rock, as an aesthetic blueprint and political alternative.  We will also read music history and criticism, by Amiri Baraka, Farah Griffin, Albert Murray, Fred Moten, Gutherie Ramsey, Daphne Brooks (to name a few), in order to examine the tensions and slippages between these literary representations of music and the actual histories of African-American musicians and challenges posed for black musical production.  Texts for this course will include W.E.B. Du Bois "Souls of Black Folk," James Weldon Johnson’s "Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man," Toni Morrison’s "Jazz," August Wilson’s "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom," Ralph Ellison’s "Invisible Man," Gayl Jones’ "Corregidora," Kevin Young’s "Jelly Roll," Paul Beatty’s Slumberland, Stew and Heidi Rodewald’s "Passing Strange: The Musical" and Rita Dove’s "Sonata Mulattica."

COML 584.402 Jewish History - Hasidism
W 3:30-6:30 Teller
Cross listed with GRMN 581, JWST 490, RELS 429

This course examines the interplay of the theological idea and the social act through the mediation of the written (and spoken) text in 18th and early 19th century Hasidism. We will focus on the kabbalistic roots of the thought of some of the early Hasidic masters, such as the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch, Elimelekh of Lezansk, and Nahman of Braclaw. We will then examine the ways their thought was given expression in stories, letters, sermons, prayer, and polemical literature. Finally, we will relate Hasidic social activities and forms, in the realms of social organization, religious practice and custom to the textual expressions of Hasidic theology in order to see how this modern socio-religious movement was able to create itself anew from within the Jewish tradition. Seminar.

COML 592.401 Theories of Moderism
W 9-12 Esty
Cross listed with ENGL 591

In this course, we will examine a series of theoretical models that critics have used to identify and stabilize modernism as an historical object of study confined to the period 1880-1945. A number of overarching questions will guide our inquiry:  is there a plausible way, beyond mere chronology, to define modernism as a period-style?  What features of modernist writing are isolated and emphasized by the various theoretical approaches we now use in our discipline? Has the concept of modernity displaced an older model of modernism?  Is modernism the native ground for any particular theory in the way one might say that Romanticism was for deconstruction and the Renaissance was for New Historicism?  How do the specific texts, authors, innovations, and ideas generally identified as modernist seem to inflect the languages of feminism, queer theory, postcolonial studies, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, critical race studies, Marxism, and the sociology of literature?

In a sense, the course will work as an advanced introduction to literary theory with special relevance to twentieth-century writing. No primary texts are assigned for weekly discussion, but participants will be asked to keep a running record of how our readings might inform or illuminate the modernist texts they know best.  Members of the seminar will also write a short essay (10-12 pages) that addresses modernist fiction, poetry, or drama using interpretive tools or ideas from the secondary reading.  Other written assignments will include a 1000-word review of a recent book in modernist studies and a short position paper on a theoretical debate (with annotated bibliography; 5-7 pages).

We will begin the semester by looking at a non-theoretical description of modernism, Peter Gay's 2007 Modernism:  The Lure of Heresy.  With that in view, we will then tackle a series of theoretical approaches, using representative books such as Berman's All that is Solid Melts Into Air, Jameson's The Political Unconscious, Felski's The Gender of Modernity, Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet, Barthes's Writing Degree Zero, and Adorno's Aesthetic Theory.  Clusters of shorter readings will anchor our consideration of other topics, including the following:  psychoanalysis (Zizek, North, Rabaté), literary sociology (Burger, Rainey, Bourdieu, Rancière), affect studies (Ngai, Love), critical race studies (Baker, Spillers, Benn Michaels), urban studies (Williams, Buck-Morss), and colonial discourse studies (Said, Gikandi, Spivak).

COML 620.401 The International Making of a National Lit: British Writing in the Long Eighteenth Century
T 12-3 Kaul
Cross listed with ENGL 748

This seminar will examine the following questions: did a voracious internationalism define the world—and the thematic concerns and formal conventions—of English writers in the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? Did writers extend the engagement of early modern writing with places and histories outside of England and even the British Isles? Does the ideal of a national literature—its representational concerns, its models of English culture, politics, and ethical subjectivities—emerge from such international and intra-provincial concerns? How do literary texts engage with the expansion of British commercial power and colonial territories across the oceans, and with the changes attendant upon such expansion within Britain? How do we best develop the critical methods that offer the most rewarding readings of these texts (and even of the historical archive) in the century in which “Great Britain” came into being as a political entity and as a claim on the world?

Our texts will be chosen from a list that ranges from writing in the 1660s to that produced over a century later: Dryden (his heroic drama The Conquest of Granada); Behn (The Rover and Oroonoko), Pope (Windsor Forest and The Rape of the Lock); Defoe (Journal of the Plague Year and Robinson Crusoe); Lillo (The London Merchant); Gay (The Beggar's Opera); poems by Goldsmith and Crabbe that debate changes in the countryside, enclosure, and depopulation; Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent, and some anti-slavery poems written late in the century. We will also read critical essays on the text under consideration or on issues important to the literary and cultural history of the period in order to alert ourselves to the different critical vocabularies and methods that have revitalized interest in "the long eighteenth century" in Britain.

COML 621.401 How to Read Early Modern Texts
T 1:30-4:30 Chartier
Cross listed with HIST 620

Based on the collections of the Library this seminar is an introduction to the textual genres studied by historians and literary critics. It will introduce the various approaches (material bibliography, codicology, textual criticism, sociology of texts) that deal with the materiality of printed objects and its meaning for the authors, publishers, and readers. This approach will not be separated from a broader understanding of written culture as a whole and the analysis of production and appropriation of scribal publications and manuscript texts, documentary or literary. The aim of the seminar is also to suggest that any approach to texts (whatever they may be) requires the articulation of various perspectives generally disconnected: literary criticism (in its different forms), history of the book, history of authorship, and sociology of reading. Focusing on early modern texts, between the invention of the printing press and the invention of copyright, the seminar will stress the discontinuity governing textual production, authorship and reading techniques. It will also address issues raised by the invention of the codex and the digital revolution. Dealing (essentially) with primary materials and secondary literature devoted to English, Spanish and French texts, the seminar will be opened to comparative approaches (included with other cultural areas).

COML 642.401 Modern German Drama
R 9-11 Jarosinski
Cross listed with GRMN 642

This course examines German drama from 1900 to the present through a focus on the history and actuality of key critical debates in the aesthetics, function, and future of theater. These include questions of the relation between drama theory and practice, tensions and affinities between the stage and electronic media (radio, film, television, the Internet), and the emergence of “performance” as a significant critical perspective in the study a broad range of cultural phenomena. The course will center on works by Georg Kaiser, Wolfgang Borchardt, Bertolt Brecht, Ingeborg Bachmann, Peter Handke, Heiner Müller, Elfriede Jelinek, Christoph Schlingensief, and others.

COML 715.401 Seminar in Ethnomusicology: Imagining Africa Musically
T 2-5 Muller
Permission Needed from Department
Cross listed with MUSC 705

This seminar considers ways in which scholars write about and imagine the African continent through the lens of musical performance. We will consider a range of writings about Africa as a continent, regionally, and nationally, including north Africa and the Maghreb through series of themes including: diaspora, cosmopolitanism, gender, spirituality, and as world music. This is a reading and listening intensive seminar.

COML 761.401 New Sociologies of Literature
W 3-6 English
Cross listed with ENGL 761

Looked at one way, the sociology of literature is dead.  Thirty years ago, the phrase was widely in circulation; handbooks and companions were being published, forums and centers such as the Essex Sociology of Literature Project were flourishing. Today, if you put “sociology of literature” into Amazon’s search engine, you will find a list of used and out of print titles.  The Essex Project is long gone, having dropped the term “sociology” from its rubrics in the mid-eighties and formally disbanded a decade later.

But looked at another way, the convergence of sociology and literary studies has never been more widespread or more productive.  Some instances include the history of the book, as developed by Chartier, Darnton, Stallybrass, and others; the sociological critique of aesthetics as revolutionized by Bourdieu, Herrnstein Smith, Guillory, and the New Economic critics; analyses of literary intellectuals and the conditions of academic life (Graff, Readings, Watkins, Collini, etc.); the expansion of reception studies (Radway); the impact of systems theory on literary studies and aesthetics (Luhmann); and recent scholarship on culture and governmentality (Hunter, Bennett).  Meanwhile, within Sociology departments, the study of literature has acquired new energy and visibility, thanks to the revitalizing impact of Bourdieu, the influence of Konstanz school reception aesthetics (Griswold, Long), the “strong program” in cultural sociology at Yale (Alexander, Smith), and the explosive theoretical interventions of Bruno Latour.  Finally, we can point to the recent impact of work by Franco Moretti and Pascale Casanova, suggesting as it does that the expanded optic required by comparative, transnational, or global frameworks of analysis demands a new articulation of literary with sociological methods.

Even this long list omits much of what is most exciting in the present state of the sociology/literature “contact zone.”  Our seminar will coincide with the preparation of a special issue of NLH devoted to new sociologies of literature and featuring new work by leading theorists in queer studies, postcolonial studies, digital humanities, race theory, and other fields.  As the essays for this volume arrive, I will seek the authors’ permissions for us to read and discuss their just-emerging work alongside the more established titles on our syllabus.

Written work for the class will include a short (1000-word) book review, an annotated bibliography, and a research paper of 4000-6000 words.  My expectations for these papers are realistic; no incompletes will be allowed.

COML 795.401 Modernist Poetics and its Discontents
R 3-6 Perelman
Cross listed with ENGL 795

The disjunction between the poetics and the poetry of the modernist period is quite striking. The poetics – as articulated in the well-circulated statements of Pound, Stein, Eliot, Williams, Riding, Moore, Zukofsky, Olson, et al. – are fascinating, but they make the most equivocal guides to the writing itself. Stein's lecture on Tender Buttons sheds only the feeblest, most anecdotal light on that recalcitrant text; Zukofsky's terse essays on poetry are of surprisingly little help in reading Zukofsky's poetry; etc. We will read in both sides of these improbable equations. In all cases, since the bodies of work are complex, we will read exemplary excerpts rather the entire corpus. The point will be to obtain an efficient grasp of the variety of the poetry. The larger point of the course will be to examine the enterprise of poetics as it has emerged throughout the prior century.


Last modified January 5, 2010
Maintained by Daniel DeWispelare
Program in Comparative Literature
School of Arts & Sciences
University of Pennsylvania