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Graduate Courses
Spring 2012


COML 521.401

T 1:30-4:30 Kirkham
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with GSWS 537, ITAL 537

Boccaccio Visualized

More than any other early modern European author, Giovanni Boccaccio has inspired artists to visualize what he wrote, from Botticelli to Rubens, Angelica Kaufmann to Marc Chagall. The manuscript era alone has left us more than 8,000 images, and with print culture, Boccaccio’s tales and histories multiplied through woodblock and engraved reproductions. In our own time his fiction has been the subject of cinema, notably Pasolini’s Decameron, but also other media in popular culture--even the “classic” comic book. In this course we will consider the question of why Boccaccio’s literary art is so readily “picturable“ and explore its interaction with the visual arts, beginning with the portraits of him (including a self-portrait) and the remarkable corpus of drawings by Boccaccio himself as the first representative in a tradition of talented figures who, like Michelangelo and Cellini, practiced both as artists and poets. Visualizations of the text become not only pictorial commentary complementing verbal glosses, they tell much about the history of its reception, from the sociology of its readership to issues of censorship. Half of the course will be devoted to close readings of the Decameron, and the other half to the humanistic Latin works that circulated internationally and produced magnificent court art in Northern Europe--The Falls of Princes, Famous Women (the first collection of female biographies in the west), and Genealogy of the Gentile Gods, with its influential mythography and theory of poetry. The course will aim to present a methodology that students can apply to other authors in research and teaching. Taught in English with original language texts available on reserve, it has no prerequisites and is open to undergraduates by permission of the instructor.

COML 539.401

T 2-4 Weissberg
All Readings and Lectures in English
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with ENGL 588, GRMN 540

Memory, Trauma, Culture

In recent years, studies of memory (both individual and cultural) have rivaled those of history, and have produced alternative narratives of events. At the same time, research has also focused on the rupture of narrative, the inability to find appropriate forms of telling, and the experience of a loss of words. The notion of trauma (Greek for “wound”) may stand for such a rupture. Many kinds of narratives, most prominently the recollections of Holocaust survivors, are instances in which memories are invoked not only to come to terms with traumatic events, but also to inscribe trauma in various ways. In this seminar, we will read theoretical work on memory and trauma, discuss their implication for the study of literature, art, and culture, read select examples from Holocaust survivors’ autobiographies (i.e. Primo Levi, Eli Wiesel), and discuss visual art (i.e. Boltanski, Kiefer) and film (i.e. Resnais, Lanzmann, Spielberg).

COML 543.301

M 12-3:00 de Grazia
Cross listed with ENGL 535

Shakespeare: Ovid and the Bible

That Shakespeare knew both his Ovid and his Bible is unquestionable. But in what form did pagan myth and biblical revelation make their appearance on the Shakespearean stage? This seminar will be situating several of Shakespeare’s plays between the Metamorphoses and Scripture in order to explore the mechanism at the heart of Shakespearean theatre: the human capacity to change, transform, and convert. We will begin with the medieval tradition of syncretism that read Ovid’s myths as allegories of Christian truths and found correspondences in their respective accounts of Creation, the Fall, and Endtime. But our main focus will be on how Shakespeare staged divinity: both the Incarnate Christian God and the carnal pagan gods.

Texts will include: Genesis, Revelation, and Paul’s Epistles in the 1560 Geneva Bible; Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Arthur Golding’s 1567 translation, and several of Shakespeare’s plays, mainly in Folio and quarto editions: The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, Anthony and Cleopatra, Winter’s Tale.

COML 570.401

T 3-6 Galloway
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with ARTH 573, CINE 515, ENGL 573, FREN 573

Deleuze and Godard

This course concerns itself with cinema in its entirety. We focus on two signal works that attempt to synthesize the cinema into a single, century-long, media event: Gilles Deleuze's books Cinema 1 & 2 and Jean-Luc Godard's multi-episode cinematic work Histoire(s) du cinéma. For Deleuze cinema is both an autonomous epistemological phenomenon (films as pure thought) and an autonomous ontological phenomenon (films as pure being). By contrast Godard focuses on cinema's ability or inability to represent history, both the history of Europe during the twentieth century, frequently caught in the clutches of war, but also the history of movie-making itself. Additional readings and screenings will be drawn from similarly encyclopedic assessments of the last hundred years, including Slavoj Žižek's film The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, and Alain Badiou's book The Century.

COML 573.401

M 3-6 Beavers
Permission needed from instructor
Cross listed with AFRC 570, ENGL 570

Afro-American Literary Theory

African American literary criticism begins as a vindicationalist project that seeks to mediate expressive culture’s role in the verification of African Americans’ place in the human family and demonstrate racialized being as a product of rationality. In the latter stages of the century we see a move toward a more vexed notion of culture whose central nodes are performativity and improvisation. This course will move across a broad set of concerns: intellectual history, hermeneutical practice, canon formation, periodization (e.g. modernism and postmodernism), and theorizing the African American subject. In studying the development of African American critical practice in the 20th Century, we will examine the distinction between “secondary” and “primary” sources in order to consider the ways expressive cultural forms like the sermon and the folktale (and the subsequent literary forms to follow) blur such distinctions by being both critical and performative. Obviously, the discursive properties of race, class, gender, and sexual preference will be central to our effort to historicize interpretive practices. However, it will be equally important to see the critical project in relation to the efforts to achieve social equality and political agency. Authors in the course may include Sterling A. Brown, William Braithwaite, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, J. Saunders Redding, Toni Morrison, Hortense Spillers, Barbara Christian, Houston Baker, Henry Louis Gates, and Paul Gilroy. We will be joined by guest lecturers who will offer additional perspectives at various points in the term. Coursework will consist of a formal presentation and a critical paper due at the end of the term.

COML 575.401

T 6-9 Barnard
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with ENGL 572

South African Literature

The struggle to establish a non-racial democracy in South Africa was not the bloodiest anti-colonial struggle of the twentieth century, but it was the one that captured the global imagination most powerfully. Upon his release from prison, Nelson Mandela emerged as one of the world’s most revered political figures. The process of negotiation that led to the transition was seen, all over the world, as a hopeful sign that protracted conflicts could be peacefully resolved. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s inquiry into the human rights abuses of the apartheid era became a model for truth commissions in several other countries. South African writers like Fugard, Gordimer, Coetzee, and Mda have earned international renown for their literary response to this compelling historical transformation. But what is the future of South Africa and South African literature? Has the new democracy lived up to its promise? Has it generated new forms of cultural expression? How do the concerns of South African writers relate to postcolonial theory as it has been institutionalized over the past two decades? Has “South African literature” as a category perhaps ceased to exist in our era of cultural globalization, when many major writers publish and live abroad? These are the questions that animate this seminar.

We will start out by considering a few films and plays about the last years of the antiapartheid struggle (including a documentary about Mandela), before turning to three novels (Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying, Ivan Vladislavic’s The Restless Supermarket and Marlene van Niekerk’s Triomf), which capture the broad social transformation from a racist to a democratic state in terms of its impact on urban space. Next, we will look at the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and sample some of the films, poems, novels, and memoirs it inspired. The key texts here will be Antjie Krog’s County of My Skull, and the films Forgivenness and Long Night's Journey into Day. We will then read two excellent novels that respond in a more generalized way to the TRC’s work of excavating the past: Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Dark (which deals with the repressed legacy of racial passing) and Mark Behr’s The Smell of Apples (which deals with the dark secrets of the apartheid regime in the domain of the white family). We will then attend to a number of persistent issues that plague South Africa, as well as other postcolonial nations. These issues include the AIDS pandemic; land reform; poverty and crime; and, finally, migration and xenophobia. Our focal texts here will be J. M. Coetzee’s famous and controversial novel Disgrace, Jonny Steinberg’s fascinating investigation into a real crime in Midlands, the Academy Award-winning gangster film Tsotsi, and the moving AIDS film Yesterday (the first internationally successful feature film to be made in isiZulu). We will end with recent writing by young black South Africans and some science fiction: the popular film District 9 and Lauren Beukes’s cult novel Moxyland. These texts will enable us to speculate about the future of South Africa and other postcolonial democracies.

Readings will also include a fairly extensive set of secondary and theoretical readings. Requirements for the course will include in-class presentations on an assigned (but negotiated) topic, as well as a final paper which demonstrates some original research.

COML 592.301

R 3-6 Steiner
Cross listed with ENGL 591

Contemporary Issues in the Arts

This course examines intersections between aesthetics and ethics in 20th-21st verbal and visual art. It is aimed at a wide range of students, from those interested in interart relations and aesthetic theory to those specializing in contemporary culture, whether literary or visual. Among the notions under investigation will be virtuality, iconicity, gender, bio art, modeling, beauty, pornography, and interactivity. Syllabus attached.

COML 592.401

W 6-9 Bukatman
Cross listed with ARTH 593, CINE 591, ENGL 591

Theories of Cinematic Spectacle

From the first projection of moving pictures on a screen through the digitally mocapped Na'vi of Avatar’s Pandora, cinema has always been associated with spectacle – defined as an impressive, unusual, or disturbing phenomenon or event that is seen or witnessed. This course will explore the concept of “spectacle” by examining the very different ways that cinema has depended on sensationalist display throughout its history. New technologies have been mediated through cinematic spectacle; spectacle has been marshaled in the service of pedagogy and propaganda; the image of women in American film has been theorized as a form of spectacular excess. The course will also explore the function of spectacle in experimental cinema, as well as the deconstructions of spectacle by Godard and others in the wake of Guy Debord’s book, The Society of the Spectacle.

COML 620 .401

T 12-3 Yang
Cross listed with ENGL 748

Theorizing Orientalism

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, with interlocutors such as Lisa Lowe, Rey Chow, Shu-mei Shih, Aijaz Ahmad, Arif Dirlik, and Bernard Lewis. We will consider the influence of Said on several works of postcolonial and subaltern studies, especially given that Orientalism has, not unproblematically, become a catchword for the postcolonial at a moment when the term 'postcolonial' is itself overly capacious. A central aim of the course will be to study some of Said's key theoretical influences (i.e. Hegel, Marx, Foucault) and generally overlooked scholars of Orientalism (Schwab, Tibawi) pre-dating or contemporaneous with Said. To interrogate the relationship between literature, aesthetics, and politics, we will read the theory in dialogue with a few literary works drawn from the early modern period to illustrate the shift from 17th and 18th century exoticisms to the institutionalized Orientalism of colonial governance, primarily in the British context. We will also explore the development of concepts such as Oriental despotism and the Asiatic Mode of Production and their relevance to the fields of East Asian Studies and Asian American Studies.

COML 697.401

T 2-5 Laddaga
Cross listed with SPAN 697

Voice and Subjectivity in Digital Media

Digital technologies have made possible for individuals to develop novel ways to make themselves public and reach others; they also force a deep revision of prevailing notions of what a human subject is. Objects that talk as if they had selves, subjects whose talk seems selfless; these figures appear again and again in the most interesting productions of digital media. This course will examine the transformations of the voice (as sound and as inscription of an individual's singularity) in the digital domain, through the analysis of recent works by writers, artists, designers and musicians.

COML 708.401

W 2-5 Moudileno

French/American Connections in the Diaspora

This course will explore the continuous history of literary, philosophical, political and aesthetic exchanges between African-American and French intellectuals and artists during the Twentieth-century. The course will underscore the reciprocity of influences between the two, as they both rely on a transatlantic “elsewhere” to come to terms with their own national and racial identities. This exploration will thus consider two interrelated spaces : On the one hand, France as a source of inspiration and productive site for African-American artists. Examples will include: WEB DuBois’s travels to Paris; Claude Mackay’s Marseilles; Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Chester Himes’s expatriation to France and subsequent philosophical writings; Josephine Baker and the Parisian scene; The Black Liberation movement in Paris in the 1960’s. On the other hand, the course will look at Black America in the works of some of the most canonical French and Francophone writers. Examples will include: Negritude poets and the Harlem Renaissance; Jean-Paul Sartre and the American South, Jean Genet’s and the Black Panthers movement; Louis-Ferdinand Céline and American urban culture; Franz Fanon’s use African-American history in his famous Black Skin, White Masks.

COML 769.401

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

Dissent: Literature, Theory, Futures

Dissent is a key word in our world today---from the Arab spring to the American fall, we have seen expressions of political disobedience and protest around the world. It is more urgent than ever to consider what dissent might mean, what shapes it has taken historically, what connection might exist between it and literature, and what futures are possible. We will read key critical and theoretical work alongside some powerful, tender and controversial writings and films (largely but not exclusively produced in the postcolonial world), to inquire into the politics and poetics of governance and dissent.

Students are invited to make connections with other historical and geographical contexts, as explore the different forms of dissent –individual, collective, urban, rural, nationalist, pan-nationalist, religious, marxist, or feminist, to name but a few. We will pay special attention to different performances of dissent at a popular, mass or individual level. We will think about the social and cultural channels through which dissent is expressed, spread or quelled, how it might morph, or become obsolete, or give rise to new forms of disobedience.



COML 787.301

T 1:30-4:30 Silverman
Permission of Instructor Needed
Cross listed with ARTH 787, ENGL 790

The Pencil of Nature

We are used to thinking of the camera as a controlling and even aggressive device: a mechanism for “shooting” and “capturing” the world. And since most cameras require an operator, and it is usually a human hand that picks up the apparatus, points it in a particular direction, makes certain technical adjustments, and clicks the camera button, we often extend or transfer this power to our look. Photography consequently seems another chapter in the history of what Heidegger calls “modern metaphysics”--a history that begins with the cogito, that seeks to establish man as the “relational center” of all that is, and whose “fundamental event” is “the conquest of the world as a picture.”

However, photography’s earliest practitioners and viewers had a very different understanding of the medium. They saw it as a new kind of image-making—one whose agent was Nature, whose goal was self-disclosure, and whose intended viewer was man. They also conceptualized this image-making in graphic rather than ocular terms, and stressed the differences between it and their perceptions. Surprisingly, they did not question its veracity, nor did they attempt to resolve the discrepancy between what they saw and what the photograph showed them by doubting their own sensory perceptions. They understood what Descartes was unwilling to grant: both opened onto the same world, the one they inhabited. For a brief time, at least, this world seemed inexhaustible.

Although these ideas disappeared with the industrialization of photography, they continued to reverberate in other domains: in philosophy, psychoanalysis, literature, painting, sculpture and drawing. Artists and writers also began making photographs “by other means,” and the obsolescence of the medium has now freed it to become again what it was in 1839.

We will begin this seminar with a discussion of selected texts by René Descartes and Martin Heidegger, and some early writings about photography. We will then turn to a number of psychoanalytic and philosophical texts that are about photography, informed by photography, and/or include photographs (Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, Walter Benjamin’s “Little History of Photography,” Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, James Agee and Walker Evans’s Now Let Us Praise Famous Men, and W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz). We will conclude the seminar with a discussion of some contemporary artists who work in, or with, photography: Gerhard Richter, Vija Celmins, Roni Horn, and Vera Lutter.

Last modified January 18, 2011
Maintained by Cliff Mak
Program in Comparative Literature
School of Arts & Sciences
University of Pennsylvania