Graduate Courses

Spring 2014

COML 509.401

R 3-5 Hellerstein
Cross listed with GRMN 509/ENGL 591/JWST 509/YDSH 509


The syllabus will focus mainly on poetry in Yiddish and English, but will include German, Russian, and Hebrew poetry. All will be taught in English translation, although students who know the languages will work on the original texts. Thus a secondary focus of the course will be on translation. For the class sessions on German, Russian, and Hebrew, invited colleagues from the relevant departments will participate in the seminar.

COML 525.401

T 3-5:50 Vaccaro
Cross listed with GSWS 526/ENGL 590


This course foregrounds new works in feminist thinking which circumvent and resist stale modes of teaching, learning and knowing difference and “the woman question.” Our aim is to interrogate the normative directionality of feminist “waves” and additive and intersectional models of suturing gender and sexuality to minoritarian politics. We will conceptualize feminism as relational to studies of affect, object oriented ontology, animality, feminist science, and aesthetics.

COML 527.401

M 2-5 Fishman
Cross listed with HEBR 583


Though Jews are known as “the People of the Book,” Hebrew Bible has not always played a preeminent role in post-biblical Judaism. Through the study of primary sources composed from late Antiquity through the late Middle Ages, this course will consider some of the under-appreciated ways in which Jews related to, and used, Tanakh. Topics to be considered include: the tripartite division of Hebrew Scriptures; the use of Scripture in prayer; the Masoretic fixing of Scripture’s text; enumerations of the 613 scriptural commandments and their cultural uses; Karaite and Rabbanite thinking on the place of Scripture in legal decision-making; the extra-biblical materials in medieval illuminated Hebrew Bible codices; the Maimonidean doctrine of the Pentateuch’s Mosaic authorship. Students should be able to read unvocalized Hebrew texts.

COML 529.401

M 5-8 Francis
Cross listed with CINE 530/AFRD 526/ENGL 570


Film aesthetics and intellectual history of cinemas in the African diaspora. Shifting views on race/racism and gender/sex/sexism within the overall context of the Hollywood industry, American independent/experimental filmmaking practices and African Diaspora aesthetics. African American cinema as a case of cross-cultural contact, complicity, and creativity. Issues of stereotypes, authorship, and performance. Shared problematics an passions between African American film and literature.

COML 530.410

T 9-12 Copeland
Cross listed with CLST 530/ENGL 707


This course offers an overview of the ancient, medieval, and early modern rhetorical traditions, and aims to work very broadly across cultural and textual histories. It should be useful for students in any fields working in early and later periods (including post-Renaissance) who want a grounding in the intellectual and institutional history of rhetoric, the “discourse about discourse” that was central to curricular formations, aesthetics and theories of the passions, politics, ideas of history, and ideas of canons. We will read materials from sophistic rhetoric, from Plato and Aristotle, from Cicero, Quintilian, and rhetorical theorists from late antiquity (including Augustine); we will work through medieval materials from monastic and cathedral schools to the universities, considering how Ciceronian rhetoric carries an overwhelming influence into the Middle Ages; we will consider the professional stratification of various kinds of rhetorical production and theory in the late Middle Ages and look at some crucial literary embodiments of rhetoric; we will consider religious dimensions of rhetoric and especially its uses in women’s religious communities and devotional writings; we will give some attention to the late medieval recovery of Aristotle’s Rhetoric and to the continuous tension between rhetoric, philosophy, and theology; and we will look at early modern recoveries of certain ancient texts and themes (e.g. Quintilian, the sophists, political education) in terms of new capacities for analysis of stylistics, affect, and deliberative (political) oratory (and we’ll give special attention to early modern English rhetorics and poetics and to continental figures such as Erasmus). We will also read some modern reflections on the theory and historiography of rhetoric, and the class is open to any combination of theoretical and historical interests. All of our readings will be accessible in English.

COML 532.401

R 3-5 Stoop
Cross listed with DTCH 530/GRMN 555/GSWS 530


Women religious – whether they belonged to traditional monastic orders, or to semi-religious institutions such as sister-houses or beguinages – were very important and active players in literary fields in the Middle Ages. A great many codices were written for and/or used in women’s convents, and many female religious were involved in writing, translating, collecting, and performing texts – especially in the vernacular. In this course we will focus on the Latin and vernacular texts nuns read, wrote, illuminated and exchanged, primarily in Northern Europe from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Special attention will be paid to writings in which religious women were able to forge a creative authorship for themselves, such as mystical texts, sister-books, and convent sermons. We will include semi- or quasi-religious women as both actors and authors. And we will keep an open mind as to the inclusion of non-clerical religious men in the aforementioned capacities.

COML 554.401

M 9-12 Wallace
Cross listed with ENGL 553, GSWS 553, HIST 553


This course considers relationships between women and writing over almost six centuries, beginning c. 1150. My own particular interest in recent years has been how a woman’s lived, biological and historical life becomes a life, a written artefact, and how that first written text mediates down to us via later manuscripts, printed editions, popular translations, strategic revivals, etc. My book Strong Women also traces the long theme of enclosure, the promise extended to women that if they will only accept some form of physical confinement their powers of self-realization, and access to writing, will greatly increase. It also proposes that the allure of the convent, a private, self-regulating space for women, never goes away, just changes its form. The Introduction to Strong Women may be downloaded here:

This course will, however, offer a Smorgasbord of texts, open to the full range of critical approaches, and to extended individual investigation. The class will be collaborative, with opportunity for class reports that draw upon individual areas of expertise in Latin, French, and other vernaculars (including Welsh). Texts will be drawn from four historical phases, beginning with a group of four that just predate the secure establishment of universities: Hildegard of Bingen (briefly), Christina of Markyate (and associated artwork), Marie de France, and Heloise. One broad thesis here is that the rise of universities leads to a decline in intellectual opportunities for women that is not rectified until the late nineteenth century.

Phase II concentrates upon Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, two East Anglian women who actually met, but whose written texts differ greatly. Julian meditates questions of love and death, memory, and the body with an intellectual brilliance second to none in English tradition (according to Rowan Williams, the brilliantly polymath ex-Archbishop of Canterbury); only prejudice against thought channelled through theology can keep her off the Comp Lit Theory list (which features few women). Margery, au contraire, could not write her own text, but hired a male amanuensis/ scribe/ co-author (each term is keenly contested) in writing the first autobiography (some say auto-hagiography) in English: a text named by Hope Emily Allen of Bryn Mawr, the scholar who identified the manuscript, as The Book of Margery Kempe. HEA is herself a fascinating author; her archive remains at Bryn Mawr, and at Penn.

Clerics, pressured by central government, were keen to hereticate Margrey Kempe as a Lollard, but she refused to oblige and defended herself ably. Lollardy is seen as proto-Protestant, or as ‘the Reformation in a minibus’, according to Ann Hudson. Women become deeply invested in Reformation and counter-Reformation projects, but are often burned or crushed by them, or sacrificed as political pawns: figures to consider here include wives of Henry VIII, the nun of Kent, Anne Askew, and Margaret Clitheroe. Part III of the course ponders whether women can in such circumstances really can live a life that leaves a life of their own invention. Isabella Witney provides welcome relief as a woman using printed literacy to advance her own career, although London ultimately proves a cruel lover for her, too. Mary Sidney lives in seclusion at Wilton, as did nuns many centuries before, and writes religious verse of brilliant inventiveness. Elizabeth Carey writes the first closet drama in English by drawing Miriam, Queen of Jewry, from the pages of Josephus; she then disgraces herself by becoming Catholic and mothering four brilliant daughters, who conserve the text of Julian of Norwich. This they must do abroad, as Catholic nuns; Mary Ward, a Catholic from Yorkshire, joins them in exile, but in the attempt to found an international order for women who will not be enclosed. Her vast archive, closed to the public for centuries, is now available for the first time, with much work to be done.

Finally we come to the English civil war and the Restoration, and to Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, and Aphra Behn. Two texts that we will visit in Van Pelt tell an eloquent story: the vast, lavishly-funded tome of Cavendish’s plays, and Behn’s meagre play text. Cavendish eagerly keeps up with contemporary science, authors a feminist utopia, and strategically exploits the resource of her own beauty. Behn’s Oroonoko embroils us in issues of violence, sexuality, royalty, and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The syllabus may be adapted to suit interests of those taking the course, as reported on the first class day. It is hoped to feature guest classes by Prof. Patricia Stoop (Antwerp, an expert on nun’s literacies) and our own Prof. Melissa Sanchez.

COML 576.401

F 2-4 Elkann
Cross listed with ITAL 584


Course cancelled.

COML 577.401

M 7-10 p.m. Bernstein
Undergrads Need Permission
Cross listed with ENGL 587


Thinking in/around how a series of poets’ pitches – trajectories and calibrations – underwrites not just poems but possibilities for poetry. While the syllabus is still in progress (and subject to change and suggestion by participants), perhaps to start with Blake's illumnated Songs of Innocence & Experience, and move instanter on to –– on the one hand, Poe’s “The Poetic Principle” and several of his poems, works of Dickinson, Emerson’s “The Poet” and other essays, and Whitman’s “Respondez” –– and, on the other hand, Mallarmé’s Coup de dés and few poems of Baudelaire (and possibly considering Baudelaire’s and Mallarmé’s tr. of Poe). Seminar sessions will likely focus on sincerity and objectification with special reference to Charles Reznikoff, Laura Riding and her renunciation of poetry, John Ashbery’s “The Skaters” using the new Skaters website (with ms and digital tools), the poetics of Robert Creeley, Susan Stewart’s Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, the work of Leslie Scalapino, and also a session in/around PennSound (new approaches to working with sound files of poetry readings).There may be a philosophical interlude on/with Walter Benjamin. Plus seminar visits: Al Filreis on "first reading" situations (what might be called "the spontaneous attack of the difficult poems"), Bruce Andrews on L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and after, and Pierre Joris on Paul Celan.

More/updates information:

COML 582.402

T 1:30-3:30 Macleod
Undergrads Need Permission
All Reading in English
Cross listed with GRMN 580.402/ARTH 503.402/ENGL 590.402


What happens when a text gives voice to a previously mute art work? Ekphrasis – the verbal representation of visual art – continues to be a central concern of word and image studies today. The understanding of ekphrasis as an often hostile paragone (competition) between word and image exists alongside notions of a more reciprocal model involving a dialogue or "encounter" between visual and verbal cultures. The affective dimension of the relationship -- ekphrastic hope, ekphrastic fear -- has also been prominent in recent scholarship. Drawing on literary works and theories from a range of historical periods and national traditions, the course will examine the aesthetic and ideological implications of ekphrasis. Why are certain literary genres such as the novel privileged sites for ekphrasis? How can art history inform our understanding of such encounters? What can we learn from current work on intermediality and translation?

COML 683.401

W 5:30-8:30 Platt/Kazanjian
Cross listed with SLAV 683/ENGL 573


This seminar is organized as a laboratory space for graduate students and faculty working in a number of adjacent fields and problems. One half of each three-hour class will be devoted to discussion of a constrained number of readings in the interlinked areas of history and memory studies, cultural representations of collective violence, trauma studies, and other related topics, ranging from seminal works in these areas of inquiry (Freud, Benjamin, Caruth, Nora, la Capra, Leys, etc.) to recent and ground-breaking work. The second half of each session will be devoted to a presentation and discussion of a work in progress—a project either of a member of the course, or of a guest from among Penn graduate students and faculty mem¬bers. Seminar discussions will be led by a number of Penn faculty. Conveners of the overall course are David Kazanjian and Kevin M. F. Platt.

COML 700.401

W 3-6 Barnard
Cross listed with ENGL 775/AFST 775


In this course we will consider the major works of the South African novelist and Nobel Prize-winner, J. M. Coetzee, as well as the literary, theoretical, and political issues they raise. The reading list will include Dusklands, In the Heart of the Country, Waiting for the Barbarians, Life and Times of Michael K, Foe, Age of Iron, The Master of Petersburg, Disgrace, the memoirs (Boyhood, Youth, and Summertime), and Diary of a Bad Year. We will also study Coetzee’s wide-ranging academic writing, which addresses issues like colonial discourse, confession, censorship, the ideology of apartheid, madness, authorship and authority, animal rights, translation, the nature of the “classic,” etc. We will examine Coetzee’s complex, elusive, and critical relationship to South African literature and history, as well as his significance in the broader international context: his relationship to writers like Defoe, Kafka, Beckett, Nabakov, Dostoyevsky, and more generally, to realism, modernism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism. The Coetzee seminar, in short, should be of interest to graduate students with a wide range of specialities. Modernists, comparatists, theorists, postcolonialists, feminists, and specialists in the history of the novel are all equally welcome. Requirements: an oral presentation on an assigned topic, a final essay on a topic of the student’s own choosing, plus a short informal essay on the experience of engaging with Coetzee’s oeuvre (along the lines of Hedley Twidle’s “Getting Over Coetzee,” Imraan Coovadia’s “Coetzee in and Out of Cape Town, and my own “Why Not to Teach Coetzee.”)

COML 713.401

T 12-3 Patel
Cross listed with SAST 713


This course primarily introduces how to critically read literature in light of major global developments in contemporary literary theory and aesthetics from the past century (including structuralism, semiotics, reception theory, deconstruction, Marxist approaches to literature, feminist readings of texts, translation theory, etc.). It also draws attention to scholatic practices of textual criticism, paleography, and the preparation of critical editions. In doing so, the course emphasizes specific texts and essays related to South Asian literature, literary theory, and aesthetics from the past two millennia as case studies in order to: a) supplement students' knowledge of South Asian cultural production, b) frame social and historical questions related to art and aesthetics in contexts that have been otherwise under-explored, and c) to inspire debate about the extent to which analytical models and approaches developed within a given cultural setting are translatable to literary materials produced elsewhere. Students will develop their own projects, workshop what they have already begun, or explore new directions for studying literature and literary culture. Comparative approaches with other literary traditions are welcome and no background in South Asian languages or history is required.

COML 736.401

W 9-12 Stallybrass
Cross listed with ENGL 736


This course will focus upon the material culture of reading, writing, and printing from 1400 to 1900 in England and America, although students will be welcome to develop twentieth-century topics (e.g. on Mercedes de Acosta’s bible with its photograph gallery of her “saints,” including Greta Garbo). We will do hands-on research on the extraordinary collections of manuscripts and printed texts at the Library Company, the Free Library, the Rosenbach Museum, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation as well as at Penn, and the course will give you a chance to find archives and to develop publishable projects that will be relevant to whatever research you will go on to do. The topics that we will explore will include religious and sexual censorship, the manuscript circulation of poetry, the politics of the alphabet, writing and printing the American Revolution, and letter-writing practices.

COML 787.401

T 1:30-4:30 Silverman
Cross listed with ARTH 794/ENGL 780


"When industry erupts into the sphere of art," Baudelaire wrote in 1859, "it becomes the latter's mortal enemy, and in the resulting confusion of functions none is well carried out... If photography is allowed to deputize for art in some of art's activities, it will not be long before it has supplanted or corrupted art altogether... Photography must, therefore, return to its true duty, which is handmaid of the arts and sciences."

History has not been kind to this argument. First, Henry Fox Talbot and many of his contemporaries attributed the photographic image to nature, not industry, and the same is true of a number of contemporary artists. Second, by 1842--three years after the official invention of photography--photographers had already begun hand-coloring their daguerreotypes, and a century and a half later Richter established this practice as a bone fide form of art-making; he started smearing and spattering paint onto small photographs, and exhibiting them along with his abstract and figurative paintings. By the mid-1850's, many artists were also painting from photographs, sometimes by projecting them onto their canvases, and treating these projections as if they were preparatory drawings. They called the resulting images "photo-paintings." And although it became increasingly "disreputable" to work in this way as the century progressed, Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet, Henri Fantin-Latour, Edgar Degas and Édouard Vuillard all made paintings that are in one way or another "photographic." Some of them also saw photography as the gateway to a new kind of figurative painting.

Abstraction hardened the distinction between art and photography, and brought these trans-medium explorations to an end. However, photo-painting resurfaced in the 1950s and 1960s, and although it initially seemed ironic, it has outlived the movements that made this reading possible. As we can now see, photo-painting is a far more complex and multi-faceted way of generating images than those generally associated with Pop, Institutional Critique and Appropriation--one in which the world participates, and that has much to teach us.

We will begin this seminar with the two most important practitioners of nineteenth century photo-painting, Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas. We will then direct our attention to a group of twentieth and twenty-first century photo-painters: Richard Artschwager, Vija Celmins, Marlene Dumas, Richard Hamilton, Gerhard Richter, Wilhelm Sasnal, and Luc Tuymans. We will start and end this part of the seminar with Richter, whose work offers a sustained and constantly shifting reflection on the relationship between photography and painting.

Last modified January 16, 2014
Maintained by Cliff Mak
Program in Comparative Literature
School of Arts & Sciences
University of Pennsylvania