Graduate Courses
Spring 2016

COML 532.401 20th Century Paintings and Literature in the Low Countries: "the real thing"

TR 10:30-12:00 Vandevoorde

All readings and lectures in English; Undergrads need permission

Cross listed with DTCH 530

On the one hand the development of literature and arts is a similar one: they show the same movements and schools. This is the case in most countries and seems also true for 20th century culture in the Low Countries. At a more individual level, artists - from James Ensor and Theo van Gogh to Jan Fabre and Marlene Dumas - can easily be related to different literary authors. On the other hand it can be demonstrated how literature and art influence each other, and this from symbolism and the historical avant-garde until late modernism and postmodernism. Uncountable are the artworks inspired by literary themes and forms and literary texts that make use of 'ekphrasis'. Parallel developments can even lead to genres in which arts and literature merge, as e.g. in visual poetry. Through a history of the representation of material things in arts and literature it can easily be demonstrated how literature and arts often run parallel and how they interact with each other.

COML 537.401 Topics in Cultural History: Making and Marking Time

T 3-5 Weissberg

All readings and lectures in English; Undergrads need permission

Cross listed with GRMN 541, ARTH 584, ENGL 563

What is time? In the late 19th century, the questions of how to define time, how to slow down time, and, above all, how to accelerate movement have become focus of the work by many European philosophers who have tried to come to terms with what is now termed as the Industrial Revolution, and the idea of "progress." And can time be understood as something continuous, or is it fragmented, proceeding in fits and burst? Such contemplations on time have deeply influenced writers. Marcel Proust was a reader of Henri Bergson and translated his theories of time into a concept of memory. Thomas Mann has tried to navigate timelessness in a novel set on a "Magic Mountain." Virginia Woolf and James Joyce have pictured an entire universe in a single day (Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses) while early 20th century Italian Futurists made the contemplation of time part of their manifestos. With them, and with expressionist writers in Germany or writers from the DADA movement there elsewhere in Europe, a reckoning with time would also influence their choice of genre and form, writerly practice, and technique. Parallel to these literary experimentation, pictures were set into motion in scholarly studies by Eadweard Muybridge and finally in the new medium film; Impressionist painters insisted on picturing fleeting moments, and composers experimented with temporal sequences. We may be able to understand a reconsideration of time as driving force for the modern movement, or simply "modernity." In this seminar, we will study a selection of literary texts of the late 19th century and the modernist movement, consider the philosophical background and changes in historiography, and integrate a consideration of the visual arts and music.

COML 544.401 Environmental Humanities: Theory, Method, Practice

W 3-5 Wiggin

All readings and lectures in English; Undergrads need permission

Cross listed with GRMN 543, ENGL 584, ENVS 543, SPAN 543

This is a seminar-style course designed to introduce students to the trans- and interdisciplinary field of environmental humanities. Weekly readings and discussions will be complemented by guest speakers from a range of disciplines including ecology, atmospheric science, computing, history of science, medicine, anthropology, literature, and the visual arts. Participants will develop their own research questions and a final project, with special consideration given to building the multi-disciplinary collaborative teams research in the environmental humanities often requires.

COML 590.401 Posthumous Papers: The Birth of the Literary Archive

R 3-5 Spoerhase

All readings and lectures in English: Undergrads need permission

Cross listed with GRMN 585, ENGL 550

Was there ever a moment in which the notion of posthumous papers and its institutional correlate, the literary archive, did not yet exist? It turns out that the systematic collection of one's own (future) posthumous papers by writers themselves for posthumous archiving or publication was only reckoned with around 1800. The concept of a writer's posthumous papers originates from a biographically oriented understanding of literature. It was none other than Goethe who played a central role in ensuring the enduring validity of this approach through his autobiographical writings, his authorized edition of his complete works, the publication of his correspondence and above all through the meticulous and professional organization of his personal archive. Goethe evidently wanted to guarantee his literary afterlife through the organization of his posthumous papers. After Goethe's successful efforts, the writer's posthumous papers were treated in an increasingly professional manner. Associated with this academic professionalization was an institutionalization of the posthumous papers in national literary archives which were founded at the end of the nineteenth century. As a consequence, the institution of the literary archive developed into a cultural force and critical practice influenced by scholars, administrators, archivists and not least authors The graduate seminar attempts to trace the complex history of the emergence of the literary archive and to show how this history profoundly informs the way literary critics are working today.

COML 593.401 The Holocaust-Representation and Silence

M 2-4 Finotti/Elkann

Cross listed with ITAL 581, JWST 581

COML 596.401 War, Fiction and the Postcolonial

R 2-4:30 Moudileno

Cross listed with FREN 590, AFRC 591, AFST 560

COML 599.401 The Place of Film and Media Theory

W 2-5 Beckman

Cross listed with ARTH 593, CINE 590, GSWS 594, ENGL 593

Taking its title from a recent special issue in the journal Framework, this seminar will engage the where of film and media theory. At a moment when this discourse, often presumed to have roots in Anglo and Western European traditions, is purportedly undergoing a "global turn," we will consider how some of film and media theory's key terms and preoccupations-including realism, documentary, genre, identity, sound, spectatorship, nation, auteur, and screens-are being inflected by expanded geographic, linguistic, aesthetic and cultural frames. We will grapple with some of the logistical challenges, motivations, resistances, and questions that scholars encounter as they attempt to shift film and media theory's borders; compare contemporary efforts to broaden the discourse's geographic horizon with earlier efforts to do the same; and consider what happens to the viewer's sense of space and place in different media environments.

Course requirements: full participation in readings, screenings, discussion, and class presentations; 20-25 page research paper + annotated bibliography. Permission of instructor required for advanced undergraduates.

COML 601.401 Boethius from Late Antiquity to Early Modern Period: Reception/


NOTE TIME CHANGE:  T 7 - 10 p.m.  Copeland

Undergrads need permission

Contact Rita Copeland ( for location


Cross listed with CLST 618, ENGL 524

This seminar will explore the medieval and early modern reception of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, through literary imitations and translations, commentaries, and literary responses. To study the fortunes of the Consolation is to come to terms with one of the greatest informing influences on medieval and early modern European poetic thought. We will spend the first few weeks reading and digesting the Consolation itself, working between the Latin text and an English translation (probably using the Loeb edition). Knowledge of Latin is not required for the course, but the readings will provide ample opportunities for you to work on and with Latin as you wish. When we have read the Consolation we will explore its reception history. This will include medieval vernacular receptions (moving from early texts such as the Old English Boethius to its many appearances in Old French and Middle French, in Middle English especially in the form of Chaucer's Boece, and in any other language traditions that students want to cover); some of the remarkable commentaries on the text, and the later medieval literary apotheosis of the Consolation in Chaucer's Troilus and the "Boethian lyrics," in Thomas Usk's Testament of Love, in Hoccleve's Regiment of Princes, and in early modern texts, including--spectacularly--the translation of the Consolation by Queen Elizabeth 1. I encourage you to bring your own interests in the Consolation to the course and suggest some reception directions for the group to take.

COML 606.401 Aristophanes and Old Comedy

T 2-5 Rosen

For Ph.D. students only

Cross listed with ENGL 705, GREK 602

This advanced graduate seminar in Greek literature will focus in detail on several plays of Aristophanes and selections from his contemporaries in Old Comedy, Cratinus and Eupolis. Special attention will be paid both to questions of genre and comic dynamics, and to the historical and political contexts in which these plays were first performed.

COML 620.401 Theorizing Orientalism

T 12-3 Yang

Cross listed with ENGL 748, NELC 781

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 623.401 Literary Theory, Aesthetics, and Comparative Literature in

South Asia

R 3-6 Patel

Cross listed with SAST 623

This seminar surveys the multiple components of literary culture in South Asia. Students will engage critically with selected studies of literary history and aeshetics from the past two millennia. In order to introduce students to specific literary cultures (classical, regional, contemporary) and to the scholarly practices that situate literature in broader contexts of culture and society, the course will focus both on the literary theories - especially from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - that position South Asia's literary cultures within broader disciplinary frameworks that use literary documents to inform social, historical and cultural research projects. The aim is to open up contexts whereby students can develop their own research projects using literary sources.

COML 683.401 Global Cultural Formations

W 2-5 Platt

Undergrads need permission

Cross listed with SLAV 683, ENGL 573

Global and transnational phenomena in cultural life are the object of study of an increasingly diverse range of disciplinary formations, theoretical tools and methods. Yet these modes and sites of inquiry themselves often work in isolation from one another: anglophone studies in one location, sinophone studies in another; world systems theory here and imperial and postcolonial studies over there. In Global and Transnational Cultural Formations we will bring these fields together for a shared investigation of their distinctions and commonalities. Theoretical, methodological and disciplinary formations to be studied include those mentioned above, as well as Caribbean studies, Francophonie, Russophone studies, Atlantic studies, Cold War, diaspora, cosmopolitanism, and others, as well as writings by Fernand Braudel, Pascale Casanova, Paul Gilroy, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Franco Moretti, Immanuel Wallerstein, and others. This experimental, interdisciplinary seminar will devote the first two hours of each three-hour class to discussion of readings in the study of modernism. The third hour 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. Seminar discussions and visitors will include Rita Barnard (English), James English (English), David Kazanjian (English), Lydie Moudileno (French), Deborah Thomas (Anthropology), David Wallace (English), Xiaojue Wang (Asian Lit. and Cultures, Rutgers) and other members of faculty from Penn and neighboring institutions. Students are encouraged to bring work in progress, either on the basis of past seminars or independent projects, to form the basis for their projects in this seminar.


COML 714.401 Premodern Romance

M 9-12 Wallace

Cross listed with ENLG 715

In this course we'll attempt to perform a most difficult critical task: to fall under the spell of a literary genre, romance, while yet observing how it works its effects on us. Romance is delightful, in that it romances us away, helps us forget current troubles or (for medievals) the certainties of teleology, the four last things (heaven and hell, death and judgment) at the end of time. But it invites suspicion, precisely because it lulls us into suspending critical judgment, and can thus perform hard ideological work. It is no accident that many national histories find their origins in romance texts, or that Elizabeth of York went to Winchester to give birth to her eldest son in 1486. This was the year after the dynastic 'Wars of the Roses' ended, and when William Caxton published his Morte Darthur. Queen Elizabeth's son, baptized Arthur, would have become King of England had he not died at seventeen; he was succeeded by Henry VIII.

We'll begin with the Song of Roland, a text of Saracen triumph claimed by both France and Germany as Ur-text of each nation, and reedited each time these nations went to war. Strangely neglected in England, where Beowulf is Ur-text of choice, it is actually an English text, best preserved in the Anglo-Norman of an Oxford manuscript. Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, written by an Oxford man who claimed Celtic (Welsh) origins, helped bed down the Norman Conquest of 1066 through tales of Arthur, Lear and Cordelia, Cymbeline, and other rulers that wind their way through Penn's genealogical chronicle of c. 1461 (now digitized) to Shakespeare. Geoffrey, rather like the great medieval sociologist Ibn Khaldun, was suspicious of any society opting finally to relax into enjoyment of culture: but Marie de France, a great genius of the time of Henry II, shows exactly such confidence in her lais. These include her werewolf tale of Bisclavret; the hero of the Middle English Sir Gowther is a diabolical wish child whose rape of nuns was too much for the compiler of British Library Royal MS 17.B.43.

Chaucerian English 'won out' in England because written in the language of centralized power, the Westminster-based Chancellery, but there was an alternative poetic that even Chaucer was forced to acknowledge. This alliterative tradition survives into the Percy folio, BL MS Add. 27879, copied in the mid seventeenth century--which itself inspired the highly-influential Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). The greatest and best known romance in this tradition is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, increasingly a core text for eco-critics, but the other texts in its unique manuscript, BL Cotton Nero A.x, are well worth considering-- Pearl (on the death of an infant daughter), Patience (the adventures of Jonah), and Cleanness (terrifying visions of mass destruction, and of the fate of the sexually deviant). Different horrors abound in the more popular Siege of Jerusalem (nine manuscripts), including cannibalism and (inevitably, sad to say) anti-semitic persecution on a grand scale.

The later part of the course will see us reading Malory's Morte Darthur, his great composite account of the mass destruction of Arthurian chivalry, written as the English aristocracy was destroying itself in civil war. This also includes, however, a Grail quest and plenty of erotic and eccentric adventures; the narrator clearly falls for Lancelot, the lover of Queen Guinevere. Finally we come to The Faerie Queen of Edmund Spenser (died 1599), a monumental reimagining of medieval romance for the Elizabethan age; we'll concentrate on Book II, where Sir Guyon has many erotic adventures, meets King Arthur, and learns the mythical history of England (borrowed from Geoffrey of Monmouth). Here again romance both charms and enables: Spenser was actively engaged, in writing and on the ground, with subjugating Ireland.

COML 734.401 Genre Theory and Performative Media

M 12-3 Bushnell

Cross listed with ENGL 734

The general purpose of this course is to explore the evolution and applications of notions of genre, in both theory and practice. We will consider how notions of genre have been used historically to construct boundaries and rules for literary production (a project so ably deconstructed by Jacques Derrida). Genre has also been understood to create a productive engagement between writers, readers, and audiences, creating what Hans Robert Jauss calls "an objective horizon of expectations." Others have argued, with Frederic Jameson, that a genre should be analyzed as an artifact of an ideology, a product of history. The more specific purpose of the course is to consider the construction of dramatic genres in different performative media, old and new, including theater, film, and videogames.

Theoretical readings will include Aristotle, Sidney, Frye, Genette, Derrida, Bahktin, Jameson, Moretti and Altman; dramatic and performative examples will include plays from Sophocles to Stoppard, genre films and films that bend genre categories, and videogames that draw from theater and film.

COML 736.401 Material Texts

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, and the Rosenbach Museum, 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 theories of materiality, fetishism and relics, "persons" and "things", the bible and the body, authorship and anonymity, writing as a material practice, the manuscript production and circulation of poetry from Donne to Emily Dickinson, graffiti, and letter-writing.

COML 787.401 Installations, Projections, Divagations

T 1:30-4:30 Silverman

Permission needed from instructor

Cross listed with ARTH 794

This course will be devoted to an international group of contemporary artists who make visual works that are time-based, like cinema, but that are exhibited in museums and galleries, instead of movie theaters: Chantal Akerman, Tacita Dean, Rineke Dijkstra, Jeremy Blake, Isaac Julien, Anri Sala, Pierre Huyghe, William Kentridge and Paul Chan. Some of these artists rely on digital cameras and computers, and others prefer 16mm film, but regardless which medium they use, they are having a transformative effect on the museum. They make work that cannot be hung on a wall or placed on a pedestal, that takes up space, as well as time, that has an auditory dimension, and that often mobilizes more than one medium. Most of the assigned works will be available to us only in a digital form, but I will be on the lookout for installations that we can visit. However, since few museum goers watch more than a few minutes of an installed work, which may be one or two hours long, it could be argued that the classroom is also a necessary and important exhibition site. We will think hard about the differences between these two ways of looking at time-based work, and what they mean for the work itself. (Limited to 16 students, by permission of the instructor.)

Last modified October 26, 2015
Maintained by Cliff Mak
Program in Comparative Literature
School of Arts & Sciences
University of Pennsylvania