DISPLACEMENT: THE LITERATURE OF FORCED MIGRATION, Literary Cleveland (April–June 2020)
Comparative Literature 100: INTRODUCTION TO COMPARATIVE LITERATURE, Spring 2019.
This course introduces students to the theory and practice of Comparative Literature through an engagement with the tasks of the discipline, key examples of literary and visual texts, and reflections on literary theory and methodology. We will engage with questions of literary genre, style, close reading, and periodization, while also pursuing a broader understanding of literary texts their historical, political and social contexts. Through an exploration of world literature, globalization, coloniality and postcolonialism, and the translation and reception of texts, we will develop literary analysis tools and reading skills to help us parse through a diverse selection of cultural objects. We will read one of the earliest surviving works of world literature, the ancient Mesopotamian poem The Epic of Gilgamesh and discuss the intertwining of different world mythological traditions. We will engage with postcolonial theories of literature through Aimé Césaire’s rewriting of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s reflections on colonial alienation. We will consider the collection of Arabic folk tales One Thousand and One Nights as a seminal text of world literature and translation studies and we will pursue the afterlives of its protagonist, Scheherazade, in texts by Fatima Mernissi and Mohja Kahf. Finally, we will look at the iconic image of Frankenstein from the Romantic text by Mary Shelley to contemporary Iraqi gothic fiction by Ahmed Saadawi.
Comparative Literature 101: LITERARY AND CRITICAL THEORY, Winter 2019.
What does it mean to look at an object, at an artwork, or at another person? Is the act of looking spontaneous, neutral and natural or is it informed by our memory, our previous experiences, by social conventions we have internalized, and by common sense? Is it proper to speak about the gaze as an individual experience or is the gaze a relational and collective structure composed of socialized ways of seeing in which we participate as seers? Is the image we construct of ourselves interdependent with the social gaze and the gaze of others? And can the gaze do harm to human and nonhuman others, especially when it controls, disciplines or misrepresents them?
This course explores the history of literary and critical theory with a particular emphasis on “the gaze” as a symbolic structure constituted by rehearsed acts of looking, historical assumptions, social practices and norms, and forms of power. We will engage with several schools of theory, including Visual Culture, Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Feminist Theory, Post-structuralism, Post-colonialism, and others, in order to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of the function of the gaze as a social, cultural and political force. For this purpose, we will apply theories about the gaze to a diverse selection of literary texts by Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Simone de Beauvoir, Jamaica Kincaid, ETA Hoffman, Bertolt Brecht, Franz Kafka, Toni Morrison, and Mohja Kahf, as well as to several films, including Jane B., par Agnès V., Illusions, and The Celluloid Closet.Students will develop a basic understanding of several theoretical traditions and will learn how to deploy theoretical concepts in order to read, analyze and critically engage with literary texts and other cultural objects.
Comparative Literature 36: GLOBAL HUMANITIES AND HUMAN RIGHTS, Fall 2018.
How can conversations in the humanities help us reframe and reconsider human rights discourses? Can literature, film, the arts, media, and philosophy serve as forces towards social justice? And how should we incorporate storytelling, testimony and narratives of witnessing in our contemporary debates regarding human rights abuses and violations?
Comparative Literature 33: POSTCOLONIAL AFRICAN WOMEN'S WRITING, Summer 2017.
This course is an introduction to contemporary postcolonial African literatures with a special focus on a number of key African female authors. Reading some of the most representative African texts of the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century will give us the opportunity to engage different African socio-political, cultural and historical contexts in depth and open the space for literary comparison. This course emphasizes the heterogeneity and complexity of African communities by paying special attention to the issues which have shaped colonial and postcolonial contexts including the particularities of different movements of decolonization and national liberation, the intersection of race, gender, sexuality and class in the production of oppression, the relationship between (post-)colonial alienation, belonging and hybrid subjectivities, and experiences of migration in an increasingly globalized world of porous borders. We will be reading texts by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria), Zoë Wicomb (South Africa), Assia Djebar (Algeria), Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt), Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), Buchi Emecheta (Nigeria) and Laila Lalami (Morocco), as well as a number of theoretical texts by postcolonial critics such as Frantz Fanon, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’O. To compliment our reading of literature, we’ll be watching films such as Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966), Ingrid Sinclair’s Flame(1996) and Ousmane Sembène’s Black Girl (1966).
Comparative Literature 100: COMPARATIVE EXISTENTIALISM, Winter 2017.
This course will investigate the manner in which world literature has addressed some of the most important existential questions related to what it means to be human, subjectivity, social alienation, pain and survival, by exploring different literary forms including novels, novellas and plays, in addition to autobiographical non-fiction, philosophical references and essays. As part of our understanding of the extent of the discipline of comparative literature, we will address the manner in which different literary traditions are constituted by particular intellectual and philosophical debates, forms of transnational cultural exchange, as well as by histories of violence and discrimination.
We will evaluate and compare different examples of literary texts from various literary traditions, including from Russia, France, Ireland, Algeria, Palestine, Zimbabwe and the United States, and we will ask what constitutes a genre, a style and a literary thematic. Literary authors include Fyodor Dostoevsky, Albert Camus, Kamel Daoud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Assia Djebar, Ghassan Kanafani, Ralph Ellison and Tsitsi Dangarembga.A large section of the course will be dedicated to the manner in which postcolonial literature rewrites Western literary traditions in order to address the complexity of power relations, and the psychological and existential effects of colonial relations. Considering the notion of world literature will enable us to ask questions about the mediation and interconnectedness of literary traditions, as well as the manner in which certain philosophical perspectives (in our case, existentialism) travel across different geographies giving birth to diverse literary expressions and worldviews. Last but not least, we will ask whether literature can convey something of the lived experience of differently-constituted human subjects and point us to the various social and political contexts in which identities come into being.
Comparative Literature 113: WAR, IMPERIALISM, TRAUMA, Summer 2016.
This course will investigate the historical context, global complexities, and collective impact of some of the most catastrophic wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, aiming to develop a discourse addressing imperial and colonial dimensions of power, as well as modes of recording history, remembering and representing trauma. We will especially inquire into the social, historical and affective impact of such major traumatic events as those of World War II and the Holocaust, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Nakba, the French colonial legacy and the Algerian war of independence, and 9/11 and the “war on terror.” We will be studying a number of historical and critical texts, as well as personal testimonies, literary texts and films preoccupied with making sense of and giving shape to traumatic collective events.
Central questions we will address include: How does suffering become internalized collectively and remembered in the making of testimonies and histories? What is the relationship between trauma and narrative? How can the inconceivable and the unimaginable traumatic event be represented and put into speech acts / imagery? What do the politics of witnessing imply? What are the ethics of remembering and building sympathy with others’ suffering? How does the historical experience of trauma become complicated by imperialist discourses and dynamics of power? And what do such notions as community, nation and cultural identity mean in the contexts of ongoing political and military conflicts?
German 164E: FRANZ KAFKA, Summer 2015.
Franz Kafka's unique and mesmerizing writings have marked generations of artists, writers and philosophers and have stirred an abundance of critical interpretations. In this course, we will close read a selection of Kafka’s novels, short stories and autobiographical writings in an attempt to trace the radical potentials of his aesthetic view of the world. While developing our own understandings of the ever ubiquitous term, the Kafkaesque, we will focus on the way in which Kafka carefully constructs his imaginary environments through an unusual amalgamation of bizarre imagery, a bitter sense of humor, existential angst, ambiguity, the absurd, a stifling sense of bureaucratic order, the challenging of authority figures, the privileging of the illogical, the irrational, the incomprehensible and the perspective of the nonhuman animal. We will also interrogate the fascination with Kafka's aesthetics by approaching a series of other media inspired by his manifold imaginary such as films by Orson Welles, Piotr Dumala, Michael Haneke, Philip Glass's opera In The Penal Colony, Max Richter's music album The Blue Notebooks, and Robert Crumb's graphic novel Kafka. Finally, we will engage with a series of theoretical texts by Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and others.