College Catalogue

Comparative Literature


Anjela Peck Mescall
Nancy S. Rabinowitz
Peter J. Rabinowitz, Chair

A concentration in comparative literature consists of nine courses, including five designated as comparative literature, two in a national literature in the original language (e.g., Chinese, Russian, Greek) and two in either a second national literature in the original language or in linguistics or in a related art (music, dance, visual arts, or film and media studies) selected in consultation with a departmental advisor. Students pursuing the linguistics or related arts option must complete study in a foreign language to the 140 level or equivalent. All concentrators are required to take 211 or 212, and 297, and all senior concentrators will take part in a Senior Program in which 500 (Senior Seminar) is required and 550 (Senior Project) is recommended. A complete description of the Senior Program is available from the department chair. Only one 100-level course may be counted toward the concentration. It is to the student’s advantage to begin foreign language study early; those planning graduate work in literature are urged to take two additional courses in a national literature and to study two foreign languages.

Honors in comparative literature will be awarded on the basis of a cumulative record of 3.5 (90) or above in all courses counting toward the major, as well as distinguished performance in 550.

A minor consists of five courses, including either 211, 212 or 297; two other courses designated as comparative literature; and two other courses in comparative, English or foreign literature, or linguistics. Only two 100-level courses may be counted toward the minor.

Many courses at the 200-level are open to seniors without prerequisites. For details, see the specific descriptions below.

120F Introduction to the History and Theory of Film.
A general introduction to the wide world of cinema and cinema studies, focusing on crucial films from many cinematic traditions. Topics include the evolution of film from earlier forms of motion picture, the articulation and exploitation of a narrative language for cinema, the development of typical commercial genres, and the appearance of a variety of forms of critical cinema. Focuses on basic film terminology, with the cinematic apparatus and ongoing theoretical conversation about cinema and its audience. (Same as Cinema and Media Studies 120 and Art History 120.) MacDonald.

142F Twentieth-Century Fiction.
Organized chronologically for the most part, and involving such issues as sexuality, colonialism and racism. Readings drawn from high art, not popular culture, and include such authors as Conrad, Kafka, Puig, Woolf, Duras and Valenzuela. (Writing-intensive.) (Proseminar.) Open to first-year students only. Maximum enrollment, 16. N Rabinowitz.

[143] Literature on Trials.
Why are trials so fascinating? Our emphasis will be on the ways they clarify values, establishing borders between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, with attention to how they enforce cultural norms concerning race, gender, and sexuality. We will discuss literary and cultural representations of historical trials, such as those of Socrates, Joan of Arc, Galileo, the Salem Witches, and Oscar Wilde. Course materials to include readings from Aeschylus, Plato, Shaw, Brecht, Stendhal, Kafka, Camus, Morrison, as well as films and other primary and secondary sources. (Writing-intensive.) (Proseminar.) Open to first-year students only. Maximum enrollment, 16.

152F Literature and Ethics.
Study of literature as a vehicle for moral and political concerns and of the ways that literature shapes its readers. Special emphasis on popular literature, feminist criticism and the problems raised by censorship and pornography. Selected novels and plays by such writers as Ibsen, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Wright, Highsmith, Doris Lessing, Burgess and others. (Writing-intensive.) (Proseminar.) Open to first-year students only. Maximum enrollment, 16. P Rabinowitz.

[165] Truth, Lies, and Literature.
In an age of Internet dating, conspiracy theories, and fierce politicking, the line between fact and fiction quickly blurs. Examines how and why literature manipulates “truth” to formulate a story, as well as texts in which falsity is to be believed; in which biographical details invade what is claimed to be a work of fiction; in which the reader is also a character; and in which historical or literary fact is altered or invented. Works may include those by Bierce, Butler, Calvino, Dick, Fforde, Fuentes, O’Brien, and Vonnegut. (Writing-intensive.) Maximum enrollment, 20.

[202] African Americans and Cinema.
Exploration of the history of cinema produced by African Americans and the representation of African Americans in cinema. Topics include early cinema, D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation; Oscar Micheaux and the “race films” of the 1920s-1940s; early jazz films; Richard Wright’s Native Son as novel and film; Hollywood “problem pictures” of the 1940s-1950s; radical 1960s-1970s experiments by William Greaves, Melvin Van Peebles, and the “LA Rebellion”; Daughters of the Dust; Spike Lee, and Marlon Riggs. Course hosts visits by accomplished filmmakers and scholars. (Same as Africana Studies 202 and Art History 202.)

205S Modern China Through Film.
Examines how films produced in diverse socio-economic contexts generate conflicting modern representations of China, ranging from a legendary land, an everlasting patriarchy, to a revolutionary battlefield, and how these representations produce hegemonic and subversive cultural knowledge. Students will gain a broad understanding of post-1959 Chinese cinema and history, theory of film and cultural studies, and pertinent Hollywood films. All films have English subtitles. Requirements include film viewings, presentations, quizzes, class discussions and a final paper. All lectures and discussions in English. (Same as East Asian Languages and Literatures 205.) Wang.

[210S] Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature: Traditions and Modernities.
Since 1919, Chinese literature has played a decisive role in interactions between tradition and modernity. This course examines the development of Chinese literature against such interactions. Students will familiarize themselves with the most representative modern and contemporary Chinese literary works and gain a broad understanding of many modernity-related issues, including politics, culture, class, labor division, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. All lectures and discussions in English. Requirements: presentations, class discussions, film viewings and a final paper. (Same as East Asian Languages and Literatures 210.)

211F Readings in World Literature I.
Great ‘masterpieces’ have been inscribed on cave walls, papyrus, tapestries, parchment (goatskin), and paper in order to comment upon the world. This course examines the human condition through a comparative study of mythology, epic, narrative, and poetry, from ancient Mesopotamia and Greece to the Roman Empire through to the Renaissance period. It pays special attention to how sexuality, identity, and politics play in the representation of diverse societies in Innana, The Odyssey, The Golden Ass, El Cid, Les Lais, 1001 Nights, The Pillow Book, Veronica Franco’s poetry, and others. (Writing-intensive.) (Same as Religious Studies 211.) Maximum enrollment, 20. N Serrano.

212S Readings in World Literature II.
Study of representative texts in world literature from 1800 to the present, including novels, short fiction, and drama. Particular attention paid to the concepts of self and society, and they way they are intertwined with developments in narrative and theatrical technique. Readings to include works by such writers as Lermontov, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Robbe-Grillet, Borges, Talih, and Jin. (Writing-intensive.) May be taken without 211. Maximum enrollment, 20. P Rabinowitz.

[214] Literature and the Built Environment: Imag(in)ing Place and Space.
Be it an invisible city or simple apartment building, built environments disclose a vital interplay of material, spatial, cultural, and aesthetic forces. This course explores such environments through the literature that (re)produces a representation thereof. The texts we study challenge conventional discussions about “environment” as being necessarily synonymous with “nature,” and consider how our own natures both shape and are shaped by our inventions—real or imaginary. Works selected from the following authors: Calvino, Lem, Borges, Neufeld, Verne, Ballard, Coleridge, and Stephenson.

225F Madness, Murder and Mayhem: Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature.
Readings of representative works with emphasis on major literary movements, cultural history, and basic literary devices. Primary texts by Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, as well as some critical materials. (Writing-intensive.) No knowledge of Russian required. (Same as Russian Studies 225.) Maximum enrollment, 20. Bartle.

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[226] Sex, Death and Revolution: Twentieth-Century Russian Art and Literature.
Close analysis of major literary and artistic movements of the 20th century, with particular attention paid to the innovations of the avant-garde and the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution on the artistic imagination. Emphasis on the recurring theme of the fate of the individual in a mass society. No knowledge of Russian required. (Same as Russian Studies 226.)

[235] Love, Family and Loneliness in Modern Japanese Literature.
Love has always been a central theme in Japanese literature. Focuses on how Japanese writers of the modern period (particularly late 19th century to the present) depict the struggle with new concepts and forms of "love" and relationships. As well as basic readings about modern Japanese history and culture, assigned texts range from canonical work, various forms of early twentieth-century modernist mystery, technical and avant-garde writings, to contemporary "coming of age" novels. We will also examine such media as cartoons and films. Readings and discussion in English. (Same as East Asian Languages and Literatures 235.)

239/339S Modern Japan: Japanese Culture and Society From A(-Bomb) to (Dragon Ball)Z.
This course explores issues of imperialism, military conflict, pacifism, nuclear victimhood, foreign occupation, national identity, and social responsibility in 19th to 21st-century Japan. Materials include nonfiction, science fiction, poetry, war propaganda, novels, censorship documents, animé, and film. Taught in English. No knowledge of Japanese language or history required. (Same as East Asian Languages and Literatures 239/339.) Omori.

[244] Tragedy: Then and Now.
How did Greek tragedy work in the city of Athens? Athens was a radical democracy but was based on slave labor and the exclusion of women. How is this implied contradiction displayed in the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides? But tragedy also has contemporary life. How do these plays transcend their time of production? An opportunity to examine relations of gods/humans, fate/choice, as well as gender, class/ethnicity and sexuality. Readings to include works by Seneca, Racine, Sartre, O’Neill, Heaney, Fugard. (Writing-intensive.) (Same as Theatre 244 and Classics 244.) Maximum enrollment, 20.

245F "All Shook Up": How Modern Theatre Transformed Western Notions of Gender, Sex, Class and Reality.
A study of modern drama as literary and social text, with special attention to issues of class and gender. How does dramatic form express political and philosophical ideas? What is "modern"? Once experimental, these modern classics shaped theatre today. Texts to include works by Büchner, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Pirandello, Shaw, Beckett, Brecht, Ionesco, Genet, O'Neill, Treadwell, Lorca, Williams, Hansberry, as well as recent interpretations and productions of some of these works. Prerequisite, one course in theatre or literature. Not open to students who have taken 345. (Same as Theatre 245.) Bellini-Sharp, N Rabinowitz.

[251] “Modern” Youth in Japanese Literature and Culture.
Examines stories and other forms of cultural expression related to the emergence of “modern” youth in Japan. We pay particular attention to the cultural, historical and political backgrounds that facilitated the establishment of such a category. Primarily focusing on literature, readings also include other modern expressive media such as film, cartoons, animation and online bulletin boards. We will also examine the production and dissemination of certain images of “youth” by mass media. Readings and discussion in English. (Same as East Asian Languages and Literatures 251.)

[258] Opera.
Study of literary and musical dimensions of operas by major composers from Monteverdi and Mozart to the present. Emphasis on the transformation of independent texts into librettos and the effects of music as it reflects language and dramatic action. Includes such works as Orfeo, The Marriage of Figaro, Otello, The Turn of the Screw and Candide. Prerequisite, two courses in literature or two in music or one in each field, or consent of instructors. (Same as Music 258.) Maximum enrollment, 24.

[270] Heaven, Hell and the Space in Between: Devils and Deities in Russian Literature and Art.
Examination of the portrayals of the cosmic conflict: Good vs. Evil, Heaven vs. Hell, God vs. Satan. The second half of the semester will be dedicated to a close reading and analysis of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov. (Writing-intensive.) No knowledge of Russian required. (Same as Russian Studies 270.) Maximum enrollment, 20.

[278] The Straight Story?: Rethinking the Romance.
A study of the ways in which various forms of sexual desire (overt or closeted) drive the plot of literary works. How is desire constructed? How have authors used, manipulated and resisted the marriage plot for aesthetic and political ends? Special attention to works by gay and lesbian authors. Readings, which include works of theory as well as imaginative texts, to include such authors as Austen, Diderot, Balzac, Zola, Wilde, Baldwin. (Same as Women's Studies 278.)

[281] Performing Politics: Gender and Sexuality.
Examines the connections between theatre and political life: Is theatre political? Is political action theatrical? Focusing on performances in 20th-century Europe and the United States, we will read plays, theatre history, and political and historical documents to understand 1) how playwrights have used theatre for political ends and 2) how both “left” and “right” have mobilized people in demonstrations that might be considered performances. Topics include AIDS, reproductive rights and sexuality (drag and performance art). Prerequisite, one course in theatre or comparative literature. (Same as Women's Studies 281.)

[285] Detective Story, Tradition and Experiment.
Survey of a broad range of works, both “popular” and “serious,” showing the continual renewal of the genre through the manipulation of conventional elements to produce new effects and to argue a variety of positions. Includes readings from Sophocles, Dostoevsky, Christie, Faulkner, Hammett, Chandler, Nabokov, Robbe-Grillet, Borges, Butor, Stoppard, Cortázar and others. Prerequisite, one course in literature. (Same as English and Creative Writing 285.)

288F Show and Tell: Comics and Graphic Narratives.
In Reading Comics, Douglas Wolk states “The cheap way of referring to them is “comics” or “comic books”; the fancy way is “graphic novels”. Erasing these common prejudices, this class reinforces that comics is a sophisticated and complex medium that bears close affinities with art, film, and literature. This is an introductory study of comics across cultures and within global contexts—Tintin, Astro Boy, Wonder Woman, Watchmen and others—one that emphasizes visual narrative storytelling as well as the socio-political and visual trends that have shaped the powerful creative industry of comics. (Same as Art History 288.) N Serrano.

[290F] Facing Reality: A History of Documentary Cinema.
The history of cinema as representation and interpretation of "reality," focusing on nonfiction film and video from a variety of periods and geographic locales. Emphasis on the ways in which nonfiction films can subvert viewers' conventional expectations and their personal security. Forms to be discussed include the city symphony, ethnographic documentary, propaganda, nature film, direct cinema, cinéma vérité, the compilation film and personal documentary. (Same as Art History 290 and Cinema and Media Studies 290.)

[296/396] Keeping it Real: Nineteenth-Century Realism.
Realism emerged as a dominant literary form in the nineteenth century in the context of extensive social changes. In this course we will read representative works of realist fiction and drama to determine their aesthetic, political, psychological, and formal assumptions and effects. We will end with a consideration of the “new” realism of the early 20th-century modernist period. Readings to include works by such authors as Balzac, Zola, Flaubert, Dickens, C. Bronte, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Woolf. Prerequisite, one course in comparative literature or consent of instructor.

297S Introduction to Literary Theory.
Exploration of the kinds of questions that can be asked about literary texts in themselves, and in relation to the aesthetic, political, historical and personal contexts in which they are written and interpreted. Readings include drama, fiction and theoretical essays. Although the emphasis will be on 20th-century theory (including feminist, structuralist, poststructuralist and rhetorical theory), readings will range from Aristotle to the newest work on the relationship between narrative and cognitive psychology. Prerequisite, two courses in literature. Open to sophomores, juniors and seniors only. (Same as English and Creative Writing 297.) J Schwartz.

301F Cinema as Theory and Critique.
A history of alternatives to commercial movies, focusing on surrealist and dadaist film, visual music, psychodrama, direct cinema, the film society movement, personal cinema, the New American Cinema, structuralism, Queer cinema, feminist cinema, minor cinema, recycled cinema and devotional cinema. While conventional entertainment films use the novel, the short story and the stage drama as their primary instigations, experimental and avant-garde films are analogous to music, poetry, painting, sculpture and collage. Not open to first-year students. (Same as Art History 301 and Cinema and Media Studies 301.) MacDonald.

[306] Reading the Extreme in World Adventure Narratives.
Chase the snow melt from the top of Mount Everest to Annapurna, the Alps, and the Andes. Row through the waters of the North American Arctic and trek across the Antarctic ice. This course surveys adventure writing of the alpine and polar regions. It looks closely at the relationship of such radical landscapes to human exploration, endurance and epiphany, while also investigating how and why this literature captures the reader’s imagination (as we’re nestled safely inside). Readings to include works by Albanov, Blum, Fredston, Harrer, Herzog, Krakauer, Muir, Simpson, and more. (Proseminar.) Prerequisite, One course in literature. Maximum enrollment, 16.

[307] Splitting Personalities: Doppelgängers, Dolls, anD Illusions.
Imitation. Simulation. Artificial. Such terms are often used to distinguish an original from its copy, like Pinocchio, Frankenstein’s monster, or Rossum’s Universal Robots might be from their human archetype. Likewise, these terms invoke a certain anxiety surrounding efforts to create/locate perfection. So what does it mean to (re)produce the human aspect? To confront a subjectivity contingent on our own, which nevertheless marks a decisive split? Works may include those by Bazán, Byron, Capek, Collodi, Hawthorne, Maupassant, Poe, the Shelleys, and Tiptree, alongside Ovid, Freud, and Haraway. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, Two courses in literature. Maximum enrollment, 20.

[311] At the Crossroads of Science and Literature.
This interdisciplinary course studies the lesser known natural historical records of European scientists alongside the more familiar literary works of Romantic Era poets and prose writers. We investigate the way all of these texts employ the non-human as that which restricts the human to, just as it emancipates the human from, the animal that it is. We consider the principles of taxonomy and natural aesthetics, the generation debates, and theories of evolution, in order to understand 18th- and 19th-century efforts at representing the natural world. Prerequisite, 2 courses in literature or 2 courses in science. (Same as English and Creative Writing 311.)

[319F] Text/Image in Cinema.
Focus on the ways in which the histories of film and literature have intersected. Discussion of implications of adapting narrative and dramatic fiction to the screen. Also evokes the history of the use of visual text in film — in titles, intertitles, subtitles, credits — as a background for exploration of the wide range of creative uses of visual text evident in the work of independent filmmakers. Filmmaker guests will be invited to talk about their work. Prerequisite, one course in literature or film. (Same as Art History 319.)

[338] Seminar: Heroes and Bandits in Chinese History and Fiction.
Readings from several of China’s greatest literary works (including histories, novels, opera and poetry) such as Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian and The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Reexamination of widely held assumptions about history and fiction with discussions and writing assignments on the role played by different genres as sources for knowledge about the past. Emphasis on authors’ attitudes in shaping narrative accounts of heroes, bandits, assassins, scholars, women and emperors. (Writing-intensive.) Prerequisite, 280, 285 or consent of instructor. (Same as History 338.) Maximum enrollment, 12.

[344S] Unshackling the Mind.
What does it mean to be free? Aren't we all prisoners? Why are themes like goodness, beauty and order associated with freedom and transcendence? Conversely, why are iconoclastic beliefs and nonconformist behaviors sometimes depicted as liberating and transformative? We will explore ideas of “freedom” as well as the chains of circumstance, life and the world in Plato, Cervantes, Calderon, Angela Davis, Kurt Vonnegut, Anthony Burgess and others. Themes to include movement, community, individuality, law, body, divinity and otherness. Prerequisite, one course in literature or Africana studies. Maximum enrollment, 16.

346F The Comedy of Terrors.
Analysis of 19th- and 20th-century works in which stark visions of the human condition are paradoxically presented in comic terms. Emphasis on the techniques by which the apparently contradictory tendencies of humor and terror are fused, as well as the reasons (psychological, philosophical, political and aesthetic) why writers, film-makers and composers have been attracted to this device. Readings by such writers as Gogol, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Nabokov, Ionesco and Burgess; study, as well, of such films as Pulp Fiction and Fargo and such operas as Strauss' Salome. Prerequisite, two courses in literature or consent of instructor. P Rabinowitz.

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[349S] The Garden in the Machine: Depicting Place in Modern American Cinema.
An exploration of the many ways filmmakers and video-makers have explored and depicted the American landscape and cityscape. Extensive screenings of accomplished films and videos, contextualized by discussions of painting and photography; by readings of novels, stories, poems by Henry David Thoreau, Mary Austin, William Faulkner and others; by place-oriented films from other cultures; and by visiting filmmakers.

356F Introduction to Japanese Film.
Traces the history of one of the world’s most innovative film industries. Since the early 20th century, Japanese film makers have experimented with and improved upon cinema; their work has been influential not only in Japan but throughout the world. From the drama of early silent movies to anime, we’ll cover some of the “greatest hits” of Japanese film, whether widely popular or critically acclaimed. This exploration of cinema in Japan will offer both a new perspective on cinema itself as well as an opportunity to view the genre’s development in a specific cultural context. (Oral Presentations.) Prerequisite, Cinema and New Media Studies 120, Comparative Literature 120, Art History 120, any 200-level course in Asian studies or literature, or consent of the instructor. No prior knowledge of Japanese history, language or film required. Mandatory screenings on Mondays. (Same as East Asian Languages and Literatures 356.) Omori.

360S Proust.
Marcel Proust’s "In Search of Lost Time" is often cited as the greatest Western novel, but because of its length—over 4000 pages in the standard English translation—it is seldom read. This course offers a rare chance to study the novel in its entirety, with particular attention to Proust’s understanding of time, his revolutionary views on sexuality, his narrative technique, and his ideas about the relationship between literature and the other arts. Prerequisite, By consent of instructor. Maximum enrollment, 12. P Rabinowitz.

365S Major Figures in Cinema.
Focus on crucial contributors to the wide world of cinema. The work of one, two, or three particular filmmakers, each from a different sector of the geography of cinema, will be examined in detail. Possible filmmakers include Alfred Hitchcock, James Benning, Ross McElwee, Stan Brakhage, Fritz Lang, the Coen brothers. Prerequisite, ARTH/CNMS/CPLIT 120; or ARTH/CNMS/CPLIT 290; or ARTH/CNMS/CPLIT 301; or permission of the instructor. (Same as Art History 365 and Cinema and Media Studies 365.) MacDonald.

[391] Feminist and Queer Literary Theory.
Contemporary feminist and queer theories have a close connection to literature; they emerged from and later transformed literary studies. We will discuss selected theoretical writing, as well as creative texts from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century: fiction, plays, and films. Conversations will center around questions of identity and performativity, and the intersections of gender, sexuality, race and class. Readings to be drawn from the following: Oscar Wilde, Radclyffe Hall, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Tony Kushner, Cherrie Moraga. Prerequisite, At least two courses in CpLit and/or Women's Studies. (Same as Women's Studies 391.)

500F Senior Seminar: Theme and Variations.
The theme, a favored location for literary study for most of the 20th and now 21st centuries, is important for comparative work. We will study the ways in which themes are used and reused in different texts from different cultures, addressing traditional themes and modern reworkings, especially those inspired by feminism, queer theory, and post-colonial theory. Readings will be drawn from authors such as Homer, Euripides, Ishmael Reed, Paule Marshall, Wole Soyinka, Monique Wittig. Extensive opportunities for independent research. Prerequisite, three courses in literature. Seniors only. Priority to Comp Lit concentrators. Maximum enrollment, 12. N Rabinowitz.

550S Senior Project.
A project resulting in a thesis and supervised by a member of the department. Required of candidates for departmental honors. The Department.