Comparative Literature Graduate Course Offerings
CPLT 751 1 "Literature and Justice: Writers on Trial"
[Cross-listed with FREN 780, ENG 789, PSP 789, & LAW 621]
Content: History has put on trial a series of creative thinkers. At the dawn of philosophy, Socrates drinks the cup of poison to which he is condemned by the Athenians for his influential teaching, charged with atheism, and corruption of the youth. Centuries later, in modernity, similarly influential (similarly charismatic and ironically subversive) Oscar Wilde is condemned by the English for his homosexuality, as well as for his provocative artistic style. In France, the most outstanding writers-- Flaubert and Baudelaire-- are both indicted as criminals for their first (shockingly innovative) literary works; Emile Zola is condemned for defending a Jew against the state which has convicted him, and flees from France to England to escape imprisonment.
However different, all these accused have come to stand for something greater than themselves: something that was symbolized -- and challenged – by their trials. Through the examination of a series of historical and literary legal dramas, this course will ask: Why are literary writers, artists and philosophers, repetitively put on trial, and how in turn do they challenge culture and society? What is the role of art and literature as political actors in the struggles over ethics, and the struggles over meaning?
Texts: Texts selected among: Plato’s Dialogues; Molière’s plays; Shakespeare’s plays; Oscar Wilde (Plays, Autobiography, Critical writings); Gustave Flaubert (novels, letters); Charles Baudelaire (poems, criticism, theory of art); Emile Zola (political writings); Herman Melville (novellas); Bertolt Brecht (plays)); Hannah Arendt (Essays, Interviews); Spinoza (Ethics); Sigmund Freud (Psychoanalytic Writings); Jacques Lacan (psychoanalytic seminar); E. M. Forster (novel); Virginia Woolf (novel); Franz Kafka (short stories, parables).
Particulars: Regular attendance; Two short papers distributed throughout the course of the semester; Brief oral presentations; Intensive weekly reading assignment (weekly one-page reading reports) and active preparation of texts for class discussion; ongoing participation.
***NOTE: In some cases, recommended advanced undergraduates might be able take the class (by permission).
CPLT 751 2 "Sacrifice & Gift"
[Cross-listed with RLR 700]
Content: In the tradition of the French sociology of religion of Durkheim, Mauss, and Hertz, the conceptual figures of sacrifice and gift have received remarkable immanent readings as “total social facts”. This course explores the pre-war sociological texts on sacrifice and gift with attention to their postwar French philosophical resonances in Bataille, Levinas, Derrida and Nancy.
Texts: Readings may include Durkheim, Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Mauss The Gift, Merleau-Ponty, Signs, Weber, Sociology of Religion, Bourdieu, "Structure and Genesis of the Religious Field," Nancy, "The Unsacrificeable," and selections from Bataille, Derrida, Levinas.
Particulars: One class presentation and one 15-20 page paper due at end of term.
CPLT 751 3 "Theories of Democracy"
[Cross-listed with PHIL 789 & ENG 789]
Democracy has been at the center of both the branches of political philosophy and aesthetics as well as critical theory. The question our course will investigate is how the ideal of kratos (“power”) by the demos (“people”) shifts through various writings. What writings inform and extend our understanding of democracy as an ideal?
This course is divided into two sections. First, we will trace some established elements of democracy in classical philosophy and then learn of its translation into theories of the social contract. Some readings include selections from Thomas Jefferson, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, the Declaration of Independence, John Locke, W.E.B. Du Bois, Hannah Arendt, Thomas Hobbes, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. The second portion of the course will consider how theories of democracy intersect with literature, contemporary critiques of neoliberalism, dispossession, racialized exclusion, migration, decolonization, and critical theory.
Students will be encouraged to think about how critical theories of democracy impact their own research specializations. For instance, writings on democracy become central in the nineteenth-century for Herman Melville and Walt Whitman; postcolonial intellectuals and writers also return to the theme of democracy; Latin American writers during twentieth-century dictatorships explicate the significance of losing rights; critical theorists now return to the topic frequently in essays and debates. You will be able to pursue research in your areas of interest, while drawing upon larger conceptual themes.
Although we will consider some of the scientific and technical aspects of these new developments, this should not deter humanities students. In addition to the selected readings dealing with the above, we will also analyze and discuss several novels and films.Course Requirements: two essays, a midterm exam, and a class presentation; for graduate students, a longer research essay and a class presentation.
Readings will be taken from the following:
Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society; Bently and O’Brien, The Acceleration of Cultural Change: From Ancestors to Algorithms; David Auerbach, Bitwise: A Life in Code; Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon, Decoding the Social World; Max Tegmark, Life 3.0; Cesar Hidalgo, Why Information Grows; David Reich, “The Genomics of Race and Identity”; Elizabeth Finkel, The Genome Generation; Kelly E. Happ, The Material Gene: Gender, Race and Heredity after the Human Genome Project; Cyrus Farivar, Habeas Data: Privacy vs the Rise of Surveillance Tech; Brian Christian, Algorithms to Live By; Virginia Eubanks, Automating Inequality
Novels and Films: M.M. Buchner, Watermind; Robert Harris, The Fear Index; William Hertling, Avogadro Corp; Alex Garland, Ex machina; Henry Alex Rubin, Disconnect
Elizabeth Goodstein & Cynthia Willett
Content: We briefly examine traditional judgment or decision-oriented approaches to tragedy, and then turn to the tragic emotions and their contemporary relevance in an age that has declared classic tragedy dead. Turning from Sophocles to Euripides sets the stage for bringing forth unheard voices from tragedy’s origins in the choir. With this turn, we look at alternative non-Western conceptions of tragedy in the birth of music and Dionysius. Among topics: grieving and compassion, hubris as a relational crime rather than an individual flaw, haunted landscapes and epigenetics, and communal catharsis and psychological venting. Contemporary contexts include Afro-pessimism, the Anthropocene, neo-Stoicism, and Disaster ethics.
Content: In this course, we shall examine how representations of “non-normative” sexuality in several major nineteenth-century works relate to the problem of representing history in the aftermath of the French revolution. Many of the most famous canonical literary texts written in French prior to 1871 include references to impotence, lesbianism, hysteria, cross dressing, bestiality, masturbation and prostitution in the context of narratives that re-write or un-write the legacy of the French revolution. By focusing on the literary treatment of these ‘perverse’ forms of sexuality, we shall attempt to see how they encourage us to think differently about questions of historical transmission, language, gender, and sovereignty.
This interdisciplinary seminar will explore the literary, pictorial, and psychoanalytic registers of transnational surrealist aesthetics. Readings and discussions will begin with surrealist manifestoes of the modern interwar period, Salvador Dalí’s early dialogue with Jacques Lacan, Georges Bataille’s writings for the journal and secret society Acéphale, and particular attention will be devoted to the gender and sexual politics of women’s place within and beyond surrealism by examining the feminist writing, visual art, and occult practices of Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Ithell Colquhoun. In addition, the seminar will study postcolonial surrealist aesthetics in figures such as Frida Kahlo, Suzanne Cesaire and Wifredo Lam.
The seminar will employ the archival resources of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library and investigate surrealism’s migration at mid-century from Europe to London and finally New York City in little magazines such as Minotaure, London Bulletin, VVV , and focusing, in particular, on the New York circle represented by the Julien Levy Gallery and in View: Charles Henri Ford’s avant-garde journal of the 1940s. In the public sphere, the seminar will consider surrealism’s intervention in Dalí’s Dream of Venus pavilion for the 1939 New York World’s fair and his later Hollywood collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock in Spellbound (1945).
Content: This course will chart out a path from the study of Plato and Aristotle through the birth of Neoplatonism—with Plotinus [I shall also indicate the Christian dimension of this]—and the later Neoplatonic tradition both pagan and Christian, culminating in what I take to be some final logical developments of that tradition in the thought of Nicholas of Cusa.
- Heraclitus, Parmenides
- Socrates, Plato: Apology, Crito, Phaedo
- Plato: Symposium, Phaedrus
- Aristotle: Metaphysics
- Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics
- From Middle Platonism [Alcinous, Handbook of Platonism] to Neoplatonism: Plotinus and Porphyry [Origen]
- Plotinus: Enneads 1 6 ; VI 9 
- Understanding and discursive thought: Enneads III 8 ; V 8 ; V 5 
- Creation/production; soul-body: VI 7 ; IV 7  85
- Porphyry: Sententiae, etc. Iamblichus, De Mysteriis
- Gregory of Nyssa: De hominis opificio
- Proclus: Elements of Theology, Liber de Causis
- Dionysius: Divine Names
- Nicholas of Cusa: De Docta Ignorantia, De Apice Mentis
Plato: Complete Works
by Plato and John M. Cooper, Hackett, 1997.
Course BookletParticulars: TBA
CPLT 797R 00P Directed Readings
By permission of the Director. Please contact the Program Office (N101 Callaway) for more information.
CPLT 798R 000 Supervised Research
For independent research aimed primarily at preparation for graduate exams and dissertation prospectus. Please contact the Program Office (N101 Callaway for more information).
*Must be taken S/U
Content: Variable Credit 1-12
CPLT 799R 000 Dissertation Research
By permission of the Director. Please contact the Program Office (N101 Callaway) for more information.