Comparative Literature Graduate Course Offerings
CPLT 751 1 "Literature and Justice: Writers on Trial"
[Cross-listed with ENG 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 "Dispossession: Theory and Vulnerability"
Content: This course centers on dispossession (a critical term seeking to account for the loss of land, rights, political membership, incarceration, indefinite detention, life). Dispossession is also a term that has emerged in the last decade as central to critical theory, including studies of slavery, racialization, and settler colonialism. Conditions of dispossession feature prominently in contemporary queer and feminist scholarship, transnational approaches to American Studies, as well as critical theories that seek to address mass incarceration and the death penalty, ecological disaster, and the predicament of refugees.
Part of the task of our course will be to ask how does dispossession also feature into literary studies, particularly representations of vocalization, figure, textuality, subjection, cruelty, and the body. The course will be of interest to graduate students who seek through their reading and research practices to account for vulnerability: juridical, corporeal, or environmental. In the second half of the course, students will be invited to integrate their areas of specialization into the course readings; for example, students may wish to pursue readings of Caribbean literature, philosophical writings, African-American studies, ethnic studies, environmental humanities, or queer/feminist theory.
Texts: Selections from:
G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of the Spirit
W.E.B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folks
Marisa Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive
David Kazanjian, Brink of Freedom: Improvising Life in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World
Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession
Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection and Wayward Loves
Sarah Kofman, Smothered Words
Jose Esteban Munoz, Disidentification
Fred Moten, Into the Break
We will also have selected readings from Hannah Arendt, Etienne Balibar, Edward Said, Eve Sedgewick, and Orlando Patterson.Particulars: TBA
CPLT 751 3 "Kierkegaard and his Readers"
[Cross-listed with RLR 700 & PHIL 789]
How do literary and religious texts pose questions within and to Continental philosophy? In this seminar, we will consider Soren Kierkegaard's phenomenology of mood, his hybrid genre of writing, and the distinctive way in which he deploys biblical texts, such as "the binding of Isaac" (Gn. 22) and the Book of Job, in developing his philosophy of existence. The "trembling" to which the narrator of Fear and Trembling refers is experienced not only by the biblical Abraham, who is in a religious relation to the absolute, and whose orders from God are sealed in secrecy, but also by Kierkegaard's narrator, himself brought to the point of inexpressibility in the face of Abraham's ordeal. In Repetition, the fictional protagonist offers an intensely personal reading of the Book of Job. The book's formulation of the problem of theodicy, the theological justification of suffering, and the example of Job's legendary patience, provide the protagonist with a means of making sense of his broken engagement. The disenchanted and ironic voice of Qoheleth may be heard in Either/Or's first-person description of aesthetic existence and Judge William's ethical diagnosis of it. A sermon appended to William’s letters by an unnamed pastor friend supplements Either/Or’s account.
We will attend to influential readings of Kierkegaard by Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Blanchot, Sylviane Agacinski, and others.
Particulars: One term paper (15-20pp.) and one in-class presentation.
Content: This seminar explores theoretical and practical methods to read religious texts comparatively. The course weaves analyses of narrative and performative elements, units, structure, forms, and formats of meaning and reference in religious texts with readings in comparative theology, intercultural and transnational studies, textuality, and narrative and performance theories. Readings, class discussion, and exercises in comparative readings are designed for students to become more cognizant of the units, structures, and superstructures that support the design, creation, publication, dissemination, and canonization of religious texts, as well as their relationality with texts from other religious traditions. Class discussions and comparative reading exercises will be informed by readings by Mieke Bal, Francis Clooney, Walter Benjamin, Georges Battaille, Jean-Luc Nancy, José Muñoz, Paulo Freire, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, Franz Fanon, Édouard Glissant, Mayra Rivera Rivera, and Calvin Warren, among others.
Content: The class aims to come to a general understanding of some basic Derridean 'concepts' and an appreciation of what we might call some of the manners of deconstruction. Each session will concentrate on one or two texts, but the class as a whole will work cumulatively. Some further readings are suggested, but are not obligatory. Texts to be studied will include: De la grammatologie (tr. Of Grammatology) ; La Voix et le phénomène (tr. Speech and Phenomena) ; L'écriture et la différence (tr. Writing and Difference) ; La dissémination (tr. Dissemination); Marges de la philosophie (tr. Margins of Philosophy); Limited Inc.; Voyous (tr. Rogues)
Content: In this course, we shall examine how the two fundamental insights of psychoanalysis (sexuality and the unconscious) put psychoanalysis into a primal relation to literature. Beginning with a close reading The Interpretation of Dreams, we will explore how Freud derives his model of the human psyche through dreams by appealing to literary language, literary figures, theatrical spaces and events as he explains the complex operations of the dream-work. Paying close attention to the privileged place that Freud accords to hysteria (and feminine sexuality) as the bedrock of the human psyche, we will look at how Freud’s feminine figures both define and challenge the very conception of the human. Throughout the course, we will focus on Freudian conception of the ‘primal scene’ as a way of examining how psychoanalytic theory challenges traditional conceptions of temporality, repetition, sexuality and desire, writing, mourning, cruelty, and the status of the historical event.
Texts: Texts may include: Selections of major works by Freud (including: The Interpretation of Dreams (Freud); Case Histories); selected works by Lacan, “Seminar VII on Antigone); Theban Plays (especially Antigone), Phèdre (Racine); Madame Bovary (Flaubert) Le Ravissment de Lol V. Stein (Duras); To the Lighthouse (Woolf); Marnie (dir. Alfred Hitchcock); Muriel (dir. Alain Resnais) Additional readings may include works by: Jacques Derrida, Jean Laplanche, Hélène Cixous, Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, André Green, Shoshana Felman, Sarah Kofman.
Particulars: This course will be taught in English. Texts originally written in French can be read either in French or in an English translation.
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.