Graduate Course Descriptions

Fall 2017 Graduate Courses


Courses Originating in the Comparative Literature Department

Prof. Apter
Advanced Writing Seminar

Meeting Pattern: Thursday, 1:30-3:15

Profs. Apter & Zhang
Seminar in Literature: Research Methods and Techniques: Proseminar: Comparison and Comparability

Meeting Pattern: Tuesday, 12:30-3:15


Prof. Bianchi
Revisiting the Western Classics: Ancient Materialisms

Meeting Pattern: Monday, 3:30-6:10

In the face of the rising popularity of “new materialisms,” this class examines the emergence of the notion of “matter” in classical antiquity. In short, matter, from the Latin ‘materia’ (related to mater, mother) is transmitted from Aristotle’s Greek innovation hulê (literally, wood).  We will undertake close readings of key ancient primary texts, including various Presocratics, Plato’s Timaeus, Aristotle’s PhysicsMetaphysics, and Generation of Animals, and Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, tracing the discourses of materiality that arise in concert with tropes of sex and gender. The guiding question here is: what can matter’s genealogical ties to the feminine tell us about the materialization of bodies and genders? At the same time, we will attend to the topographies and texture of ancient thinking about nature and materiality more broadly. Alongside a narrative of “emergence” we will also consider hermeneutic questions – what are the ethico-political stakes of a “retrieval” of antiquity and what is the nature of our relationship to these distant texts? How does such “retrieval” function to both conceal and reveal? Why “return” to antiquity and how might resuscitation of the canon contribute to contemporary theorizing? While ancient texts are undoubtedly “good to think with,” are they capable of displacing modernity’s epistemological binds in favor of ontological or material questions? How might a consideration of these texts enrich contemporary discourses of matter and gender? To help orient our study we will draw on contemporary feminist thinkers including Irigaray, Kristeva, Loraux and Cavarero, as well as critically engaging Bachofen’s 19th century conception of Mutterrecht. Some background knowledge of psychoanalytic theory is advised as is knowledge of Greek, however all readings will be in translation.


Prof. Duffy
Topics: From Topoi to Chronotopes: Spatial Philosophy and Early Modernity

Meeting Pattern: Wednesday, 12:30-3:10

This course will consider geocritical methodologies in exploring how the Renaissance—well known for its explosion of cartographic and cosmographic knowledge—was also a wellspring of intense debates and experiments over the nature of space and spatiality. We’ll explore how Renaissance writers imagine themselves in space and time and produce virtual spaces in their works. We’ll discuss how theology, proto-national identity, and classical philology influenced early modernity’s conception of space. Course readings will include Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Ficino, Petrarch, John Dee, Spenser, Du Bellay, Du Bartas, Tasso, and Milton as well as works by Heidegger, Westphal, Soja, Conley, Tally Jr., and others.


Prof. Gadberry
Topics: Justifying Europe (1667-1793)

Meeting Pattern: Wednesday, 9:30-12:15

In 1755, a massive earthquake came close to demolishing Lisbon, then the fourth largest city in Europe. The earthquake’s aftershocks, however, were also intellectual: Across Europe, writers struggled as they asked how God (or nature) could possibly be benevolent if so terrible an event could take place. The “justif[ication of] the ways of God to men” was an ancient project, of course, but writers in the eighteenth century were unusually preoccupied with the problem, and it was also the first time that the task of defending God or finding meaning in a world in which there is horrific suffering got a name: theodicy (taken from the title of Leibniz’s 1710 work).

This semester, we will look in depth at works that explicitly frame themselves as justifications or vindications of God or nature, but we will also look at works that disavow the theodicies they undertake, works that justify the status quo in registers that appear to have little to do with the divine. As we do so, we will read seventeenth- and eighteenth-century works, along with twentieth- and twenty-first-century criticism and theory. In what ways are defenses of existing orders or descriptions of “the way things are” the instruments of existing structures of power? What do philosophical and literary treatments of theodicy have to do with political and social life, for instance with eighteenth-century rationalizations of colonialism and slavery? How does the work of justification appear as a question of form? What does justification, rationalization, or theodicy have to do with the task we call “thinking,” with understanding correlation and causation? (In other words, “justifying” in the title above is both gerund and present participle.)

Primary texts include works by Milton, Pope, Leibniz, Kant, Hume, Voltaire, Diderot, Smith, Jefferson, Burke, and others. Secondary readings will take us from sociological theories (e.g., Weber, Boltanski) to liberation theology (e.g., Jones’s Is God a White Racist?), recent critiques of neoliberalism (e.g., Vogl, Connolly), as well as other works of twentieth- and twenty-first-century critical theory and literary criticism.

A working draft of the syllabus is available here.


Prof. Sanders
Topics in African Literature: Africa - In Theory

Meeting Pattern: Wednesday, 3:30-6:10

Recently there has been an explosion in “theory from the South.” Some of the most exciting interventions have come from African theorists such as Ato Quayson, Achille Mbembe, Jean and John Comaroff, and Mahmood Mamdani. Taking recent works by these theorists as our starting point, we will explore the application and adaptation of metropolitan thinkers such as Foucault, Derrida, and Schmitt, in order to theorize “necropolitics,” genocide, and xenophobia, among other burning issues. We will also take stock of earlier endeavors by Africanist and Afro-Americanist thinkers such as Du Bois, Senghor, Mudimbe, and Ngugi to define critically Africa’s specific contributions to the making (and making sense of) the world that all of us inhabit. Since a number of these thinkers are also writers and/or literary theorists, we shall also be analyzing key recent texts by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ahmadou Kourouma, Phaswane Mpe, and Antjie Krog.


Prof. Bianchi
Poetics and Theory Proseminar: The Nature of Tragedy: Philosophical Poetics of Greek Tragedy in 19th and 20th Century Thought

Meeting Pattern: Tuesday, 6:20-9:00

Greek tragedy has had a string of remarkable philosophical afterlives over the last two centuries. Transposed into the idiom of philosophy, tragedy also complicates the distinction between the philosophical and the poetic. Eschewing the notion that Greek tragedy offers insight into a universal human condition, this class will examine a series of issues, conjunctions, and articulations related to various modern uptakes of tragedy. We will undertake close readings of Greek tragedy, with particular focus on Sophocles’ Oedipus cycle (Oedipus Tyrranos, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone) and the Oresteia (Agamemnon, Libation-Bearers, Eumenides), and look at the shape of the “ancient quarrel” between philosophy and poetry in antiquity. We turn to the role and reception of Greek tragedy in 19th century German thought (Schelling, Hegel, Hölderlin, Nietzsche), and uptakes in 20th century French thought (Lacan, Irigaray, Cixous, Derrida). Some questions on the table will be: What constitutes the lure or persistence of these tales, and can we identify something called “the tragic” as such?  Why does tragedy return so powerfully in post-Kantian thought, how is that transformed in 20th century French thought?  How does this literary form animate philosophy, or become philosophical?  How might Greek tragedy lend itself to nationalist narratives and projects? How does tragedy work to consolidate and/or undermine patriarchal gender relations? In the course of the semester a sense of tragedy’s political and philosophical plasticity will emerge, alongside a particular narrative of 19th and 20th century thought, glimpsed through a tragic lens.

Cross-listed Courses Originating in Other Departments

*only available as an external course

Prof. Usher
FREN-GA 1191/COLIT-GA 2978

Meeting Pattern: Thursday, 3:30-6:10

Prof. de Vries
Origins of German Critical Thought II
GERM-GA 1116/COLIT-GA 1116

Meeting Pattern: Thursday, 12:30-3:10

Prof. Ronell
Criticism, Critique, Crisis: "Trauma Zone: Falling Apart in Literature & Philosophy"
GERM-GA 2900/COLIT-GA 2908

Meeting Pattern: Friday, 2:00-4:00

Prof. Bronfen
20th Century German Culture: Transatlantic Weimar
GERM-GA 2222/COLIT-GA 2222

Meeting Pattern: Thursday, 3:30-6:10

Prof. Tylus
Renaissance Italy
ITAL-GA 1552*

Meeting Pattern: Tuesday, 3:30-6:10

Prof. Feldman
Readings in Hebrew Literature: The Gender of Peace and War -- Israeli Culture as a Test Case
HBRJD-GA 1178*

Meeting Pattern: Monday, 12:30-3:15