Graduate Seminar Archive

Comparative Literature 290 (Seminar 1): Religion, Philosophy, and Politics

Eleanor Kaufman (Winter 2017)

Exploration of religion in conjunction with key moments and thinkers in history of western philosophy, from classical to modern period. Study generally takes form of textual pairings in which given theme is traced over large historical arc. Themes may include time and eternity, confession, heresy, apostasy, Gnosis, and possibly mysticism. Thinkers considered may include Aristotle, Augustine, Ibn ‘Arabi, Aquinas, Spinoza, Kant, Corbin, Weil, Derrida, Kristeva, and Agamben.

Comparative Literature 290 (Seminar 2): Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Writing of the Disaster

Eleanor Kaufman (Winter 2017, Winter 2018, Spring 2018)

Taking lead from Maurice Blanchot’s work by this title, examination of series of 20th-century French and Francophone literary writings that take up–almost all in indirect, elliptical, or paratactic fashion–question of disaster. Consideration of how range of authors utilize disjunctive and often nonrepresentational style to portray psychic realities associated with war, genocide, colonization, revolution, and personal upheaval. Most texts address, however obliquely, World War II and its aftermath, Holocaust, or Algerian revolution. Authors considered may include Blanchot, Camus, Dib, Djebar, Duras, Fanon, Genet, Jabès, Mammeri, Perec, and Sartre. Texts read in French with discussion in English.

Comparative Literature 290 (Seminar 3): Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Strangers in Europa: Militants, Migrants, and Refugees

Aamir R. Mufti (Winter 2017, Winter 2018)

Focus on question of migrants and refugees in midst of what is seen as ongoing crisis of European Union. EU–product of long, slow process of evolution over last several decades–was first conceived in aftermath of World War II and Holocaust as attempt to integrate and reconcile continent that had been torn apart in early decades of century by violence on mass scale. Traditional national antagonisms of European politics have now been largely overcome; France and Germany are usual examples. But another troubling feature of pre-war decades has reappeared with surprising intensity: sense shared by large numbers of people that presence of relatively small alien populations constitutes threat to integrity, not just of individual nation-states but of continent-wide civilization as a whole.

Comparative Literature 290 (Seminar 5): BioCities: Urban Ecology and the Cultural Imagination

(Winter 2017)

This seminar introduces students to the study of nature in the modern city with the help of materials from environmental history, environmental literature, ecocriticism, cultural geography, urban studies (including urban planning), design, and architecture. From the early 20th to the early 21st century, the experience of the metropolis has been one of the most powerful catalysts for distinctively modernist idioms in literature, film, painting, and architecture, and it has also provided one of the matrices for distinctively postmodern literature and design idioms in the period after 1960. In 2008, humanity crossed a historical boundary: more than 50% of the global population now lives in cities, and future population growth will occur or end up in urban areas, with important ecological as well as social, cultural, and aesthetic consequences. Even though urban ecology is only beginning to emerge as a major new research area in the natural sciences and urban planning, the city has had a biological identity since long before modernity, and is beginning to develop an ecological profile again in the contemporary globalized metropolis. The BioCities seminar will explore the realities and cultural imaginations of the city as novel ecosystem over time and around the globe through stories, maps, and images. It will provide students with a global horizon in terms of how the city is imagined and represented in literature, film, and other media over the course of last hundred years, and it will also develop a particular focus on Los Angeles. Readings will include literary works; nonfictional text; planning, architectural, and geographical document; and works across media such as photography, films, maps, websites, and databases.

Comparative Literature M294 (Seminar 1): Literary Theory: Foucault and Althusser: Structure, Political Economy, Confession

Eleanor Kaufman (Fall 2016, Winter 2017, Winter 2018)

This course will provide an eclectic introduction to the work of Louis Althusser and especially Michel Foucault, by focusing on three common lines of inquiry these otherwise strikingly different thinkers shared.  In both cases, we will consider major works from the 1960s and 1970s alongside more recently collected course lectures and archival materials.  We will also look at some of the now extensive work on Foucault and neoliberalism while trying to frame our inquiry in different terms.

Comparative Literature: M294 (Seminar 2): Literary Theory: Memory, Violence, and the Implicated Subject

Michael Rothberg (Spring 2018)

This seminar will serve both as an introduction to the field of cultural memory studies and as an occasion to reflect on the question of historical responsibility. We will begin by reading classic and contemporary texts on individual and collective memory by such scholars as Maurice Halbwachs, Sigmund Freud, Pierre Nora, Jan and Aleida Assmann, Jeffrey Olick, Astrid Erll, and Ann Rigney. We will then focus in more depth on the ethical and political problems that arise from the retrospective confrontation with violent histories. We will explore the dilemmas of justice, reparation, reconciliation, and forgiveness and the status of beneficiaries, heirs, and other latecomers who are “implicated” in traumatic histories without having been direct participants. We will consider a wide range of contemporary literary, cinematic, artistic, and theoretical texts dealing with the aftermaths of Atlantic slavery, the Holocaust, South African apartheid, the Vietnam War, and European colonialism as well as ongoing situations such as contemporary globalization, climate change, and settler colonialism. Among the intellectuals and artists we will likely consider are: Hannah Arendt, Berber Bevernage, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jacques Derrida, Saidiya Hartman, Marianne Hirsch, Karl Jaspers, William Kentridge, Jamaica Kincaid, Mahmood Mamdani, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Bruce Robbins, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot. Since the course is meant to provide an opportunity to develop new ways of thinking about social and historical relationality, students will be encouraged to draw on their own research interests and explore histories beyond those mentioned here. Prior to the first seminar meeting, please watch Michael Haneke’s 2005 film Caché.

Comparative Literature M294 (Seminar 3): Literary Theory: Imagining Climate Change

Stef Craps (Spring 2018)

Climate change, arguably the defining issue of our time, is usually treated as a strictly scientific, economic, or technological problem. However, it also raises profound questions of meaning, value, and justice, as it challenges taken-for-granted ways of viewing and inhabiting the world. The early twenty-first century has witnessed the emergence of a wave of literary texts and other cultural artifacts that adapt or reinvent conventional modes of representation in an attempt to capture and convey the nature and meaning of climate change and the urgency required to tackle it. This course explores how contemporary literature and culture more generally are grappling with the problems posed by a warming planet. It pays particular attention to the formal innovations demanded by climate change, a phenomenon whose sheer magnitude and complexity defy familiar forms of narrative, and to the ways in which creative writers and other artists address inequalities in the global distribution of responsibility for and vulnerability to climate change in their work. A selection of recent humanities scholarship theorizing climate change and its cultural framings and impacts will provide a background for the discussion of a wide range of literary and artistic responses across different genres and media, from novels, stories, poems, and plays to essays, films, artworks, and new media projects.