Graduate Seminar Archive


COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Being Vulnerable”

Arne de Boever, Visiting Lecturer (Fall 2021)

This course reconsiders the political and philosophical concept of sovereignty in a time of increased vulnerability marked by climate change, police violence against bodies of color, remote control war, and more. After studying theories of sovereignty in texts by Thomas Hobbes, Carl Schmitt, Michel Foucault, and Giorgio Agamben, we consider various paradigms of sovereignty: the camp, the wall, the police, and the drone. The course ends by considering contemporary left liberal recuperations of sovereignty in the work of Chantal Mouffe, Judith Butler, Wendy Brown, and Bonnie Honig. Other authors to be discussed are Grégoire Chamayou, Jasbir Puar, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Frantz Fanon, Achille Mbembe, Eyal Weizman, and Joan Cocks.

COM LIT M294 – “Seminar in Literary Theory: Theories of Diaspora”

Jenny Sharpe (Spring 2021)

This course examines the emergence of diaspora theories during the 1990s, when the term was expanded beyond its classical usage for Greek, Jewish, and Armenian dispersion to include a wide range of migrations, displacements, and traumatic histories. We will consider how “diaspora” is used to address specific histories of genocide, slavery, indenture, and colonialism, and how these histories intersect with current conditions of transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, and globalization.

COM LIT 284 – “Theories of Translation”

Efraín Kristal (Spring 2021)

This seminar will examine various theories of translation giving pride of place to  philosophical approaches, and to essayists and creative writers who have engaged with the practice or the theory of translation.  Special attention will be given to the relationship between translation and meaning; to the determinacy or indeterminacy of translation; to the notion of the untranslatable; to the impact of translation studies in literary and cultural analysis; to translation and politics.

COM LIT C263 – “Crisis of Consciousness in Modern Literature”

Kathleen Komar (Spring 2021)

Taught concurrently with COM LIT C163. Preparation: reading knowledge of one appropriate foreign language. Study of modern European and American works that are concerned both in subject matter and artistic methods with growing self-consciousness of human beings and their society, with focus on works of Kafka, Rilke, Woolf, Sartre, and Stevens. Graduate students required to prepare papers based on texts read in original languages and to meet as a group for one additional hour each week.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Writing Arendt – Historicity and the Human Condition”

Kirstie McClure (Winter 2021, Fall 2021)

This seminar focuses on Hannah Arendt’s singular contribution to modern political thought, The Human Condition (1958)—her second book published in English, seven years after The Origins of Totalitarianism. Though Arendt herself disavowed philosophy, The Human Condition is now admired by many as part of the modern “canon” of political philosophy, a trend echoed in recent years by increasing interest among literary scholars and critics as well as intellectual historians attuned to the book’s relation to modern science. This seminar splits such disciplinary differences by regarding Arendt as a writer, a writer whose works defied the disciplinary conventions of academic specialists. Of particular interest will be the critical status today of Arendt’s central concerns and characteristic perplexities. These include the questionable relationship between politics and philosophy; the difference between ‘the modern age’ and ‘the modern world’; her distinctions between ‘labor,’ ‘work’, and ‘action’; the specifically political aspect of freedom; the link between ‘the rise of the social’ and the decline of politics; the significance and consequences of the scientific revolution; and the relationship between politics and literature. The Human Condition offers a capacious, and by the end panoramic vista on the historicity of, and evolving relations between, its many topical concerns.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Experimental Critical Theory – Stasis, Flux, and Change”

Kenneth Reinhard (Winter 2021)

For many of us today, the world seems unstable and fragile, suspended between old forms and traditions that are no longer functional (or perhaps never really were) and new paths and methods that are still obscure, only dimly glimpsed possibilities. We want change – but we’re not sure exactly what that change should be, or how to achieve it, or how to know if it is indeed real change, and not merely a minor modification of existing elements. We are unsure whether our situation is one of simple stasis, sterile repetition, or endless flux, and we yearn for the certainty that our actions can have substantial and transformative consequences. This seminar will address the questions of stasis, flux, and change in terms of political, scientific, ontological, and subjective transformation, in response to texts and concepts from the ancient world to today.

COM LIT M294 – “Seminar in Literary Theory: Narrative Across Media”

Ursula Heise (Fall 2020)

This class will explore storytelling situations, plot structure, character construction, fictionality and nonfictionality, cultural story templates, modes of reading/hearing narrative, image-text relations, and cross-media translation (text, film, games, Internet). We’ll also survey different approaches to these issues, from structuralist and sociological approaches to narrative theory in the 1960s and 70s to recent ones that emphasize empirical study, quantitative tools, and digital media. Throughout the course, you’re encouraged to explore and apply the theoretical and methodological tools you learn to your own areas of interest and research – different genres, periods, or media.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Introduction to Comparative Literature Faculty Research”

Kathleen Komar (Fall 2020)

This seminar will introduce students to the faculty of the Department of Comparative Literature as well as to their research.  It is meant to give you an overview of the fields and interests of the faculty and to serve as an initial exploration of their work.  We hope that this will provide an idea of the scope of cultural, theoretical and literary interests of the department.  Each week will be a presentation by two faculty members.  Each faculty member will provide readings for that week.  I will post them on the class website so that everyone has access.  After a short faculty presentation of themselves and their current research, seminar participants will engage in a discussion of the materials. The final assignment for the course will be to develop a question or idea that interested you during the quarter by contacting the faculty member closest to your interests and developing them in discussion with that faculty member.  We hope that this will give you an opportunity to explore new ideas and to get to know the faculty better as well as to explore new directions for your own work.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Mimesis \ Aesthesis – Connections, Disconnections, and Questions”

Kirstie McClure (Fall 2020)

This seminar asks how we today might relate and separate Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (German 1946, English 1953/2003) and Jacques Rancière’s Aesthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art. (French 2011, Eng. 2013). Its point of departure is Rancière’s suggestion that one so inclined “could” consider its series of “episodes” from that “Aesthetic Regime” as a “counter-history of artistic modernity.” But ‘could’ differs from both the normative edge of ‘should’ and the imperative force of ‘must’ with regard to such a “counter-history.” The seminar will explore what we might make of that “could” in light of the essayistic presentation common to both works and the different ways in which each proposes (or invites) temporal links between its selected episodes.

COM LIT C252 – “Symbolism and Decadence”

Ross Shideler (Fall 2020)

Taught concurrently with COM LIT C152. Study of symbolist and decadent movements in 19th- and 20th-century English and French poetry and prose, including authors such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Wilde, Yeats, and Eliot.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: The Humanities in Ruins”

Aamir Mufti (Spring 2020)

This graduate seminar will be concerned with the history of the idea of the Humanities in the modern university. In particular its focus will be on the discourse of crisis that has accompanied the rise of the Humanistic disciplines and seems to be integral to them. We will examine the works of a range of philosophical and critical writers, from Kant and Schiller to Derrida, Reading, and Said.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Media of Memory”

Michael Rothberg (Winter 2020)

Quick introduction to interdisciplinary field of memory studies, plus more sustained exploration of various ways memories are mediated and remediated. Students read contemporary theorists of media and remediation (such as Jay David Bolter/Richard Grusin, John Guillory, and Alan Liu) and theorists of cultural memory (including Aleida Assmann, Astrid Erll, Maurice Halbwachs, Alison Landsberg, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pierre Nora, Ann Rigney, and others). Weekly focus on different memory medium: brain and body, group, archive, text, monument, photograph, film, museum, and Internet. Active participation, in-class presentation, and paper required. For papers, students have opportunity to focus on mnemonic medium of choice.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Literary Networks”

Stephanie Bosch Santana (Winter 2020)

From street literature to international prizewinners, how do networks through which texts travel influence their form, language, politics, and aesthetics? Exploration of oral, print, and digital networks and institutions of African literary production and consumption from precolonial to decolonial period. Includes colonial-era publishing bureaus, literary competitions, publishing series, books clubs, and Facebook groups. Authors likely to be studied include Chimamanda Adichie, NoViolet Bulawayo, Achille Mbembe, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Students have opportunity to compare examples from various African contexts to their own areas of expertise.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Experimental Critical Theory – Truth and Knowledge”

Kenneth Reinhard (Winter 2020)

Examination of issues and topics in philosophy, historiography, history of science, concept of disciplines, literary and cultural studies, rhetoric and sophistry, pragmatism, relativism, nihilism, and denialism. Study involves ideas, texts, and objects from antiquity to today. Part one of two-part core study. Designed for students in Experimental Critical Theory certificate program, which is open to all PhD and MFA students.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Critical Theory in Critical Times”

Tamara Levitz (Fall 2019)

Study takes Penelope Deutscher and Cristina Lafont’s collection, Critical Theory in Critical Times, as point of departure for exploration of critical theory related to current critical moment in academia and world. Exploration of recent critical theory about identity politics, decoloniality, racism, capitalism, free speech and academic freedom, neoliberalism, climate change, and transnational democracy, among other topics. First focus exclusively on theory, later including short stories, poems, and novels related to subjects at hand. Goal is to contemplate and strategize about students’ work as critics in critical times.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Fiction of Human Rights – Literature, History, and Theory”

Michael Rothberg (Spring 2019)

Africa is digitizing faster than anywhere else in world, with significant consequences for African social, economic, and political formations. Questions addressed include how online interactions on variety of platforms change how people relate to themselves and world, and challenge very notion of human; and what new imagined communities do digital forms give rise to, and how they intersect with and alter concepts of nation, diaspora, and world. While many writers, journalists, and cultural producers use digital media to challenge oppressive governments, institutions, and other gatekeepers, digital space has also given rise to new (often less locatable) forms of domination such as neo-imperialism of multinational corporations like Google and Facebook. Consideration of these questions primarily through lens of digital literary and cultural production, including new-media novels like Adichie’s Americanah. Students have opportunity to compare examples from African context to their own areas of expertise.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Digital Africa and World”

Stephanie Bosch Santana (Spring 2019)

Africa is digitizing faster than anywhere else in world, with significant consequences for African social, economic, and political formations. Questions addressed include how online interactions on variety of platforms change how people relate to themselves and world, and challenge very notion of human; and what new imagined communities do digital forms give rise to, and how they intersect with and alter concepts of nation, diaspora, and world. While many writers, journalists, and cultural producers use digital media to challenge oppressive governments, institutions, and other gatekeepers, digital space has also given rise to new (often less locatable) forms of domination such as neo-imperialism of multinational corporations like Google and Facebook. Consideration of these questions primarily through lens of digital literary and cultural production, including new-media novels like Adichie’s Americanah. Students have opportunity to compare examples from African context to their own areas of expertise.

COM LIT 290 –“Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Cosmopolitanism and Exile”

Aamir Mufti (Winter 2019)

Consideration of seminal texts of two thought traditions in modern West: cosmopolitanism and exilic thinking. Consideration of how these traditions have developed intellectual and affective orientations in tension with each other, but also how they overlap and intersect. Western discourse on cosmopolitanism has its origins in classical thought and owes modern renewal to Kant. Its more recent revival has been accompanied rise of so-called global talk, widely distributed discourse about emergence of interconnected world. Examination of antinomies of this discourse–norm versus reality, scales of perception and vision, thinking versus feeling, empire versus cosmopolis–and consideration of implications for thinking about structure of contemporary world. Examination of leading works of exilic imagination, forms of thinking and feeling linked to forms of mobility–often coerced and collective–that cannot quite be subsumed under rubric of cosmopolitan.

COM LIT 290 –“Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Queer/Race Studies”

Anjali Arondekar, Postdoctoral Fellow (Fall 2018)

Exploration of interrelated, epistemological frameworks of critical race studies and queer studies. Through study of range of philosophical, scientific, literary and anthropological texts, students rigorously historicize and theorize efforts to simultaneously link and separate theories of race and sexuality. Continued discussion of difference concept and its connections to productions of race and sexuality is central to understanding. Interdisciplinary study in which interstices between factual and fictional materials on sexuality and race are constantly exploded and expanded upon.

COM LIT 290 –“Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Frantz Fanon and Theories of Decoloniality”

Tamara Levitz (Fall 2018)

Exploration of decoloniality theories and how they may shape literary and musical hermeneutics. Aníbal Quijano famously coined term “coloniality of power” to describe model of power that emerged in conquest of America, when idea of race became founding element of the relation of domination, and new structure of labor control was constructed within Euro-centered world capitalism. Exploration of decoloniality theories by reading work of Frantz Fanon in dialog with texts by Enrique Dussel, Ramón Grosfoguel, María Lugones, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Walter Mignolo, Aníbal Quijano, Catherine Walsh, and others. Study conceived in context of third Rencontres of Frantz Fanon Foundation–organized by Maldonado-Torres to take place at Rutgers in November 2018–themed Frantz Fanon, Decoloniality, and the Spirit of Bandung. Weekly reading of theoretical text and short story or novel and music listening.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism:Arendt, Modernism, and Essay in Theory”

Kirstie McClure (Fall 2018, Spring 2020)

Whether charged with nostalgia for polis or defended for their reluctant modernism, Hannah Arendt’s writings continue to perplex and fascinate contemporary readers. Exploration of selections from Arendt’s literary and cultural criticism, and The Human Condition, in light of Hayden White’s notion of modernist historicism and Adorno’s account of experimental and expressive aspects of essay form. Within that frame, study is collaborative; that is, participants select common readings from range of possibilities in accordance, so far as possible, with their backgrounds and research interests.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: 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.

COM LIT 290 – “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.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: Strangers in Europa: Militants, Migrants, and Refugees”

Aamir 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.

COM LIT 290 – “Contemporary Theories of Criticism: BioCities – Urban Ecology and the Cultural Imagination”

John Christensen and Ursula Heise (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.

COM LIT M294 – “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.

COM LIT M294 – “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.

COM LIT M294 – “Literary Theory: Imagining Climate Change”

Stef Craps, Postdoctoral Fellow (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.