Reading and Composition (R&C)

R1B.001: N1B:1, Tales of San Francisco

Please note course description has changed as of 5/3/11.

This course is only open to those students who have completed the first half of the Reading and Composition Requirement.  Please check here for more information about the Reading and Composition requirement.

Comparative Literature N1B:1
TuWTh 10-12:00
211 Dwinelle
Session D
Celine Piser

Tales of San Francisco
This summer, we’ll focus on the city across the bay. San Francisco is known for its diversity and unique character. It is not surprising to find the city featured throughout popular culture—in films, TV shows, literature, music, and even video games. We will take a look at all these media to determine what kind of character San Francisco has come to represent in the past century and why. We’ll compare images of San Francisco as native home and adopted home; we’ll look at the diverse subcultures that have called it home during the twentieth century; we’ll compare its fictional image with the San Francisco we know today. We will also, of course, look at the people that make the city, and focus, in particular, on the languages and voices that share the space. We will ask ourselves if these disparate voices can come together to represent one city, or if they remain discrete, personal representations.

We will begin with a look at San Francisco’s famous detective literature, and at a few of its international stylistic precursors and heirs. We’ll read an excerpt of Voltaire’s Zadig before studying a portrait of San Francisco’s dark side in Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon, and its 1941 film adaptation by John Huston. We’ll also look at Daniel Pennac’s treatment of the Parisian detective in The Fairy Gunmother, and question his representations of the multiethnic neighborhood of Belleville.

Next, we’ll look at San Francisco as a hub of immigration, multiculturalism, and multilingualism. We’ll read Jade Snow Wong’s representation of Chinese American immigrants in San Francisco in Fifth Chinese Daughter and a collection of short stories by Latino writers in San Francisco. We’ll also read some travel narratives and travel-inspired poetry by early visitors to San Francisco, such as Rudyard Kipling, to get an idea of how the city has developed over the past few centuries.

Finally, we will examine how San Francisco has become a home to alternative lifestyles. We’ll study the Beat Generation, the San Francisco Renaissance and the Japanese poetry traditions that influenced the movement. In Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin writes about sexuality in 1970s San Francisco. We’ll compare his portrait to Gus Van Sant’s film about Harvey Milk, the US’s first openly gay politician, SF city supervisor and self-titled “Mayor of Castro Street.” If we have time, we’ll take a field trip across the bay to see the mythic city in person, and perhaps attend the theatrical production of Maupin’s novel.

Our work on fiction, nonfiction, poetry and film will be supplemented by critical readings from literary theory, sociology and linguistics. You will be expected to complete all reading and writing assignments in a timely manner and actively participate in class discussion. Course grade will be based on demonstrating careful reading and analytical ability through class participation, short assignments, a group project, and analytical and research papers.


Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon
Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City
Daniel Pennac, The Fairy Gunmother
Voltaire, Zadig ou la Destinée
Jade Snow Wong, Fifth Chinese Daughter
Selections from Rick Heide, Under the Fifth Sun: Latino Literature from California
Selections of Japanese poetry
Selections of Beat poetry


John Huston, The Maltese Falcon
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Course Catalog Number:

R1B.002: N1B:2, Roots/Routes/Ruptures: Experiences in Travel

MTW 10-12:00
108 Wheeler
Karina Palau

Se vê que ainda não sei viajar. . .
(It’s clear that I still don’t know how to travel. . .)
–Mário de Andrade, O turista aprendiz (The Apprentice Tourist)

What does it mean to travel? How does the experience of ‘taking a trip’ shape how we see ourselves and our culture, especially in relationship to what we encounter outside of the place we consider ‘home’? If, as Brazilian writer Mário de Andrade implies, travel is something we learn, not just do, how are we taught to travel and why?

In this course, we will take these questions as a point of departure for our own journey through a rich set of materials that portray different experiences in travel.  In our wanderings from descriptions of homecomings to touristy vacations, from journeys of ‘discovery’ to ethnographic missions, we will try to unpack the tensions inherent in questions of ‘here vs. there,’ ‘self vs. other,’ and the dynamics of cultural encounter.

Possible Readings and Viewings:


Excerpts from Christopher Columbus’ Diario

“The Smallest Woman in the World,” Clarice Lispector

“The Ethnographer,” Jorge Luis Borges

Excepts from Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman

Poems by Etheridge Knight and Walt Whitman (“The Meaning of Ancestry,” “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”)

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz

Babel, Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu or Darjeeling Limited, Directed by Wes Anderson

Short selections from James Clifford’s Writing Culture and Routes, Mary Pratt’s Imperial Eyes, and works by Roland Barthes and Levi-Strauss

Course Catalog Number:


41C: 41C:1, In Decision: Ambivalence and the Novel

MTWTh 10-12:00
106 Wheeler
CCN 27910
Andrea Gadberry

This course has two major aims.  First, it will attempt to consider how the novel can work as an ambivalent form or as a form that induces ambivalence.  Second, it will explore the concept of ambivalence more widely through texts whose narrators, characters, and plots engage in the anxiety and melancholia of ambivalence.

Our study of the novel will take particular interest in ambivalence’s formal properties both in the subject who experiences ambivalence and in texts that seem to evoke this subjective state through narrative.  As we read these novels, we’ll also look at literary criticism, psychoanalytic works, and philosophical texts and attempt to understand the production of some of ambivalence’s kin: ambiguity, irony, and paradox.  We’ll examine the structure of ambivalent desire and its relationship to the fetish in novels that portray love-hate relationships, sadomasochism, and repressed (contradictory) desires.  Likewise, we’ll read works that help us probe the states that follow ambivalence from resolution and resignation to the “madness of the decision.”  As we ponder the fraught relationship of ambivalence to action, we’ll ask, adapting Simone de Beauvoir’s  terminology, how these novels offer or refuse an “ethics of ambi[valence].”

Major assignments may include two papers, several shorter assignments, and one presentation.

Required Texts:

Djuna Barnes. Nightwood.

Denis Diderot. Jacques the Fatalist.

Henry James. What Maisie Knew.

Thomas Mann. Death in Venice.

Vladimir Nabokov. King, Queen, Knave.

François Rabelais. Le tiers livre.

Robert Louis Stevenson. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

A course reader with selections by Beauvoir, Butler, Empson, Freud, Girard, Kierkegaard, Sade, and others.

Course Catalog Number:

41E: 41E, Comedies of Marriage: Shakespeare, Screwball, and Beyond

We are sorry to report that due to low enrollments this course has been canceled.

MTWTh 3:00-5:00
121 wheeler
CCn 27915
Tristram Wolff

How do the aims of marriage control the plot of a comedy, and how can comic innovation rewrite the rituals of marriage and divorce? Taking its guiding motives from Stanley Cavell’s study of the 1940s Hollywood screwball comedy (Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, 1981), this course is an effort to follow through on some of the work’s evasions and loose ends. We’ll do this by considering three distinct forms of comedy (Shakespeare’s plays, classic screwball films, and more briefly Austen’s novels), and by introducing some contemporary deviations from the conventional marriage plot. As a constitutive element of comedy, as well as a critical risk from the Adam and Eve story to the recent rash of reality TV dating shows, the “plot” to perform, consummate or re-enact a marriage represents for narrative both capstone and pitfall. In this course, we will pose questions about the promising “conversational” basis of remarriage, the self-reflective artifice of the genre’s classics, and the manner in which these texts embody, comment on or inflect their social conditions. We will also test the limits of the genre by zeroing in on outdated gender roles and the “threat” of gay marriage. Above all, we will practice reading literary and cinematic texts to question and expand Cavell’s suggestions about the interaction between artistic media, social norms and comic subversion.

Texts & Films

William Shakespeare:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

• Much Ado About Nothing

• As You Like It

• The Winter’s Tale

Jane Austen:

• Emma (selections)


Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage

•  The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges)

• The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges)

Bringing Up Baby (Leo McCarey)

• The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey)

The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor)

His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks)

Additional primary and secondary reading on comedy, marriage and film will likely include selections from the Bible, Milton, Henri Bergson, Johan Huizinga, C. L. Barber, Kenneth Burke, Northrop Frye, Maria DiBattista, Judith Butler, recent legal arguments and journalism regarding gay marriage, and more.

We may also watch film excerpts from Keaton, Hitchcock, Bergman, Truffaut, Ang Lee, Brian Sloan, Mike Newell, Amy Heckerling and others.

Course Catalog Number:

N 60AC: Topics in the Literature of American Cultures

Various Histories of Various Californias

Tu/W/Th 01:00-03:30 106 Wheeler Instructor: Juan Caballero

Please note this is a new course description as of 2/12/10

TuWTh 1-3:30
106 Wheeler
CCN 27920
Juan Caballero

While making no claim to proportional representation or thoroughness, this class tries to survey some of California’s literary and artistic output that directly addresses the intense hybridity of California’s history.   » read more »

Course Catalog Number: 27920

N 60AC: N60AC:1, Generic America

Tu/Wed/Thur 1-3:30
234 Dwinelle
CCN 27915
Sarah Chihaya
Session A: 5/23-7/1

Contemporary American Genres, Contemporary American Identities


Classification can seem simple, but more often than not, it is a complicated and problematic operation. This class will engage with the quandary of classification in two related and highly contested areas: the mosaic of contemporary American identities and contemporary American literature(s). More precisely, we will examine the ways in which popular, distinctively American genres in film and fiction – including, but not limited to, the hard-boiled detective novel and film noir, the comic book and graphic novel, the Broadway musical, blaxploitation film, and the road movie – can be used to frame questions of identity and culture in different, surprisingly revelatory, lights. How do the specific, often controversial, formal elements of the works we will examine add to the ever-evolving dialogue around contemporary American culture? How do the authors and filmmakers we will discuss appropriate, adapt, and challenge the conventions of their chosen genres in order to elucidate questions of ethnic, racial, and sexual identity? These experiments and explorations in genre ask us to confront conventional representations of contemporary America: who makes them, for whom, and why? Furthermore, how do these interpretations of genre blur the margins between the literary and the popular (high versus low culture), center and periphery, “American” and “alien”?


Sherman Alexie, Flight

Octavia Butler, Fledgling

Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese

Art Spiegelman, Maus

Course Reader with excerpts from additional primary, theoretical, and critical sources (available from ZeeZee Copy)



Bill Condon, Dreamgirls

Danny Leiner, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

Justin Lin, Better Luck Tomorrow

Quentin Tarantino, Jackie Brown

Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Selected episodes from Leave it to Beaver, The Cosby Show, Married… With Children, The Simpsons, All American Girl, and Ugly Betty

Course Catalog Number:

N 60AC: N60AC:2, American Close Encounters

Tu Wed Thur 3:30-6:00
242 Dwinelle
CCN 27920
Javier Jimenez
Session D 7/5-8/12


At the heart of this course is coming to terms with the question: what is an American? This is a fraught question; the answer seems everywhere self-evident, for many, yet what is or makes an American is radically contingent. In this course, we will approach the question of who, what, and/or how one is an American by focusing on three discrete historical time periods (settlement and colonization, the consolidation of the U.S. as an independent nation-state, and the late twentieth century) and by attempting to track the encounters of different sorts of people—different sorts of “Americans”—inscribed in narratives, plays, and novels. In the first phase of the class, we will read about and study the encounter between Europeans and Native Americans, how settlement and colonization were mutually catastrophic for colonizers and natives alike, and how representations of captivity contribute to our understanding of colonial (European) subjects and Native American “insurgents.” We will then explore the founding of the American Republic and register the transition from colony to nation, again focusing on the encounter between the newly constituted American citizens and their slaves. Finally, we will investigate the self-consciously multicultural United States of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century by focusing on the encounter between immigrants and sexual minorities—New Americans—with/in the United States and its peoples. Throughout the course, we will complement our understanding of “American” as U.S. citizens with texts from our American cousins from the “South” to help us complicate what it has meant to be an American from within and without the nation. Not only will we challenge and potentially generate new meanings for “American,” we will also engage in a discussion of the reified concepts of race, gender, and ethnicity as they intersect with competing notions of “American.”


Course Catalog Number: