Literature and Social Categories

For this class, we hone the skill of close reading, which examines how a work of literature makes its meaning through its style (e.g., its tone, narrative perspective, figurative language, and so on). In particular, we consider the way works of literature challenge social categories by engaging with the stylistic conventions of their genre (literary category). The works we read in class both set and defy expectations about their literary category and its conventions. In so doing, they also set and defy expectations about the social categories with which they are preoccupied.

Genre Fantasies

Fantasy. It is an exercise in speculation and magic, an exploration of our human mythology and our most otherworldly desires. The genre of fantasy has persisted and evolved through the centuries, from older poems and transcribed tales to contemporary literature and film. So what are fantasies made of, and why do we make them?

Hearts of Darkness

This course will explore various depictions of the colonial encounter: Polish, English, Nigerian, Guyanese, Trinidadian, German, Cuban, American...We will ask how different writers understand the origins of empire, when those origins are often very different from them in space and time. How do drastically different cultures reckon with one another, and what kind of power dynamics shape their meetings?

Family: Selected Memories, Imaginations and Narratives

Family is at the core of our memory and imagination. From postcolonial politics, religion to language, how do macro forces impact families and their individual and collective psyches?  How do the trials and tribulations of family life define our imagination? Moving through exile, revolutions, poverty, religious crises, and

The Translator as a Fictional Character

In this course we will read literary texts in which one or more characters act as translators, and we will analyze the means these characters use for translating words across time, places, and cultures. Among the fictional translators we will meet, there are some who choose to lose or add something in the passage between languages, and some who simply refuse to translate. Others use more creative strategies, such as generating multiple meanings and instances of collaboration, or producing a fake translation.

Strange Marriages

Marriages in myths and fairy tales are rarely without extensive trials; folklore is full of lost and monstrous husbands, women’s journeys to retrieve them, and their efforts to flee them.  In this course we will read a core set of narratives about supernatural or otherwise strange relationships — such as "Cupid and Psyche", "Tam Lin", "Beauty and the Beast", and "Bluebeard" — and think about what these tales do, and what subsequent authors do to them.  Just as authors like Diana Wynne Jones and Carmen Maria Machado reinterpret the work that precedes them, so will we engage in our own interp

(A)political Texts: What Does Literature Do?

Here is a course description: What does it mean for a literary text to be political? One option is that political art is art that has something to say about politics: in this view, literature exists in its own self-enclosed domain, and that very distance from the “real world” gives it a neutral perspective on that world, like the referee in a soccer game.

Writing on the Limit: Embodiment and Textuality

How do writers (and other artists) work within traditions and create new forms to represent and reflect on experiences that are on the edge of inexpressibility? Such experiences and affects range from anguish and trauma to ecstasy and love—and the writers and artists that take on this fragile terrain as their subject matter invite us to consider the thresholds between language, image, and embodiment, as well as to interrogate the limitations and possibilities of conceptualizing the experiences of others.

Prolonging Life: The Short Story

The short story delights in paradox: at once dependent on brevity and capaciousness, it promises more than it can ever deliver. Deprived of the great spatial expanse that longer works afford, a short story must begin immediately, must attack the reader rather than simply welcome them in. Similarly, it must in its beginning move inexorably and maliciously toward its ending.

How to Be Popular

As its etymology suggests, that which is popular (from the Latin “populus”) must simply relate to or concern the “people.” Many things can be popular: people, art, music, culture – but also opinion or belief, urban spaces, the democratic vote. Sometimes being popular entails being universally loved or accepted, other times it is used as a pejorative by those who seek to distinguish between “low” and “high” culture. There are those who aspire to it, others who disdain it.