Reading & Composition

Why do we write about witches? What is it about the occult that both thrills and terrifies us? Many are familiar with the 1692 witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, but fears about witchcraft have existed for centuries earlier. Witches often served as figures of social anxiety, villains to unite a culture in crisis. In this class, we’ll read texts and watch films that focus on a variety of cultural constructions of the witch from Classical Antiquity to the 21st century.

Reading & Composition

What does it mean to “grow up”? What does it mean to undergo adolescence, to transition from childhood to adulthood? What do these categories mean, and have they always meant the same things? The answers to these questions are not as obvious as one might imagine. As the conceptualization of childhood evolved alongside historically changing ideas of the human, so too did the ways artists, philosophers, politicians, and writers engaged with the transitory state of adolescence.

Reading & Composition

A plague-ridden Thebes, an Indian reservation, a Rio slum, a U.S.-Mexico border town, the LA hood, a California women’s prison. These are the settings for our examination of characters who run up against obstacles—from within themselves, their families and tribes, the economic and legal systems they live in—that lead them to make criminal choices. These choices, and the risks they provoke, taint the characters even as they dare us to care for them. How do fiction writers, dramatists, journalists and filmmakers get us to invest our feelings in morally compromised characters?

Reading & Composition

This class will consider gestures in both their figurative and literal senses: gesture as in to “gesture towards” an idea, practice, or community; and gesture as in a physical gesture, one that comes from the body and speaks when words are not an option, at the limits of words, or alongside them. Taken together, “Feminist Gestures” will consider feminisms as both an embodied practice and a set of continuous processes. In doing so, we will look at issues of re-writing, intertextuality, and translation.

Reading & Composition

This course will explore the concept of contagion and the fears, real and imagined, that surround it. What does it mean for a body, a place, a community to be “clean” or “unclean”? What does life look like in “plague-time”? And finally, what can we learn from these fictional and historical sites of contamination? We’ll be examining the idea of pollution in a variety of contexts in order to compare the ways that humans respond to crisis, from the level of the individual to the global.

Reading & Composition

How do we define “nature”? While some might assign the status of nature to the non-human and the non-man-made (animals, plants, etc.), a problem emerges when we consider that humans, too, are animals (mammals). Would not genetic clones, indistinguishable from their originals, also complicate this perspective?

Reading & Composition

“Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love,” writes Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Implicit within this quote is the connection (or conflict) between friendship and romance. Tellingly, in several of Austen’s novels a significant shift takes place when a woman gets married; her best-friendship loses its relevance and her marriage takes centerstage. What does this say, Austen’s novels ask, about the (de)value of female friendships in a patriarchal world? Why does the marriage plot take precedence over friendship?

Reading & Composition

Across time, geographies, and cultures, artists have been driven to reflect on militarization and war. What does war do? How do soldiers, civilians, children, and "nations" become militarized? What role do artists play in militarized cultures? In this course we will examine how the arts are deployed in times of war, in militarized zones, in postwar memorializations, and in future fantasy wars. We will analyze "performance" in diverse militarized cultures through the technologies of animation, film, new media, and theatre.

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