Winter 2022

Winter 2022 Comparative Literature Courses 

Undergraduate Courses

COM 001 Major Works of Ancient World: Myth, Epic, and the Sacred

  • Sec 001 CRN 18138 (Colin Rankin, instructor)

In ancient Greek literature, ongoing tensions between gods and humans generate foundational ideas about human possibilities and limitations, as well as what makes the ‘best’ life. At times, the gods are seen as benevolent, guiding forces. At others, their ill-tempered, vengeful behavior seems to be the cause of suffering and an obstacle to happiness. As the Greeks begin to examine themselves independently from the gods, they wrestle with methods of philosophical inquiry and artistic representation that express new ideas about Truth and Virtue. By examining texts that span from the earliest, epic adventures, through tragic dramas, and into moral philosophy, we will address evolving conceptions of the individual and ‘the good’ as the Greeks shift away from deference to the gods and towards ideas of rational self- determination.

  • Sec 002 CRN 18139 (Leonardo Giorgetti, instructor)

What is the nature of the sacred? In which ways do deities preside over human life? To what extent can they shape the course of individual existence as well as that of entire human history? This course surveys some of the major books of ancient literature, from the Iraqi-Sumerian poem The Epic of Gilgamesh (2100 BCE), Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid, to the Hebrew Bible, and Augustine’s Confessions (IV cent. CE). These books, which originate from the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean traditions, have inspired literature on every continent as now belong to a world republic of letters; while exploring their historical-cultural context, we will read them critically from a comparative, transnational perspective that would elucidate the ways these texts adapt and reformulate themes and motifs of world mythology and epic literature. The emphasis on the fluid relationship between humanity and the sacred will allow us to explore the mystery that is quintessential to every ancient religious experience. 

  • Sec 003 CRN 18140: Ancient Storytelling (Nick Talbott, instructor)

This course will introduce students to some of the most influential pieces of Western literature from before the 1st century CE. Beginning with some of the earliest extant narratives from the ancient civilizations of the Levant and the Mediterranean, we will attempt to identify and analyze various literary mechanisms prevalent in ancient narratives over a period of almost three thousand years, uncovering their functionality and discussing how they evolved over time. Texts to be discussed will include Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Herodotus’ Histories, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and The Epic of Gilgamesh, along with selections from The Old Testament, Livy’s History of Rome, Hesiod’s Theogony, Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian, Julius Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum, and the Panchatantra. Course assignments and discussions will cover traditional literary elements such as form, style, and genre, but we will also engage with other, more indeterminate factors: How do these stories begin? Where do they leave us when they end? What kind of readership or viewership do these stories require to be successful? What kind of buy-in do they call for?

COM 002 Major Works of Medieval and Early Modern World

  • Sec 002 CRN 18141 (Jeremy Konick-Seese, instructor)

In this class we will examine the idea of “enlightenment” and explore how this concept is expressed in different cultures and time periods from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance in both Europe and East Asia. We will examine enlightenment as both a rational and spiritual project through philosophical, poetic and fictional texts, looking at how various authors use literature as a means to both represent the experience of enlightenment, and lead their readers toward something similar in their own personal experience.        

  • Sec 002 CRN 18142 (Amy Riddle, instructor)

This class will examine how human nature is imagined in relation to social and political possibility in works such as Hobbe's Leviathan, and Thomas More's Utopia We will compare these works to earlier depictions of human nature in stories such as 1001 Nights and Attar's Conference of the Birds Of particular interest will be how the historical and economic organization of societies manifests a certain understanding of human nature in these works. 

COM 003 Major Works of Modern World

  • Sec 001 CRN 18143 (Tianyun Hua, instructor)

This course introduces students to some major works of literature from the 19th and 20th centuries that influenced their own times and continue to have an impact on our understanding of the modern world and its cultures. The readings comprise three units: 1) From Romanticism to Realism; 2) Revolutionary Literature and Literary Revolution; 3) The Limit of Imagination. We will combine a close reading approach with contextual analysis and theoretical concerns: we will both identify the main aesthetic features of modern literature, and also analyze them in relation to social realities such as political movements, technological developments, colonization, wars, gender issues, and the materialized production of literature (e.g. printing, circulation, translation). Our authors, including Goethe, Charlotte Bronte, Chekhov, Lu Xun, Eileen Chang, Cesaire, Senghor, Brecht, Orwell, and Borges, represent diversity in their nationalities, ethnicities, genders, and languages.  

  • Sec 002 CRN 18144

COM 004 Major Works of Contemporary World

  • Sec 001 CRN 18145
  • Sec 002 CRN 18146 (Elmira Louie, instructor)

What is memory? How do traumatic events impact our memories, and even our very sense of self? How does one go about representing an event that is unrepresentable? This course aims to answer these questions by diving into the rich world of graphic novels. Together, we will destabilize the notion of memory as truth and think critically about perspective, subjectivity, and representation. We will look at specific historical moments (revolutions, wars, and civil rights) through distinct representational experiences to discover the connection between trauma and memory. We will investigate the complexities and nuances of graphic novels and learn just how much form and medium impact representation.

  • Sec 003 CRN 18147
  • Sec 004 CRN 18148

COM 005 Fairy Tale Fable Parable
Professor Sven-Erik Rose

  • A01 CRN 18149
  • A02 CRN 18150
  • A03 CRN 18151
  • A04 CRN 18152
  • A05 CRN 18153
  • A06 CRN 18154

COM 007 Literature of Fantasy & Supernatural 
Professor Michael Subialka

Wizard dreamers, monsters of imagination, parallel worlds (inverted, crossing, and upside-down)… the literature of fantasy has long been a place for our mind to unravel its most unusual thoughts – not just to escape with alternative worlds but also to engage our own world. This course delves into categories of literature that trouble or disturb our everyday reality. Many authors have constructed elaborate fantasy worlds that run parallel to, underneath, outside of, or even crisscross with our world. Others have written works of imagination meant to challenge our ability to distinguish the two. Yet others have focused on the supernatural as a monstrous extension of human imagination, a dimension we will probe reading stories of spirits, vampires, and other creatures that walk between worlds. This class will examine literary texts in conjunction with their reverberations across media, including in films, visual art, television, and beyond. Looking across cultures, time periods, and media, we will ask how fantasy and the supernatural mirror, distort, and reconfigure our perception of the world.

  • A01 CRN 18161
  • A02 CRN 18162
  • A03 CRN 18163
  • A04 CRN 18164
  • A05 CRN 18165
  • A06 CRN 18166

COM 053B Literature of South Asia / CRN 45234
Manasvin Rajagopalan

In this course, we will read and watch works from South Asia, a geographic region comprising eight countries, and over three thousand years of literary and aesthetic production. Works assigned will include prose, poetry, and movies from multiple genres and multiple languages in translation. Through our engagement with  "Alternative Attachments", we will explore themes of love, intimacy, trauma, queerness, and desire in selected works from the South Asian landscape.

COM 141 Introduction to Critical Theory / CRN 18171
Professor Michael Subialka

In this course we will consider what kinds of questions or problems literary works and artistic/cultural production help us to pose and grapple with. In other words, what does literature/art help us to know about ourselves, our world, and the things we value? Many thinkers have approached these issues in different ways, and this course will offer just a first encounter with some of the major theoretical perspectives arising in response to those questions. We will consider (1) what kinds of human truths or experiences art might disclose, (2) the hypothesis that art exists for its own sake, (3) how art both reflects and criticizes modern capitalism, (4) how art both reflects and criticizes notions of race and nationality, (5) how art both reflects and criticizes notions of gender and sexuality, and (6) how we choose what art to study and value. Since we cannot possibly address all of these issues in all their parts, we will focus especially on perspectives that highlight the importance of having a comparative framework, with an eye to the complex relations of people and texts in a global world. Our goal will ultimately be to understand how and why critics use theory to approach texts so that we can also begin using theoretical concepts to enrich our own understandings of the art we read, see, and experience in our contemporary cultural world.

COM 157 War & Peace in Literature / CRN 45220
Instructor: Amy Riddle

In this class we will examine the representation of war and peace in works of poetry, film, short stories and novels.  We will expand our understanding of war to encompass class war, race war, and war with machines.  Many of the works have African authors or are partially set in the African continent.

COM 170 Contemporary Novel / CRN 44512
Professor Noha Radwan

COM 180: Special Topics: Epidemic and Literature / CRN 18174
Professor Ralph Hexter

Epidemics are life-changing events for individuals and entire societies, disrupting norms, reshaping ways of life, and sometimes utterly shattering personal, familial, and social bonds. In this course we will look at some of the many instances where epidemic disease and its impacts are central to a literary text, beginning with ancient plagues and moving forward to contagious diseases that spread rapidly and to catastrophic effect through all or part of an entire population; among these are the bubonic plague (the so-called “Black Death” of the Middle Ages), syphilis, tuberculosis (the “consumption” of nineteenth-century literature), cholera, influenza (especially the so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918-1919), and HIV/AIDS. Authors from Homer and Sophocles to Defoe and Kramer have also presented the “specialists” in the societies they depict of whom answers and cures are sought as well as the responses of political and other authorities and institutions as the bodies pile up. The course is not about medicine or even disease itself but rather about how individuals and societies are represented as responding or failing to respond to mass death caused by disease. The texts are for the most part literary, but in some cases, it seems as if the boundaries between chronicle and documentation, on the one hand, and imaginative literature, on the other, themselves fall victim to the force of the epidemic. All texts are read in English; they include translations from Greek, Latin, Arabic, Italian, French, German, and Chinese. Some of the texts are dramatic; some of these can now be viewed as films. The course concludes with two twenty-first-century novels, one Chinese, one South African.

Graduate Courses

COM 210 Topics/Themes Comparative Literature

Sec 001: Adaptation

Professor Cheri Ross / CRN 18210

Why are stories constantly remade and adapted across time and space? What is at stake in such retellings? How do shifting cultural and historical contexts, varying narrative and generic conventions, and changes of media transform adapted stories?  Focusing on texts and films, we will consider a variety of fictions, treating these as works of art in their own right and as participants in what might be thought of as adaptive lineages. We will engage with different kinds of transfer (myth to lyric, epic to spiritual quest narrative, drama to film and novel, etc.). We will explore different ways of understanding “adaptation” as a concept across linguistic, temporal, and geographic axes, and we will also consider texts and stories which push against and challenge familiar definitions of adaptation. The course will include opportunities for students to investigate adaptations within their own areas of interest, and will also serve as an introduction to some ancient, medieval and early modern works students may choose to teach in COM 1-2.

Some of the adaptive lineages we will examine will be chosen from:

  • Ovid’s Metamorphoses, “Apollo and Daphne” (c. 8 CE); Petrarch, Canzoniere (1327-68); Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (1595)
  • Virgil’s Aeneid (19 BCE); Dante’s Inferno (1320)
  • Shakespeare, King Lear (1606); Ran, dir. Kurosawa (1985)

Topics we will explore include:

  • Adapting existing forms to new contexts
  • Intertextuality and palimpsest
  • Shifting perspectives as adaptive mode
  • Politics of adaptation:  cultural appropriation

Sec 002: The Imagination and the Supernatural

Professor Jocelyn Sharlet / CRN 18211

This course will explore the way writers--mostly modern writers as well as some pre-modern writers--portray the role of the imagination and the supernatural in order to explore competing values and ideas about justice and the proximity/resistance to power. The imagination in these works includes the perception of the natural world and the supernatural, and may involve memory, mystery, fantasy, folklore, desire, deceit, the absurd, the grotesque, illusions, and dreams. Discussions will consider how and why writers have recourse to the imagination and the supernatural. Texts available in translation and in the original on the course site or on reserve; the focus will be on primary texts and any recommended secondary sources will be available in English. Texts: The Thousand and One Nights tr. Haddawy, Munshi's Kalila and Dimna tr. Thackston, The Epistle of Forgiveness by al-Ma'arri tr. van Gelder, Rumi’s Masnavi tr. Mojaddedi, Her Eyes by Bozorg Alavi, Diary of a Country Prosecutor by Tawfiq al-Hakim, The Earthquake by Tahir Wattar, The Search for Walid Masʿud by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, Women without Men by Shahrnush Parsipur, and Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmad Saadawi.