To find subjects taught in previous semesters, you may also look at the archived Literature Supplements.

Spring 2023 Literature Supplement IAP 2023 Fall 2022 Literature Supplement
Show Descriptions


21L.003 Reading Fiction: Counterpoint , Section 2 Ina Lipkowitz TR 9:30 - 11:00 4-144

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Counterpoint: the technique of combining two or more melodic lines in such a way that they establish a harmonic relationship while retaining their linear individuality.  This term, we’ll be reading fiction as both independent and interdependent works. How do Junot Diaz and Sandra Cisneros’s story collections illuminate one another—or Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novels? E.M. Forster and Jhumpa Lahiri’s cross-cultural narratives? Virginia Woolf and Ian McEwan’s 24-hour novels? In each case, the earlier work prepares us for the later one, which in turn forces us to reconsider its precursor.

21L.004 Reading Poetry: Section 1 Stephen Tapscott MW 7:00 - 8:30 56-162

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

An introduction to poems and the traditions and forms of  poetry in English. We’ll read chiefly British and American poets and will concentrate on Renaissance, eighteenth-century, Romantic, and Modernist poems. Though the organization of the subject is chronological, our focus will be less on names and dates than on cultivating skills in careful reading and effective writing. Poets to be read may include Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Dickinson, Frost, Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Claudia Rankine. Readings: mostly poems, but also one Shakespeare play, several films, and a novel by Mary Shelley.  Several evening events including readings by visiting writers.

21L.004 Reading Poetry: From Ben Jonson to Beyoncé , Section 2 Joaquín Terrones MW 9:30 - 11:00 2-103

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

How do poems work?  Who, and what, are they for?  This course will introduce you to the pleasures of poetry in English, seeking to develop the tools and vocabulary in order to better appreciate the full range of what verse can do.  In the first two-thirds, we will read key poets from the Renaissance to Modernism, including Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams.  In the last third, we will turn to contemporary American poetry and song in order to consider how they intervene in ongoing national conversations about democracy and identity.  The poets and lyricists studied include Mos Def, Bob Dylan,  Rita Dove, Claudia Rankine,  Kendrick Lamar, Richard Blanco and Beyoncé.

21L.005 Introduction to Drama Sandy Alexandre TR 2:00 - 3:30 5-234

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-A, CI-H

In her autobiographical play, To Be Young Gifted and Black (1969), the playwright Lorraine Hansberry wrote: “I think that virtually every human being is dramatically interesting.”  In our own lives—through our own verbal and body language—we alternate between deprecating and eagerly embracing what it means to be dramatic: “Oh gosh, he is so dramatic,” we accuse! “Yes, honey! I’m absolutely a drama queen,” we might hear someone proudly profess.  “D-rahmuh!” we drawl to diagnose a scandalous story.  Drama is everywhere around us asserting itself: provoking us, amusing us, challenging us, prompting us, catching the conscience of Kings even—effectively acting on us in some way or another. By reading and watching video-recorded plays as well as attending at least one theatrical performance, we will attempt to understand what drama does best and uniquely as a literary genre.  Toward the end of the semester, we will also consider the various forms drama can take.  Where, for example, do we situate a historical reenactment, a staged protest, or a flash mob in an Introduction to Drama course? Our readings will include, but are not limited to, plays by Tennessee Williams, Wole Soyinka,  Lorraine Hansberry,  August Wilson, Young Jean Lee, and Tarell Alvin McCraney.

21L.008[J] Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies
24.912[J], 21H.106[J], 21W.741[J], WGS.190[J]
Michel Degraff TR 9:30 - 11:00 56-167

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-A/H, CI-H

What do texts and theories about, and the uses of, the languages and cultures of Africans and their descendants in the Diaspora reveal about the making of race- and class-related hierarchies of power throughout the world?  What do these texts and theories require of all of us and how can they be enriched by our own analyses—of us as local community members and as world citizens? How can we improve our future through the study of our past? How can we identify and analyze general global patterns through the study of the local and specific?
And,  most importantly, how can this “Black Matters” subject at MIT be made relevant to the “Black Lives Matter” movement writ large? We will use selected texts and theories to analyze the shaping and reshaping of languages, cultures and identities in Africa and the African Diaspora, especially in the “New World.” Haiti, my native land, will serve as starting point for these big questions that bear on both local and global issues of relevant to us here at MIT—and beyond, of relevance to our future as change makers.  We will use language, linguistics, education, history, religion, literature, etc., to examine how theories and concomitant attitudes about Africans and their descendants in the African Diaspora have shaped, and have been shaped by, global events through struggle, rebellion, critique and innovation. And the struggle continues… YES, BLACK LIVES MATTER

21L.011 Introduction to Film Studies David Thorburn T 3:30 - 5:00 3-270
Screening M 7:00 - 10:00 3-270
Recitation 1 R 3:00 - 4:00 1-273
Recitation 2 R 3:00 - 4:00 1-277
Recitation 3 R 4:00 - 5:00 1-273
Recitation 4 R 4:00 - 5:00 1-273

Prereq: none
3-3-6 HASS-A, CI-H

This subject will examine a series of classic films by American, European, and Asian directors with emphasis on the historical evolution of the film medium and on the cultural and artistic importance of individual films. The course will be organized in three segments: The Silent Era (films by such directors as Griffith, Chaplin, Keaton, Murnau); Hollywood Genres (Capra, Fosse, Hawks, Huston, Kelly, Polanski, Welles); International Masters (Renoir, De Sica, Kurosawa, Kar-wai).
All films will be screened in an evening lab slot and will also be available for streaming on demand for registered students. Two lectures and one recitation meeting per week.

21L.019 Introduction to European and Latin American Fiction: Great Fiction on the Page and the Screen Margery Resnick TR 2:00 - 3:30 14E-310

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

This class reads works by some of those famous authors whose names you have heard, but whose works you might not have read:  Dostoyevsky, Machado de Assis, Zola, Puig, Calvino, Mann, Cholderlos de Laclos, Rulfo.  We will pay attention not only to the literary movements these works represent,  but also to the subtle interplay of history, geography, language and cultural norms that gave rise to these novels.
The books are compelling, and film versions of works we read give variety to the course and time to think about the interplay of film and print. Class projects will include the opportunity for students to create—using various media—their own fictional characters.

21L.021 Comedy: Comedy & Love Wyn Kelley MW 3:30 - 5:00 14N-325

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

This class considers romantic comedy in literature spanning over 2000 years of a mostly Western tradition.  We will look at examples of Greek, Roman, and Shakespearean drama and the bawdy stories of Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Rabelais; investigate love in the social satire of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde;  and try to understand the uneasy relationship between farce and romance, violence and redemptive humor, satire and festivity in comic art. We will focus on certain continuities: the body as object and source of rebellious pleasure; transgression against social norms corrected and reordered through laughter; verbal play and wit; identity and mistaken identity; political protest and social reform. As the class develops, we will also note the ways writers appropriate and reshape comic plots and structures from the past for new uses. Discussion will frequently draw on examples of popular and contemporary forms of comic expression.


21L.320 Big Books: George Eliot's Middlemarch James Buzard W 3:30 - 5:00 2-103

Prereq: none
2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit

In Middlemarch, the novelist known as George Eliot (but in real life named Mary Ann Evans) created one of great masterpieces in the history of fiction.  Many people think it the greatest novel in the English language and Eliot one of literature’s greatest stylists.  Her capacity for psychological, ethical, and social analysis is unrivaled.  Her humor is subtle, delightful, and humane.
“It is the habit of my imagination,” Eliot wrote, “to strive after as full a vision of the medium in which a character moves as of the character itself.”  Middlemarch immerses us in the medium of a society confronting profound changes and introduces us to memorable characters attempting to navigate, embrace, or resist those changes, in ways that are both specific to 19th-century Britain and still relevant today.  What do you do when your ambition exceeds the scope of your life possibilities?  How should you choose a mate?  How much compromise is acceptable in pursuit of your goals?  How do societies treat outsiders or misfits who challenge the status quo?  These are just a few of the abiding questions Eliot explores in Middlemarch.
Middlemarch is long – the Victorians liked novels that way – but we will take plenty of time to get to know it.  Meeting once a week for 90 minutes per session, the class will run for the entire semester, allowing 13 weeks for about 900 pages.  We’ll be able to dwell for a while with a masterwork eminently worth dwelling with.

21L.338 Reading in the Original: Virgil's Eclogues Stephanie Frampton R 7:00 - 10:00 2-103

Prereq: Permission of instructor
2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit; first half of term

An introduction to reading Latin literature in the original language. Topic for 2015 will be selections from Virgil’s Eclogues.  This course provides a bridge for students with one semester or more of formal Latin training (Latin 1/2, high school Latin,  AP Latin, or equivalent) between the study of Latin grammar and the reading of Latin authors.

21L.350 Science and Literature: Brave New Worlds Shankar Raman R 2:00 - 3:30 56-167

Prereq: none
2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit

While my title harks back to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, it refers more directly to the Aldous Huxley novel with which we shall begin our exploration of utopic and dystopic fantasies that imaginatively respond to the promises and perils of scientific ‘progress.’  Alongside fiction from the Renaissance to the twentieth century – including such authors as Bacon, Cavendish, Brecht, and H G Wells – we will delve into the work of writers such as Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, who have thought deeply about the implications of scientific and technological rationality.


21L.431 Shakespeare on Film and Media Peter S. Donaldson W 7:00 - 10:00 16-644

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H

Shakespeare on Film and Media  raises many questions for literary and media studies about adaptation and authorship; the status of “classic” texts and their variant forms;  the role of Shakespeare in popular culture; the transition from manuscript, book, and stage to the modern medium of film and its recent digitally enhanced forms; and the implications of global production and distribution of Shakespeare on film in the digital age.
The viewing list varies from term to term. This term we will emphasize international films and performance videos from Russia (Kozintsev’s Hamlet and King Lear) Japan (Ryutopia Company’s Hamlet; Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood) Taiwan (Wu-Hsing-kuo’s Lear is Here),  Brazil (Nos de Morro Midsummer Night’s Dream) and India (Bhardwaj’s Maqbool) along with  Polanski’s Macbeth,  Zeffirelli’s and Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and JulietHenry V  (Olivier and Branagh) Julie Taymor’s Titus,  and Almereyda’s Hamlet.

21L.435 Literature and Film: Queer Cinema
KJ Surkan T 7:00 - 10:00 3-270

Prereq: One subject in Literature or Comparative Media Studies
3-3-6 HASS-H; Can be repeated for credit

Investigates relationships between the two media, including film adaptations as well as works linked by genre, topic, and style. Explores how artworks challenge and cross cultural, political, and aesthetic boundaries. Students taking graduate version complete additional assignments.

21L.485 Modern Fiction: Twentieth Century Fiction: Modernist Masters David Thorburn TR 12:30 - 2:00 2-103

Prereq: One subject in Literature
3-0-9 HASS-H

Tradition and innovation in a representative sampling of novels and shorter fiction by the great English and European modernists – Conrad,  Woolf, Joyce, Kafka, and others. Recurring topics will include the role of the artist in the modern period, the representation of sexual and psychological experience, shifting attitudes toward gender roles and social class, and the aggressively experimental character of so many modern texts. Early classes will link our writers with the great impressionist and modernist painters.

21L.487 Modern Poetry: Healing the World Stephen Tapscott T 7:00 - 10:00 TBA

Prereq: One subject in Literature
3-0-9 HASS-H

We will read major poems by the most important poets in English in the twentieth century, emphasizing especially the period between post-WW I disillusionment and early WW II internationalism (ca. 1918-1940). Our special focus this term will be on how the concept of “the Image” evolved during this period. The War had undercut beliefs in master-narratives of nationalism and empire, and the language-systems that supported them (religious transcendence, rationalism, and formalism). Retrieving energies from the Symbolist movements of the preceding century and from turn-of-the-century technologies of vision, early twentieth-century poets began to rethink how images carry information, and in what ways the visual, visionary, and verbal image can take the place of transcendent beliefs. New theories of linguistics and anthropology helped to advance this interest in the artistic/religious image. So did Freud. So did Charlie Chaplin. We will read poems that pay attention both to this disillusionment and to the compensatory joyous attention to the image: to ideas of the poet as language priest, aesthetic experience as displaced religious impulse, and to poetry as faith, ritual, and cultural form. Poets whose work we will read include: W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes.
Topic for Spring 2017: Healing the World

21L.489[J] Interactive Narrative
21W.765[J], CMS.845
Nick Montfort W 7:00 - 10:00 14E-310

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-A

The course consists of three units:
NARRATIVE THEORY.  After an introductory look at multi-sequential novels and electronic literature, we study narratology (narrative theory) to gain a better understanding of the form and function of narratives and the elements and aspects of interactive narrative.
FORKING PATHS.  We study non-linear print pieces of different sorts – not only the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series but other juvenile fiction books of similarly unusual structure; parodies of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books; literary works by Saporta, Queneau, Mathews, Pavić, Coover, and others; and comics by Jason Shiga and others.  Students write their own creative multisequential print piece.
ELECTRONIC LITERATURE. We focus on digital work that has narrative as an important component. Often the “user” or “reader” is the one who gets to produce the narratives by interacting.  A narrative electronic literature work can be a structured document that the interactor can traverse in many ways or a more complex computer program that simulates a world, accepts English input, and perhaps does other interesting things. This includes many computer and video games, including interactive fiction, along with classic and more recent hypertext fictions, visual novels, and many other examples of creative computing.  The main project for the term is to create a work of electronic literature of some sort, which can be done through programming or by structuring language as hypertext.

21L.490[J] Introduction to the Classics of Russian Literature
Maria Khotimsky TR 2:30 - 4:00 16-628

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H

Russian literature holds a universal appeal in the eyes of many generations of readers. In a listing by Great Books, 10 of 100 world’s greatest novels are by Russian authors.  How do these writers convey the particularities of Russian culture and shape our understanding of Russia? How do they reflect the turbulent history of their land, yet capture imagination of readers around the globe?  What are some unique ways in which they define human psychology, the quest for the meaning of life and self-realization in the world?  In this course, we will explore the works of classical Russian writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century, including stories and novels by Dostoevsky,  Tolstoy, Chekhov,  Bunin, Nabokov, Platonov, Solzhenitsyn and others. In the first part of the course we will read the works of the major nineteenth-century Russian authors, focusing on their approaches to portraying self and society. In the second part of the course, we will look at how writers responded to pivotal events in Russian history – revolutions, wars, years of the Soviet regime, and the collapse of the communist system.  All readings in English.

Students interested in completing some readings and a project in Russian should register for 21G.618.

International Literatures

21L.636[J] Introduction to Contemporary Hispanic Literature and Film
Joaquín Terrones MW 1:00 - 2:30 14N-325

Prereq: One intermediate subject in Spanish or permission of instructor
3-0-9 HASS-H

This course introduces students to the literature and cinema of contemporary Spain and Latin America.  By becoming familiar with the historical, political and cultural settings that shaped these texts and films, we will consider what, if anything makes them uniquely Hispanic.  What links the Old World with the New?  How has Spain envisioned its place within Western Europe?  How has Latin America defined itself in relationship to its northern neighbor?  Some of the authors and filmmakers we will discuss include Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Gabriela Mistral, Roberto Bolaño, Mayra Febres-Santos, Luis Buñuel and Pedro Almodovar.
The course is conducted in Spanish, and all reading and writing will be in Spanish.


21L.703 Studies in Drama: Ten great plays from the modern American theatre Anne Fleche TR 3:30 - 5:00 66-156

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

What’s a great play, or even a good one?  And for what or whom is it good—the actor, the audience, the world?  Does the production make it good, or is the text of the play enough?  In this seminar, we will study plays that made a difference in the twentieth century, when American drama really began to define itself and to have an influence on world drama.  We’ll consider the plays’ historical context, including influential productions, as well as editorial and publication decisions.  Participants will have the chance to see both filmed and live productions, and to become an expert on a playwright of their choice.

21L.705 Major Authors: Toni Morrison Sandy Alexandre T 7:00 - 10:00 14N-325

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

This subject provides a comprehensive and critical overview not only of the literary and scholarly work of the great American author  Toni Morrison, but also of her cultural impact.  Morrison’s novels are well known for being stylistically dense and sometimes emotionally difficult to read and understand. But to borrow Morrison’s own words—from her very first novel The Bluest Eye (1970)—the semester-long exercise of reading, thinking, and writing about her work promises to be “a productive and fructifying pain.” Indeed, our readings of Morrison’s fictional and nonfictional texts will help us understand what it means to write, release, and learn from various forms of pain—from historical pain to personal pain.  As we allow ourselves the opportunity to meditate on her writings, during the course of the semester, my ultimate hope is that we will open ourselves to the possibility of growing more intellectually astute as literary critics, readers, writers, and thinkers. We will read eight of her eleven novels, some of her essays, her short story “Recitatif,” and critical essays about her work.

21L.706 Studies in Film
Eugenie Brinkema W 2:00 - 5:00 1-379
Screening M 7:00 - 10:00 3-133

Prereq: 21L.011, one subject in Literature or Comparative Media Studies; or permission of instructor
3-3-6 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

“Ce n’est pas du sang, c’est du rouge.”
[ It’s not blood; it’s red. ] —Jean-Luc Godard
The history of film theory has been the history of ignoring color.   Treated as a minor detail,  ornament, or gimmick, and aligned with degraded cultural modes such as the feminine, the exotic, and the melodramatic, a rigorous aesthetics of color has only recently received due scholarly attention.
This seminar explores those aesthetic issues in addition to the affective, political, ethical and interpretive possibilities made available by taking color seriously.  Although we will briefly study innovations in color film cinematography (attending to early hand-tinted films and the development of Technicolor), our focus will be on theoretical questions: How have philosophers defined color and how have these accounts moved between chromophobia and chromophilia (deriding or fetishizing it)? How does a logic of color work in specific genres and modes (melodrama, horror, surrealism, animation)? How is color linked to desire, excess, and other formal areas including sound, duration, space and movement? How is color attached to specific (gendered,  raced) bodies? How is color linked to violence and how is color affectively provocative?
Readings from philosophers, art historians, and film theorists pair with films early and recent from all over the globe, including: The Wizard of Oz, Kill Bill,  Blue, Raise the Red Lantern, Sombre, Vertigo, Red Desert,  Fantasia,  Written on the Wind, Schindler’s List, The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover, Blue is the Warmest Color, Contempt, Don’t Look Now,  Three Colors Trilogy, and In the Mood for Love.
Prerequisite: 21L.011, one subject in Literature or Comparative Media Studies; or permission of instructor.

21L.707 Problems in Cultural Interpretation: Reading Cookbooks Ina Lipkowitz TR 11:30 - 1:00 4-146

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature or permission of instructor
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

Iron chefs & home cooks; molecular gastronomy & farm-to-table dining; grain-based & protein-based diets: a time traveler from the future would learn a lot about us from our cookbooks, blogs, and Food Network. When we visit the past through cookbooks, we find strange and quirky recipes, but we also learn about the worlds that produced them: about foodstuffs & technology; about religious beliefs and nutritional theories; about who wrote, read, and cooked; and about the gender dynamics of culinary writing.

21L.709 Studies in Literary History: Ethnic Literature in America Wyn Kelley MW 11:00 - 12:30 2-139

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature or History
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

Although this class starts by critically examining the term “ethnic” as it pertains to a wide range of cultural forms over three centuries, we will focus mostly on contemporary writers. Questions to consider will include: How has ethnic writing changed American culture and renovated forms of literary expression? What are the varieties and nuances of what we might call an ethnic subjectivity?  What could it mean to harbor fugitives within the self: transgressive thoughts or a “foreign” identity? And what is the future of “ethnic” literature in a global space?
This seminar will address a number of the following authors:  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,  Dion Boucicault, Jade Chang, Sandra Cisneros, Samuel Delany, Junot Diaz, Louise Erdrich, Harriet Jacobs, Brendan Jacob Jenkins, Jhumpa Lahiri,  Ayana Mathis, Toni Morrison, Art Spiegelman. Students may also take advantage of the MELUS (Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States) conference, sponsored by the Literature Section in April 2017, which will bring writers and scholars of ethnic literature to MIT.

21L.715 Media in Cultural Context
Stephanie Frampton M 2:00 - 4:00 14N-112
W 2:00 - 3:00

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature or Comparative Media Studies; or permission of instructor
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

A kaleidoscopic introduction to the history and theory of communications from papyrus to pixel. With weekly “lab” sessions in MIT Library’s Special Collections, where students will get to dig deep into historical books and other media through a series of special projects and case studies, this class offers a serious primer in media and media theory, with special focus on histories of the book. Will be of interest to students of literature, music, media, or history. Readings may include McLuhan, Derrida, Kittler, Gitelman, Vismann, Kirschenbaum, and Siegert. Satisfies the historical requirement for Literature.

Special Subjects and Topics

21L.S88 Special Subject in Literature: Greek I Stephanie Frampton R 7:00 - 10:00 2-103

Prereq: Permission of instructor
Units arranged; Can be repeated for credit

Begins April 3

Introduces rudiments of ancient Greek—the language of Plato, Sophocles, Thucydides, Euclid, and the basis for that of the New Testament—to students with little or no prior knowledge of the subject.  Aimed at laying a foundation to begin reading ancient and/or medieval texts. Greek I and Greek II may be combined by petition (after completion of both) to count as a single HASS Elective.

21L.S90 Special Subject in Literature: Design Workshop: James Joyce, the Computer Game Elyse Graham R 7:00 - 10:00 4-253

Prereq: Permission of instructor
Units arranged; Can be repeated for credit

In this hands-on seminar, we design and build a computer game based on James Joyce’s classic novel, Ulysses.  Starting with an existing prototype, we explore ways to deepen and enrich the play experience through the use of game mechanics, storytelling,  and music, with the aim of finishing the course with a realized product to put in the public domain (and into your portfolio).
Joyce’s masterpiece is famous for its immersive world-building, adventurous storytelling, large cast of characters, and innovative use of narrative devices such as flashbacks and point of view.  The task of realizing his novel as a game is a unique proving ground for students of literature and games alike. Students from the Berklee College of Music may collaborate with the workshop.  Topics include ludology vs. narratology, remediation, interactive fiction, game studies, and theory of the novel.