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.000[J] Writing About Literature
Same subject as 21W.041[J]
Michael Lutz MW 9:30-11:00a Virtual

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

Intensive focus on the reading and writing skills used to analyze literary texts such as poems by Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare or Langston Hughes; short stories by Chekhov, Joyce, or Alice Walker; and a short novel by Melville or Toni Morrison. Designed not only to prepare students for further work in writing and literary and media study, but also to provide increased confidence and pleasure in their reading, writing, and analytical skills. Students write or revise essays weekly.

21L.001 Foundations of Western Literature: Homer to Dante James Buzard TR 2:30-4:00p Virtual

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

This course examines foundational literary works from the Ancient Greeks and Romans to Medieval Europe. We’ll consider these works as sources of some very long-lasting traditions in the representation of love, desire, conflict, justice, the quest for knowledge, the scope or limits of human action, human relations with the divine and animal realms.

 Works to be considered will most likely include: Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey; Aeschylus’s Oresteia; Sophocles’s Oedipus The King; Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone; Euripides’s The Bacchae; Virgil’s Aeneid; and selections from Dante’s Divine Comedy.

 As a Cl-H class, 21L.001 will devote considerable attention to student writing and speaking. There will be a number of short essays and at least one formal oral report per student.

21L.004 Reading Poetry: Section 1 Noel Jackson MW 7:00-8:30p Virtual

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

An introduction to poetry in English, chiefly by British and American poets. We will explore Renaissance, eighteenth-century, Romantic, and Modernist poetry in particular detail. 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 William Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, and Elizabeth Bishop.

21L.004 Reading Poetry: Section 2 Mary C. Fuller TR 3:30-5:00p Virtual

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

How do you read a poem?  Many people find poetry “difficult” – and almost everyone finds some poetry difficult, sometimes pleasurably and sometimes less so. But within that category of the difficult resides much that is of use and of value to us as readers and human beings.  Among the goals of the class will developing and practicing some of the skills, habits, and knowledge to approach poetic texts – difficult or otherwise – so that you can judge for yourselves what they mean for you.  We’ll take a close look at the nature of evidence that can be used for thinking and talking about poetry:  the formal properties of poetic language as well the use of context.  We’ll read a wide variety of poetry from 1900 through the present, with some glances further back, and we will explore a variety of tools and approaches, from the old (memorization, listening, and reading out loud) to the new (digitally enabled visualization and annotation).  Most of our reading will be in contemporary English, so that we can focus on how poets work with its particular properties and affordances, but other languages that participants are familiar with can be a valuable resource for our collective thinking.  The last two weeks of the semester will focus on readings chosen and presented by the class.
21L.006 American Literature: Debt: Obligations, Intimacies, and Environments Laura Finch MW 1:00-2:30p Virtual

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

Debt comes in many forms: those to do with money (student loans, medical bills, credit cards); the debts we have to each other (how we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, how we consider issues of justice and incarceration, what reparations we owe for the atrocities of slavery and Indigenous genocide); and environmental debts (what rights do we owe to animals, what do we owe the earth in the face of human-created climate catastrophe?).

This class is focused on issues of social justice, and we will learn to recognize and critique capitalist forms of debt within the United States. We will also read a range of novels, poems, and critical/theoretical texts in order to imagine other kinds of indebtedness and togetherness that value worth beyond credit scores and bank balances.

This class is a CI-H subject, which means that it will provide you with a foundation in written and oral communication. CI-H subjects require that you plan, organize, draft, and revise a series of sequenced assignments based on course material. Assessment is based on consistent participation and engagement throughout the semester, rather than being heavily weighted towards a final paper.

21L.007 World Literatures: East Asian Literature as World Literature Wiebke Denecke TR 9:30-11:00a Virtual

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

Today we have the luxury of reading more literatures in more languages than ever before in world history. In this course we ask: what can we learn from the great diversity of literatures? In what ways does “literature” look different when viewed through a different lens (such as through the literary heritage of China, Japan, or Korea)? What does poetry written in Chinese characters accomplish that alphabetic poetry cannot? How does Buddhist reincarnation change the way you tell stories and devise novels? Why is Japan the world’s only major literature where female authors dominated certain literary genres as early as the 11th century?

Our selective journey through world literature will take us through some of Asia’s most seminal and thought-provoking texts, including philosophical masters such as Confucius, Laozi, and Zhuangzi; Tang poetry; China’s classical novels Dream of the Red Chamber and Journey to the West; Japan’s female-authored tales and diaries, such as The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book; Korea’s classical novel The Nine Cloud Dream, and the pansori play Song of Ch’unhyang.

To enhance your ability to appreciate these rich texts and to speak and write about how they matter to us today, we will also draw in films, venture into creative exercises, and work on a translation project (no foreign language required!). All readings are in English translation.

21L.008[J] Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies
24.912[J], 21H.106[J], 21W.741[J], WGS.190[J]
Michel DeGraff T 2:00-5:00p Virtual

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

Interdisciplinary survey of people of African descent that draws on the overlapping approaches of history, literature, anthropology, legal studies, media studies, performance, linguistics, and creative writing. Connects the experiences of African-Americans and of other American minorities, focusing on social, political, and cultural histories, and on linguistic patterns. Includes lectures, discussions, and workshops that involve minimal cost to students.

21L.011 Introduction to Film Studies Alexander Svensson Virtual
Lecture T 3:30-5:00p Virtual
Screening M 7:00-10:00p Virtual
Recitation 1 R 3:00-4:00p Virtual
Recitation 2 R 4:00-5:00p Virtual

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

Concentrates on close analysis and criticism of a wide range of films, including works from the early silent period, documentary and avant-garde films, European art cinema, and contemporary Hollywood fare. Through comparative reading films from different eras and countries, students develop the skills to turn their in-depth analyses into interpretations and explore theoretical issues related to spectatorship. Syllabus varies from term to term, but usually includes such directors as Coppola, Eisentein, Fellini, Godard, Griffith, Hawks, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Tarantino, Welles, Wiseman, and Zhang.

21L.019 Introduction to European and Latin American Fiction Joaquín Terrones MW 3:30-5:00p Virtual

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

Fiction writers are masters of the art of deception. They lie all the time. It should come as no surprise, then, that some of their most enduring (and sometimes endearing) characters are themselves liars, swindlers, rogues, and criminals. This course will introduce you to European and Latin American fiction through a selection of its most memorable lowlifes. We will examine how novels, short stories, graphic novels, and films use these outsiders and their transgressions to challenge societal norms and structures, particularly economic inequality, patriarchy, colonialism, and racism. Some of the works we will analyze and discuss are the Lazarillo de Tormes, Voltaire’s Candide, Machado de Assis’s The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas, Jorge Luis Borges’s A Universal History of Infamy, Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star. Class projects will include the opportunity for students to create—using various media—their own lowlife characters.

21L.021 Comedy Wyn Kelley MW 11:00-12:30p Virtual

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

Comedy, the most elastic of literary and performance modes, skewers artifice, topples authority, and reverses expectations, not with the fatal outcomes of tragedy but with laughter and festivity. This class examines the deep roots and current forms of comedy, with a particular focus on the mechanisms and mysteries of comic insurrection. We will revel in Greek, Roman, and Shakespearean drama and the bawdy humor of Rabelais; explore Aphra Behn’s eighteenth-century theater of feminist rakes in The Rover; investigate romantic comedy, parody, and social satire in Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde; peek under the covers of small-town family life in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home; and observe the uneasy relationship between farce and romantic love, violence and redemptive humor, satire and festivity in comic art. Discussion will frequently draw on examples of popular and contemporary forms, including political humor, stand-up, and sketch comedy.


21L.310 Bestsellers: The Great Gatsby and Black Culture Wyn Kelley MW 1:00-2:30p Virtual

Prereq: none
2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit; first half of term

(Ends April 2) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), a long-time bestseller, is often read as a quintessential portrayal of the American Dream. Jay Gatsby, a white working-class outsider, adopts the persona of a wealthy aristocrat in Jazz Age New York. Black authors in the last century have engaged with Fitzgerald’s book or its themes, refreshing its impact in intriguing ways. As we will see in this class, the protagonist of Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929), like Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, aspires to the world of wealthy socialites; Toni Morrison’s Jazz (1992), taking place in the same period as Fitzgerald’s novel, views the Jazz Age within the context of the Great Migration and Jim Crow; and Stephanie Powell Watts’s No One Is Coming to Save Us (2017) situates Gatsby’s story in a declining North Carolina town, where JJ Ferguson, a wealthy Black entrepreneur, builds an impressive mansion. Reading Fitzgerald’s novel in dialogue with African American history and literary culture suggests how The Great Gatsby has grown and changed over the last century.

21L.320 Big Books: Kindred Sandy Alexandre TR 3:00-4:30p Virtual

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

(Begins April 5) What are the adventures and dangers associated with traveling back to your past? What if your ancestors are enslaved in that past, and you have to bear witness to how slavery’s legacy continues to inform your life story? What is a creative way to reckon with one’s complicated and checkered past? How is one’s confrontation with the past a form of self-improvement even if it also threatens self-destruction? How can we view the past as a character who is always in conversation with other characters in a work of fiction? These are just some of the fascinating questions that Octavia Butler’s science-fiction novel Kindred poses its readers. So, these are also just some of the questions we’ll consider as we allow ourselves the opportunity and the pacing to read this book in a deliberative manner. After all, in a book that will have us frequently time traveling, we will surely need the time to recover from all of the jet lag. I look forward to creating the space that will enable us to stop and think carefully about each class day’s assigned pages of reading. 

21L.355 Literature in the Digital Age: Textual Mischief Wyn Kelley MW 1:00-2:30p Virtual

Prereq: none
2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit; second half of term

(Begins April 5) Herman Melville’s novella Benito Cereno, a nineteenth-century story of mutiny at sea, is a duplicitous text. Somewhat in the manner of a detective story, Melville’s narrative raises questions about its design and its designs upon a reader. This class seeks to understand the text’s perils and pleasures by applying digital tools to the reading process. We will explore methods for deepening the reading experience, using a wide range of approaches:

  1. Reading and annotating the text in MIT’s Annotation Studio
  2. Fluid-text analysis: exploring and collating different versions—magazine and book publication, as well as different editions and formats
  3. Comparison with source text, Amasa Delano’s A Narrative of Voyages and Travels, and other literary and historical sources
  4. Marginalia: Melville’s manuscript annotations as critical tool
  5. Text analysis using Voyant Tools to locate significant patterns
  6. Digital research in MIT Libraries databases

Students will read and discuss texts intensively in class; practice using different digital platforms; post questions and responses in a class discussion forum; present an in-class report; and keep a portfolio of materials to submit at the end of the term. No technical expertise required.


21L.431 Shakespeare on Film and Media: Shakespeare Behind Bars and Across the Globe Diana Henderson TR 11:00-12:30p Virtual

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H

Shakespeare wrote in times of plague, protest, and social division: whether kings, queens, or commoners, characters in his plays struggle with personal confinement and their own emotions, highlighting themes of justice, responsibility, and forgiveness. From Nelson Mandela to Toni Morrison and from Kashmir to Kentucky, in every new medium and across the entire world, artists, citizens, fans, and social reformers have taken inspiration from—or taken issue with—Shakespeare’s words. We will study how these plays, re-mediated as books, films, television, images and more, work and circulate now. We will look at scenes and speeches, spin-offs and spoofs, as well as studying especially powerful films from India, Russia, western Europe, the US, and Japan.

This semester, drawing on the affordances of Zoom and other digital technologies, we will also create a unique community of students learning together at a distance while aware of their own confinement—whether in homes, hostels, dorm rooms or New England prisons. We will highlight Shakespeare’s dramas of isolation and social struggle, including Hamlet, King Lear, Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1 and The Tempest, with special attention to the challenges of cross-cultural filmic translation and the importance of collaborative artistic processes across media.

21L.433 Film Styles and Genres: Body Genres: Horror, Comedy, and Melodrama Alexander Svensson TR 7:00-8:30p Virtual

Prereq: 21L.011 or permission of instructor
3-0-9 HASS-H; Can be repeated for credit

Investigates film genres that privilege excess, sensation, bodily spectacle, and intensities of audience response – the “body genres” of horror, comedy, and melodrama. Considers how these genres and their overlaps have been historically produced, categorized, sustained, and received, with particular attention to close analysis of key films, critical and industrial discourse, and a wide range of spectator reactions, emotions, and affects. Focusing on bodies, this class is also concerned with how these films tap into issues of identity, race, gender, and sexuality. May be repeated for credit by permission of instructor.
21L.434 Science Fiction and Fantasy Laura Finch MW 11:00-12:30p Virtual

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H

Scifi writer Octavia E. Butler once wrote: “There is nothing new under the sun; but there are new suns.” This ability to up-end what we consider possible and to allow us to imagine differently is the hallmark of science fiction. In this class we will read science fiction that makes use of this radical capacity in order to challenge the oppressive structures of race, gender, colonialism/settler colonialism, and capitalism that we currently live under. By tackling the social injustices of the present, the writers we will read invite us to imagine our futures differently.

This intermediate-level class is focused on issues of social justice. We will read 21st- century science fiction and speculative fiction (including short stories, novels, and films), as well as theoretical and critical texts. Assessment (presentations, short written responses, and a final paper/project) is based on consistent participation and engagement throughout the semester, rather than being heavily weighted towards a final paper.

21L.455 Ancient Authors: The Homeric Epics Alexander Forte MW 9:30-11:00a Virtual

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H; Can be repeated for credit

This course will feature a detailed examination of the Iliad and Odyssey, with a focus on the oral-formulaic background of the poems and the wider context of their creation. Topics will include the historicity of the Trojan war, orality and literacy in archaic Greece, the question of one or many Homer(s), the structure of the poems, and the degree to which Homeric concepts (of mind, time, speech, glory, and justice, among others) match our own.

21L.457 The Bible: New Testament Ina Lipkowitz TR 9:30-11:00a Virtual

Prereq: none
3-0-9 H

Beginning with an overview of the narrative arc and major themes of the Hebrew Bible, this course will introduce students to the New Testament as a collection of historical documents from the 1st and 2nd centuries, including biographies, history, letters, and an apocalyptic vision. We will study its historical and cultural context, address issues resulting from the translation of Hebrew into Greek, imagine how the various writings might have been understood by their earliest readers, and draw upon a range of methodologies and the interpretive practices of different traditions. Note: There are no prerequisites for this class; students may register without having taken The Hebrew Bible (21L.456).

21L.480[J] Identities and Intersections: Queer Literatures
Joaquín Terrones MW 9:30 – 11:00a Virtual

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H

This course will focus on LGBT literature from the late nineteenth century to the present with an emphasis on fiction and poetry. In particular, we will analyze how LGBT identities and their literary representations have changed over time. Our discussion will give special attention to the ways in which race, class, and disability intersect with sexuality and gender. Some of the authors we will read include James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Delany, Tony Kushner, Alison Bechdel, Cherrie Moraga, Janet Mock, and Audre Lorde.

21L.486 Modern Drama Anne Fleche TR 2:30-4:00p Virtual

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

Explores major modern plays with special attention to performance, sociopolitical and aesthetic contexts, and the role of theater in the contemporary multimedial landscape. Includes analysis of class, gender, and race as modes of performance. Typically features Beckett and Brecht, as well as some of the following playwrights: Chekov, Churchill, Deavere Smith, Ibsen, Fornes, Friel, Kushner, O’Neill, Shaw, Stoppard, Soyinka, Williams, Wilson. May be repeated for credit with permission of instructor if content differs.

21L.487 Modern Poetry: What Comes Next? Stephen Tapscott M 7:00-10:00p Virtual

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

After a period of great disruption –war, pandemic, plague, fire, loss– or after a state of exception, “someone” (as the poet Wislawa Szymborsks says)  “has to clean up the mess.”  Periods of shut-down and recalibration can lead to periods of fierce revaluation, re-formation. In this term we will look at several such periods of convulsive reevaluation, in social and aesthetic terms: the decades just after the Spanish flu/WWI, and the years just after the Great Depression/WWII, were periods of radical rethinking. Poets and artists of those periods asked fundamental questions about aesthetic forms, about the materials of their practice, and about the relation of art to the social world. So. what comes next?  What have we learned? What are we learning? Who are we, the survivors? What comes next? 

In this intermediate subject 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 post-World War II internationalism (ca. 1918-1950). 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, to aesthetic experience as displaced religious impulse, and to poetry as faith, ritual, and cultural form. Poets whose work we will read include: Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning,  W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, Rabindranath Tagore, Hilda Doolittle.

In-class discussions, frequent student reports, final presentation-projects, no final.

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

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H

Explores the works of classical Russian writers of the 19th and 20th centuries, including stories and novels by Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Bunin, Nabokov, Platonov, and others. Focuses on their approaches to portraying self and society, and on literary responses to fundamental ethical and philosophical questions about justice, freedom, free will, fate, love, loyalty, betrayal, and forgiveness.  Taught in English; students interested in completing some readings and a short writing project in Russian should register for 21G.618.

21L.512 American Authors: Weird Americas Joaquín Terrones MW 1:00-2:30p Virtual

Prereq: One subject in Literature, permission of instructor
3-0-9 HASS-H; Can be repeated for credit

Christopher Columbus’s initial description of the Americas featured rivers of gold and man-eating monsters. From the moment colonists and conquistadors first encountered its endless frontiers, abundant nature, and alien cultures, the New World has often stood as otherworldly counterpart to European worldliness. This course will examine how contemporary North and Latin American authors have reflected on race, gender, sexuality, and national identity through horror, magical realism, Afrofuturism, and science fiction. Our first unit will consider hauntings and ghosts stories as attempts to make sense of the hemisphere’s violent past. In the second, we will explore divergent worlds, geographies, and timelines that reimagine otherness and cultural plurality. The final unit will study genetic and cybernetic splicings that blur the carefully guarded lines between man, animal, and machine. Some of the texts we will read include Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, as well as short stories by J.L. Borges, H.P. Lovecraft, and Samuel Delany. We will also analyze the Brazilian graphic novel Daytripper, the television series Orphan Black and Watchmen, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther film, Beyoncé’s Black Is King visual album, and Janelle Monáe’s Metropolis series.

International Literatures

21L.609 Greek Readings Alexander Forte TR 4:00-5:00p Virtual

Prereq: none

(Ends April 2) Introduction to reading ancient Greek literature in the original language. Provides a bridge between the study of Greek grammar and the reading of Greek authors. Improves knowledge of the language through careful examination of literary texts, both prose and poetry. Builds proficiency in reading Greek and develops appreciation for basic features of style and genre. Texts vary from term to term. May be repeated once for credit if content differs. 21L.609 and 21L.610, or two terms of 21L.609, may be combined by petition (after completion of both) to count as a single HASS-H.

21L.610 Advanced Greek Readings Alexander Forte TR 4:00-5:00p Virtual

Prereq: none

(Ends April 2) Building on 21L.609, develops the ability to read and analyze ancient Greek literary texts, both prose and poetry. Focuses on increasing fluency in reading comprehension and recognition of stylistic, generic, and grammatical features. Texts vary from term to term. May be repeated once for credit if content differs. 21L.610 and 21L.609, or two terms of 21L.610, may be combined by petition (after completion of both) to count as a single HASS-H.

21L.611 Latin I Randall Colaizzi MW 1:00-2:30p Virtual

Prereq: none
3-0-3; first half of term

(Ends April 2) Latin I offers an introduction for those who do not know the language, or a review for those who would like to refresh the Latin that they have previously learned. In this half-semester intensive course, students will learn the rudiments of Latin vocabulary and grammar, including basic vocabulary, word forms, and simple sentence structure. This is the equivalent of a full first semester of college-level Latin.

21L.612 Latin II Randall Colaizzi MW 1:00-2:30p Virtual

Prereq: 21L.611 or permission of instructor
3-0-3; second half of term

(Begins April 5) Latin II offers a continuation of Latin I. This class will complete the basic preparation for those who have begun the language with Latin I (611), or will give a review to those who have learned some Latin previously. In this half-semester intensive course, students will reach the level necessary to read Latin texts at an intermediate level, including the full basic Latin vocabulary, word forms, and a knowledge of more complex sentence structures. This is the equivalent of the second semester of college-level Latin.

21L.640[J] The New Spain: 1977-Present
Margery Resnick TR 1:00-2:30p Virtual

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

Deals with the vast changes in Spanish social, political and cultural life that have taken place since the death of Franco (1975). Topics include the transition to democracy, new freedom from censorship, the re-emergence of strong movements for regional autonomy (the Basque region and Catalonia), the new cinema including Almodóvar and Saura, educational reforms instituted by the socialist government, the changes in the role of the Catholic church, the emergence of one of the world’s most progressive gender environment, and new forms of fiction.  Special emphasis on the mass media as a vehicle for expression in Spain. Materials include magazines, newspapers, films, television series, fiction, and essays.  Each student chooses a research project that focuses on an issue of personal interest.  Taught in Spanish.


21L.702 Studies in Fiction: Toni Morrison Sandy Alexandre TR 11:00-12:30p Virtual

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 of the literary and scholarly work of the inimitable writer Toni Morrison. Morrison’s novels are well known for being stylistically dense and sometimes difficult to read and understand. But to borrow Morrison’s own words, from The Bluest Eye, the semester-long exercise of reading, thinking, and writing about her work promises to be “a productive and fructifying pain.” My goal is to ensure that all participants in the class actually gain something useful and fortifying from such an in-depth analysis of her oeuvre. As we allow ourselves the opportunity to meditate on her writings, during the course of the semester, I hope we will open ourselves to the possibility of growing more intellectually conscious not only as readers, writers, and thinkers in the classroom, but also as compassionate citizens out in the world. We will watch interviews of her and read seven or eight of her novels, some of her speeches, her short story “Recitatif,” and critical essays about her work.

21L.705 Major Authors: Paradise Lost and Twentieth Century Fantasy Mary C. Fuller MW 1:00-2:30p Virtual

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

A world created good has turned dark: suffering and injustice pervade it at every level, from bodily and emotional experience through the macro-systems of climate and social hierarchy. “Whose fault?” The poet John Milton posed this question at a time of tremendous personal and political difficulty. Blind and endangered by the fall of the republican government he served and the restoration of a monarchy, he turned to the Genesis story of origins as the seed of Paradise Lost, an epic poem instantly seen—even in a hostile political environment—as a classic. 

One fate of a classic is to be rewritten, both by admirers and by antagonists. We will read Paradise Lost alongside works of twentieth-century fantasy and science fiction which rethink both Milton’s text and its source: Perelandra (C. S. Lewis), Dawn (Octavia Butler), and the trilogy His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman). Not only arguing with or elaborating on Milton’s story, these texts make us aware that Paradise Lost is itself a work of world-building speculative fiction, imagining not only radically different human conditions but also the cognitive, emotional and sensory experiences of non-human actors. 

Paradise Lost is a challenging text that may be most rewarding when read in a diverse community of other minds and views. Milton’s style can be a challenge as well, but we will make sure it is tractable. Note: this version of the class will be COVID/online adapted, with flexible assignment structure and provision for weeks without tasks other than reading and discussion.

21L.706 Studies in Film: Hitchcock: Film, Theory, Murder
Eugenie Brinkema MW 9:30-11:00a Virtual

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

There are many things one can do with Alfred Hitchcock. The first English-language director to turn his name into a brand, marking each film with a cameo and his famous silhouette, Hitchcock insisted on the recognition of the director as auteur or author. At the same time, he was a notoriously untrustworthy author who loved to taunt the public with contradictory statements about himself and his films—(one of his most famous adages was “torture the audience”). He made immensely popular films in the 1950s and 1960s, which brought him fame and box office success, but he was also known for a small-budget, quirky television series; his films are taught in every introductory film course in the world as examples of artistic virtuosity in the medium, but he also made horror films and screwball comedies. His films are examples of cruel, methodical directorial control, but they are also often very funny; they weave through meditations on compulsion, obsession, aggression, paranoia, guilt, and desire, but they are also durably entertaining. One might read the director’s films as allegories in relation to politics, nationalism, ethics, and the social versus the individual, or turn him into a critic of the ideology of marriage and heterosexuality. In this seminar, we will do all of these things with Alfred Hitchcock and more, examining a broad range of paradoxical films from this most complex director. We will closely study over 15 of Hitchcock’s films, from his early silent pictures of the 1920s to his studio productions of the 1960s to his dark, violent later work. Readings from film theory will help us understand Hitchcock through psychoanalytic, feminist and formalist lenses, and will present major concepts analytically useful for many of his works (suspense, guilt, disguise, desire, the wrong man, the MacGuffin, the blonde, and the blot or stain). At least one previous course in film analysis is required. Required work will involve a mix of theoretical readings and film screenings (on plex), asynchronous listening and writing, and one weekly synchronous meeting. Scholarly output will include a long essay engaging theory and films, and a portfolio mixed-media project.

21L.707 Problems in Cultural Interpretation: Literature, Truth, and State Power in Asia Wiebke Denecke TR 11:00-12:30p Virtual

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

Although we often enjoy literature for its autonomy, treating it as a welcome escape from the pressures of the “real world,” nonetheless outside powers—in particular the state—have left deep imprints on its themes, forms, and functions. How has state power encroached on literary production and imagination in Asia and what resources and strategies have writers drawn on to fight back? How have appeals to “truth” and “realism” played out in this struggle?  

This course explores how particular political institutions, societal customs, and artistic forms have shaped literature in Asia over the past three millennia. Drawn from the literatures of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and India, our readings include early Chinese and Indian philosophical texts; courtly chronicles and diaries such as The Tales of the Heike and The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong; recluse writers such as Tao Qian, Kamo no Chōmei, and Kim Sisŭp; and stories by modern writers, including Lu Xun, Mori Ōgai, Satō Haruo, Park Wansuh, Rabindranath Tagore, and Saadat Hasan Manto.

By comparing works from different cultures, places, and periods, we will also develop an understanding of the methods of comparative literature, in part through cross-cultural creative exercises.