Fall 2011 Courses

CSLC 502
Introduction to Literary Theory
Professor Peggy Kamuf

This seminar will consider some major ways that contemporary thinking about language and meaning has revised ideas of literature.  These are, first, the questioning of representation, of “X stands for Y,” as the way meaning is made; second, the recognition of performative speech acts as a pervasive mode of meaning-making; third, the account taken of the unconscious as a force of disruption in the subject’s intention to mean; and, finally, the relation of non-truth or “fiction” to discourses that, unlike literature, are presumed to tell the truth.  In addition, the seminar will take up questions of response to literary works as singular events.  These approaches to literature  will be made through the study of a selection of theoretical and critical texts as well as five fictional works:  Heart of Darkness, Billy Budd, Diary of a Bad Year, The Turn of the Screw, and The Bell Jar

CSLC 503
Introduction to Comparative Studies in Culture
Professor Panivong Norindr

If the current cinematic appeal of Marxist revolutionaries and radical figures is symptomatic of a particular zeitgeist—one could evoke Steven Soderbergh’s Che (2008), Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008),  Olivier Assaya’s Carlos (2010), Marco Bellocchio’s Good Morning, Night (2003),  or Koji Wakamatsu’s United Red Army (2008)—the claim can be made that these mainstream spectacular cinematic images about the 60s constitute the new “memories” of that decade.  The nostalgic focus on these historical figures (Che, Carlos, Baader-Meinhof) displaces the importance of the role played by anonymous workers and students who were part of larger, national and transnational movements and who believed in the radical potential of utopian thought to transform bourgeois society.  These films erase police and state violence, play down the deaths of participants, and eliminate workers from the picture, doing away with all traces of anti-Americanism, anti-imperialism, and the conflicts in Algeria, the Middle East, and Vietnam. 

The initial part of the course will be devoted to the analysis of some of the most important key concepts in the study of culture, literary and cultural theory, namely, the ones introduced by Antonio Gramsci, members the Frankfurt School (Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer), French Marxists like Louis Althusser, and the British Schools of Cultural Studies (Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams).  These theorists provide not only the analytical tools for a more complex analysis of culture but also a comparative framework for the study of culture, a methodology for comparison by attending to the importance and impact of British, French, and German thought on the analysis of culture.  

The rest of the course will examine how these concepts have been mobilized and put into practice by students, workers, writers and filmmakers, during the tumultuous 60s and beyond, which will allow us to re-examine the role of the collective and study how everyday practices brought about a “revolutionary reordering of life, politics, and art”  (Debord).  The course also seeks to assess the convergence and dissemination of theories expounded by Marxist critics and cultural theorists like Althusser, Debord, Fanon, Foucault, Lefebvre, Marcuse, whose concepts traveled widely across continents.  Fanon’s  The Wretched of the Earth will not be read simply as the emblematic text calling for decolonization in Africa and Asia, but as a seminal work that also influenced the writing of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Amiri Baraka, and the Black Panther leaders.  Although members of the Tel Quel Group and French Maoist groups endorsed Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Dai Seiji’s novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, gives us an original account of the impact of Mao’s ruthless policies on the Chinese people. The course examines how momentous events such as the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Mexico massacre, have been reimagined and reinterpreted in contemporary works of fiction, cinematic and literary essays, and fiction films. Thus a chronicle like Elena Poniatowska’s on the Mexican student massacre will enter into a productive dialogue with Felipe Cazals’s film, Canoa, as an apt metaphor for the massacre of students in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, and Michael Herr’s Dispatches will provide an entry into Marker et al’s collective film, Far From Vietnam (1967).  We will end the course with a comparative analysis of student radicalism in Germany, Italy, and Japan.