2018 Fall

Comparative Literature 215: Literature and Letters in the Renaissance

Instructor: Professors Timothy Hampton and Vicky Kahn

Did the Renaissance have a conception of "literature"?  In this seminar we will study the genesis of modern secular literary culture during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Our focus will be on the changing relationship between imaginative or "fictional" writing and the discourses that border the "literary" and help shape its emerging position center of the public sphere. Beginning with debates about the status of "poetry" at the end of the Middle Ages, we will focus on a series of major literary texts that raise questions about the status of the literary, both in its different socio-political settings (city state, court, Church) and in its relationship to other forms of writing (legal fictions, travel writing, political philosophy, religious polemic) that use fiction and discuss the imagination.   [more]

English 250, section 3: Textual Communities and the Modern

Instructor: Professor Joanna Picciotto

We’ll explore collectives made possible by the early modern communications revolution, focusing on print and the rise of periodical and serial forms. Case studies will include the Levellers, the Royal Society, and the Methodists, along with responses to these groups, from the famous (Andrew Marvell, Henry Fielding) to the anonymous. Secondary readings will be drawn from theoretical literature on modernity (in relation to media, secularization, and state-formation) as well as relevant criticism.  [more]

French 240A: The French Revolution

Instructor: Professor Susan Maslan

The seminar will offer students a foundation for understanding the extraordinary complexity of the Revolution itself. After getting up to speed quickly, we will devote most of our time to work on primary documents, works, and artefacts of the Revolution. The Revolution spurred and was shaped by the explosion of journalism—literally hundreds of newspapers sprang to life to life nearly immediately. We will read revolutionary journalists from the obscure to the famous (Camille Desmoulins), to the infamous (Marat). The Revolution also inaugurated a new era of oratory; we will read major speeches given in the National Assembly by Robespierre, Siéyès, Condorcet, and more. We will study some famous and some not so famous parliamentary debates. We will study the politics of the street: marches, riots, and political posters (many of which are available for study in the Bancroft Rare Books library). We will study the Haitian Revolution, the world’s first successful slave revolution, and the relation between it and the French Revolution. We will study the French Revolution’s re-invention of time and space: i.e. the invention of the Revolutionary calendar and of the metric system. We will ask some fundamental questions: do books make Revolutions? That is, what relationships can we establish between Enlightenment writing (especially that of Rousseau) and Revolution? Conversely, we will ask whether Revolutions can create art: we will study revolutionary theater (which, like the press, grew exponentially), study the great painter and revolutionary Jacques-Louis David; ask ourselves about the meaning and significance of minor literature and popular culture in shaping the Revolution; and seek to understand how the lines between art and propaganda are drawn. [more]

Italian Studies 212: Seminar in Dante: Dante Lector

Instructor: Professor Albert R. Ascoli

In one of the most famous episodes in Western literature, Francesca da Rimini blames her adulterous love of her husband’s brother, Paolo, for both her violent death and eternal damnation, on an act of reading, solicited by a book and its author (“Galeotto fu il libro e chi lo scrisse” [A pander was the book and he who wrote it]). This episode, however, is just one of the many, many ways that the critical representation of readers and acts of reading, including his own, pervade the Dantean corpus from beginning to end. Our focus in this course, then, will be on Dante’s dialectical construction and reconfiguration of medieval practices of reading in relation to his emerging concept of his own “authoriality.”  Specifically  we will follow an itinerary that leads from the first of Dante’s major “hybrid” prose and poetry works, the Vita Nova, through the unfinished treatises of his early exile (Convivio and De Vulgari Eloquentia), to selections from the three canticles of the Commedia. In addition to examining “scenes of reading” like Inferno 5 and Dante’s textual definitions of and engagement with his own readers, we will consider questions concerning the intersections between authorial intentionality and readerly understanding; the self-reading mode of auto-commentary; appropriations and transformations of Scholastic models of lectio; the gender and social standing of implied readers; and others still. Though our primary focus will be on Dante’s texts, we will take into consideration the circulation of those works around the time of their composition, as well as the first generation of the Commedia’s readers. [more]