FYS Fall 2021 Course Descriptions
Please note that this schedule may be subject to change, and student are encouraged not only to revisit this page but also to confirm the course listings in the online Directory of Classes.
THE ENCHANTED IMAGINATION
John J. Pagano
MW 1:10 pm - 2:25 pm
A survey of fantasy works that examines the transformative role of the Imagination in aesthetic and creative experience, challenges accepted boundaries between the imagined and the real, and celebrates Otherness and Magicality in a disenchanted world. Readings will be selected from fairy tales, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest; Romantic poetry by Blake, Coleridge, Keats, and Dickinson; Romantic art by Friedrich, Waterhouse, and Dore; Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Lewis Carroll's Alice books, Tennyson's Idylls of the King, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; Magical Realist works by Borges, Garcia Marquez, and Allende; Sondheim & Lapine's Into the Woods, Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
TR 8:40 am - 9:55 am
From ancient Greece to "Wicked," the figure of the witch has fascinated and frightened, compelled and repulsed. In this seminar, we'll analyze written and visual texts from Homer to The Brothers Grimm and beyond to develop a deeper understanding of the witch and the anxieties about gender and power that she represents.
ART, AIDS, ACTIVISM
Alice A. Reagan
MW 10:10 am - 11:25 am
This seminar explores the varied ways artists responded to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s. As government indifference persisted and deaths soared, artists became radicalized and contemporary art became a vehicle for activism. We will follow different tactics in artwork responding to AIDS including the use of gay desire as a weapon and emblem of the fight for visibility. The work we will view, think about, discuss, and write about is political, often angry, and always tinged with loss. Because AIDS affected marginalized communities, whose histories are still being told, we will examine a range of artists and materials that includes but also moves beyond the gay white male perspective. We will spend time with videos by Juanita Mohammad, visual art by Kia LaBeija, Feliz Gonzalez-Torres, and David Wojnarowicz, plays by Reza Abdoh and Tony Kushner, and the writings of Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, and Sarah Schulman. The final project will be an academic/creative hybrid: students will develop and pitch their own activist artwork.
Lisa K. Son
MW 11:40 am - 12:55 pm
Memory is arguably the most important faculty that we possess. Not surprisingly, memory has been a ubiquitous topic in poetry, science, fiction, and in the media. Ironically, memory's value is perhaps best understood when it ceases to exist. Indeed, it isn't hard to imagine the devastation that comes with memory loss. In this course, we will survey various components of memory, including its role in writing and history, and its existence in various non-human populations. In addition, we will explore the fragility of memory, including distortions, unusual memories, and basic forgetting. Readings will include poems, theoretical essays, scientific articles, and fiction. Assignments will consist of essays, opinion pieces, and creative stories. Students will also participate in a final in-class debate. Readings will include works from William Blake, James Joyce, Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, Emily Dickinson, Ben Jonson, Mary Carruthers, Francis Yates, Aristotle, William James, Elizabeth Loftus, Spinoza, Luria, J.L. Borges, S. Freud, Oliver Sacks, Truman Capote
TR 1:10 pm - 2:25 pm
Liberation can be defined as freedom from limits on thought or behavior. More specifically, it can be defined as setting someone (or oneself) free from imprisonment, slavery, or oppression. This seminar examines political, philosophical, aesthetic, and theological traditions and movements for liberation, with an emphasis on collective liberation.
THINK LIKE A SCIENTIST: PLATO TO HAWKING
TR 2:40 pm - 3:55 pm
This course will examine the “scientific worldview” throughout the history of the Western world. Key questions will include: how do science and philosophy intersect to influence our views of nature?; how does science help us to understand our place in the world and in the universe?; what happens when objective scientific inquiry clashes with political and societal interests?; how does popular opinion affect the way that science is conducted? In attempting to answer these questions, we will reflect on what it means to use what we have learned (from both science and history) to synthesize new viewpoints that can have a positive impact on our future.
REACTING TO THE PAST
Mark C. Carnes
MW 2:40 pm – 3:55 pm
REACTING TO THE PAST
Kate A. Glasner
TR 2:40 pm – 3:55 pm
REACTING TO THE PAST
Jennifer L. Worth
TR 4:10 pm - 5:25 pm
In these seminars, students play complex historical role-playing games informed by classic texts. After an initial set-up phase, class sessions are run by students. These seminars are speaking- and writing-intensive, as students pursue their assigned roles objectives by convincing classmates of their views. Examples of games played in First-Year Seminar Reacting class include: 1) The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C. explores a pivotal moment following the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War, when democrats sought to restore democracy while critics, including the supporters of Socrates, proposed alternatives. The key text is Plato's Republic. 2) Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor examines a dispute between Confucian purists and pragmatists within the Hanlin Academy, the highest echelon of the Ming bureaucracy, taking Analects of Confucius as the central text. 3) The Trial of Anne Hutchinson revisits a conflict that pitted Puritan dissenter Anne Hutchinson and her supporters against Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop and the orthodox ministers of New England. Students work with testimony from Hutchinsons trial as well as the Bible and other texts. 4) Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor and the New Woman investigates the struggle between radical labor activists and woman suffragists for the hearts and minds of Bohemians, drawing on foundational works by Marx, Freud, Mary Wollstonecraft, and others.
DRAMA, THEATRE, AND ART
Patricia D. Denison
TR 11:40 am - 12:55 pm
Drama, Theatre, and Art will consider the ways in which the performing arts and the visual arts help change the ways we see art and life. Beginning with reimagined classics and Shakespeare’s plays, we will move to the 18th-21st centuries and note how views of individual agency, social justice, and collective responsibility have changed over time. We will also ask what the performing arts and visual arts of the past have to say about issues confronted in the arts of the present. This will help us to understand how evolving aesthetic movements such as realism, impressionism, and modernism promote and critique our cultural perspectives and our social values. Plays include Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Les Blancs, and Yasmina Rez’s Art; novels include Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; musicals include Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George and Rachel Chavkin’s Hadestown. Art from The Metropolitan Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and other sites will promote student engagement with visual and verbal interactions and cross disciplinary conversations.
ARTS OF ADAPTATION
TR 1:10 pm – 2:25 pm
ARTS OF ADAPTATION
TR 2:40 pm – 3:55 pm
Can a ballet tell the same story as a Shakespeare tragedy? Do the violent fantasies of a fairytale shape romantic comedy? What does Bollywood have to do with Victorian England? Can ancient mythology animate slave narrative? Using as textual anchors Grimms’ Snow White, Ovid’s Medea, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this course will explore poems, paintings, films, musicals, dance, illustration, advertisement and song to consider the accretion of meaning that results when stories cross, historical, cultural, and generic borders.
WRITING AMERICAN LIVES
MW 2:40 pm - 3:55 pm
This interdisciplinary course explores the problem of representing American experience, one’s own or someone else’s, in the context of a nation-state’s fraught history of self-fashioning. What motivates a person to tell his or her life story, or to investigate someone else’s, and how are these stories bound by both authors and readers to narratives of citizenship, belonging, and/or exclusion? What motivates a writer to share what she shares, and what motivates an audience to demand what it demands from her? What claims about the exemplary or excessive qualities of the life story are made, or are emulated, by the life story’s readers? In addition to critical consideration of biography and memoir in traditional media, your work in this class will include examinations of the fake memoir and the digital overshare; you will also be invited to curate a branded footprint of your own, using tools of new media.
WOMEN & COMEDY
MW 11:40 am - 12:55 pm
This course focuses on the intersection between comedy and gender, race, class and sexuality. We will explore laughter as a subversive act and how the identity of a “funny woman” can be both dangerous and liberating. As Margo Jefferson writes, “Given the history of social restriction and sexual regulation, how many women have been in a position to -- or been willing to -- take these risks?” We will explore how the tools of comedy can be used to make mischief, to transgress the bounds of genre and form and to contest popular ideas about difference and power. How can humor be illuminating? How can humor be feminist? How can humor be intersectional? How can humor help us tell the hard truths? Can we laugh at oppression without laughing it off? At every step, we will put our inquiry into action – trying our hand at satire, sketch and storytelling to explore our own intersections. Readings may include Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, Samantha Chanse’s Lydia’s Funeral Video and Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals.
IS GOD DEAD?
TR 4:10 pm - 5:25 pm
Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1882 pronouncement that “God is dead” is one of the most notorious and widely-referenced criticisms of the relationship between Theology and Modernity in contemporary thought. But what does it mean to say “God is dead,” in fact? What was Nietzsche talking about? How might this statement be “true”? How might it be inaccurate? In this class, we will use Nietzsche’s statement as a jumping-off point to begin thinking about how modern ideas about the continuities and distinctions between religion and politics developed between the 16th to the 20th centuries in such a way that to say “God is dead” became a meaningful summation of Modernity. In addition to Nietzsche, we will read classical and critical works of political theology from a diverse array of authors such as Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, Benedict de Spinoza, Beatriz Kampa Vita, Carl Schmitt, Max Weber, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, and Simone Weil to answer for questions: What does it mean to talk about God? Is God dead? If so, when and how did God die? And if God is not dead, how has God been kept alive — and where can this figure be found today?
TECH & SOCIETY: GOOD, BAD & OTHER
Rebecca N. Wright
TR 4:10 pm – 5:25 pm
Computing and information technology has improved our lives in many ways, contributing to significant advances in science and medicine; making it easy and efficient to communicate with people across the world; and enabling online business and recreational activities; and more. However, the same technologies can also have negative impacts, such as the move to a surveillance society and surveillance capitalism; major disruptions in the workforce of the future as automation becomes more widespread; and social media contributing to depression in young people and the weaponization of disinformation. This seminar will explore technical, cultural, legal, and economic factors that can impact how computing technology is used, while raising the question of how to encourage and ensure that these technologies are used for good, while eliminating or mitigating the potential negative impacts.
SURVEILLANCE, CONTAGION, AND CARE
Gina A. Jae
MW 10:10 am – 11:25 am
Very recent events have forced local, regional, and international communities to once again confront contagion as a globally shared event. This seminar examines some of the historical and contemporary expressions of contagion as moral and ethical experience. We will interrogate the surveillance systems that are utilized by modern governments and economies not only as public health goods and private sector assets, but also legacies of conquest, colonialism, and capitalism. Finally, we explore the role of care within these systems, its inherent power dynamics, and the politics of vulnerability. Texts include (and are not limited to) Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Fire; excerpts from Camus, Galeano, Sontag, Foucault; historical and sociological accounts of tuberculosis; anthropological and ethnographic accounts of the global HIV epidemic; feminist philosophers on the politics of care and the sciences (e.g., Sandra Laugier, Annemarie Mol); and written and audio journalism topical to these accounts.
PERFORMING PUBLICS & POLITICAL ACTIVISM
TR 2:40 pm - 3:55 pm
This seminar examines how different publics engage in the political process through performance. We start our exploration with the notion of "the publics" as introduced by the twentieth-century German philosopher Jürgen Habermas and then expand our view of this concept to the contemporary political setting. We will look at both how elected representatives use theatrical tropes to shape their public personas, and equally at how popular protests stage large scale public interventions. How might performance as a series of citational strategies allow us to think about the political process? We will draw heavily on the works of feminist performance scholars like Judith Butler, Shannon Jackson and Peggy Phelan, who discuss the different ways in which gendered bodies navigate public space. In this seminar students will be required to draw on their personal experiences of public performances. This may be in the shape of their own activism, politics in their hometowns, their favorite public figures, or memorable live shows they have watched. Writing ethnographically, students will engage with the theorists we read to investigate how performance has shaped their lives. For Fall 2020 we will be focusing on public responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Different populations reacted differently to the global pandemic. From local politicians, medical professionals, frontline workers to everyday citizens, everyone reflected, in different measure, on the loss of the public sphere. We assembled in the digital commons instead. How did we deal with our own isolation from public life while at the same time thinking of keeping the collective body safe from contagion? What are the ways in which we engaged with our community to reaffirm a common humanity?
HERE/THERE: MIGRANT NARRATIVES
MW 2:40 pm - 3:55 pm
This first-year seminar brings together texts, films and contemporary art that focus on migrant, immigrant, refugee, expat and exile experiences. We will explore how migrant subjects negotiate dominant discourses of nationality and citizenship, and how their identities as migrants intersect with their other positionalities, with a particular emphasis on race and queerness. Some questions we will consider: How are immigrant, migrant and refugees marginalized, racialized and queered by dominant discourses? How do Black and/or queer subjects negotiate belonging when they travel across cultural, national, linguistic and religious borders? How do these authors, filmmakers resist erasure and complicate our understanding of home, belonging and identity? Possible texts: fiction, poetry and nonfiction by James Baldwin, Ocean Vuong, Marjane Satrapi, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Cherrie Moraga, Gayatri Gopinath, C.P. Cavafy, Masha Gessen, Kazim Ali, Nazim Hikmet; films such as Saving Face, My Brother the Devil, Mr. Gay Syria, My Beautiful Launderette; as well as contemporary visual art, podcasts and activist texts.
WOMEN OF COLOR IN SPECULATIVE LITERATURE
Quincy Scott Jones
MW 1:10 pm – 2:25 pm
“The Future is Female” except in science fiction, where it still looks pretty white and male. What happens when women of color take on such tropes as space exploration, cybernetics, superpowers, and the end of the world? How can women of color change the way we not only think of the future, but think of the present as well? In this first-year seminar, we’ll look at how speculative literature approaches the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, technology, and environmental concerns. Readings will include work from such authors as Octavia Butler, Franny Choi, Sam Chanse, G Willow Wilson, and Tananarive Due with potential critical readings from Lisa Yaszek, Charlotte E Howell, and bell hooks.
WRITING CARIBBEAN FEMINISMS
MW 8:40 am – 9:55 am
This course offers an in-depth engagement with the Critical Caribbean Feminisms series, organized at Barnard College since 2015. These in-person conversations with contemporary Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora women authors and the accompanying podcast series center their experience with race, gender, diaspora, and writing. In this course we consider how the authors’ thoughts on the Caribbean, feminism, and their experience in the U.S. are represented and expanded upon in their writings through close readings of their novels, short stories, essays, and poems. The course culminates with each student proposing a Caribbean woman writer to add to the podcast series and suggesting how this writer’s voice resonates with and expands on the authors and themes studied throughout the course. Some of the authors we will read and discuss are Jamaica Kincaid, Audre Lorde, Claudia Rankine, Edwidge Danticat, and Roxane Gay, among many others.
TR 1:10 pm - 2:25 pm
What shapes our psychic lives today? How are histories of pain and possibility transmitted, ruptured, and transformed across generations? This class draws on anthropology, psychoanalysis, critical theories, literature, and poetry to explore the politics of the psyche. We will read writings by bell hooks, Frantz Fanon, Natalie Diaz, Ocean Vuong, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, Gananath Obeyesekere, David Eng, Shinhee Han, and others. We begin with common encounters that inform and disrupt our lives, move to concepts of self and culture, explore how these are inflected by violent histories and extractive economies, and end with questions of what lives on.
LITERATURE ON TRIAL
Erica S. Drennan
TR 10:10 am - 11:25 am
Why are novels so interested in trials? What is the relationship between literary and legal interpretation, and between the role of a reader and that of a juror? How do we interpret “facts” in a literary text versus a legal context? What does justice look like in a literary work? In this course, we will read works that feature trials in order to explore the relationship between the literary and the legal, two very different ways of making sense of the world that collide in literature about trials. We will put literary characters on trial in order to explore how guilt, judgment, and redemption operate in the works we read, and to consider our own role and responsibility as readers. Readings will include works by James Baldwin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Claudia Rankine, and Marjane Satrapi.
CREATIVITY AND INSPIRATION
TR 6:10 pm - 7:25 pm
Where do creative ideas come from? The Muses, according to Plato. The unconscious, according to some later thinkers. One thing both answers share is the thought that creative ideas come from something “other than” or “not controlled by” the creator – or, as we’ll put it, that creativity requires inspiration. In this class, we will explore this and related ideas in Western thinking about creativity. In doing so, we’ll examine how creative people themselves, from painters to mathematicians, have described their own creative process and experiences. We’ll examine approaches to creativity from the Taoist tradition, comparing it with the Western approaches that will be our main focus. At the end of the class, we’ll think about whether computer programs can be creative, and what it might mean for claims about inspiration if they can be. Readings will include selections from James Baldwin, Margaret Boden, Chung-yuan Chang, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, bell hooks, Immanuel Kant, Henri Poincaré, Flannery O’Connor, Elizabeth Robinson, and others.