This course will address the relationship between language and power from a philosophical perspective. We will investigate questions such as: How does language influence the way we think of gender, race, society, and politics? What are the limits, if any, on free speech? In what ways, if any, can language be used to harm people? Some topics we will discuss include hate speech, trigger warnings, slurs, dog whistles, propaganda, and silencing. Readings will include philosophical papers and recent op-eds.
This course is about reproduction -- a biological and social process that is often the target of deep-seated ideas about nation, culture, conflict, and definitions of the “human." Looking at the relationships between reproduction, science, health, and identity formation, we will explore a variety of literary works, films, journalism, public health studies, and policy/legal texts, all of which differently narrate, debate, script, and theorize about reproduction. Questions we will explore include: what is reproduction -- scientifically, culturally, politically, and rhetorically? How do different historical and geopolitical contexts shape our understandings and management of reproduction, from ancient Egyptian IUDs, to in-vitro fertilization and so-called “DIY” abortions, to population and development projects all over the world? How do long histories of reproductive violence shape modern definitions of reproductive health and justice, and what is the role of recent medical/technological/pharmaceutical developments in (re)configuring radically disparate reproductive experiences? Our conversations will both reveal and challenge the way we understand the reproductive body, the bodies it creates, and the contradictory meanings associated with these processes.
NOTE: This 4-credit version of FYS -- "FYS Workshop" -- is designed for students who feel they would benefit from additional writing support in their first year. Students are required to participate in a "writing lab" that will meet on the following six FRIDAYS, 11:40am – 12:55pm: 2/1, 2/8, 3/1, 3/8, 4/5 and 4/26. The labs will focus on the writing and revision goals specific to the major assignments in the course.
This course develops intersectional approaches to the study of power by surveying forms of speculation in fiction, cinema, music, theater, visual culture, and political discourse. Topics include: feminist utopias and dystopias; afrofuturism and technological approaches to gender; and discourses of population control, reproduction, and predictive policing.
In this course, we explore Modernism in literature, art, architecture, music and dance. How do these different disciplines express the explosive and jarring experiences of twentieth-century life? Primary sources will include the cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso, the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, and Langston Hughes, Bebop and Boogie Woogie jazz, Igor Stravinsky’s classical music “The Rite of Spring,” International Style architecture, and Alvin Ailey’s dance. Our classwork will be enriched by excursions throughout New York City.
This class investigates the interplay of collective identity, theories of change, and direct action in social movements. Through the study of primary sources such as letters, poetry, social theater, posters, pamphlets, and oral histories we will examine how personal narratives express identity, the radical imagination, and political strategy. In addition to these works, we will consider scholarship by movement strategists and social scientists to understand how concepts of power shape differences in strategies, tactics, and organizational forms. We will draw our examples from significant U.S. historical movements such as labor and civil rights, as well as from the more recent Occupy, Dreamers, and the Movement for Black Lives.
How do we pay attention now: too well, or not well enough? This course aims to clarify the ongoing debate about both the value and the meaning of absorption in visual media. We will begin by comparing contemporary polemics on the decline of attention with writings by a generation of cultural critics writing in Germany in the 1920s and 30s, for whom distraction was both a symptom of and a response to an increasingly commodified culture. Next, we’ll draw on recent theorists to help us consider how three representative works (a painting, a sequence in a video game, and a chapter from a novel) shape the way we attend to them. When we imagine the way we pay attention now, we tend to think of ourselves as not reading, and of the book as a medium in decline. In the second half of the class, we’ll therefore turn our attention to the late eighteenth century, when it was widespread reading that seemed strange and new. Together, we’ll focus on two mixed forms from the period – the epistolary novel and the ballad collection – that helped make reading itself at once troublingly distracting and dangerously absorbing.
In this course we will engage with various forms of artistic production (literary, cinematic, pictorial, musical) that have been banned or censored by religious authority, governmental institutions, or by public opinion. While discussing these primary texts we will investigate who gets to censor art, to what ends, and according to which criteria. Who is protected from tasteless, subversive, or obscene art? How do these categories change with time, and from culture to culture?
In a society governed by markets and economic competition, which human traits flourish and which decay? Through an examination of four novels and some classic writings in social theory we seek to understand how modern capitalism builds on an unchanging set of human needs and aspirations, yet reshapes both their expression and the relative importance they possess in individual lives and across social groups. Our readings comprise Dickens, Oliver Twist, Gissing, The Odd Women, William Dean Howells, A Hazard of New Fortunes, Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and Communist Manifesto, Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Wharton, The House of Mirth. The seminar’s practical goal is to develop your communication, presentation, and expository writing skills.
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.
Of late, much attention has been given to the political role of feminist anger. However, not all feminist anger is received or interpreted in the same way; not all women have had the same freedom to express or represent anger. This course asks us to think critically about expressions and perceptions of anger. How do race, sexuality, gender identity, class, and ethnicity shape who is perceived as “angry” and whose anger is taken seriously? What other affects circulate and interact with anger: from rage and irritation to wonder and joy? We’ll begin with the figure of the “feminist killjoy,” as theorized by Sara Ahmed and will consider texts by authors including Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, Susan Stryker, and Nella Larsen, alongside manifestos, comics, film, visual art, and zines.
What defines a child? What do children know? How much autonomy can children have: for example, should a two-year old represent herself in court? (This just happened.) Before the nineteenth century, children occupied the status of legal property, owned by their fathers. How, when, and why did we start thinking of children as people in their own right and how did children’s literature participate in that change? In our seminar, we’ll consider these questions and their implications through an interdisciplinary exploration with a particular focus on the literature of childhood. We’ll dip into philosophy, psychology, and law in order to examine some of the classics, such as Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland. We will also make time to consider contemporary issues in our country, such as the migrant children crisis. Authors may include John Locke, the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll, Harriet Jacobs, Freud, and Hillary Rodham.
This course takes an object-centered approach to explore the meaning of gender, power, and identity of women in Bronze Age China, whose names are unsurprisingly omitted and lives are unfortunately stereotyped through the patriarchal prism of the written history. Thanks to modern archaeology, we have been afforded the opportunity to see the complexity and richness of the material and ritual life of ancient women long hidden underground. We focus on such a woman named Fu Hao and rediscovery her extraordinary life as a queen, a mother, a high priestess, and a royal military commander of the Late Shang Dynasty (ca. 1300-1045 B.C.E.). Through examining the life histories of the objects buried in her tomb and their interactions with Fu Hao, in life and in death, we delineate and analyze the ways that gender roles, political power, and cultural identity were and are still entangled in women’s life.
Walking and looking are among the most "natural" of human activities. But what really goes on—physiologically, culturally, socially--when we engage in them? And what can we learn if we examine the two practices together, as fundamental parts of how humans explore their world? This course will study how the interacting behaviors of walking and looking have been represented in word and image, from the Bible to Impressionist painters to Hollywood films. Our base texts will be Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (2000) and On Looking: A Walker's Guide to the Art of Observation by Alexandra Horowitz (2013).
This course cuts across the borders between North, South and Central America and the Caribbean, in a search for the ways in which literature illuminates different aspects of American identity. We see the Americas as active historical and aesthetic agents, acting and interacting with each other. We might even say that modernity, in the sense of freedom from tradition, first developed in the Americas; as a result, the literatures of the Americas are characterized by diversity and innovation from their beginning. We will devote particular attention to the roots of Modernism in North and South America at the end of the 19th century, and the development of modernism, post-modernism and post-colonialism in the 20th and early 21st centuries through the study of key novels, short stories, and poetry from North and South America and the Caribbean. By looking at these works in their historical, political and aesthetic contexts, we can grapple with the multiple formations of American identities. Though class discussions are in English, students are encouraged, to the greatest extent possible, to read the works in the original language. Latinx students are particularly welcome.
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.
What constitutes treason, and what does it mean to be a traitor? The answers are less straight-forward than you might imagine. We will explore these and related questions through a mix of historical and literary examples, with emphasis on the twentieth century. Tokyo Rose and Ezra Pound, here we come!
Sustainability is being hailed as the solution that is going to link activists, citizens, and corporations to solve the world’s environmental problems. However, there are many ways to define the term and assess the longterm effects of so-called "sustainable" measures. In this course, we will examine current and historical writings about human interactions with the environment in order to understand and identify our most profound environmental challenges and the most appropriate responses. Responding critically to the ideas of the past, we will also ask how our views have changed over time and what it might take to tackle the current large scale environmental issues facing society. Projects for the course include a critical essay, a political opinion piece, and a survey of environmental attitudes which is informed by the data studied and collected in class.
Interdisciplinary examination of the intimate and fraught connections between animals and humans in literature, philosophy and culture. We will consider topics such as the historical constructions of species boundaries and of the multiple meanings and uses of animals in human life; animal and human identity; emotions evoked by animals; and conceptualizations of animals as colonized "others." Readings include Aesop, Edward Albee, Angela Carter, John Coetzee, Geoffrey Chaucer, Gustave Flaubert, Jean LeFontaine, Marie de France, Michael Pollan, Ovid, selections from Genesis (in the Hebrew Bible), and Virginia Woolf.
Building Utopia examines the rich tradition of utopian thinking in literature, social philosophy, architecture, and the visual arts. Here, utopia is explored in its modern form: as a call to transform the world through human planning and ingenuity. Aside from an important excursus on Thomas More’s pivotal novel Utopia (1516), the course centers on nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers whose often wild and idealistic imaginings profoundly affected the shape of the real world. We’ll read and explore the works of Charles Fourier, Edward Bellamy, the Italian Futurists, and Le Corbusier, among many others. The purpose of the course is to better understand the role that the utopian imagination has played in the construction of power.
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. Each seminar will work with three of the following four games: 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 Hutchinson's 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.
This seminar explores the notion of "confession" in many manifestations: popular culture, the judicial system, international projects of post-conflict reconciliation, memoir and confessional poetry, and contemporary art and confessional culture. The seminar draws upon a range of disciplinary perspectives: history, literature, psychoanalysis, theology, cultural studies. Readings and other media include "Three Men and Adena," Homicide: Life on the Street, season 1, episode 5; Miranda v. Arizona; The Central Park Five (dir. Ken Burns); Augustine, Confessions; Carlo Ginzberg, The Cheese and the Worms; Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Sigmund Freud, Dora; Oscar Wilde, De Profundis; Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept; Gillian Slovo, Red Dust; Christa Wolf, City of Angels, or Dr. Freud's Overcoat; The Lives of Others (dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarch); Sophie Calle, Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery; and recent essays related to the role of confession in the #metoo movement.
How do our material choices shape our cultural and individual narratives? How do the things we make, buy, use, keep, and discard tell stories, impact our environment, and help define who we are? Americans create over 125 million tons of landfill every year, and up to 60%-80% of global greenhouse gas emissions have been traced to household consumption (food, stuff, and transport). With this contemporary reality as our reference point, we will examine how designed and built objects contribute to the human story over time, and how our decisions about “things and stuff” might change our stories moving forward.
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? Using as textual anchors Grimms’ Snow White, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, 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.