Areas of Study

Literature and politics

Beginning with jokes like this one, this course will examine the question of Jewish humor, exploring the concept of therapeutic joking, the politics of self-deprecation, and strategies of masking social critique behind a well-timed joke. Rather than reach some essential definition, we will instead investigate literature, stand-up comedy, film, and television of the twentieth and twenty-first century in order to 1) think together about the theory, mechanics, and techniques of comedy and humor and 2) ask how and when a text or performance gets labeled Jewish, by whom and for what purposes.

Courses

Fall 2023

Ask Instructor

Wednesday

CompLit 102Y: Literary Biography & Documentary Film

Thomas Wisniewski

What is the relation between literary biography and documentary film? What might the life of a writer tell us about the work? To explore these questions, we will study a range of writers in tandem with documentaries made about their lives. With an emphasis on travel, exile, expatriatism, multilingualism, modernism, and Paris as a literary nexus, we will read work by a selection of twentieth-century authors including James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, Isak Dinesen, Ernest Hemingway, Beryl Markham, and Julia Child. Frequently we will pair the viewing of a documentary film with selections from the sources on which it is based. As we challenge the intentional fallacy, we will analyze the cinematic technique with which the film is made and the literary evidence from which it draws. Selections of fictional and nonfictional texts featured in the documentaries will frame our seminar discussions. A centerpiece of the course will be the work of Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen, a Dane who wrote primarily in English, whose memoirs will be read alongside her short fiction and compared to the feature films and documentaries made about her life and her writing. To that end, the seminar will offer students the opportunity to collaborate on and contribute original research to a new documentary film about Blixen’s 1959 transatlantic tour, including her legendary trip to New York and Boston.

4 Credits

In Person

Fall 2023

Dana-Palmer Seminar Room

Friday

CompLit 107/YIDDISH 107: The Politics of Yiddish

Saul Zaritt

A bastardized German, a jargon, a woman’s vernacular, an old world language, a dying and ghostly tongue, a Hasidic language, a queer language, a radical language—these are just a few of the ways that Yiddish has been labeled over its one-thousand-year history. This course will trace the shifting politics attached to Yiddish from its early modern beginnings as a language of translation between Jewish and non-Jewish cultures to its postwar vacillation between a language of mourning and nostalgia, Jewish American humor, Hasidic isolation, and contemporary Jewish radicalism. Through poetry, fiction, essays, and film, we will discuss what it might mean to discover “the secret” language of the Jews” at the origins of Jewish socialism and at the foundations of diaspora nationalism. All texts will be read in translation.

4 Credits

In Person

Fall 2023

Dana-Palmer Seminar Room

Monday

CompLit 110X: What is a Novel?

David Damrosch

The novel has been described as the quintessential literary form of modernity, but do we know what a novel actually is? And is it even an exclusively modern form? This course will look at a range of pathbreaking works that have bent the norms of prose fiction, opening up new ways of understanding the world, from antiquity to the present. Readings will include The Golden Ass, The Tale of Genji,Tristram Shandy, and a range of modern novelists, including Woolf, Duras, Perec, Calvino, and Pamuk, together with major formulations by Lukács, Bakhtin, and novelists themselves.

4 Credits

In Person

Fall 2023

Dana-Palmer Seminar Room

Thursday

CompLit 131: The Arab American Experience in Fiction, Film, and Popular Culture

Sandra Naddaff

This course will explore that experience as expressed in various cultural forms–fiction, film, comedy acts, graphic novels, memoirs, art installations, and new media. We will pay particular attention to contemporary works and authors (e.g., Kahf, Nye, Alameddine, Hammad, Abu Jaber), although we will also consider the work of early 20th-century Arab-American writers (Gibran, Rihani, Rizk). Topics include mapping the exilic experience, translation and bilingualism, cultural translation, and the semiotics of food.

4 Credits

In Person

Fall 2023

Dana-Palmer Seminar Room

Friday

CompLit 172: Comparative Literatures of the Indian Ocean

Annette Lienau

The maritime counterpart to ancient trade routes that brought silk and cannon-fire to Europe, the Indian Ocean was a space re-imagined through successive tides of trade, conquest, and exploration, historically mediating between the diverse cultures of several continents. This course introduces students to the literatures of this cosmopolitan space and to its historic lines of influence and exchange, through a comparative reading of literary texts drawn from its perimeter and from travel accounts both fictional and historical/semi-biographical. Readings will include Indic, Arabic, and Persian classics, Sufi poetry from across Asia and Africa, travel narratives in Portuguese and English, and twentieth century writing on the region’s imperial afterlives. Class sessions will be complemented by visits to relevant library and museum collections throughout the semester. (Readings will be made available in English.)

4 Credits

In Person

Fall 2023

Dana-Palmer Seminar Room

Monday

CompLit 188/ROM-STD 188: Futurisms (A comparative history)

Jeffrey Schnapp

From its foundation in Feb. 1909 through WWII, futurism developed into the first truly international cultural-political avant-garde.  Its aim was a revolutionary transformation of all spheres of life and its influence extended to the whole of Europe, Asia, and the Americas.  Combating the tradi­tionalism and pro­vin­cialism of turn-of-the-century European culture, the move­ment sought to found a cosmopolitan (but often nationalist) countercul­ture based on the exaltation of youth, speed, violent revolt, innovation, and expe­ri­menta­tion. Hence the move­ment’s name: the label “Future-ism” denoting at once adoration of the new and struggle against the prevalence of “past-ism” or passatismo/passéisme (the idolatry of the past). In its first decade of ex­is­tence Futurism became the first full-fledged cultural/political avant-garde of our cen­tury, ga­ther­ing together pain­ters, musi­cians, archi­tects, political revo­lu­tion­aries, and poets from seve­ral European nations. A key progenitor of later move­ments such as Dada­, Vorticism, Sur­real­ism, and Fluxus, Fu­tur­ism had a powerful forma­tive influence not only on the cul­tural atmo­s­phere of Italy during the Fascist era (1922-1945), but also on 20th century cul­ture as a whole. Its contemporary legacies are many and extend from popular culture to the experimental art of our time.

This seminar will examine the movement’s various manifestations in Italy, France, England, Russia, Spain, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. In addition to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, a wide range of writers and visual artists will be considered, including A. G. Bragaglia, Apollinaire, Mayakovsky, Malevich, Lissitzky, and Léger. Topics will include: machines and culture; the theater of surprise and futurist performance art; Futurism’s ties to anarchism, bolshevism, and fascism; words-in-freedom poetics; experiments with typography, photography, radio, and film; futurism’s interest in transforming the character of books; futurism’s impact on exhibition design; and futurism’s legacies in postwar culture.

 

4 Credits

In Person

People

Harvard College Professor

Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Comparative Literature Emerita

FAS

Associate Professor of Yiddish Literature

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Office: Dana-Palmer 206

Office Hours: By appointment see Calendly link

Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature, Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Office: c/o Reischauer Institute CGIS South S222 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA

Office Hours: By appointment Tuesday 10:30-11:30am: to meet during office hours or at another time, please reach out via email in advance to set up a time

Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Office: Boylston 327

Office Hours: By appointment

Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature and English

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Office: Barker Center 265

Office Hours: Th. 3-5pm (email for your appointment)

Areas of Study