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.
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.
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.
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.)
Students’ work-in-progress on a semester-long translation project will be presented, discussed, and critiqued each week with the aim of publication. Readings on strategies, theories, and methodologies will complement participants’ work in the seminar’s shared enterprise of exploring the pleasures and risks of translating literature. Working as scholars and practitioners, we will challenge the division between theory and practice in the field of translation studies today. Guest translator-scholars will visit the seminar. Requirements: all source languages are welcome; translations into English. Enrollment limited to twelve (graduate students and advanced undergraduates); course application due by August 22.
This course will introduce students to defining trends, movements, and practices in twentieth and twenty-first century popular culture in Africa. Focusing on the lives, interventions and innovative practices of key figures in music, television, fashion, dance, and publishing, we will examine the socio-political and the historical in relation to broader aesthetic and stylistic links to the rest of the world. This will be discussed in the larger context of colonial and postcolonial class formation, the afterlives of Cold War cultural diplomacy, access to education and accumulation of socio-political capital, the emergence of new conceptions of self and nationhood in relation to the global, new modes of cultural circulation, and the new lives of rediscovered archives. Figures such as Fela Kuti, Ousmane Sembene, Fela Sowande, J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Miriam Makeba, Duro Olowu, Charley Boy, Dele Momodu, and William Onyeabor will be discussed alongside new figures, with a focus on lines of influence, self-fashioning, and the interface between the socio-political and the commercial. The ubiquitous power of diasporic/Afropolitan presence (and performance of access) will be considered alongside the local and vernacular/indigenous, and the cosmopolitan and secular will be discussed alongside the traditional and religious. The steady rise/use of social media platforms as generative, where new forms of culture-driven protests and negotiation of identities unfold, will be considered alongside the history of audio-visual communication and the emergence of modern African celebrity culture. This course is suitable for students with a general interest in the production, circulation, and consumption of culture in modern Africa.
Travel is a persistent feature of Arabophone societies through which they have consistently sought to understand and extend their physical, spiritual and imaginative worlds. This course explores the literary tropes of travel and how real, imaginary and spiritual geographies have been described and developed. It encourages students to think about the theme of travel in Arabic literature, its formal and stylistic modes of expression, and the deeper and diverse implications of writing about traveling Closely connected to travelogues are biographical and autobiographical works through which themes of identity, belonging, and depiction of the other will be explored. Material is taken from a broad range of Arabic literary works with a focus on modern texts such as The Days by Taha Husayn, The Journey of Ibn Fattuma by Najib Mahfouz, A Mountainous Journey by Fadwa Tuqan, and Season Migration to the North by Tayyib Salih among others. All texts will be read in translation. No previous knowledge of Arabic is required. Students who have reading knowledge of Arabic may participate in an extra weekly session to read the original texts in Arabic.