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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.