Courses taught at Penn State, Fall 2015 - present
This course explores World Literature as a body of texts (category) and as a way of reading (method). It maps the global "flows" of literature by following one specific figure: the cannibal, both real and imagined (or, feared). Students will learn how fears of cannibals and cannibalism become a way of talking about the encounter with the unknown as well as to critically reflect on one’s own culture. Moving into the twentieth century, they will also learn how the figure of the cannibal serves as a means for writers to think about cultural exchange, respond to European representations of non-Europeans, and describe their own processes of artistic production.
Image: Theodor de Bry from Great Voyages (1594)
This course studies the origins and development of crime and detective literature from an international and comparative perspective. Its focus is on the history of the idea of crime and its relationship to literary form. The semester begins with an overview of the origins of the detective genre in the 19th century and its development through the twentieth century. The second unit explores the ways in which crime narratives serve as a mode of social critique. The final unit of the course covers more recent detective and crime fiction, analyzing the genre as it moves into the twenty-first century. Questions addressed include reigning myths about law and order; the rise of urban societies and mass culture; the construction of the detective as a literary figure; the witness, the criminal, and the victim as models of subjectivity; issues of gender and sexual violence; and the nature of justice in the modern world.
Image: The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Ensayo de un crimen), dir. Luis Buñuel (1955)
This course explores the relationship between global cultural production and human rights. It asks not just “what are human rights?” but also: “how does literature—particularly as it responds to human rights violations—shape, deepen, and complicate our understanding of human rights?” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written shortly after the founding of the United Nations and in the wake of World War II, is the starting point from which we will explore responses to the legacies of the Holocaust, military dictatorships in Argentina and Chile, genocide in Rwanda, and the detention and torture of prisoners in the Global War on Terror. Materials are drawn from a range of story-telling forms, including: the graphic novel, the memoir, the novel, long-form journalism, photography, and film.
Image: Marcelo Brodsky, “Class Photo, 1967” from Buena Memoria (1996)
This course explores the intersections of literature and the ethical imagination. The semester begins with a unit on crime narratives, where stories about law-breaking raise the question of what (or, who) determines what constitutes a crime and, from there, what counts as justice. The second unit turns attention to the “human” in human rights: who and what counts as human? What happens when that which is designated as “non-human” claims the rights preserved for the human? The final weeks focus on the limits of our empathetic imagination, foregrounding narratives that explore our ability (or, inability) to comprehend and relay stories that are not our own.
Image: Ex Machina, dir. Alex Garland (2015)
This interdisciplinary course offers a wide-ranging exploration of the city as a key site in global and international studies. Topics include: theories that influenced the discourses of urban planning in the twentieth century; the power dynamics that shaped cities in colonial and postcolonial Africa; current issues in city planning in the Global South, including new cities and informal settlements (so-called “slums”); as well as migration and the making of multicultural and “global” cities. Course materials are drawn from urban studies, history, sociology, anthropology, economics, political theory, literature, and cultural studies.
Image: “Dome over Manhattan,” rendering by F. Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao
This course is an introduction to and exploration of the Global South as an historical formation, as a (political) concept, and as a framework for literary and cultural analysis. It will address four principal aspects: (1) the emergence of the Global South as a historical and theoretical formation; (2) the function of the Global South as a political imaginary; (3) the relationship of the Global South to other transnational and comparative critical frameworks, including Postcolonial Studies; and (4) the potential of the Global South as a framework for Comparative Literature.
Image: Willy Brandt et al., North-South: A Program for Survival (1980) (cover detail)
This course explores departures from realism in the literatures of the Global South, deviations that may or may not be productively termed “magical realism.” The goal will be to consider the utility (and limits) of magical realism as a literary-critical category. “Magical realism,” therefore, serves as a case study the challenges of—and methodologies necessary for—transcontinental (and trans-historical) comparison. The first part of the semester will be spent historicizing the term in its European, Caribbean, and Latin American circulations, before turning attention to the global re-articulations of magical realism from the 1970s onwards.
Image: Franz Roh, “Strange Arc” (1930)