Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
Course Descriptions

Course Descriptions

What’s new? What’s next? Seminars in Comparative Literature, Spring 2023


Comparative Criticism I

Monday, 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.

Charlotte Eubanks

This course is one of two required theory surveys for graduate degrees in Comparative Literature. In it, we will explore three sets of questions:

  • What is ‘literature’? How have various premodern thinkers from a range of world traditions understood or sought to describe demarcations between everyday communication and the literary (be it performative, oral, or written)? Or are such demarcations not present in some traditions? Is literature something that only human animals do or is literature embedded in a more diverse cosmology or ecology, resonant with communicative practices of other ontologies? Where does literature ‘sit’ in relation to other disciplines or art forms (is it ‘next to’ rhetoric, dance, law, or music, for instance)?
  • How do we engage with ‘literature’? How have various premodern/nonmodern thinkers from a range of world traditions understood the relations between language, writing, reading, voicing, singing, composing, etc? What metaphors do they employ (for instance, likening reading to visionary flight, to bees gathering honey, or to cooking) and what are the implications of those metaphorical conceptions? What senses and/or forms of bodily comportment does reading entail, or does the body not matter to reading?
  • What does engagement with ‘the literary’ do? What powers or effects have various classical thinkers from a range of world traditions ascribed to engagement with the literary? Does such engagement, for instance, heal, purify, corrupt, ensnare, or transform? Does it shape the cosmos? What ramifications are there to these different understandings of engagement with the literary?

Greek, Latin, and medieval European texts regularly populate anthologies of premodern literary theory and form the core of most premodern theory survey courses. We will read many of those works. But, in this course, we will also be centering Arabic, Sanskrit, Chinese, sub-Saharan African, Pacific, and Indigenous American concepts in an attempt to inform more fully – and potentially transform more broadly – awareness of premodern thinking about literature, word, voice, text, sound, and language.

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Comparative Arab/IC Literature and Criticism

Thursday, 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.

Robert Edwards

This seminar will focus on race and representation in medieval and early modern literature; it aims to generate a series of research and pedagogical projects by graduate students, building from three focal points. The first is a body of primary works from the two periods (romances, travel and utopian literature, wonders of the east, and canonical texts) that represent race, ethnicity, and racialized differences as sites of fantasy, desire, fear, and identity. A second focus is literary scholarship—the array of interpretative discourse and disciplinary practices that have historically framed race and ethnicity as topics of critical scrutiny in period studies. A third focus will be on the afterlife of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in cultural idealization, satire, racist propaganda, and resistance. The seminar will require active participation, several short presentations, a conference paper or presentation, and a final project (a fully developed course proposal or a scholarly paper).

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ENGL 542/CMLIT 597.02

Middle English Literature

Wednesday, 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.

Caroline Eckhardt

We will investigate medieval public and private life in two literary contexts: within texts, and in the social contexts that produced and consumed them. Readings will include prose, poetry, and drama that represent individuals primarily in public roles (as leaders in war, government, law, and religious life) in chronicle, epic, hagiography, and plays, displaying exemplary models but also satire or dissent; and other texts that emphasize personal bonds, as in some romances, or domesticity, intimacy, interiority, and the diversity of everyday experience in England’s multilingual and multiethnic communities, as in personal letters, lyrics of love and desire, travel accounts, or the remarkable personal narrative of near-madness attributed to Margery Kempe, or the meditations on Jesus’s body as female (Jesus as mother) by the mystic Juliana of Norwich. We will also emphasize how medieval texts represent intersections between public and private, for example during times of environmental crisis, such as the climate-related famine and animal epidemic of 1315-22, and the bubonic plague a generation or so later. We’ll read canonical works and others that are not frequently studied.

For evidence of the production and consumption of literary works we’ll consider several manuscript books, some produced as gifts (commodities) for public figures such as members of the royal family; others as personal items, such as the Thornton manuscript, an anthology made by a 15th-century landowner, or the family letters of Margaret Paston. Secondary readings will begin with Georges Duby’s medieval volume of the History of Private Life and Nicholas Orme’s studies of medieval childhood and education, and include subsequent analyses of England’s demography, literacy, and other aspects of daily life. The semester’s main assignment will offer two options: (a) a research paper that might become a journal article, drafted in stages and aimed at a specific journal; or (b) a pedagogical option, such as an online teaching portfolio, a media project, or an Open Educational Resources (OER) course module. You can also suggest other projects. Prior experience with Middle English language or other aspects of medieval studies is not needed.

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Literary Relations

Tuesday, 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.

Magali Armillas-Tiseyra

In the inaugural issue of The Global South, Alfred López defined the Global South as “the mutual recognition among the world’s subalterns of their shared condition at the margins of the brave new neoliberal world of globalization” (2007, 3). Continuing this line of thinking, others have described it as the “political consciousness” resulting from this condition (Mahler, “The Global South”; Prashad, The Poorer Nations). The term itself is borrowed from the social sciences, and in particular development discourse. There, it is used to promote south-south cooperation and exchange. In literary and cultural studies, meanwhile, the Global South is most often engaged as a framework for trans-regional (South- South) comparisons that account for contemporary global distributions of political, economic, and cultural power.

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.

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ENGL 597.2

Colonial Power, Postcolonial Malaise and Decolonial Space/Time:
A Global Postcolonial Literature Survey including Key Postcolonial Classics and Decolonial Theory

Friday, 11:15am - 2:15 p.m.

Rosemary J Jolly

This course will equip graduate students with a solid grounding in world literatures in English and their accompanying theory. II shall introduce key texts from settler and non-settler colonies: sub-continental India; Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, sub-Saharan Africa and Australasia. The course provides a solid grounding in postcolonial and decolonial criticism; critical race theory and Indigenous approaches that could fall outside a more traditional postcolonial graduate course. It will prepare students for world literature classes, postcolonial and decolonial criticism and a primer in Indigenous approaches and deal with the issue of critical race theory in practices of pedagogy, criticism, and contemporary creative literatures. Particular attention will be paid to the category of the human the postcolonial/decolonial world, and the question of “environment”. A great course for the postcolonial/Global Anglophone job market; and for those who are interested in postcolonial/decolonial cultures.

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