Comparative Literature

Typewriter with Russian letters

The undergraduate program in Comparative Literature prepares students to play an active and creative role in today’s globalized world by exploring literature and culture across languages, and investigating the intersections and inter-connections among literatures, cultures, media, and disciplines. Undergraduates may pursue a Concentration, and Secondary Fields in Comparative Literature and in Translation Studies.

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Sandra Naddaff
Undergraduate Program Coordinator: Isaure Mignotte

Gateway Courses

Spring 2022

COMPLIT 108: Translating World Literature
Luke Leafgren

In this course, students will read selections from a dozen works from the canon of world literature with particular attention to their existence as translated texts. The course will highlight the role of translation in the history of a text and its reception within new contexts. By reading different translations of the same work, students will be able to examine the choices translators have made, consider the ethical responsibilities of the translator, and explore the role of translation in mediating the meaning of the text. The course will also incorporate short readings on translation theory and presentations on the original languages of composition. Assignments will include written comparisons of different translations, with the option to translate a text into English.

COMPLIT 114: Mysticism and Literature
Luis Giron Negron

Examines trends, issues and debates in the comparative study of mystical literature. Close readings of primary works by Jewish, Christian and Muslim authors from the Middle Ages through the 16th century. Topics include poetry and mysticism; allegory, symbolism and Scripture; body and gender; apophasis vs cataphasis; exemplarity and autobiographism; language and experience. Also examines creative engagement of pre-modern mystical literature in selected works by modern authors (Borges, T.S. Eliot) and literary theorists (DeCerteau).

COMPLIT 123: Isolation and Islands
Marc Shell

Islands, both a part of and apart from the main, offer ready-made laboratories for linguistic, biological and political investigation. Islandness as such encourages national literature, philosophy, and vacation.  Our seminar, with its ecological and philosophical focus, centers on fictional an factual islands as well as Canadian ice floes, the always changing marine coastlines of  tidal islands, and Planet Earth itself,   Critical readings  include: Peter Sloterdijk’s Foams, Judith Shalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands, Sigmund Freud’s writings on his own world as “a little island of pain swimming in a sea of indifference,”  Immanuel Kant’s  “History of Lands and Islands,” and Shell’s Islandology. Literary and filmic works  include Shakespeare’s Hamlet,  John Donne’s argument that “No man is an island,” Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe,  More’s Utopia, Hae-Jun Lee’s “Castaway on the Moon,” Joseph Newman’s “This Island Earth,”  and island travel (and vacation) literature chosen by us as a group. Requirements: one short paper and one term paper.

COMPLIT 140: Travel Writing as World Literature: From Marco Polo to Italo Calvino (And Beyond)
Thomas Wisniewski

A survey of literary masterpieces from Marco Polo to Italo Calvino (and beyond), this seminar offers students a thorough introduction to travel literature written around the world from 1300 to 2021. In reading a diverse geographical and linguistic range of travel writers, the course will also feature the work of the Danish writer, Karen Blixen, whose travel memoirs will be studied alongside the letters from Africa and selections from the European settings of her short fiction. Students will write a research paper and complete a creative project. The seminar will also offer the opportunity to collaborate on, and contribute original research to, a new documentary film on Blixen's 1959 transatlantic tour, including her trip to Harvard and Radcliffe.

COMPLIT 171: Counter-Imperialism and Asian-African Literature
Annette Lienau

The first Asia-Africa conference of newly independent states (held in Indonesia in 1955) was hailed by contemporary observers as an event as significant as the European renaissance in global importance. It inspired a sequence of political and cultural initiatives (including several African-Asian writers’ conferences) in pursuit of new forms of cultural exchange and political brokering unmediated by former colonial centers. This course explores the historic tensions of this transition towards a post-colonial global order across two continents. It takes as its point of departure historic notions of African-Asian political and cultural solidarity to explore important questions about counter-imperial forms of autonomy and anti-colonial practices of lateral alliance and cultural exchange. Moving through a range of literary texts and historical documents that mark this historical transition and its internal tensions, the course invites you to engage with the comparative legacies of African-Asian independence movements and solidarity initiatives as they rose to international circuits of recognition, with implications for enduring cultural debates across the Global South. To the extent that 20th century African-Asian independence movements were considered by many authors in the mid- to late- twentieth century to be politically ambiguous and perennially incomplete, the course more specifically raises the following questions: how did several influential, anti-colonial African and Asian authors and political figures consider the fields of culture and literature to be an extension of their own political engagements? How were the fields of literature and culture comparatively viewed as a way of advancing (anti-colonial) forms of revolutionary change, or of addressing entrenched social grievances and enduring global inequalities? How did writers in the wake of anti-colonial movements reconcile the ambiguities of national independence with the risks of neo-colonial or ethno-nationalist exploitations—at times pursued in the name of lateral solidarities and liberation? And how would counter-colonial efforts to develop transregional, African and Asian forms of cultural exchange contend with the paradox that their “common ground” or shared purpose both derived from and sought to transcend a colonial past? Readings for the course will include Richard Wright’s The Color Curtain, an iconic account of the first Asian-African conference of independent states, on the cultural commonalities and uneven temporalities of African-Asian independence movements; theoretical texts on the cultural ambiguities of anti-colonial nationalisms (such as Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth); and essays by major anti-colonial, political figures such as Sukarno, Nasser, Nkrumah, and Senghor. Literary texts will include revolutionary poetry and prose works, from examples of the “strike novel” to writing that challenged the post-revolutionary emergence of dictatorial regimes and cultural censors across both continents. Course assignments will include three analytical papers.

COMPLIT 180/GERMAN 180: Bargaining with the Devil: The Faust Legend
John Hamilton

The course focuses on the Faust legend, its elaboration in poetic history, and its formative role in the development of German literature and philosophy. In addition to a detailed study of Goethe’s masterwork, discussions focus on a number of related themes, including: the problem of evil and moral philosophy; human cognition and will; alchemy and forbidden knowledge; and the insatiable lust for learning.