This class centers upon one of Latin America’s most prolific and influential literary figures, Jorge Luis Borges. It will introduce students to Borges’ most canonical works, including the two short story collections Fictions and The Aleph, as well as the essay collection Other Inquisitions. Students with previous knowledge of Borges’ work will certainly be familiar with some texts from these collections, such as the stories “The Garden of Forking Paths,” “Emma Zunz,” or “The Library of Babel,” and with the essay “Kafka and his Precursors.” However, the course will provide an overview of literary themes and social concerns across the most formative decade of Borges’ work, so prior knowledge is neither necessary nor required. The 1940s, during which nearly all these texts were written, was a tumultuous moment in world history. For the first half of the decade, World War II was raging; during the second, decolonization was reorganizing global power. Borges saw fiction as a particularly well-suited medium in which to engage with social questions. Nazis, Jews, German soldiers in Prague and Chinese spies in England are just part of the carnival of political allusions that populate his narratives. One crucial way in which Borges was able to bind political questions to fictional writing was through the use of mysticism as a set of literary tropes. As such, we will look closely at the theme of mysticism—particularly Cabala, or Jewish mysticism—in Borges’ writing, in order to investigate Borges’ literary weaving of an intimate relation between speculative metaphysics and political realities. Stories and essays will be supplemented with relevant secondary literature.
“What does it mean to fall in love with a writer?” In their 1995 essay “Shame in the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Silvan Tomkins” Eve Sedgwick and Adam Frank express their newfound love for the twentieth-century psychologist and affect theorist Silvan Tomkins, a writer who, as they put it charmingly, “perfectly… understands us.” In this class we turn the question on Sedgwick herself, asking what is it about her style and technique that has led so many readers to fall in love with her—to feel she understands them? From her foundational 1985 study of homosocial desire, Between Men—a book largely credited with inaugurating the field of queer studies—to her later writings on Tomkins and Klein—which sit at the crux of the turn to affect in critical theory—Sedgwick has integrally shaped the history of literary and cultural studies, influencing scholars from Lauren Berlant to José Muñoz. Moving carefully through some of major texts from her diverse corpus, this course explores Sedgwick’s approach to reading as an erotic practice—a practice shot through with feelings of anticipation and concern, pleasure and aggression. What is it about reading that produces a sense of intimacy between reader and writer, between a theorist and her object of study? If, as Sedgwick encourages us to believe, “knowledge does rather than simply is,” then how do our interpretive practices shape what it is we know or think we know? What is it, moreover, that “theory knows today”? Readings will include excerpts from The Epistemology of the Closet, “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl,” “Shame in the Cybernetic Fold,” “Melanie Klein and the Difference that Affect Makes,” “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading: Or, You’re so Paranoid You Probably Think This Essay is About You,” and more.
Photo Credit: Kevin Ryan
The Iliad stands at the start of most histories of western literature, even as it remains enduringly strange—often, it seems, at odds with the very tradition it has been taken to inaugurate. In our course, we will attempt to recapture some of the strangeness and some of the continuing relevance of the Iliad. We will closely read and discuss the entirety of the poem, with especial attention to the following themes: the hero and his commemoration; the relations of men and women, of men and men, of humans, gods, and animals; exile and rebellion; violence and the making of epic art; the recompenses and failures of culture itself. Our primary focus will be on the Iliad itself, but we will also take up a few key texts in Iliadic criticism: readings from, e.g., Plato, Aristotle, Milman Parry and Albert Lord, and Simone Weil.
Adam Smith is generally regarded as the father of political economy and of “classical” economics. The Wealth of Nations provides the earliest comprehensive account of market society as a decentralized, “well-governed” system in which prices coordinate the efficient allocation of resources in a competitive economy. It is a multi-faceted work of epic sweep, introducing complex concepts such as the labor theory of value, the benefits of free trade, productivity and the division of labor, categories of economic analysis (profits, wages, interest and rent), and the determination of prices, as well as the famous images of the “invisible hand” and the pin factory—while also delivering a history of money and of Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. Today, Smith is is still viewed as a crucial thinker in the field of economics—although plenty of economists these days never crack open his magnum opus. In this six-week course, we will attempt to formulate the central message of The Wealth of Nations in the context of Smith’s moral philosophy, and to trace Smith’s influence upon other major political economists.
The first half of the course will center upon The Wealth of Nations itself, as we explore Smith’s major insights on progress and economic growth; the origin of the “invisible hand” and whether there is a contradiction between the perfect competition of the invisible hand and the world of increasing returns described by the pin factory; whether Smith ought to be read as an unconditional apostle for economic liberalism and laissez-faire or if and how he anticipates many of the shortcomings of such a system; and whether the labor theory of value is still defensible today. We will follow these discussions with an exploration of the tension between Smith’s defense of a capitalist society and his moral philosophy, by studying excerpts from Smith’s other major work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, coupled with selections from David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Finally, we will read selected writings from major figures such as Ricardo, Marx, Polanyi, Keynes and Kalecki. We will discuss their interpretations of Smith, as well as their major points of departure from his analysis. The course will conclude with an assessment of Smith’s contribution to our understanding of industrialization and market society, and the relevance of The Wealth of Nations in the twenty-first century.
No class the week of May 14