Current Courses
Don Quixote: Into the World of the Book Rachel Stein
Word Up Community Bookshop in Manhattan

Gustavo Doré’s image of Don Quixote for the landmark illustrated French edition of 1863 shows our hero in the act of reading, mouth agape, encapsulating the root of his madness. When he leaves his chair and exits the door, he will see the imaginings of chivalric romance in the mundane, interpreting windmills as giants and common inns as majestic castles. Yet there is something more to Doré’s portrayal—a larger commentary on the role of the book in Miguel de Cervantes’s novel. Alonso Quijano’s engagement with the object in his hand creates the world around him; it makes him believe he is the brave knight of La Mancha, Don Quixote, and in turn brings to life a whole universe of interactions. Armored knights and damsels encroach upon his chair, traversing the border between the read and the lived. In the lower left corner, a miniature knight rides the spine of a tome, while to his right, a maiden leans upon another. As Doré’s pictorial commentary suggests, books mediate and shape the relationships between characters in Miguel de Cervantes’s masterpiece. Moreover, Cervantes’s timeless meditations on reality, fiction, madness, and friendship, as well as his satirist humor and groundbreaking literary experiments, all hinge on the presence of books within the story and references to those without in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain of his day.

In this course, we will delve “Into the World of the Book” in four ways. First, we will extensively and closely read Don Quixote, parts I (1605) and II (1615). If you have always wanted to read this first—and in the minds of many, best—novel, this is your chance. Second, we will hone in on the many books that populate the narrative—chivalric romances, Arabic manuscripts, short stories read aloud at inns, wax tablets found on mountaintops, books being constructed in print shops—and analyze those passages in connection to broader themes.  Third, we will learn about book production and circulation in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain and Europe, historically grounding Don Quixote in its original context. Finally, our setting, Word Up Books, a community bookstore in Washington Heights, will inspire and inform our discussions about books and the social, inciting us to consider Don Quixote’s contemporary relevance and parallels.

In addition to reading Don Quixote, some secondary critical readings will be assigned. Students may choose to read the novel in English or Spanish; both will be available for purchase at Word Up Books. The class discussion will be in English, but may be conducted in Spanish or bilingually depending on the make-up of the group. Financial assistance to take this course may be available upon request.

Don Q

 
Held Wednesdays, 7pm
Starts June 24
Lasts 6 sessions over 6 weeks
Costs 315
A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing: An Introduction to Marx Ajay Singh Chaudhary
COLORS, 417 Lafayette St. in Manhattan

In the mid-nineteenth century, a young Karl Marx wrote, in the form of a published open letter to Arnold Ruge: “But if the designing of the future and the proclamation of ready-made solutions for all time is not our affair, then we realize all the more clearly what we have to accomplish in the present-I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing, ruthless in two senses : The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be.” In this course, we will explore how Marx developed this “ruthless criticism” over the course of his life as a scholar, journalist, and activist. Over four extended sessions, students will be introduced to key texts in Marx’s philosophical, economic, historical, and political works. We will pay special attention to the various moments in these texts that later became influential in both Marxian and other theoretical and social movements, from feminists to anti-colonialists, romantics to futurists, critical theorists to accelerationists.  Readings will include selections from The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Capital (Vol.1), Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, The Communist Manifesto, Theses on Feuerbach, The German IdeologyCritique of the Gotha Program and the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. We will also read short excerpts of relevant secondary literature that will illuminate the extraordinary variety of interpretations and understandings of Marx. No previous knowledge of Marx, philosophy, or political economy is required.

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 COLORS, a worker founded and worker run restaurant in lower Manhattan, will also provide a low cost menu for those who are interested during the course. No purchase required.
Held Tuesdays, 6:30pm
Starts June 2
Lasts 4 sessions over 4 weeks
Costs 315
Fictions and Meta-Fictions: Mysticism and Politics in the Works of Jorge Luis Borges Yitzhak Lewis
Casa Hispánica, 612 West 116th Street

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.

With complimentary drinks and other light refreshments and followed by an informal ‘cocktail hour.’

borges

 
Held Thursdays, 7pm
Starts April 16
Lasts 6 sessions over 6 weeks
Costs 315
Trans Theory Stephanie Rosen
Singularity&Co, 18 Bridge St. Brooklyn, NY
In 2014, popular media declared a critical moment in trans activism and mainstream representation—a “transgender tipping point,” as the TIME Magazine feature on Laverne Cox put it. While this Gladwellian phrase oversimplifies an ongoing struggle, something is happening, not only in American media but also in the American academy. The last two years saw the inaugural issue of the journal Transgender Studies Quarterly, an unprecedented Transgender Studies Initiative (U Arizona), and the publication of The Transgender Studies Reader 2. Transgender studies has emerged as a critical field for analyzing the formation of sex and gender through a host of sites and discourses, from early anthropology to modern prisons, from hormones to hips. Indeed “trans” theory forces the issue that “some of the fundamental categories that we use to understand ‘human being’—like man and woman—are not ontologically given, but rather are themselves historically and cultural variable and contingent,” as Susan Stryker puts it.
In this course we will survey some recent work in this exciting field by focusing on several sites at which sex and gender are constructed, from the body to the state to theory itself. We will foreground the work of trans theorists and use an intersectional framework to recognize the ways that trans issues often implicate other kinds of crossings. Readings will include work by Susan Stryker, Beatriz Preciado, Paisley Currah, Qwo Li Driskill, Marcia Ochoa, and more.
With complimentary drinks and other light refreshments and followed by an informal ‘cocktail hour.’
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Held Thursdays, 7pm
Starts May 7
Lasts 5 sessions over 5 weeks
Costs 315
A Strange Enlightenment: The Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau Heather Ohaneson
A Public Space, 323 Dean St, Brooklyn, NY

This intensive course will provide an introduction to the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, showing how his thought fits, albeit uncomfortably, within the period of the French Enlightenment. Over four weeks, we will read from each of Rousseau’s “major” texts—Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, On the Social ContractÉmile, and Confessions—as well as the delightfully “minor” Reveries of the Solitary Walker. We will study Rousseau’s views on self-love, the quest for recognition, civil liberty, the state of nature, the value of autonomy, motherhood, memory, and the relationship between education and religion. Throughout these sessions, we will pay special attention to the relationship between Rousseau’s biography and his philosophy. Thus, students will gain familiarity with the complex figure and colorful life of Rousseau: from his experiences as a wandering autodidact, and his relationship with Madame de Warens—said to be the paradigm for the Oedipus complex, as Freud describes it—to the paranoia-fueled collapse of his friendship with the Scottish philosopher David Hume. In sum, we will examine Rousseau—a compatriot of Calvin and a contemporary (and acquaintance) of eighteenth-century giants Diderot, Voltaire, and Rameau—as one of the Enlightenment’s most paradoxical thinkers.

With complimentary drinks and other light refreshments and followed by an informal ‘cocktail hour.’

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Held Thursdays, 7pm
Starts April 16
Lasts 4 extended sessions over 4 weeks
Costs 315
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