The Bakhtin Mystery: Text, Context, and Authorship
Boris Maslov; Robert Bird
The Bakhtin Circle was an informal alliance of several young thinkers, formed amid the tumult of the Russian revolution, swiftly forced into silence after a brief efflorescence in the 1920s, and rediscovered with aplomb in the 1960s. Despite their broad influence in recent decades, basic issues of authorship, originality and coherence continue to dominate scholarship on Bakhtin and his colleagues. We will survey the corpus of texts originating in the Bakhtin Circle, not only those published under the name of Mikhail Bakhtin, but also the explicitly Marxist texts published under the names of Pavel Medvedev and Valentin Voloshinov but frequently attributed to Bakhtin. At issue in the course is not only the historiography and interpretation of the Bakhtin corpus, but also the origins of critical theory, the dynamics of theoretical collaboration, and methods of attribution. We will also be interested in the potential that these writings hold for constructing a viable theory of literary forms today. Our first task will be to establish the sources, contexts and development of Bakhtin's early work, including "Toward a Philosophy of the Act," "Art and Answerability" and Problems of Dostoevsky's Art. We will then examine the works published by Medvedev and Voloshinov, using the mystery of their authorship to frame questions concerning the organization of intellectual activity (including authorship) in a revolutionary situation and the role of the Bakhtin Circle in the development of critical theory in the West (especially via the mediation of Raymond Williams and Fredric Jameson). We will then proceed to an examination of major concepts in Bakhtin's later work, including chronotope and carnival. Students will collaborate on the creation of a web-based glossary of major terms of the Bakhtin Circle, as the germ of a larger project. All texts are available in English translation.
Seminar: Contemporary Critical Theory
Writing the Jewish Body: Health, Disease, Literature
This course investigates the representation of the Jewish body in twentieth-century prose. We will focus on the European, American and Israeli contexts, exploring how the figures of health and illness are mobilized as commentaries on Jewish identity. We will also consider how representations of physical strength, physiological frailty, contagion and susceptibility shift in different landscapes and in different languages, paying particular attention to such figures as the ailing shtetl dweller, the Central European Jewish patient and the Zionist “New Jew.” Readings include works by Mendele Mocher Sforim, Franz Kafka, Philip Roth and Orly Castel-Bloom in conversation with theoretical texts by Susan Sontag, Walter Benjamin and Arthur Kleinman. All readings are in English. A section may be organized for reading sources in Yiddish.
The Politics of Hybridity
This course will explore the construct of hybridity through the development of anticolonial and postcolonial theory. In nuancing the distinction between these intellectual traditions and their respective formations in the contexts of decolonization, the Cold War and the US Academy, we will consider the work of Fanon, Césaire, C.L.R. James, Said, Spivak, Young, Bhabha, Glissant, Khatibi and others.
The Archaeological Imagination
This course looks at the various ways in which the rise of archaeology provided writers, artists, and filmmakers with themes, characters, ideological frames, and philosophical problematics. We will look at, among other things, Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”; Byron on the Elgin marbles; Egyptomania; Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King”; Hardy’s Tess; Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient; Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark; Stone’s Alexander; and Ai Weiwei’s “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn.”
Intro to Comparative Lit I: Problems, Methods, Precedents
As the study of relations among the world's literary and other expressive,traditions, comparative literature confronts a host of questions. What do,works from different times and places have in common? How can we meaningfully assess their differences? How do we account for systematic and extra-systemic features of literature? Is translation ever adequate? This course offers consideration of these and related issues through influential critical examples. This course is the first of a two-quarter sequence required for all majors in Comparative Literature.