Fall 2022

FR 672: “La littérature face à la catastrophe, du XVIIIe siècle à aujourd’hui” (to be taught in French on a “meets with” basis with FR 431)Professor Anne Vila ( 4-5:15 p.m., 475 Van Hise Hall 

The modern notion of catastrophe was invented in the eighteenth century, as causal interpretations of plagues and other cataclysms shifted away from the religious notion of divine punishment, toward natural and social explanations. This was also the period when the term catastrophe underwent a major semantic expansion: the term’s older, theatrical meaning as a synonym of dénouement persisted, but authors increasingly adapted it to refer to personal dramas–or to cataclysms affecting an entire society or country. The massive earthquake that destroyed Lisbon in 1755 was a key historical catalyst for some of those shifts: Walter Benjamin would later argue that this disaster “singular and strange” deeply affected modern thought and literature from Voltaire to Kant and beyond. So, too, was the idea, popularized by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that the very foundation of human society was a calamitous event. Catastrophism in this foundational era entailed both literary and philosophical responses to events perceived as unprecedented and unimaginable; and among other things, it inspired new forms of artistic representation. 

Using a conceptual framework inspired by contemporary theorists (L. Boltanski, J. Baudrillard, J.-P. Dupuy, F. Walter, M. O’Dea, M-H. Huet, etc.) as well as historical thinkers, this course will explore representations of catastrophes across various genres of 18th-century French literature. In our main module, we will focus on the ways in which Enlightenment-era authors thought both within and beyond calamity and catastrophe, and the forms of writing in which they did so. Here, we will read authors such as Montesquieu, Prévost, Voltaire, Diderot, Graffigny, Mercier, Sade, and Sylvain Maréchal–author of Le Jugement dernier des rois (1793; this is a “volcano” play of the Revolutionary era). We will also examine the shadow of catastrophism that looms over the Encyclopédie, the French Enlightenment’s grand collective attempt to preserve worthwhile knowledge for future generations. Students will work in teams for this mini-module on the Encyclopédie, and follow the threads of renvois that link a particular set of Encyclopédie articles or plates. In the short final module, we will examine a couple of contemporary French and Francophone works that dwell on ruins or dramatize the unfolding of environmental and/or social disasters. 

Students in FR672 will have the option of doing either a traditional final research paper or a hybrid final project that combines a pedagogical element (a course syllabus, for example) with close literary analysis on a selected work; either sort of final project can focus on the 18th century, or it can be transecular. Graduate students from other departments/ MA-Ph.D. programs can write their work in English. More details on assignments will be provided on the syllabus. 

French 947, Fall 2022, La femme chez Racine et MolièreProfessor Richard GoodkinMeeting Time: Monday 2:30-4:30 

In this seminar, the semester will be more or less evenly divided between tragedies by Racine and comedies by Molière in which female characters figure prominently and exemplify various aspects of the psychological and theoretical issues raised by the gender identity during the French Classical period. The tentative reading list is as follows: 

Racine, La ThébaïdeRacine, AndromaqueRacine, BritannicusRacine, BajazetRacine, IphigénieRacine, PhèdreRacine, AthalieMolière, Les précieuses ridiculesMolière, L’École des femmesMolière, Le MisanthropeMolière, TartuffeMolière, Les Femmes savantes 

The work of the course will include two papers (total length: 20 pages max.) and an oral presentation. 1-2 critical readings will accompany each work, but the pace of reading, one play per week, should be quite doable. The entire seminar will be conducted in French. Students from other departments may do their writing and their oral presentations in English. 

Italian 731: Prosatori del ‘500 (16th – c. Italian prose writers) 

Professor Kristin Phillips-CourtMonday, 4:00-6:30  

 In this course we will read and discuss some of the major works of 16th-century Italian prose fiction, historical narrative, and dialogue. Most of our time will be devoted to Bembo, Castiglione, Aretino, and Vasari — especially Castiglione. Other authors include Alberti, Ficino (De Amore), the novelists Bandello, and, time permitting, a late-Renaissance purveyor of the philosophical dialogue form, Giordano Bruno.  We will seek to understand and contextualize contemporaneous genre debates and confront the difficult question of Neoplatonism’s impact on imaginative literature. Note: This class will be conducted in English if not all students come from the Italian program. (Texts are in the original Italian, but I am happy to coordinate with students who opt to read in English/French translation.) 


PS 932, Fall 2022: Seminar in Early Modern Political Theory, Republicanism and Imperialism in 17th Century Britain Professor Daniel KapustThursday, 1:20-3:15 

This seminar focuses on the relationship between imperialism and republicanism in 17th century Britain. Through a study of works (prose and poetry) by 16th and 17th century writers such as Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Marchamont Nedham, Andrew Marvell, Algernon Sidney, James Harrington, and Margaret Cavendish, along with a range of scholarship on imperialism and republicanism, participants will explore the fraught relationship between republics (that is, political systems predicated upon the provision of liberty as non-domination) and empires (political systems featuring a hierarchy of domination over diverse peoples and territories). This relationship has important implications for the study of early modern Europe and 18th and 19th century America, along with key themes in contemporary political theory and philosophy.