Welcome Class of 2022!

Welcome to Comparative Literature (COLT)!

Comparative Literature is a challenging interdisciplinary program that gathers the best faculty from across campus in promoting the study of literatures in different languages as well as the relationship between literature and other spheres of human activity. It also embraces broader inquiry into the relationship between literature and other disciplines and practices, such as the visual and performing arts, philosophy, history, the social sciences, religion, sciences and mathematics. The program provides students with ample opportunity to study literature and culture from a wide array of critical perspectives. Among these are rhetoric and poetics, translation and reception, film theory and media studies, colonial and postcolonial studies, theories of ethnic and national identities, gender and queer theory, and psychoanalysis.

Comparative Literature majors are expected to develop competence in at least one language other than their native language, and to work with original texts in more than one language. Students devise and pursue a rigorous program of study tailored to their particular interests and intellectual strengths in close consultation with one or more faculty mentors.

The following courses are recommended for first-year students:

F=Fall, S= Spring, W=Winter

  • 1. Read the World (F)
  • 07.04 Haunting Memories: The Holocuast and its Representations (W)
  • 07.09 Colonial and Postcolonial Dialogues (S)
  • 10.16: Flashes of Recognition in Modernist Literature (F)
  • 10.20: Revolutionary Genres (W)
  • 10.xx: Coming to America (S)
  • 19: Translation: Theory and Practice (W)
  • 40.01/ENG 54.15: History of the Book (F)
  • 49.06:  Multilingualism and Its Others (W)
  • 70.03/JWST 26: European Jewish Intellectuals (F)


1. Read the World

Do you know how to read? Faces. Words. Pictures. Bodies. Games. Books. People. What are you really doing when you read the world? This course teaches comparative methods designed to confront the (mis) understandings and (mis) translations that constitute reading across the world’s languages, locations, cultures, historical periods, and expressive forms. Classwork consists of hands-on exercises that engage ancient and modern myths and materials drawn from various media: text, movies, video games, anime, and digital arts. Washburn. Dist: LIT or INT; WCult: CI. (25 spots open for First Year Students)

COLT 10.16 Flashes of Recognition in Modernist Literature

Modernist literature is full of sudden moments of insight that transform the way the world is perceived. Such literary epiphanies allow writers to explore the subjective dimensions of consciousness and experiment with new modes of storytelling. The course will explore the question of how to interpret flashes of recognition and consider whether language can adequately represent them. Readings of works by Chekhov, Joyce, Proust, Woolf, Musil, Yeats, Rilke, Kafka, and Beckett.

19.01 Translation:  Theory and Practice

Translation is both a basic and highly complicated aspect of our engagement with literature. We often take it for granted; yet the idea of meanings "lost in translation" is commonplace. In this course we work intensively on the craft of translation while exploring its practical, cultural and philosophical implications through readings in theoretical and literary texts. All students will complete a variety of translation exercises, and a substantial final project, in their chosen language. Distributive: LIT or INT; W.

40.01 History of the Book

This course examines the book as a material and cultural object. We’ll consider various practical and theoretical models for understanding the book form and investigating the materials, technologies, institutions, and practices of its production, dissemination, and reception. We’ll focus primarily on the printed book in Western Europe and North America, but we’ll also discuss the emergence of the codex (book), medieval manuscript books, twentieth and twenty-first century artist’s books and the challenges posed by digitality to the book form. The readings for the course will be balanced by frequent use of exemplars drawn from Rauner Library and practical experience setting type in the Book Arts workshop. Distributive: LIT; WCult: W

49.06 Multilingualism and its Others

“Multilingualism” and “monolingualism” are notions that appear clear-cut, uncontested, and normative. But are they? In this course, we will examine the rise (and fall) of multilingualism and its others—especially monolingualism—to sharpen our understanding of these terms’ use and implications. Where and when did they emerge historically? Whom do they benefit or harm socially? What do they mean theoretically? What challenges to they pose to writing, translation, the global traffic of texts, and language-learning advocacy? Readings will draw on several disciplines, with research projects reflecting each student’s investment in the topic. Distributives:  SOC

70.03 European Jewish Intellectuals

The course will examine the role of the Jewish intellectual in twentieth central Europe. We shall focus on several paradigmatic figures (Arendt, Benjamin, Adorno, Levinas, Derrida) who confront the redefinition of politics and civil society in modern times. Some attempt to deal with these changes through a critical reflection on the concepts of democracy and ethics and on how justice can be practiced either within or outside of the geographical and spiritual boundaries of the modern nation state. We shall examine how Jewish self­consciousness and a deep attachment to biblical tradition enables these intellectuals to reconcile ethical imperative with political realities. Particular attention will be paid to topics such as the challenges of Eurocentric Christian humanism and universalism to Jewish assimilation; the promises of totalitarianism, Marxism and messianism; the politics of biblical exegesis; history and Jewish mysticism; Zionism, anti-Zionism and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Distributive: LIT; WCult: W