Courses Recommended For First Year Students

What is Comparative Literature?

Comparative Literature is a exciting interdisciplinary program that promotes the study of literatures in different languages as well as the relationship between literature and other spheres of cultural production. It also embraces broader inquiry into the relationship between literature and other disciplines and practices, such as the visual and performing arts, philosophy, history, politics, religion, and the sciences. Some critical perspectives 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.

*In Comparative Literature higher course numbers don't mean they are advanced courses; first year students are welcome to take the higher number courses. COLT 10: Intro to Comparative Literature is highly recommended for first year students. 


Course Descriptions for First Year Students

First-year students are allowed to enroll in any of our courses:

COLT 01. Read the World (F)

COLT 07.18 Cyborgs and the Posthuman(W)

COLT 10: Intro to Comparative Literature: 10.26 (F), COLT 10.25 (W): Story and Storytellers, COLT 10.27 (S) Border Crossings

COLT 19.01 Translation: Theory and Practice (W)

COLT 51.01: Masterpieces of African Literature(S)

COLT 60.01: Literature and Music (W)

COLT 42.01 Prada, Chanel, Ferrari (F)

COLT 45 Quest for Utopia (F)

COLT 70.03 European Jewish Intellectuals (F)

COLT 72.01 Global literary Theory(F)



01. 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.


10.23 Story and Storytellers(W)

This is a course about point of view (PoV) in written and filmed stories, mostly fictional ones. Every story is inflected by the contexts of its telling. It's not always easy to determine who the narrator is, let alone how that shapes the story. Sometimes narrators are reliable, sometimes they're not, and sometimes they only seem reliable. Short background readings in narratology and rhetoric, psychoanalysis, literary and film criticism, and journalism will help us ask (along with Samuel Beckett), "What does it matter who is speaking?" This question will frame our investigation of other inquiries such as: who tells this story? How do we know? What difference does it make? How would the story look if told by a different storyteller or in different circumstances? Along the way, we will examine the role of the medium (written, filmed, audio) and genre (e.g. detective novel, autobiography). Adaptations from written texts to the screen sometimes involve changes in PoV, and these are particularly illuminating. We will also write some stories and variations of our own.

19.01 Translation (W)

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.

42.01 Prada, Chanel, Ferrari: History and Literature (F)

Often described as a frivolous topic, fashion is at the center of this class that analyzes it as a cultural sign, as an industry, and an indicator of social change. The professors will use interdisciplinary tools borrowed from disciplines such as literature, film, art history, economics (ethics of production and consumption will also be at examined,) history, sociology, and geography. The discussions will not only focus on European fashion, but also African, Middle-Eastern, and Asian design.

45 The Quest for Utopia (F)

Thomas More's Utopia  was long considered the ultimate paradigm of  the kind of vision that utopian thought can produce. But there is no question that More's narrative of Utopia  is just a particular example of a very dynamic and complex way to think about historical dead-ends and to envision alternative realities. In this course we will deal with the nature of utopian vision and with the particular dynamics that characterize utopian thought. We will also discuss present day utopias as we try to answer questions like: Is the idea of utopia really dying in our modern world? Are there new utopian visions being generated today, different from More's but with a similar function? What is the relationship between utopia and fantasy, utopia and history, utopia and revolution? What are the utopian constructs of our time and how do they shape our perceptions, our political options, and our social and personal actions?

70.03 European Jewish Intellectuals (F)

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.


72.01 Global Literary Theory (F)

Comparative Literature entails conscious engagements with theories of literature, language, and culture from throughout the world. This course ranges across some of the ideas that have been influential in shaping scholarly questions in a variety of languages. It also addresses the global dimensions of theory: rhetorics and ethics of comparison, world literature, and indigenous knowledges.