Problems of Perspective
Professor Dinaw Mengestu
Over the course of this seminar, we will interrogate the function of perspective in establishing how a narrative, and the characters who inhabit it, not only see but also interpret the world, and how that perspective has been used to create distance, both real and imaginary, between an “us” and a foreign other. We will use our understanding of perspective to look critically at the world around us, and over the course of the semester will use a lab model to develop narratives that actively address and engage the world around us. We will focus on the ethics as well as the aesthetics of narration, paying close attention to the function of individual words and the narrative traditions that we are operating within and at times breaking from.
Toward (A) Moral Fiction
Professor Mary Caponegro
The novels in this course each grapple with ethical issues through fictive means. In navigating them, we will try to assess the way in which literature can create, complicate, or resolve ethical dilemmas—or appear to eschew morality altogether. We will also attend to craft, investigating how these author’s concerns are furthered by formal considerations. Students will read approximately one novel per week, occasionally supplemented by theoretical texts. Analytical and creative writing will allow students to find their own fictive paths to a social, ethical or political issue as they consider the liabilities of both didacticism and sensationalism, and explore the role of imagination in the expansiveness of fiction.
What is a Character?
Professor Adhaar Noor Desai
We are often drawn to characters more than anything else in our encounters with books, plays, or movies. This happens despite our knowing that characters remain exactly what their name implies: trapped by printed letters, scriptedness, or the limits of a screen. Characters are always mediated, but they can also show us how concepts like humanity and personhood depend on and contend with the media humans use to share ideas. In this course, we will study the history of characters in western fiction to learn how archetypes, racial and gendered stereotypes, historical or geographical settings, and the capabilities of different media technologies shape our encounters with them. We will also explore different ways of “reading” characters by thinking about how computer algorithms might understand something as supposedly complex as an individual’s personality.