At Williams my teaching is equally divided between Japanese literature and comparative literature. Below is a list of past and upcoming courses.
Click on the ▷ course titles to expand the course descriptions, and see the Front Page for a summary of what I am teaching this year.
Japanese Literature and Visual Culture Courses
My Japanese literature courses are taught in English and are open to all students. These coures are cross-listed in Asian Studies.
The phrase "Japanese popular culture" often calls to mind comics and animation, but Japan's earliest visual pop culture dates back to the 17th century and the development of arts like kabuki theater and woodblock prints that could be produced for a mass audience. This course traces Japanese popular culture through a range of visual media: kabuki and puppet theater, premodern and postmodern visual art (ukiyoe, Superflat), classic film (Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa), manga/comics (Tezuka, Otomo, Okazaki), and animation (Oshii, Miyazaki, Kon). We will focus on developing visual reading skills to come up with original interpretations of these works, and on comparing different media to make them shed light on one another. (Next taught in Spring 2021)
Team taught with Prof. Eiko Siniawer (History)
An introduction to the history, literature, and artistic culture of premodern Japan, from the time of the first recorded histories in the 800s through the abolition of the samurai class in the late 1800s. The class focuses on the politics and aesthetic culture of the ruling elites in each period, from the heyday of the imperial court through the rise and eventual decline of the samurai warrior and the growth of Edo (Tokyo), with its new mode of early modern government and new forms of literature, theater, and art. Team taught by faculty from History and Comparative Literature, the course examines historical texts alongside works drawn from literature, visual culture, and performing arts, and asks students to consider how these different kinds of texts can shed light on one another. What is the difference between reading history and reading literature, or is it even meaningful to distinguish the two? Primary texts will include court diaries, war tales, and fiction; laws and edicts; essays and autobiographies; noh, kabuki, and puppet theater; and tea ceremony, visual art, and architecture. (Last taught in in Spring 2017)
From the masks of the noh theater to science fiction fantasies of plastic surgery and cyborg identity, this course examines the device of the mask in modern Japanese fiction, as well as some of its premodern antecedents. The fictional masks we will look at range from the traditional to the technological, from the actual to the metaphorical, from the physical to the purely psychological. But all of them are used by the authors to explore the nature of identity, and the significance of concealing or revealing the self, either in fiction or face to face. Readings will include modern novels and short stories by Abe Kōbō, Enchi Fumiko, Endō Shūsaku, Kurahashi Yumiko, Mishima Yukio, Tanizaki Jun'ichirō, and Oscar Wilde. Visual texts will include noh and puppet theater, avant-garde film by Teshigahara Hiroshi, comics by Tezuka Osamu, and animation by Oshii Mamoru. The class and the readings are in English. No familiarity with Japanese language or culture is required. (Last taught in in Fall 2016)
From the endemic warfare of the medieval era to the atomic bombing and the violent explosion of technology in the twentieth century, the end of the world is an idea which has occupied a central place in almost every generation of Japanese literature. Paradoxically, the spectacle of destruction has given birth to some of the most beautiful, most moving, and most powerfully thrilling literature in the Japanese tradition. Texts may be drawn from medieval war narratives like The Tale of the Heike; World War II fiction and films by Ibuse Masuji, Imamura Shōhei, and Ichikawa Kon; fantasy and science fiction novels by Abe Kōbō, Murakami Haruki and Murakami Ryū; and apocalyptic comics and animation by Oshii Mamoru, ōtomo Katsuhiro and others. (Last taught in in fall 2012)
One thing that surprises many first-time readers of modern Japanese fiction is its striking similarity to Western fiction. But equally surprising are the intriguing differences that lie concealed within that sameness. This course investigates Japanese culture and compares it with our own by reading Japanese fiction about two universal human experiences--love and death--and asking what inflections Japanese writers give these ideas in their work. The course begins with tales of doomed lovers that were popular in the eighteenth century kabuki and puppet theaters, and that still feature prominently in Japanese popular culture, from comics to TV dramas. From there we move on to novels and films that examine a range of other relationships between love and death, including parental love and sacrifice, martyrdom and love of country, sex and the occult, and romance at an advanced age. We will read novels and short stories by canonical modern authors like Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima as well as more contemporary fiction by writers like Murakami Haruki; we will also look at some visual literature, including puppet theater, comics, animation, and Japanese New Wave film. (Last taught in in Spring 2018)
From the swashbuckling samurai films of Kurosawa and delicate family dramas of Ozu to edgy cinematic experiments and a breathtaking range of animation, Japan has one of the most varied and exciting film traditions in the world. This course will introduce you to major periods, genres, and directors in that tradition. We will read film criticism that represents a range of approaches, but focus particularly on learning and practicing the kind of close visual analysis that will allow you to build your own original descriptions of how a given scene "works." Throughout the course we will consider the relationship between classic cinema and popular genres like sword flicks, melodramas, psychological thrillers, and anime, focusing particularly on directors whose work seems to borrow equally from genre film and the artistic avant-garde. (Next taught in Spring 2021)
Situated at the origins of Japanese literature are the beautiful and revealing diaries of ladies in waiting at the tenth- and eleventh-century imperial court. Since that time, the Japanese literary tradition has valued confessional writing of many kinds, from Sei Shōnagon's Pillow Book and other classical and medieval diaries to the haiku master Bashō's eighteenth-century travel diaries. This continues into the modern period, with authors like Mishima Yukio and Tanizaki Jun'ichirō writing novels that are sometimes thinly disguised autobiographies, other times completely fictional diaries. We will look at a selection of these texts, as well as some modern documentary film, and ask what it meant for these authors to write from their own experience, and also what new things we can reveal in their work by writing about it ourselves. This is a writing-intensive class, in which students will practice developing interesting, original ideas about the literary texts and constructing convincing readings to support them. (Next taught in Spring 2020)
Comparative Literature Courses
These are courses in world literature and literary theory. They are cross-listed in the English Department.
Comparative literature involves reading and analyzing literature drawn from different times, movements, cultures, and media. In this class, we will study English translations of texts from eras spanning the ancient to the contemporary; literary movements including romanticism, realism, and postmodernism; national traditions arising in Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America; and media including prose fiction, graphic memoir, and film. Throughout the course, we will consider what it means to think about all these different works as literary texts. To help with this, we will also read selections of literary theory that define literature and its goal in abstract or philosophical terms. Assignments will focus on close, creative reading of relatively short texts by authors like Homer, Sei Shônagon, Kleist, Tolstoy, Zola, Borges, Wilde, Mamet, Bechdel, and others. (Last taught in in Spring 2020)
This course examines the nature and workings of narrative using texts drawn from a wide range of different traditions, media, and genres. Readings may include Greek and Chinese classics (Homer, Xiyouji), 19th-century French, German, and Russian novels (Flaubert, Kleist, Lermontov), 20th-century Latin American fiction (Marquez), and contemporary American graphic narrative and film (Bechdel, Mamet). We will also read some short works of literary theory from around the world to help us broaden our idea of what literature can be and do. (Last taught in in Fall 2020)
In one definition, postmodernism in art and literature is what you get when you combine modernism's radical experimentation with pop culture's easy appeal. This term has been used to describe works from Andy Warhol's paintings of Campbell's soup cans and Jean Baudrillard's critical essays on Disneyland to Murakami Haruki's euphoric conspiracy novels. Theorists of the postmodern have argued that it represents not only a radical change in aesthetic sensibilities, but a fundamentally new relationship between art, language, and society. In this tutorial, we will read some of the most important theoretical essays defining the postmodern (essays which themselves often embrace this playful and sometimes ironic style), and we will pair them with artistic texts that are said to illustrate the features of postmodernism. The latter will be mainly novels and short stories from around the world, but one feature of this theory is a flattening of the distinction between high and low culture as well as between the written and the visual, so we will also examine examples from architecture, visual art, and/or broader pop culture. Texts will include essays by Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, Jean-François Lyotard, Azuma Hiroki, and others; novels and short stories by Don DeLillo, Italo Calvino, Murakami Haruki, and Jorge Luis Borges; painting and sculpture associated with Pop Art and Superflat; the architecture of Williamstown-area museums; etc.
Format: Tutorial. After an introductory lecture meeting, students will meet with the instructor in pairs for approximately an hour each week; they will write a 5-page paper every other week (5 in all), and respond to their partners' papers in alternate weeks. Emphasis will be on understanding and engaging the criticism that we read, and comparing the critical and fictional texts creatively in a way that sheds light on both. (Next taught in Fall 2019)
Which is more appealing, a roller coaster or a rose? For much of its history, art and literary theory has conceived itself as a science devoted to explaining and defining "beauty." But running alongside this is an edgier countercurrent that worships something else: an experience of excitement, fear, suspense, or thrilling confusion often described as "the sublime." The sublime interested early critics, from classical rhetoricians to the German Idealists, as a way to make aesthetics more scientific paradoxically by identifying the doorway through which art and literature escaped the realm of reason. More recently the notion of literature's exciting confusion has played a key role in modern critical theory from Russian formalism to new criticism, deconstruction, postmodernism, and posthumanism. (In fact, poststructuralist criticism itself has a thrillingly confusing quality that we will not ignore.) We will take up a cross section of critical theory from classical times to the present, focusing on careful reading of relatively short texts by Plato, Aristotle, Addison, Burke, Schiller, Nietzsche, Shklovsky, I.A. Richards, Barthes, Derrida, Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, Haraway, and others. Case studies ranging from opera to Xbox will enlighten, thrill, and confound you. Written assignments will encourage you to parse these theories carefully and apply them to the literary texts that most interest you: prose, poetry, or drama from any time and place; film, visual art, or architecture; music, new media, or digital media, and beyond. (Last taught in Spring 2018)
From the rise of modern literary criticism around 1900 to the explosion of high theory in the 1980s and 1990s, the twentieth century witnessed an international flowering of new ideas about how to interpret art and literature: Russian Formalism, American New Criticism, French Structuralism and Deconstruction, new varieties of hermeneutic criticism, and a welter of post- prefixed concepts that claim to transcend national boundaries: the poststructural, the postmodern, the postcolonial, the posthuman. What are the ideas associated with these different movements, and how are they connected? Does each represent a radical break with previous ways of reading, or do they actually build on one another and evolve in a systematic way? The course will focus on a very careful reading of essays representing major 20th-century critical schools (and a couple of their earlier precursors), by critics like Plato, Schiller, Shklovsky, Richards, Barthes, Derrida, De Man, Beauvoir, Butler, and Said. Written assignments will encourage you to parse these theories carefully and apply them to the literary texts that most interest you: prose or poetry from any time and place; film, visual art, or architecture; music, new media, or digital media, etc. (Next taught in Spring 2021)
Winter Study Courses
These are special intensive coursess taught in our January term.
Read or Die is the title of a popular Japanese animated series about secret agents in the employ of the world's great libraries. But what does it mean to "read" in an age and culture so dominated by visual media? This class is an introduction to reading and thinking about Japanese animation, or anime, with a focus on the challenges it poses to traditional ways of interpreting literature and film. We will screen several landmark anime feature films and short series by major directors like Ōtomo Katsuhiro, Miyazaki Hayao, and particularly Oshii Mamoru; we will read the work of literature and media scholars who have tried to come to terms with anime; and we will track the latest scholarship by getting an editor's inside look at the editing process for Mechademia, an annual journal for critical writing on anime and manga. We will also look at things from the creators' side by meeting with students and faculty at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. (Winter Study 2011)
Team-taught with Paul Park
Your eyes scan the Winter Study course descriptions for 2010. You are reading them now. You stop at this one: "Virtual Realities....Students will read a series of short stories on VR themes (artificial reality, metafiction, etc.) by authors like Jonathan Lethem, Gwyneth Jones, and David Marusek and then construct their own simulacra or copies of the stories as a mode of commentary or criticism. The class will meet twice a week for three hours. Tuesday morning classes (led by Prof. Bolton) will be computer lab sessions in which we will learn to build simulations (ranging from simulated selves to large building projects) in the massively multi-user online world called Second Life. In the Thursday sessions, Prof. Park will lead the class in a discussion of virtual reality fiction, including fiction and fictionalized essays that students will write, reproducing the devices of the stories themselves as a way of commenting on the class and class texts. For the final project, students will choose either a written project or a project within Second Life, and construct a virtual playground that aims at a new kind criticism and a new kind of storytelling...." Oh God, you think, a virtual WSP. And yet critical analysis is already a type of virtual reality, a superimposed landscape of interpretation. And here you are, a virtual adult leading an artificial life in a fairy tale college-how much simulation can one person stand? Unless, unless, these competing distortions can compound or negate each other, and leave you grounded in a hyper-reality that is realer than real. No books, no mechanical essays, no nothing (but still a significant amount of interesting, challenging work). By the end, maybe you won't even have to show up, except as fake avatars in Second Life. (Winter Study 2010)
Team taught with Jorgen Bruhn, Linnaeus University, Sweden
We often hear that the broad liberal arts education is one signature of American higher education. What can the world learn from a place like Williams, and what might we learn from a different model of college in another country? The course will take you to Växjö, Sweden for a week, where you will participate in a series of workshops on Sweden's educational system and its cultural context, led by faculty and students at Linnaeus University. The curriculum will include lectures and discussion, films, and tours of area cultural institutions (from the emigration museum to factories to IKEA). And you will already know the Linneaus students and faculty you are studying and socializing with, because in mid-January, before we go to Sweden, we will be bringing them here to Williams for a week, to study the Williams liberal arts education through a series of workshops that you will design and lead to match your own interests. We will plan these workshops during the first week in January, before they arrive. You could schedule a tour of an area museum, read about the history of college architecture, visit area secondary schools, arrange to hear from a Williams staff member you think embodies the college, or do anything else you think will demonstrate what Williams is all about. You will also have a chance to unleash your inner JA and introduce the Swedish students to Williams outside the classroom. Evaluation will be based on your work designing your portion of the Williams seminar, a final 5-page reflection paper, and participation throughout. All classwork will be conducted in English; no foreign language skills or other experience required--just a willingness to learn comparatively by taking both roles: visitor and native, guest and host, teacher and student. (Winter Study 2016)