Professor Doris Sommer
Dept. of Romance Languages and Literatures
Harvard University




Courses at Harvard


In the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures:

Foundational Fiction and Film As moderns, we may assume that national identity is as natural as gender identity. This course explores the analogy between nation and sexuality through the examination of selected “national romances,” and theoretical speculations by Benedict Anderson, Foucault, Lukács, de Man, and Benjamin, among others. Our analysis will include the ways these novels have shaped the national imaginary for generations: through film, telenovels, and opera.

Bilingual Arts Bilingual practices are everywhere, though we are only beginning to address them in academic disciplines. We will explore the aesthetic dimensions of bilingualism, and some effects in related areas, including politics, language philosophy, and psychology. How do bilingual language games increase political flexibility, or threaten personal or national coherence? Topics will include 1) formalist appreciations; 2) exile as incitation to write; 3) gains and losses of heteroglossia; 4) hybrid games; 5) political dialogues; 6) code-switching and creativity; 7) bilingual theater, music, and film; 8) the art of translation; 9) bicultural spaces. Readings will include prose and poetry by international authors and theorists. Class meetings will feature guest lectures by, and discussions with, anthropologists, linguists, writers, and cultural critics who have worked on this subject.

Latino Cultures (with David L. Carrasco and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco) Hispanics in the United States show that double consciousness is not only a burden, but can be a blessing too. Hybrid identities develop irony about simple belonging. What is particular and what shared by other “minorities” about Latino writing, education, music, visual arts, religion? How do gender, class, and national origin intervene?

Aesthetics from the Margins A reconsideration of standard authors, including Aristotle, Vico, Kant, Schiller, Shklovsky, and Barthes through engagements with Latin American interpreters and practitioners of literary arts, such as Paz, Borges, Rama, Carpentier, Lezama, and Cortázar among others.

Tobacco and Sugar (not currently offered) explores esthetic and historical experiments in farming throughout the Spanish Carribbean, using “The Cuban Counterpoint Between Tobacco and Sugar” (1940) by Fernando Ortiz as a guide. As we will see, different crops produced varied political and cultural responses. Along with a general view on musical forms and plastic arts, as well as political developments, we will concentrate on literary works such as Cecilia Valdés and other abolitionist novels, the Dominican Over and La charca from Puerto Rico, as well as writing by Hostos and Bonó among many others.

A Rhetoric of Particularlism (not currently offered) Some texts resist “competent” readers with barriers that more reading will not overcome. Anglo as well as Latin Americans (Morrison, Menchú, Garcilaso, Rodriguez, Poniatowska, among others) use various strategies to defend difference, as a kind of strategic essentialism, and to raise concerns about the hermeneutic project. Primary texts alternate with interpretive theories.











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