Comparative Literature--Slavic G6800, 3.0 points, Spring 2001

Prof. David Goldfarb

W 4:10-6:00, Hamilton 511

In Negative Dialectics, Theodor Adorno declares paradoxically that philosophy is untranslatable. If the philosopher’s task is, as Plato says, “to grasp what is the same in all respects,” or to discern essences, it would seem that the philosopher would be the best translator there could be. What is untranslatable for Adorno, however, is not the content of philosophy but its “texture,” composition, or the enactment of what was for Plato a dialectical search for truth or essence. In this course we will consider ways that critics might attempt to address the untranslatable, indescribable, and the unspeakable. Possible solutions range from the theories of the sublime, to critical performance or process, to psychoanalysis and phenomenologies of reading. Readings are likely to include works by Adorno, Longinus, Philostratus the Elder, Kant, Walter Pater, Roman Jakobson, Mikhail Bakhtin, Roman Ingarden, Emmanuel Levinas, and Maurice Blanchot.

16 Jan.—Introduction.

24 Jan.—Some key concepts for literary theory: Roman Jakobson, “Linguistics and Poetics,” “The Dominant” (read them in this order).


tum levis ocreas electro auroque recocto,

hastamque et clipei non enarrabile textum

Vergil, Aeneid, 8:624-25

31 Jan.—Longinus, “On the Sublime.”

7 Feb.—Philostratus the Elder, Eikones. Walter Pater, The Renaissance (selected essays).

14 Feb.—Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, First Part, “Critique of the Aesthetical Judgement.”

21 Feb.—Kant, continued.

28 Feb.—Theodor Adorno, “The Essay as Form,” “Lyric and Society,” “Stefan George”; Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator.”

7 Mar.—Adorno, Negative Dialectics, Introduction (3-57). “Meditations on Metaphysics” (361-408). Musical settings of poetic works.



Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

Exodus, 33:20

21 Mar.—Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, ch. 1-4. Mikhail Bakhtin, “Popular Festive Forms and Images in Rabelais” from Rabelais and His World.

28 Mar.—Roman Ingarden, The Literary Work of Art and The Cognition of the Literary Work of Art. (selections)

4 Apr.—Ingarden, continued.

11 Apr.—Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity.

18 Apr.—Levinas, continued. Vincent Crapanzano, Hermes’ Dilemma and Hamlet’s Desire, 43-69, 188-215.

25 Apr.—Maurice Blanchot, Writing the Disaster.

7 May (Monday)—FINAL PAPER DUE.

Grades will be weighted as follows:

 Participation     15%
 Oral Presentation 35%
 Final Paper       50%


READING—The readings above are listed as they will be discussed in class and should be read in advance of the day they we will cover them. While some of the readings may seem short, many of them are also particularly dense, so be sure to leave yourself sufficient time to look up unfamiliar words, concepts, and references and to unpack often knotty prose. You are advised to begin assembling any reserve readings early in the term, to avoid the rush as they come up for discussion. If you think you may be interested in writing about one of the texts on the schedule after the proposal comes due, read ahead and we can discuss the material during office hours.

Detailed assignment sheets will be provided in class for the papers:

ORAL PRESENTATION—Seminar members will give a 20-minute oral presentation on a topic and on a date to be arranged individually and will hand in the paper in written form as well.

FINAL PAPER—-A term paper of 20-30 pages on a topic related to the oral presentation. The final paper is due Monday, 7 May.


This portion of your grade includes your productive oral participation in class, attendance, the extent to which your written assignments reflect that you are listening actively in class, and the improvement in your work over the course of the semester. Students enroll in the class with varying degrees of preparation. Even if you enter the class with a strong background in the subject, you must demonstrate that you are learning something from this class in order to do well in it. If you are studying the subject for the first time, do not fear that you will forever be lagging behind the more advanced students. Hard work will be rewarded!

You are strongly encouraged to discuss your papers, as well as all of the assignments, with me at my office hours or in e-mail. There will be no opportunities for extra credit, but if you would like to improve your performance on the written assignments, I will always accept drafts in advance, to be returned ungraded with comments and suggestions. Most students who turn in drafts and take the suggestions seriously learn a good deal about writing and improve their assignments by one-half to a full grade. If you would like feedback on your final paper before handing in the final draft, I will accept drafts for comment up to the last day of class.


25 September 2005