ENGL 498 or C LIT 496 (5 credits): Gift and Sacrifice
Mona Modiano, UW faculty
This seminar will introduce students to concepts of gift and sacrifice, two foundational structures of exchange that have ruled economic, social, and religious life since the inception of culture. Both raise fundamental questions about the constitution of communities by means of the binding power of gratitude, or, more ominously, sacrificial scapegoats. As a contemporary critic wrote (Mark Osteen), the study of the gift touches on some of the most fundamental concerns that define our humanity: “freedom and autonomy, calculation and spontaneity, gratitude and generosity, risk and power.” The study of sacrifice in turn generates a series of provocative as well as unsettling questions: whether conceptions of the sacred are inextricably linked with violence, whether sacrificial rituals escalate rather than contain violence, whether recuperative economies that seek gain out of loss inevitably fuel sacrificial behavior, whether capital punishment is not in effect a contemporary version of ancient sacrificial rites, and whether communities can ever escape the predicament of uniting against a designated scapegoat and resorting to sacrificial ideologies.
These and related questions will form the subject of this course, which will introduce students to foundational texts in anthropology, psychoanalysis, and sociology (Marcel Mauss, The Gift; Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo; Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred) and to the representation of gift and sacrifice in the Bible, folklore, film (The Merchant of Venice; Babette’s Feast; Breaking the Waves) and literature (Aeschylus, Agamemnon, William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, selected poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Lord Byron). The course will also deal with specifically Roman customs of gift and sacrifice and use the rich resources in Padova, Venice, Florence, and Rome to document the various representations, especially in Medieval and Renaissance Italian art, of three founding biblical stories of sacrifice: the sacrifice/murder of Abel by Cain, the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, and the sacrifice of Christ.
ENGL 498 meets the Senior Capstone requirement for Language and Literature majors in the English Department.
The goal of the course is to make students aware of the complexity and importance of understanding the function, both positive and negative, of activities and societal norms based on gift and sacrifice. I tell the students that while all think that they know the meaning of gift and sacrifice, by the end of the course they will in fact not be able to define these terms so easily, if at all. They will become aware of the extraordinary variety of cultural practices of gift and sacrifice that cannot be encompassed in easy definitions. The course will also make them reflect on their own experience of when a gift misfires, for example, and why. It will shed light on the unappealing but nonetheless prevalent practice of constituting communities by means of an exclusion, the sacrificial victim. The assessment of students will take place through class discussion, oral group reports on assigned texts, written term papers, and exams.
ENGL 395 or C LIT 395 (5 credits)
Norman Arkens, UW faculty
This course will explore the relationship between various European writers and the country of Italy. Since at least the Renaissance, Italy has fascinated writers in numerous ways, from the setting for a number of Shakespeare's plays to the symbolic role it plays in more modern works, like those of Thomas Mann and Joseph Conrad. We will explore the role Italy plays in the works of authors from several other European countries, including plays by Shakespeare, poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Robert Browning, and fiction by Joseph Conrad and Thomas Mann.
The goals of the course are to introduce students to a variety of literary voices that have been shaped by their imaginative engagement with Italy, including writers from different times and countries working in the three major genres: drama, poetry and fiction. Some of the questions we will attempt to answer include why and how Italian culture influences the art and what advantages it brings to the artistic objectives of the authors. Are the themes universal or specific to Italy? Can we imagine these works set elsewhere and what difference, if any, would it make? Ultimately, the goal is to develop students' critical reading and analytical abilities across the three genres. Work in the course will be evaluated from participation in class discussions and written assignments.
ENGL 295 (5 credits): Eloquent Bodies
Ricardo De Mambro Santos, Rome faculty
This course will focus on the analysis of the different forms of representation of human figures and their various narratives from Renaissance to Baroque. The class will explore the aesthetic implications as well as the ideological, religious, and cultural agendas related to the emergence of new visual compositions in which the organization of images – and, more specifically, the arrangement of human
figures within art-related spaces – could be compared to a discursive, rhetorical practice known as “ut pictura poësis,” according to a theoretical paradigm that establishes a profound connection between images and words and asserts the idea that a painting, a sculpture, and even an architecture should be “read” as a particular visual text. From the analysis of fifteenth-century art theories published in Rome,
Florence, and Milan, to the investigation of Leonardo’s, Michelangelo’s as well as Raphael’s depictions of the human body, the course will provide a close examination of some exemplary artworks produced in Italy between 1400 and 1600. Special attention will be dedicated also to the interpretation of images made in contrast with Renaissance canons by masters such as Caravaggio and Bernini. Furthermore, the course aims to examine, from a different perspective, the multiple ways in which patrons and collectors may have played a relevant role in the production of artworks in accordance with Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque stances. Accordingly, many of our meetings will take place
outside the classroom, in galleries, museums, and art collections in order to give our students the opportunity to undertake a direct, personal experience of original artworks often displayed in their original locations.
In this art history course, students will acquire an introductory background and critical tools to understand the production, reception and diffusion of art works in Italy from the Renaissance to Neoclassicism. Through formal analysis and close investigation, students will develop a historically based interpretation of artworks within their specific historical context. Rome, Florence and Milan will become our classroom as we explore the paintings, sculptures, churches and palaces commissioned by Italy's noble families. Specifically, we will investigate the motivation behind lavish spending: Why were certain expenditures made, and how were those who made them seen by the intended audience?
In this course, students will be graded in accordance with the following assignments and criteria: 1. Active class participation and critical engagement (50%) 2. Written research-based paper (at least 10 double-spaced pages) analyzing the historical significance of one work of art examined during the course (50%).
ENGL 295 counts as VLPA credit and does not count toward the English major (it's an Art History course).