Seminars for 2012
1. Modern China in Fiction. Mr. Barr. China has undergone enormous changes since the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, and compared to just 30 years ago it is already a very different place. In this seminar, we will investigate the Chinese experience as represented in 20th century Chinese literature. How do these texts address and transform enduring issues in China, such as the gaps between young and old, state and individual, mainland and Taiwan? What elements from the Western literary tradition have these authors adapted for their own purposes? To explore these questions, we will read classic works by authors such as Lu Xun, Shen Congwen, and Eileen Chang—all active in the period before 1949—as well as Pai Hsien-yung, A Cheng, Ha Jin and Yu Hua, who have established their reputations since the 1970s. We will also consider the images of China presented in one or two film adaptations by Chinese directors. All readings will be in English.
2. Sustainability and the Classics. Mr. Chinn. What is the relevance of the Greek and Roman Classics today? Can the oldest dead white European males tell us anything about the way the world works? If sustainability is the issue of the current generation, then one way to test the relevance of the Classics is to consider what they contribute to the sustainability conversation. Through an ecocritical consideration of Greek and Roman literature, ranging from epic to tragedy, history to philosophy, lyric to satire, we will try to come to grips with ancients’ attitudes toward nature, their conception of the universe, their economic practices, their political policies, and their impact on the environment. Ultimately we will consider whether pre-industrial empires such as Rome or that of Alexander the Great can provide models of sustainable practices while at the same time, offering the benefits similar to modern multicultural states.
3. Cold Places. Ms. Chu. From the highest, snow-covered peaks to the vast, circumpolar tundra, from the Arctic sea ice to the frozen landscapes of Antarctica, cold places have been the setting for humans’ encounter with the unknown, struggle for survival, and quest for knowledge. They have inspired reflections about the sublime, rivalries for personal and national glory, and, more recently, concern about the health of the planet. What is the role that physical environments have played in human experiences? What particular challenges and incentives do extreme environments, such as cold places, present? In this seminar, we explore cold places in various realms of cultural imagination, from art to science to politics. Our journey takes place through documentaries by Jacques Cousteau and Werner Herzog, literature by Leo Tolstoy and Danish author Peter Høeg, and works of history and geography centered on exploration, science and technology, and the environment. We exercise our creative muscles through critical essays, science writing and research into the many dimensions of cold places.
4. The End of Empire: Spain as a Cautionary Tale. Ms. Coffey. In what was a complete shock for its citizenry, Spain lost the last vestiges of its empire in 1898 to the United States in a war Spaniards now refer to as simply “the disaster.” The blow was devastating, bringing to a sudden end Spain’s once great colonial empire. Forced to accept its sharply reduced global importance, Spain began a century-long process of soul-searching, which often involved violent internal struggles. In this course, students will examine literature (novels, essays, plays and films) that represents Spain’s 20th century identity crisis. The War of 1898, the Spanish Civil War, the Franco dictatorship and the new Spanish democracy serve as the shifting historical background against which writers and philosophers search for meaning in the modern world. All texts in English.
5. Explaining Social Awkwardness. Mr. Diercks. One of the most widespread social experiences in our culture is awkwardness: even the most socially adept among us cannot avoid experiencing and even creating awkwardness at times. This observation has not been lost on the artists in our midst: entertainers like Steve Carell and Judd Apatow make their livings by making us feel uncomfortable or amused while watching the awkwardness they create on screen. The purpose of this course is to discover the underlying principles of human behavior that cause social awkwardness. We will focus mainly (but not exclusively) on awkwardness triggered by language and in conversation. Given this focus we will mainly utilize theoretical advances in various fields of linguistics, but will also address ideas from anthropology, sociology and psychology. Among our objects of study will be awkwardness depicted in films and television shows, including The Office, Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Our main purpose, however, will be to explain awkwardness in real life, and as such we will also examine our own life experiences to see ways in which the material examined in class can explain how, when, where and why we experience social awkwardness.
6. War and Peace. Ms. Dwyer. This year Russians are celebrating the 200-year anniversary of their “Great Fatherland War,” which culminated in the burning of Moscow and the route of Napoleon’s Grande Armée. In this seminar, we will enter that exciting time through historical fiction and immerse ourselves in Leo Tolstoy’s controversial, enduring (and long) novel War and Peace. We will see what War and Peace can tell us about Russian history and culture during the Napoleonic Wars of 1805-1812 (when the novel is set) and during the revolutionary period of the 1860s (when it was published). We will also pay close attention to War and Peace as a work of art. Tolstoy’s bookhas been hailed as “the greatest European novel” and derided as a “loose, baggy monster.” What are the hidden linkages that hold this monster together? Finally, we will consider how Tolstoy can help us grapple with questions that are (once again) urgent: What is the nature of war? How does one represent history and experience? What possibilities are there for individual human action in the world at large? All texts in English.
8. The Politics of Classical Art. Mr. Emerick. We refer to ancient Greek art of the fifth century B.C.E. as classic, and thus celebrate a 2,500-year-old phenomenon as a “great achievement” and as somehow foundational. How did this happen? Who claimed classic art as “classic”? We will make the case that, first of all, the ancient Greeks themselves did. Athenians had the biggest stake in the program and used it to take political control in the Aegean sea-going Ionian empire they set up to oppose that of Persians during the 440s and 430s B.C.E. The aftermath can astonish us. This classic visual culture became a beacon for Hellenistic princes, for Roman senators and emperors, then for people in the West generally right down to modern times. How does the art of a particular moment come to be considered timeless and transcendent? What is a “classic art”? What are its cultural uses? (143 words)
9. The Changing Climate. Mr. Gaines. Climate change is the most serious problem facing civilization in the 21st century. The pace of warming is accelerating and the effects of a changing climate are now prominent in many regions of the world. Because it remains unclear what paths our societies will choose during this century, and also because of large and poorly understood feedbacks that amplify changes within the climate system, it is not yet certain what the forecast for the year 2100 will look like. In this seminar, we will explore the problem of global warming through the lens of the geologic record, which clearly details the functioning of the climate system over the last four billion years. What factors govern Earth’s climate? What causes ice ages? How does the climate system respond to perturbations? What is humankind’s role in ongoing climate change? What kinds of problems are likely to be faced by society in the next century? We will address these and other questions through explorations of the scientific literature and current works by leading scholars.
10. Pilgrimage, Travel and Cultural Encounter. Mr. Gorse. When you come to Pomona College this fall, you will be making a pilgrimage, traveling to a distant land and experiencing cultural encounter. How are you to understand these transformative experiences? What does it mean to be a pilgrim or traveler, to be impacted by a foreign culture? In this seminar, we will explore the history of pilgrimage, travel, and cultural encounter in the Mediterranean world from Antiquity to Modernity, through texts and images from Tacitus’ Germania to Marco Polo’s Travels to Italy Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Using the tools of cultural anthropology—in particular, the work of Victor Turner and Clifford Geertz—we will look at these texts and other works of art in light of modern theories of “liminal” space, experience, identity and rituals of passage. Join us on this journey.
11. Biographies of Biologists. Ms. Hoopes. In Biographies of Biologists, we will think deeply about writing about lives and about the lives that biologists lead. We’ll discuss and write about our ideas. Does it make much difference if the author was the actor or was the chronicler? Do the biographers and memoir writers agree on what qualities make a good scientist, or might the definition change over time? How do the biographers handle societal attitudes towards scientists from underrepresented groups? We will read biographies and excerpts of biographies of selected biologists from a time span of about 1850-present, including Darwin’s Autobiography, The Beak of the Finch and A Feeling for the Organism.
12. Muslim Literary Landscapes. Ms. Kassam. In this seminar, we will read works by and possibly others relating to Muslims from different parts of the globe alongside critical literature in order to extend our knowledge of Muslims. Through reading, discussion and written projects, students will develop their understandings of the socio-cultural, historical, religious, and political backgrounds of the issues taken up by the authors. By the end of the semester, students should be able to conduct research, read critically, write clearly, and have a reasonable grasp of some of the issues faced by Muslims.
13. The European Enlightenment. Mr. Kates. European society in the 18th century was riddled with inequalities of all kinds: religious bigotry and political despotism, as well as new forms of racism, slavery, and class strife. The writers and artists associated with the European Enlightenment suggested radical ways to address these problems. These proposals encompassed both the political and social realms, imagining new forms of friendship and marriage, as if those relationships might constitute analogies to politics itself. In doing so, they blurred the lines between the government and the social, the political and the private, and established a moral foundation for our modern era. Readings will include primary works from the period by such authors as Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu and Richardson.
14. The TV Novel. Mr. Klioutchkine. How does a television series relate to our everyday experience and to our understanding of the culture we live in? How did a 19th century serialized novel relate to its readers’ perception of the world around them? What can these genres tell us about ourselves? In this seminar, we will explore these questions as we understand the links between the serialized novel and the original television series, the novel’s present-day popular incarnation. We will read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot (1867) before focusing on the television series Mad Men.
15. Growth. Mr. Kuehlwein. In The Matrix, Agent Smith likens the human obsession with higher levels of consumption to a virus. Is growth that pernicious or is it a natural and noble goal? In this seminar we’ll examine that question by focusing on the effects of growth. We’ll look at whether it is destroying the environment or developing technology to achieve sustainability. Is it eradicating global poverty or just widening income inequality? Is it contributing to worker alienation or creating interesting new jobs? More fundamentally, is it making us happier or more anxious? We’ll explore these questions through economic, historical, sociological, environmental and psychological lenses to provide a more holistic understanding of the topic. The class will critically analyze what they read in a variety of writing assignments including an op-ed piece, an article review, a comparison of two texts and a research paper.
16. World Football- The History, Politics, and Economics of the Beautiful Game. Mr. Lozano. In this course we will explore how international soccer has evolved over time, and how the sport reflects the different social, political, and economic movements that helped shape today’s world. In addition, we will study how the beautiful game’s characteristics and international competitive structure explain different social phenomena such as trade, globalization, compensation, inequality, social pressure, violence and discrimination.
17. Mirroring Japan/ese America. Ms. Miyake. In this seminar, we will explore what Japan and/or Japanese America looks and feels like to a series of writers, dramatists, manga and anime writers and artists. You may be surprised by what you encounter; you may disagree with what they reveal; or you may resonate with what they say. In this course, we will read a range of texts, asking questions about how they represent the spaces and identities and Japan/ese America. Have you ever read a work by Murakami Haruki, Yoshimoto Banana or our own Pomona graduate Garrett Hongo? Or has the manga by CLAMP, Cardcaptor Sakura, “captured” your imagination? What about The Grave of the Fireflies? In addition to addressing issues of gender, sexuality and Orientalism, we’ll consider what difference medium makes: do traditional literary forms, such as novels and plays, treat these questions differently than popular forms, such as manga and anime?
18. “We”: Identity and the New Science of Social Life. Mr. Pearson. In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg founded a little-known website for connecting people. By April 2012, 41 percent of the U.S. population had a Facebook account, and by March of 2011, Facebook networks had galvanized social and political movements across South America, North Africa and the Middle East. What drives us to connect with others? Why do we love one sports team and despise others? What makes the iPhone so popular? In this seminar, we’ll explore the human propensity to form social groups, from cliques and sports teams to political, ethnic and national groups, and examine its consequences for modern democracies. We’ll focus on what contemporary psychology and the science of identity can tell us about the nature of the social mind, and explore its basic vices and virtues, from ostracism and prejudice to empathy and altruism. Written assignments will provide opportunities for in-depth analysis for current scientific theories of group behavior and their potential for illuminating psychological underpinnings of political and social divisions.
19. Mathematics and Music: a Marriage of Muses. Ms. Radunskaya. Mathematics and music have been intertwined since the beginning of recorded history. The Pythagoreans considered both mathematics and music a form of mysticism; and the two disciplines share at least one muse, Polyhmnia, the muse of “many hymns” and of sacred geometry. More recent mathematical giants, such as Euler, Newton and Einstein, were also talented musicians, while great composers, such as Bach and Mozart, were formidable and creative puzzle-solvers. We will explore the connections between mathematics and music by listening to a selection of pieces, by discussing what others have written on the subject, and by creating our own musical manifestations of mathematical ideas. Musical examples will span the centuries from the Renaissance to the computer age; readings will include both fiction and non-fiction, history, anecdote and speculation. No special expertise is required beyond high school mathematics and an enjoyment of music.
20. Language, Literacy, and Power.Ms. Regaignon. Who gets to read? To write? Why does it matter? What does it mean to use some languages, dialects, styles and genres but not others? How do modes of communication shape not just how we listen but also to whom? How do they affect who holds power? At one time, scholars imagined that literate societies were necessarily more sophisticated than those without the technology of writing; we now recognize that meaning is communicated in many complex ways. In this seminar, we will think about the relationship between literacy and culture, focusing on literacy as a technology with individual, social and political impacts. We will begin by evaluating claims about what “counts” as literacy and will then explore how literacy is represented in popular culture. We’ll work with students at a nearby school throughout the semester, and the final writing assignment will be to reflect on that experience in light of the course readings. What does it mean to sponsor someone else’s literacy?
21. Fragrant Ecstasies: A Cultural History of the Sense of Smell. Mr. Rindisbacher. The reek of a Kansas feed lot, the aroma of fresh-baked bread, the scent of jasmine on a breezy spring day…This course provides an entrance into the vast world of olfactory perception, the fleeting realm that leaves only indirect traces, preserved in myriads of objects, texts, and cultural practices all over the world. Smells connect to perfumery and luxury, to chemistry and neuroscience, to aromatherapy and advertisement, to stench and death, but always also to the erotic and sex. It is an interdisciplinary field par excellence. In this seminar we will map the history of olfactory perception as it is reflected in modern Western literature. We’ll investigate examples ranging from the sweet smells of romantic nature to the stench of the smoke billowing from Auschwitz. We study texts from many countries, epochs and genres, including literary, cultural and historical writings, from the old perfumers Septimus Piesse and Eugène Rimmel to Celia Lyttleton’s The Scent Trail, and of course, Patrick Süskind’s notorious Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Specific questions include how authors use olfactory description; linguistic encoding of smells; the divisions of the olfactory spectrum; and the synaesthetic reach of scents that ties together people, places, practices and memories.
22. Rhythm. Mr. Rockwell. What makes music move? What makes people move when they listen to music? What do the meanings of music have to do with time? This course approaches these questions by examining musical rhythm from a variety of perspectives: historical, theoretical, cultural, mathematical, and perceptual. Topics include the nature of syncopation, rhythmic complexity, why cockatoos can dance and how rhythm made rock music threatening. We will analyze aspects of rhythm in Balinese music, funk, Ewe drumming, Balkan music, bluegrass music, “hot jazz,” and the compositions of Bach, Brahms, John Cage, Charles Ives, Steve Reich and Frank Zappa.
23. Sonnet, Still Life, Lives. Ms. Rosenfeld. The English poet Ben Jonson likened the sonnet to an instrument of torture, a “tyrant’s bed,” where the poet strapped down his thoughts and “some who were too short were racked and others too long, cut short.” By contrast, T.S. Eliot suggested that the sonnet “is not merely such and such a pattern, but precise a way of thinking.” Why have some people, of certain genders and classes, at certain times and in certain places, considered form instrumental to thinking? Why have others considered form to be limiting of thought or even torturous of thought? In this seminar, we will explore this tension between form and thinking across three different domains of knowledge: the literary, the visual and the historical. Focusing on the sonnet, still life and lives (commonly, biography) we will ask, what is the relationship between form and the production of knowledge?
24. The Idea of Money. Mr. Seery. This course will examine the idea of money, drawing from the perspectives and literatures of many academic disciplines: political theory, philosophy, religion, economics, anthropology, history, literature and perhaps a few others. As a culminating project we will play the lottery, and if we win, we’ll be better positioned to test our ideas against reality.
25. “Tripping the Light Fantastic”: A History of Ballroom and Social Dancing. Mr. Shay. Social dances, such as waltzes, tangos, and sambas, not only encode social and gender roles but also rely on a silent history of cultural appropriation and primitivism. These dances teach their participants how to be a “man” or a “woman” by specifying movements, postures and social behavior deemed socially appropriate to each gender. And millions of Americans have appropriated dances from African American and Latino societies. In this seminar, we’ll contemplate how any history of social dance must grapple with issues of gender and sexuality, race, primitivism, cultural appropriation, religion and censorship. We will consider how early 20th century figures such as Vernon and Irene Castle “whitened” and desexualized dances such as the tango, samba and rumba in order to make them safe to perform by elite members of (generally white) high society. And we’ll consider, as well, the century-long exhibition ballroom dance phenomenon (including the recent popularity of television programs such as Dancing with the Stars). In addition to short response papers to particular readings and performances, students will have the chance to explore a topic that relates to the contexts, gender and sexuality, ethnic, or social issues surrounding ballroom and social dance in cultural and historical context. In order to better understand what goes into these dances, students will attend one rehearsal of the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Team.
26. The Sacred Alias: Real Play & the Name Taboo. Mr. Smith. Sacred language has long harbored the idea that the personal name is an intrinsic part of the self. As such, its advertisement threatens exposure to forces that might undo its bearer. From Homer’s Odysseus to the Rumpelstiltskin of the Brothers Grimm, from Superman’s Mr. Mxyzptlk to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Sparrowhawk, from St. Olaf’s troll to Ralph Ellison’s Little Man at Chehaw Station, true names and their association to power are of timeless importance. In this seminar, we will explore the (super) natural link between naming and empowerment: How do the weak—through naming work—reverse their condition? Comparing gambits by the socially vulnerable to various games of insight, we’ll seek relationships between the detection of tells in gambling and that of so-called true names within social struggle. Through mystical theology’s and post-colonial theory’s understanding of the use of light to hide things, we will also consider the relationship between concealing and revealing, basic to both tell-reading and true-naming.
27. Nanotechnology in Science and Fiction. Mr. Tanenbaum.Nanotechnology, which combines physics, chemistry, biology and engineering, is currently one of the most heavily funded and fastest growing areas of science. Depending upon what you read, nanotechnology may consumer our world or enable unlimited new materials, destroy life as we know it or enable immortality, lead us to squalor or utopia, or simply make better electronic gadgets. We will discuss current scientific research in contrast with a range of fiction by Philip Dick, Neil Stephenson, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Paul McEuen and others. How do science and fiction intermix and inspire each other? Can technology change our self-image and identity? Will technology enhance or subvert the development of the individual or our culture? We will examine how the existing media and literature influence and define both the science and popular culture of nanotechnology.
28. Art Immersion. Ms. Cameron, Mr. Flaherty, and Mr. Taylor. There are three sections entitled Art Immersion, taught by Laurie Cameron, Tom Flaherty and Jim Taylor. Students who take Art Immersion will rotate through all three sections, with three and a half weeks each in dance, music and theatre. Students will get hands-on experience in each area and will focus on writing critically about performance. Students will journal and write short critiques using terminology appropriate to each of the three disciplines.