2.1 Winter 2012

Mike Perschon



The Crisis Images: The Edges of Film, Theory and History

University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

Centre for Comparative Literature Graduate Studies

In this seminar we will explore the status of the image today. Gilles Deleuze wrote his two “cinema” books around a transition – from the Movement-Image to the Time-Image. The Movement-Image presupposes an action that prompts a reaction (that coordinates, in principle, to pre-World War II cinema – Griffith, Eisenstein, classical Hollywood codes), while the Time-Image prompts actions that float in situations rather than bring these situations to conclusion – Rosselini, Resnais, Ozu, Godard. Is it time to theorize a third book, a third image in relation to the contemporary moment of a saturated, digitized, wiki-leaked imagescape? With this question in mind we will explore contemporary studies of the image as well as images of the contemporary moment…all the while wondering what might constitute a radical break of – and with – the dominant regime of representation. Readings will include works by Deleuze, Paul Virilio, D.N. Rodowick, Mary Ann Doane, Jacques Ranciere, Fredric Jameson, Susan Sontag, Guy Deborg, Laura Mulvey, Akira Lippit, Lev Manovich and others. And images by Claire Denis, Tsai Ming-Liang, Chris Marker, Apichtpong Weerasethakul, Manu Luksch as well as medical, surveillance, and an assortment of non-visual images.



Descent Into Hell / La Descente aux Enfers 

Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, and University of California, Santa Barbara

Education Abroad Program 

This course is a diachronic approach to general and comparative literature regarding the motif of the descent into Hell as it appears in many great texts of Western literature. This course focuses on Dante’s Inferno, Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer, and Malcom Lowry’s Under the Volcano, as well as relevant excerpts from the Odyssey of Homer and the Aeneid of Virgil.



Victorian Sexualities

Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, and University of California, Santa Barbara

Education Abroad Program 

Considering that the Victorian Age has traditionally been associated with extreme prudery, the title of the seminar seems to be an oxymoron. However, in his History Of Sexuality, Michel Foucault has challenged this hypothesis of sexual repression, arguing instead that the 19th century witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of the discourse on sexuality. The seminar seeks to address the multi-layered and contradictory responses to sexual norms and transgressions in Victorian England, specifically focusing on women and homosexuality. Students read and discuss a number of literary and non-literary texts, including, among others, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray, J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, poems by Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, and texts on Victorian prostitution.


South Korea

Tolkien’s Fantasy Literature

Yonsei University, Seoul

Undergraduate program in Comparative Literature and Culture

This course examines various themes involving Tolkien’s life, works and thought, and how Tolkien’s novels are relevant in our time. Themes include Tolkien’s World and Tolkien’s Thought: Pre-modern Background and Postmodern Mind; a comparison between the novels and film versions; children’s literature (The Hobbit); understanding Tolkien’s Literature: plot, characters and theme; the diversionary tactics in The Lord of the Rings: Great eye and small hands; the female characters; the Economy of Gift (Nietzsche, Mauss, Bataille, Derrida, Cixous); the Economy of Losing (The Lord of the Rings); the Economy of Sharing (The Hobbit); forgetting and forgiving; slow, indifferent and collective: Eco-criticism; stories and histories: the importance of storytelling in Tolkien; Tolkien’s secondary world: a fantasy literature; and, Tolkien’s cultural industry.


United States

Word and Image: Ekphrasis, the Iconic Narrative, and the Graphic Novel

Brown University,  Providence, Rhode Island

Undergraduate program in Comparative Literature

An examination of the tradition of illustrated narratives from the pre-modern to the modern periods: the ancient Indian epic the Ramayana, the early eleventh-century Japanese Genji Monogatari, the medieval English Canterbury Tales, the late eighteenth century Marriage of Heaven and Hell, as well as the contemporary graphic novel Persepolis and examples of Japanese manga. Discussion will focus on the nature of iconography and symbolism; the historical privileging of text over image; the significance of parallel visual and verbal representation and its implications for culturally-specific theories of reading.


Introduction to Cross-Cultural Literature: Scary Monsters

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Undergraduate program in Comparative Literature

We will examine how and why the human imagination creates non-human monsters. The monster helps humanity define what we are by showing clearly what we are not. Sometimes we disown our own undesirable traits by projecting them onto monstrous others and having an imaginary hero destroy them. We will begin by studying the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh’s portrayal of humanity rising to civilization from an earlier beast-like existence. After reading how monsters act as obstacles and markers on the journeys of two heroes finding their way home after the Trojan War in Homer’s Odyssey and Vergil’s Aeneid, we will then turn to Dante’s use of various monsters as symbols of different human vices. Beowulf and The Saga of the Volsungs will provide us with a sound sense of Tolkien’s background in Medieval Literature as we read the The Children of Hurin. In addition to preparing us to read Tolkien, The Saga of The Volsungs will show us examples of transgressors whose crimes cause them to forfeit their humanity and become monsters or animals. Here, we will discuss how portrayal of the animal differs from portrayal of the monster, and how humanity relates to each. Mary Shelley provides a modern twist on the monster story by sympathizing with the monster as a well-meaning but misunderstood social outcast. We will finally examine H.P. Lovecraft’s construction of extraterrestrial, malign and superhuman monsters as the embodiment of the modern fear that man is not the center of the universe, the measure of all things, or really very significant at all.


Comedy and Humor

Alfred University, Alfred, New York

Undergraduate Honors Program

What makes a joke funny to one person but not to another? Can we understand what the “comedic perspective” is and what role it serves in society? What is meant by a “good sense of humor”? Why is laughing considered “therapeutic”? This course will explore the meaning of humor, examining differences between slapstick, aggressive humor, wit, and irony. Students will be asked to bring in their favorite comedian (on film or CD) and/or comedy film for analysis. Readings will focus on the therapeutic benefit of laughter and taking a humorous perspective. Theoretical discussions will challenge students to explore questions about the function, meaning, and benefit of the comedic perspective.


Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond

University of Texas-Austin, Austin, Texas

Undergraduate program in Linguistics

Why would anyone want to learn Klingon? Who really speaks Esperanto, anyway? Could there ever be a language based entirely on musical scales? Using constructed/invented languages as a vehicle, we will try to answer these questions as we discuss current ideas about linguistic theory, especially ideas surrounding the interaction of language and society. For example, what is it about the structure of Klingon that makes it look so “alien”? What was it about early 20th century Europe that spawned so many so-called “universal” languages? Can a language be inherently sexist? We will consider constructed/invented languages from a variety of viewpoints, such as languages created as fictional plot-devices, for philosophical debates, to serve an international function, and languages created for private fun. We won’t be learning any one language specifically, but we will be learning about the art, ideas, and goals behind invented languages using diverse sources from literature, the internet, films, video games, and other aspects of popular culture.


The Arab-American Experience in Fiction, Film, and Popular Culture

Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Undergraduate program in Comparative Literature

Since 9/11, there has been an explosion of work about the Arab-American experience. This course will explore that experience as expressed in various cultural forms-fiction, film, comedy acts, graphic novels, memoirs, art installations, and new media. We will pay particular attention to contemporary works, although we will also consider the work of early 20th-century Arab-American writers. Topics include mapping the exilic experience, translation and bilingualism, and the semiotics of food. No knowledge of Arabic is required.


Novels of Sensation: Gothic, Detective Story, Prohibition, and Transgression in Victorian Fiction

Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

Bing Overseas Study Program at Oxford

Literary and moral value of transgressive sub-genres of the novel; what they reveal about Victorian society’s anxiety over prohibited elements in the domestic and public spheres. Sources include gothic and detective novels.


Madness and the Womb: Medical and Artistic Approaches to Mental Illness in Women Through the Ages

Stanford University, Palo Alto, California

Stanford Feminist Studies & LGBT/Queer Studies

Historical and current concepts of mental illness in women. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMS), postpartum depression, menopausal mood disorders, and eating disorders. Historical biopsychosocial approach. Readings include women’s diaries and advice books, physicians’ casebooks, and 19th- and 20th-century medical texts. Guest speakers from art and literature departments. Literary and artistic images, and the social and cultural contexts of these disorders during the last 300 years.




Mike Perschon is currently studying steampunk literature for his PhD dissertation at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, in the Great White North of Canada. He has been an independent musician, a freelance writer, itinerant speaker, and jean salesman but is perfectly content to have ended up as an instructor of English at Grant MacEwan University. Mike keeps a number of blogs, including steampunkscholar.com.



Inquire: Journal of Comparative Literature

Brought to you by Graduate Students from the Program in Comparative Literature
at the University of Alberta

ISSN 1923-5879
Email: inquire [at] ualberta.ca

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