Comparative Literature and Translation Studies

320 Milbank Hall
Department Assistant: Sondra Phifer 


Comparative Literature and Translation Studies at Barnard College is the study of literary and closely related cultural manifestations across linguistic and cultural boundaries. As a program that builds on the strengths and dedication of faculty teaching in various departments across the campus, Comparative Literature is distinct in its conviction that literary and cultural manifestations are best studied in an international context. The program gives students and faculty a unique opportunity to study literature in world contexts and establish intellectually stimulating relations among languages, cultures, and literary traditions, in order to understand the methodical comparison of texts as a fruitful dialogue. Due to our close affiliation with Columbia University, undergraduate students in Comparative Literature can acquire proficiency in a great variety of foreign languages, including some which are presently not taught at Barnard College.

The program enables the student to pursue the study of at least two literatures in two different languages and to explore the possibilities and methods of literary study comparatively across national boundaries. In consultation with her adviser, the student will shape a program that will give her a foundation in her two central literatures (at least one of them in a non-English language) and in one major period, genre, theme, or theoretical issue.

The program is supervised by the Committee on Comparative Literature.

Program Director: Peter T. Connor (French)

Professors: Peter T. Connor (French), Nancy Worman (Classics)
Associate Professor:  Erk Grimm (German) 
Term Associate Professor:  Emily Sun (Comp Lit)
Senior Lecturer: Brian O’Keeffe (French)

Requirements for the Major in Comparative Literature

For students who declared in Spring 2017 (and after)

To enter the program, a student must normally have completed the required sequence necessary for entry into the advance literature courses of her major program. This varies from language to language; students should consult the director. Each student, after consultation with the director, chooses an adviser from one of her two fields of concentration in a language. This adviser guides her in developing a sequence of courses appropriate for her goals in the major. 

All students are required to take the following Twelve (12) courses:

  • CPLT BC3001 Introduction to Comparative Literature

  • One (1) course in CPLT BC3143 Topics in Comparative Literature: Literature & Violence

  • Six (6) Courses Three (3) courses in each of TWO distinct literary traditions studied in the original language 

  • Three (3) elective courses in literature, of which:

    • ​One (1) pre-modern 

    • One (1) literary theory

    • One (1) open choice

  • CPLT BC3997 Senior Seminar

Students who wish to major in Comparative Literature, but who for valid reasons wish to pursue a program at variance with the above model, should consult the director.

Important note about studying abroad

If you plan on spending part or all of junior year abroad, plan to take the CPLT BC3001 Introduction to Comparative Literature during the second semester of your sophomore year. This means contacting the director of Comparative Literature program during the first semester of your sophomore year. Indicate that you plan to be abroad one or both semesters during junior year and discuss when to take core courses.

If you plan to be away for the entire junior year, discuss with the program director which other courses can count toward the major when studying abroad. You should also plan to identify advisors before your departure so that you can contact them via e-mail and meet with them at the beginning of your senior year.

If you have further questions regarding the thesis process and its parts, please contact the Program Director.

Requirements for the Minor in Translation Studies

The Minor in Translation Studies allows students to explore the history and theory of translation practices, to consider the importance of translation in today’s world, and to complete a substantial translation or translation-related project.

The Minor in Translation Studies will not qualify students to work professionally as translators or interpreters upon graduation. The courses on a transcript that count toward the Minor will demonstrate that the student has acquired basic familiarity with the history and principle theories of translation and interpreting, together with sufficient linguistic preparedness to conduct basic practical work in translation or interpreting. It will serve as a useful qualification for those wishing to enter one of the growing number of post-graduate programs that provide further training in translation and interpreting, both areas of significant employment growth. It will serve equally those wishing to pursue research in the area of translation and interpreting, a burgeoning area of academic specialization. For students generally, whatever their career goals, the Minor can be profitably combined with their major (Anthropology, French, Political Science, German, History, etc.), enhancing the value of their degree and making them more competitive in today’s global job market.

The Minor in Translation Studies is supervised by the Director of the Center for Translation Studies along with the Chair of the Program in Comparative Literature. Students wishing to minor in Translation Studies should meet with Professor Peter Connor to discuss the choice of their elective courses.

Six (6) courses are required for the minor:

1. CPLT BC3110 Introduction to Translation Studies 

2. Two or three elective courses dealing with the history and/or theory of translation, or with language from an anthropological, philosophical, psychological, social or cultural perspective. Example courses:

3. One or two language-based courses at the advanced level offering practice in written or oral translation.

  • For example, a student working with French:
  • For example, a student working with Spanish:

4. CPLS BC3510 Advanced Workshop in Translation

Note: the particular courses qualifying for the minor will vary according to the language chosen by the candidate.

With permission of the director of the minor, a student may request credit for an Independent Study involving substantial translation or interpreting work.

CPLT BC3001 Introduction to Comparative Literature. 3 points.

Introduction to the study of literature from a comparative and cross-disciplinary perspective. Readings will be selected to promote reflection on such topics as the relation of literature to the other arts; nationalism and literature; international literary movements; post-colonial literature; gender and literature; and issues of authorship, influence, originality, and intertextuality.

Fall 2018: CPLT BC3001
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLT 3001 001/02326 T Th 11:40am - 12:55pm
324 Milbank Hall
Brian O'Keeffe 3 27/35

CPLT BC3110 Introduction to Translation Studies. 3 points.

Introduction to the major theories and methods of translation in the Western tradition, along with practical work in translating.  Topics include translation in the context of postcolonialism, globalization and immigration, the role of translators in war and zones of conflict, gender and translation, the importance of translation to contemporary writers. Completion of Intermediate II or equivalent in any foreign language.

Fall 2018: CPLT BC3110
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLT 3110 001/09674 T Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
304 Barnard Hall
Peter Connor 3 142

CPLT BC3120 Poetics of the Mouth. 3 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

Explores the imagery of eating, drinking, spitting, choking, sucking (and other unmentionables) in relation to insults and excessive behaviors. Readings from Greek poetry (e.g., Homer, Aristophanes) to modern theory (e.g., Kristeva, Powers of Horror, Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World), including modern novels and films.

CPLT BC3123 Friend or Foe? World Literature and the Question of Justice. 3 points.

With an emphasis on equality and social justice, this course examines and compares significant 19th c./20th c. literary approaches to friendship as intermediary between individualism and communal life. Discussion of culturally formed concepts and attitudes in modern or postcolonial settings. Reading of Dickens, Hesse, Woolf, Ocampo, Puig, Fugard, Emerson, Derrida, Rawls.

Fall 2018: CPLT BC3123
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLT 3123 001/01234 T Th 2:40pm - 3:55pm
327 Milbank Hall
Erk Grimm 3 5

CPLT BC3124 Utopian Literature. 3 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

CPLT BC3140 Europe Imagined: Images of the New Europe in 20th-Century Literature. 3 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor.

Compares the diverse images of Europe in 20th-century literature, with an emphasis on the forces of integration and division that shape cultural identity in the areas of travel writings and transculturation/cosmopolitanism; mnemonic narratives and constructions of the past; borderland stories and the cultural politics of translation. Readings include M. Kundera, S. Rushdie, H. Boell, C. Toibin and others.

CPLT BC3142 The Spanish Civil War in Literature and the Visual Arts. 3 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-39), which culminated with the beginning of Francisco Franco's long dictatorship, foreshadowed the WWII European conflict. It generated unprecedented foreign involvement, as well texts and images by artists from both within and outside Spain - from film (documentary and fictional), through painting (Picasso), to narrative and nonfiction.

CPLT BC3143 Topics in Comparative Literature: Literature & Violence. 3 points.

CPLT BC3144 Stories and Storytelling: Introduction to Narrative. 3 points.

An introduction to narrative through texts that themselves foreground acts of storytelling and thus teach us how to read them. Readings range across periods and cultures - from fifth-century BCE Athens to late twentieth-century Brazil - and include short stories, novellas, novels, a ballad, film and a psychoanalytic case history. Texts by Conan Doyle, Sophocles, Melville, Hitchcock, Augustine, Coleridge, Freud, McEwan, the tellers and compilers of the The Arabian Nights, Diderot, Flaubert, and Lispector. Emphasis on close reading and hands-on experience in analyzing texts.

CPLS BC3158 Languages of Loss: The Poetry of Mourning. 3 points.

BC: Fulfillment of General Education Requirement: Literature (LIT).

Prerequisites: Sophomore standing

A study of the genre of elegy across time and cultures. Emphasis on how poets express grief and relate to literary traditions. Comparisons of European, Chinese, and American elegies (by Theocritus, Milton, Qu Yuan, Holderlin, Wordsworth, Whitman, Bishop, and others) and discussions of the relationship between singular and collective life.

CPLT BC3160 Tragic Bodies. 3 points.

This course will focus on embodiment in ancient and modern drama as well as in film, television, and performance art, including plays by Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Beckett; films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Limits of Control”; and performances by artists such as Karen Finley and Marina Abromovic. We will explore the provocations, theatricality, and shock aesthetics of such concepts as Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty” and Kristeva's "powers of horror," as well as Adorno's ideas about terror and the sublime.

Fall 2018: CPLT BC3160
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLT 3160 001/01239 M W 2:40pm - 3:55pm
328 Milbank Hall
Nancy Worman 3 22/30

CPLT BC3161 Myths of Oedipus in Western Drama and Philosophy . 3 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

This course examines the myth of Oedipus in a range of dramatic and theoretical writings, exploring how the paradigm of incest and parricide has shaped Western thought from classical tragedy to gender studies. Authors studied: Sophocles, Seneca, Corneille, Dryden, Voltaire, Hölderlin, Hegel, Wagner, Nietzsche, Freud, Klein, Deleuze, Guattari, and Butler.  

CPLT BC3162 The Novella from Cervantes to Kafka. 3 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

The novella, older than the novel, painstakingly crafted, links the worlds of ideas and fiction.  The readings present the novella as a genre, tracing its progress from the 17th century to the 20th.  Each text read in the comparative milieu, grants the reader access to the intellectual concerns of an era.

CPLT BC3170 Translating Madness: The Sciences and Fictions of Pathology. 3 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

Examines the discursive exchanges between fictional and scientific accounts of "madness," with an emphasis on how modern literature renders the new diagnostic discourse and how literary portrayals of "madness" were "translated back" into the diagnostic language of psychology. Discussions revolve around the "medical gaze" and its influence on the writers' literary style, motifs and technique; relevant questions concern interdisciplinary issues such as the relationship between genre and case study; hysteria and sexuality; gender construction and psychoanalysis. Readings include texts by Flaubert, Wilde, Daudet, Sacher-Masoch; excerpts from Freud, Charcot, Foucault, Deleuze; and visual documents.

CPLT BC3190 Aesthetics of the Grotesque. 3 points.

This course examines the aesthetic phenomenon of the grotesque in its development from the late Renaissance to Postmodernism by comparing major texts in a systematic fashion. The emphasis of our discussions is on the awkwardness and strangeness of a certain kind of prose or drama; we will therefore examine the typical modes of transgression and the forms of excess in literary representations of the body in various between the 15th century and the present. The transgression may involve the human body, but writers are also interested in the beauty or ugliness of “the beast.” While we will discuss questions of style and linguistic performance, our main concern is the human imagination: how do characters, narrators and writers relate to the strangeness of the body and the world? How is the literary text shaped by distinct aesthetic patterns? What kind of taboo subjects or problematic and ambiguous aspects of power dynamics in modern societies can be addressed by presenting humans and animals as grotesque figures? Our critical discussions of outstanding examples of are based on readings of major scholarly contributions to the field, in particular the studies of internationally recognized intellectuals such as M.Bakhtin, T.Todorov, J.Kristeva, and W.Kayser. You will be introduced to various historical types of the grotesque, ranging from the ornate and bombastic representations in Renaissance literature to the fantastic deformations and hybrid creatures in contemporary literature. The reading material is representative of different cultures, languages and literatures so that we can conceptualize the grotesque from a critical and comparative perspective. Ultimately, the grotesque is seen as a complicated product of social, political, and cultural conditions rather than merely a formal element of a literary discourse. The representation of “grotesque” settings as well as the formation of “grotesque” identities will be examined by considering aspects such as gender, class, race and ethnicity.

Fall 2018: CPLT BC3190
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLT 3190 001/01243 T Th 10:10am - 11:25am
307 Milbank Hall
Erk Grimm 3 6

CPLT BC3200 The Visual and Verbal Arts. 3 points.

Analysis and discussion of the relation of literature to painting, photography, and film. Emphasis on artistic and literary concepts concerning the visual dimension of narrative and poetic texts from Homer to Burroughs. Explores the role of description, illustration, and montage in realist and modern literature.

CPLT BC3510 Advanced Workshop in Translation. 4 points.

Prerequisites: CPLT BC 3110 - Introduction to Translation Studies is a recommended prerequisite.

A deep immersion in the theory and practice of translation with a focus on translating into English. The first half of the course is devoted to discussing readings in the history of translation theory while translating brief practical exercises; in the second half, translation projects are submitted to the class for critical discussion. The foreign texts for these projects, chosen in consultation with the instructor, will be humanistic, not only literature as conventionally defined (prose fiction and poetry, memoir and travel writing), but also the gamut of text types in the human sciences, including philosophy, history, and ethnography. The aim is not just to translate, but to think deeply about translating, to develop writing practices by drawing on the resources of theory, past and present, and by examining translations written by professionals.  The workshop will be offered in two sections by Professor Peter Connor and Professor Emily Sun. The sections will share most of the common readings in the history of translation theory, but Professor Sun's section will emphasize issues specific to translating East Asia. Enrollment in each workshop is limited to 12 students. CPLT BC3110 is a recommended prerequisite, plus, normally, two advanced courses beyond the language requirement in the language from which you intend to translate. Preference will be given to seniors and to comparative literature majors.  

CPLT BC3551 The Arabian Nights and Its Influences. 4 points.

Prerequisites: Completion of one college-level literature course. Permission of instructor.

This course examines the enduring power of The Arabian Nights and some of the wide range of literary authors, genres and variations that it has influenced. The focus is, therefore, on this marvelous work—one of the earliest examples of the short story and the novel—but also on a selection of classical and contemporary works of fiction from around the world that have been informed by it. In this regard, this is a class interested in literary influence, reciprocity and exchange across time and languages.  

Fall 2018: CPLT BC3551
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLT 3551 001/01246 M 10:10am - 12:00pm
406 Barnard Hall
Hisham Matar 4 13/15

CPLT BC3630 Theatre and Democracy. 4 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

How does theatre promote democracy, and vice versa: how do concepts and modes of theatre prevent the spectators from assuming civic positions both within and outside a theatrical performance? This class explores both the promotion and the denial of democratic discourse in the practices of dramatic writing and theatrical performance.

CPLT BC3675 Mad Love. 3 points.

The history of irrational love as embodied in literary and non-literary texts throughout the Western tradition. Readings include the Bible, Greek, Roman, Medieval, and modern texts.

Fall 2018: CPLT BC3675
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLT 3675 001/01249 M W 2:40pm - 3:55pm
202 Milbank Hall
Alfred Mac Adam 3 13

CPLT BC3899 Dada and Surrealism. 3 points.

Prerequisites: NONE

This course focuses on two twentieth-century avant-garde art movements, Dada and Surrealism, that developed in response to the horrors of World War I, and that investigated the revolutionary potential of artistic experimentation. Both movements drew artists from many different national backgrounds (German, French, Belgian, British, Swiss, Spanish, Latin American, North American). These individuals worked in a wide range of media (fiction, poetry, painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, film) and pioneered several new or hybrid forms (automatic writing, chance collages, exquisite cadavers, found objects, ready-mades, solarizations, woven textiles).  Studying works from all these categories, students will explore: the avant-garde critique of high culture; the reconceptualization of literary and artistic forms and practices; the politics of sexuality and gender; and the role and work of female artists too frequently excluded from the canon of Dada and Surrealist studies.  

CPLT BC3950 Literary Theory. 4 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

Prerequisites: Enrollment limited to 18.

Examination of concepts and assumptions present in contemporary views of literature. Theory of meaning and interpretation (hermeneutics); questions of genre (with discussion of representative examples); a critical analysis of formalist, psychoanalytic, structuralist, post-structuralist, Marxist, and feminist approaches to literature.

CPLT BC3997 Senior Seminar. 4 points.

Designed for students writing a senior thesis and doing advanced research on two central literary fields in the student's major. The course of study and reading material will be determined by the instructor(s) in consultation with students(s).

CPLT BC3999 Independent Research. 4 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

Independent research, primarily for the senior essay, directed by a chosen faculty adviser and with the chair's permission. The senior seminar for majors writing senior essays will be taught in the Spring term.

CPLT BC4152 Politics of Performance. 4 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

CPLT BC4161 Tragic Bodies II: Surfaces, Materialities, Enactements. 4 points.

this is an upper-level seminar with quite a lot of reading and semester-long development of a substantial project

Prerequisites: CPLS BC3160 Tragic Bodies I, or permission of instructor.

This course is conceived as an advanced seminar (i.e., upper-level undergraduate and graduate) that addresses in more depth the themes of my lecture course Tragic Bodies (BC3160). It explores how dramatic enactment represents bodily boundaries and edges and thus skin, coverings, maskings, and dress-up in relation to gender, sexuality, race, and status / class. The course will focus on these edges and surfaces, as well as proximities, touching, and affect in ancient and modern drama (and occasionally film). The course treats the three ancient tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides) as unifying threads and centers on politically and aesthetically challenging re-envisionings of their plays.