Freshman Seminars

In 2016-2017 the faculty in the Slavic Department will offer the following Freshman Seminar courses:

Fall 2016 Semester

Freshman Seminar 36g. The Creative Work of Translating
Prof. Stephanie Sandler
Wednesdays, 1-3pm
Translation makes culture possible. Individual writers and thinkers draw sustenance and stimulation from works created outside their own cultures, and artists working in one format get ideas from those working in entirely different media. Translation between languages and between art forms will center our seminar’s work. Taking a broad view of translation as a mental activity, we will study poems, fiction, film, photography, and music. We will stretch our own imaginative capacities by transposing material across media and genres, creating homophonic translations, and translating between languages. We will work individually as well as collaboratively. We will read a small amount translation theory, and some reflections by working translators. We will invite into our classroom a practicing poet, artist, and translator or two, attend poetry readings and lectures at Harvard, and have at least one field trip, to the Boston MFA. The only requirement is some knowledge of a language besides English – and a readiness to play with languages, art forms, and texts. Readings from Kazim Ali, Gennady Aygi, Walter Benjamin, Caroline Bergvall, Jorge Luis Borges, Joseph Brodsky, Anne Carson, Emily Dickinson, Forrest Gander, Robert Grenier, Susan Howe, Edmond Jabès, Velimir Khlebnikov, Vladimir Nabokov, Sappho, W. G. Sebald, Rosmarie Waldrop, Wang Wei, and the Bible; music by John Adams, Luciano Berio, and David Grubbs; artwork by Peter Sacks, Frances Stark. Films to include The Clock, Despair, and The Golem.

Freshman Seminar 60g. Poetry as a Language Laboratory
Prof. Aleksandra Kremer
Mondays, 3–5pm
Typical means of everyday communication, such as speaking, writing, or printing, can be taken to extremes in poetry. In our seminar we will explore such cases. We will measure voices of poets performing their texts, view electronic archives of poetry, examine untypical artists’ publications, attend a poetry reading, study barely legible texts, listen to sound poetry, and look at visual poems. We will confront these poetic experiments with scholarly texts from such disciplines as acoustic phonetics, sound studies, neuroscience, bibliography, literary studies, or graphic design. Ultimately, we will ask if artistic texts may contribute to our knowledge about writing, reading, hearing, speaking, or publishing. In other words: can poets anticipate, modify, or inform academic research? We will study poems from different times and regions, with a special emphasis on the twentieth-century European and American literature. We will discuss historical pattern poetry, contemporary artists’ books, Dadaist poetic performances, French sound poetry, German concrete poetry, Pre-Raphaelite poems for pictures, as well as recordings of Eliot, Wat, Miłosz, and Brodsky. We will find these works in the collections of Harvard libraries, and in diverse internet visual and sound archives. We will ask about the limitations and benefits of the use of digital tools in humanities. On one evening we will participate in a poetry reading in Cambridge.

Spring 2017 Semester

Freshman Seminar 60u. One Hundred Years of Labor: Literature, Cinema, and Political Thought since the Russian Revolution
Prof. Michael Kunichika
Meeting time TBD
The year 2017 will mark the centennial of the Russian Revolution. The century that lay between these two years of 1917 and 2017 can be approached in many ways, focusing on the rise and fall of the Soviet Union; the confrontation of liberalism, communism and fascism in World War Two; the competition between the Soviet Union and America throughout the Cold War; or spread (and crises) of global capitalism. The thread we will follow throughout this course is to think of the past century in terms of the story, or better, stories of labor and the forms by which labor has been represented with a diverse array of media. We will examine how labor and work have been represented in primarily Russian and Soviet literature and film, while drawing comparisons from American and European cultural sources. We will consider both the Revolution as a historical phenomenon, examining central texts in which its ambitions and significance were contested, and then consider chapters in the on-going career of labor from the 1920s to the present-day. We examine the seminal statements of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky; the groundbreaking films of Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein; and the enduring literary works of Andrei Platonov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn among others. Alongside the Russian texts, we will read or screen works by John Steinbeck, Charlie Chaplin, Fritz Lang, and Eugene O’Neil. Throughout, we will be guided by several questions and concerns: how does a particular work represent labor and conceive its value? What is the nature of work? How is intellectual labor understood in relation to others forms of labor? How are bodies configured by different labor processes? And, lastly, what might this history tell us about the present state and challenge of labor and social inequity at the centennial of the Revolution?