Course syllabus


 COMPLIT 705/709: Reading Across Cultures

Semester 1-2018


READING ACROSS CULTURES: Intro. to (Comparative) Literary & Cultural Theory

 (Tuesdays, 1200-1400, MAORI STUDIES (253)-103)



MARK AMSLER: CLL (207)-517;; 923 5559

            Office: Tuesdays 10-11.30 or by appointment.

HILARY CHUNG: CLL (207)-437;; 923 4603

            Office: Tuesdays 10-11, Thursdays 12-1 or by appointment.


            923 7092

Office: Wednesdays 2.15-3.15 or by appointment.


  ; 923 5658

Office: Thursdays 10-1 or by appointment.


This seminar is an advanced introduction for postgraduate and doctoral students to key theories of and approaches to the study of literature and writing across cultures and especially in comparative theoretical, social, and critical contexts. We explore and test the possibilities, limits, and assumptions, not always evident, of various contemporary theories of literature and culture and apply them to the study of literary and cultural texts from many cultures and periods. Among the topics we investigate from cross-cultural perspectives are: authorship, intertextuality, reader and reception theories, literary translation, post-colonial writing and languages, representations and constructions of gender and sexuality, and old and new text "modes." The seminar begins with a five-week overview of language, semiotics, poetics, narrative, and (inter)disciplinarity. We then take up a series of topics related to comparative literary criticism and contexts related to literacies, feminism, and digital writing. We walk these theories and critiques through selected texts from around the world.

Seminar topics, readings, presentations, and discussions are designed to help you build strong critical reading skills, develop high-level textual and theoretical knowledge, and hone a sophisticated understanding of comparative literary and cultural criticism. We discuss a range of theorists and writers from Europe, the Americas, East and South Asia, North and Central Africa, and the Pacific region. Students are strongly encouraged to bring other literary and theory texts into the seminar discussions. Although all texts are provided in English versions, we pay attention to the original language(s) of the texts and how linguistic forms shape theory and literary discourses.


This seminar is comprised of a five-week overview of language, poetics, narrative, and semiotics and then three two-week modules, each led by one of the seminar directors:

  1. Signs, Texts, Meanings
  2. (Intra)textuality
  3. Global Feminisms
  4. Transnational Identities 

COMPLIT 705 coursework details:

  1. Seminar presentation: 20%
  2. Summary and inquiry of keywords in a theory text (1500 words): 30%
  3. Course project/essay (3000 words): 50%


COMPLIT 709 coursework details:

  1. Seminar presentation: 20%
  2. Summary and inquiry of keywords in a theory text (2000 words): 30%
  3. Course project/essay (4000 words): 50%


Submitting essays/writing

All seminar assignments submitted for marking should be submitted both electronically via and by the announced deadline in hard copy with a completed, signed bar-coded COMPLIT 705 or 709 coversheet to the Comparative Literature submission box for Postgraduate essays, ARTS ASSIGNMENT CENTRE, SOCIAL SCIENCES BUILDING, Rm 413.

Note: the assignment coversheets are available on the COMPLIT 705/709 CANVAS course website. When submitting an essay, you will need to download the coversheet and include it with your essay. The coversheets for all assignments will be scanned with a barcode reader to create an assignment log. The barcode contains student details such as name, ID, course and possibly assignment topic.

In addition, you should submit your writing electronically to, available through the Canvas course website.


Specific details as to format for individual assignments are included with the assignment information. We will also discuss format as assignments are made.


Course text: Literary Theory. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 3rd ed. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018. (Available in UBIQ or through Book Depository)

Additional readings will be posted to the CANVAS course website.


Weekly Topics, Readings, Assignment Due Dates


Module One: Signs, Texts, Meaning (Mark Amsler)

Week 1 (27 February): Making signs, making meanings

Rivkin and Ryan: Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (sel.); Brookes, "The Formalist Critics"; Shlovsky, "Art as Technique"; Culler, "Linguistic Foundation".

Canvas: Peirce, "Icon, Index, Symbol"; Jakobson, “Two Aspects of Language”; Lewis Carroll, "Jabberwocky"; e. e. cummings, "anyone lived in a pretty how town"; found art.


Week 2 (6 March): Discourse and Literary Discourse

Rivkin and Ryan: Bakhtin, Discourse and the Novel (sel.); Barthes, "From Work to Text” and "Death of the Author"; Austin, How to Do Things with Words (sel.).

Canvas: Culler, “What is literature, and Does it matter?”; Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World (sel.); Kamau Brathwaite, selected poems.


Week 3 (13 March): Language, History, and Intertextuality

Rivkin and Ryan: Derrida, “Différance"; Freud, Interpretation of Dreams (sel); Foucault, "Right of Death and Power Over Life".

Canvas: Bohannan, “Shakespeare in the Bush"; Derrida, "Signature Event Context"; Langston Hughes, selected poems.


Week 4 (20 March): Other Writing/Reception 

Rivkin and Ryan: Barbara Johnson, "Writing"; Bourdieu, "Distinction"; McCormick, "Teaching, Studying and Theorising the Production and Reception of Literary Texts".

Canvas: Fish, "How to Recognise a Poem When You See One".


Week 5 (27 March): Affect, Ethics, Identity and History

Rivkin and Ryan: Levinas, "Ethics and the Face"; Korhonen, "Levinas and Literary Interpretation: Facing Baudelaire's 'Eyes of the Poor'"; Hall, "Cultural Identity and Diaspora".  

Canvas: tba


SEMESTER BREAK: 30 March-15 April

Module Two: Coloniality and Colonial Affection (Stephen Turner)

Week 6 (17 April):

Rivkin and Ryan: Latour, "On Actor-Network Theory: A few clarifications".

Canvas:  Alison Jones and Te Kawehau Hoskins, "A Mark on Paper: The Matter of Indigenous-Settler History"; Alice Te Punga Somerville, "Conclusion: E Koru Au e Ngaro".


Week 7 (24 April):

Rivkin and Ryan: Michel Foucault, "Right of Death and Power over Life".

Canvas: Vijay Devadas, "15 October, Aotearoa, Race, Terror and Sovereignty".


Module Three: Feminist, Gender, and Queer Theory: Other Readings (Mark Amsler)

Week 8 (1 May): Canon/Readerly resistance/literary herstory

Ryan and Rivkin: Rich, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience"; Butler, "Imitation and Gender Insubordination"; Jasbir Puar, "'I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess': Becoming intersectional in assemblage theory."

Canvas: Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (Chap. 1); Fetterly, The Resisting Reader (Chap. 1); Luce Irigaray, "The question of the Other".


Week 9 (8 May): Reading Queer

Ryan and Rivkin: Hird, "Naturally Queer"; Berlant and Warner," Sex in Public"; Grewal and Kaplan, "Global Identities".

Canvas: Kristeva, "Women’s Time, About Chinese Women (sel.); Irigaray, "The Question of the Other"; Chung, "Kristevan Misunderstandings: Writing the Feminine"; Chen Hengzhe, "One Day"; Shikitei Sanba, Floating World Bathhouse; Tomioka Taeko, "Yesteryear".


Module Four: Transnationals (Lisa Samuels)

Week 10 (15 May):  Transnational Place

Canvas: Epeli Hau’Ofa, “Our Sea of Islands”; Gloria Anzaldua, excerpts from Borderlands/La Frontera (1987). Full text of Anzadua's Borderlands available on SHORT LOAN (UoA).

Additional: Sidury Christiansen, "Creating a Unique Transnational Place: Deterritorialized Discourse and the Blending of Time and Space in Online Social Media" (2017). Text available online:


Week 11 (22 May): Transnational Transgenre

Canvas: Hyun Ok Park, The Capitalist Unconscious: the Korea question (2015), Intro and Chap.2.

Additional (General Library): Don Mee Choi, Hardly War excerpts (2016), available on SHORT LOAN (UoA).


Week 12 (29 May) Comparative Criticism Futures (Amsler et al.)

Rivkin and Ryan: Venuti, "Translation, Empiricism, Ethics"; Spivak, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism"


Course assignments summary:




Thu, 4 April 2018

Friday, 1 June 2018

Essay 1 due

Essay 2 due

Seminar Presentations                 Weeks 3-12

Course summary:

Date Details