A four-credit course about fecal matter is now something graduate students at Harvard can enroll in.
It literally teaches crap.
The nation’s oldest university, known for its Ivy League credentials, is offering a class called "Cacaphonies: Toward an Excremental Poetics," where learning about feces in the context of French literature is "taken seriously." The course also delves into the subject of constipation and whether it is unfairly "gendered" as female.
The course description in the Harvard catalog reads like a parody on academic waste. Here it is in its entirety (formatting adjusted):
French literature, from the Middle Ages to today, has been consistently and remarkably scatological. Fecal matter is omnipresent in works and authors that we consider canonical (e.g. the fabliaux, Rabelais, de Sade, Beckett, Celine) and yet its presence has been remarkably submerged or passed over in readerly and critical reception of modern and contemporary French literature. This course proposes to take this fecal presence seriously and to attend to the things it has to tell us (hence the plurality of cacaphonies) by starting with the following premise: If literature is excrement, then the canon is a chamber pot.
We will focus on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and read a diverse range of scatological texts in order to use the scatological as a means to:
1. Theorize an excremental poetics where excretion provides a model for the process of writing. The task of excretion, which translates into concrete form our experience of the world (we excrete what we take in, processing and giving it new form), is also the task of literature.
2. Allow for a new interrogation and critique of the canon and the ways in which it serves to conceal, contain, sanitize, and compel culture.
3. Provide another angle from which to approach the question of gender and writing, as gender organizes both literature (e.g. the paucity of canonical women writers) and defecation (e.g. the gendering of constipation as a feminine condition).
4. Offer an alternative theory of the significance of fecal matter to the dominant one provided by psychoanalysis (i.e. feces as gift, gold, a la Freud). The goal of the course is to begin to articulate and realize an original approach to literature that, rather than take feces as a site of disgust, takes it as a site of creation.
"Cacaphonies: Toward an Excremental Poetics" will be taught by Annabel Kim, an assistant professor of romance languages and literatures, whose studies and interests include feminist writing and theory. She also teaches a course called "Queer Factions."