Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Childish Enthusiasms and Perishable Manias


College, we understand, is serious stuff. In college we know that it’s time to leave childish things behind: our favorite movies, games, cartoons, books, indeed the very idea of "favorites." Into the closet go the cherished things that once absorbed so much of our energies, that even once helped to define what we think of as our "self." The task at college is to search for deeper meaning, to gain the tools that will allow you to understand the way the world works in order to set out to affect it, or even change it. Serious questions need to be asked in serious fields; serious meanings need to be derived from serious texts. College and graduate school are sites of gravitas; weighty work is expected. But what of levitas —a lighter, more playful category? Does such a concept have a place at such institutions of higher learning as Stanford?

Gravitas and levitas can co-exist; one need not preclude the other. In other words, effective scholarship should not suck the joy from the world. Yet, what does it mean to do scholarly work that respects a child’s engagement with the world? To retain (or recover) the intensely pleasurable relation to particular objects or habits that we were allowed when younger? Does intellectually credible work depend upon a "critical distance" between the scholar and the object of study? Can we take something seriously without imposing a seriousness upon it that it may not possess (or want)?

This seminar will try to answer some of those questions. We will explore such "unserious" media as comics, cartoons, musicals, and children’s books, and encounter modes of critical engagement that stress experience over meaning, and investment over critical distance.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Scott Bukatman

"My work explores how such popular media as film, comics, and animation mediate between new technologies and human perceptual and bodily experience. I often describe my approach as 'taking unserious things seriously without forgetting their unseriousness.' In other words, Superman is not King Lear, and doesn't need to be—there are still interesting questions to ask and answer. I stress our experience of media more than the ostensible 'meanings' of texts—not because texts aren't meaningful, but because there are so many scholars whose work already contends with meaning, and I want to tell a different story. 

"I've published on science fiction film, Jerry Lewis, comic strips, superheroes, cartoon physics, cyberspace, and My Fair Lady. Oh, and I’ve just finished a short book on Black Panther!"