Harvard Teaches Graduate Course on Crap

French literature class vows to take 'fecal presence seriously'

People walk past the John Harvard statue at Harvard University's main campus / Getty Images
February 12, 2018

Graduate students studying at America's oldest university can sign up to learn about feces.

Harvard University offers the four-credit course "Cacaphonies: Toward an Excremental Poetics," which vows to take "fecal presence seriously" in French literature.

Students getting their masters at Harvard can sign up for the course taught by Annabel Kim, an assistant professor of romance languages and literatures. The course will also study constipation and whether it is unfairly "gendered" as female.

"French literature, from the Middle Ages to today, has been consistently and remarkably scatological," according to the Harvard course catalog. "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 [sic]) by starting with the following premise: If literature is excrement, then the canon is a chamber pot," the catalog states.

The course focuses on a "diverse range of scatological texts" from the 20th and 21st centuries. Students will 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," the course catalog states.

The study will also allow for a "new interrogation and critique of the canon." Aside from crap, the course will also "approach the question of gender and writing."

"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)," the course catalog states.

Finally, the course will offer an "alternative theory of the significance of fecal matter" to Sigmund Freud's anal stage theory of psychoanalysis.

"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," the course catalog states.

Kim's research interests include feminist writing and theory. Readings for the course will be in French. She received a B.A. in French and Art History from Williams College, and has a Ph.D. in French from Yale University.

"While I specialize in 20th- and 21st-century French literature, I have a soft spot for literature from the 18th and 19th centuries, despite the myriad ways it has of killing off its women," Kim writes on her Harvard staff page.

Kim also teaches the course "Queer Fictions."

A representative for Kim said she was not available for an interview.

Published under: College Campuses , Harvard