Academic year
2023/2024 Syllabus of previous years
Official course title
Course code
LM6450 (AF:381038 AR:249937)
On campus classes
ECTS credits
Degree level
Master's Degree Programme (DM270)
Educational sector code
1st Semester
Course year
Go to Moodle page
This course is designed to reflect on the figure of the public intellectual as incarnated by Susan Sontag (1933-2004), an American woman who has for decades acted as an ambassador and cultural bridge between Europe and the United States of America. Her iconic status owes precisely to her performance of the public intellectual, as someone who who found her points of reference in great European thinkers and was a vital actor in the displacement of European ideas in the US. We will read an array of landmark texts, from “Against Interpretation” to “Notes on Camp,” from her portraits of influential Europeans like Emil Cioran and Walter Benjamin to her meditation on war and photography in Regarding the Pain of Others. From her defiant beginnings, through her longing to think out of the box, to her political activism, Sontag’s production spans from the 1960s to the early 2000s, and engages not only important global concerns (such as power, fascism, and violence) but also different geographical areas (Vietnam, Former-Jugoslavia, but also Latin America).
In this course, encountering Sontag will be instrumental to achieving the main objective, and that is understanding reading, thinking, and writing as interconnected practices. We will read, reflect on, and write on the issues raised by Sontag’s work but none of these moments can be severed one from the other or stand entirely on its own. While we will implement the knowledge gleaned in the course through the capacity for making arguments and advancing them clearly and with evidentiary support, both in communicative context (debate) and in well-structured academic papers, nevertheless our understanding of “critical thinking” will be less procedural and more process-oriented. This means that, given the phrase “critical thinking,” we will lean toward the “critical” understood in the affirmative and ampler sense championed by bell hooks in her marvelous essay, “The intellectual life.” Let me quote her to invite you in: “During my final undergraduate year and throughout graduate school I was drawn to intellectual work. Discovering a passion for working with ideas, for critical thinking, and theory I found a new path for myself. Once again it was anti-racist civil rights struggle and feminist movement which served as the locations where I channeled my desire to do intellectual work, to become a cultural critic.” Notice how hooks provocatively upholds “critical thinking” as synonymous with “working with ideas,” depriving the phrase of any procedural aura and incorporating the “critical” part in the basic, naked act of thinking. For the kind of public intellectual that Sontag incarnates, as for hooks, the life of the mind amounts neither to a solipsistic exercise nor to a procedure, but must always co-exist with an outside of conflicts and struggles, and a concern with lives that are always in relation to history and to their context.
In line with the aims of the Program in International Comparative Relations, in this course students develop a mastery of written and oral communication in English, read texts of increasing complexity, practice critical reflection and learn to produce an academic paper using the convention of the international academic community.
Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

(knowledge and understanding)
• encounter, interpret, and appreciate the work of a major European-American thinker and develop an affirmative understanding of the critical attitude
• understand reading, writing, and thinking as interconnected activities
• recognize the distinctive aims and features academic critical writing
• grasp and develop connections among different authors, and understand their contribution to a scholarly conversation

(knowledge application and problem solving)
• identify an important issue or a question independently
• engage in all stages of independent library research, research an issue or a question by working in the library, navigating library databases, identifying relevant scholarship, and assessing its quality
• apply and develop knowledge of the conventions of academic writing, ranging from structure and paragraphing to tone and mechanics, and be aware of these conventions

(handling complexity and formulating judgements)

• map the scholarly conversation around a controversial or important issue
• produce academic texts of increasing length, and entering the scholarly conversation around a controversial or important issue, articulating a position and making an argument supported by evidence
• develop a sophisticated awareness of context and audience

(communication skills)
• summarize, paraphrase complex texts, grasping their arguments and relaying them to an audience of peers and for the purposes of responding to them in writing
• participate in a debate presenting a position and offering a contribution
• actively engage in peer-to-peer collaboration in discussing texts, orchestrating a public debate, offering feedback to the work of others

(learning skills)
• master argumentative skills
• summarize, paraphrase, and quote from sources using the MLA documentation style
• revise for style and edit for features such as syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling
• take notes
• compile a bibliography of relevant sources
• formulate a research proposal

A B2 level of competences in English

Weekly schedule

1: Lezione introduttiva: The public intellectual
2: Susan Sontag, “Against Interpretation”; “Notes on Camp”
3: Sontag, “The Artist as Exemplary Sufferer”; “ Simone Weil”
4: Sontag, “The Aesthetics of Silence”
5 Student-run roundtable 1
6: Writing workshop 1 (writing the critical paper, part I)
7: Writing workshop 2 (writing the critical paper, part II)
8: Sontag, “’Thinking Against Oneself’: Reflections on Cioran’”
MIDTERM DUE (short paper 2-3 pp)
9: Sontag, “Under the Sign of Saturn” (On Walter Benjamin)
10: Sontag, “Fascinating Fascism”” & Student-run roundtable 2
11: Writing workshop 3 (writing the research paper)
Research paper proposal and bibliography due
12: Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others
13: Sontag, “Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo” & Student-run roundtable 3
14: Writing workshop 4 (Writing the research paper: use of sources, identifying and evaluating good sources, structure)
15: Student roundtable 4
16 Research paper due (5-7 pp).
Required texts

Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation. New York: Picador, 2001. First published 1966. Available at Libreria Cafoscarina
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others. Penguin, 2003.Available at Libreria Cafoscarina
Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2021. 5th edition. Available at Libreria Cafoscarina.

Susan Sontag, ‘“Thinking Against Oneself”: Reflections on Cioran’.” Styles of Radical Will. New York: Picador, 2002. First published 1969. 74–95. (Moodle)
Susan Sontag, selections from Under the Sign of Saturn. New York: Writers and Readers Publishing, 1983. First published 1980. (Moodle)
Susan Sontag, “Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo.” Where the Stress Falls. New York: Vintage, 2003. 299–322. (Moodle)

Additional texts
Julia Kristeva, “A New Type of Intellectual: The Dissident.” Trans. Seán
Hand. The Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 292–300.
Edward Said, The Public Intellectual. Ed. Helen Small. Oxford: Blackwell
Publishers, 2002.
Mena Mitrano, In the Archive of Longing: Susan Sontag’s Critical
Modernism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016. Paperback ed. 2017.

Suggested Texts
Susan Sontag, Where the Stress Falls. New York: Vintage, 2003.
Susan Rubi Suleiman, "Culture, Aestheticism, and Ethics: Sontag and the 'Idea of Europe'." PMLA 120.3 (May 2005): 839-842.

Your evaluation, hence your grade in this course, will be based on the following requirements:
• Active participation (weekly readings and roundtable participation)
• a midterm paper
• a final research paper
• a final oral exam.
The final oral exam will last 30 minutes and will be a conversation. The aim of this conversation is to build on issues raised in your research paper and invite connections with the rest of the course materials. For example, once we establish a connection with a particular text in our course, I will, for example, ask you to offer a close reading of a passage, and your reading, explication, and linguistic analysis will contribute to the evaluation of your oral exam, together with the discussion of your final paper.
Lectures will guide you step by step in the encounter of new materials and the assigned readings for each class. Lecture notes and power points will be made available to you after each class for study and research purposes.

Workshops will teach you about the moves for successful academic writing and will be inspired by Gerald Graff and Kathy Birkenstein’s method: I Say/They Say.

Student-led roundtables are a valuable opportunity for practicing communicative and oral skills. Each roundtable will feature multiple students, with each student offering a very brief presentation raising a point for debate and drawing on the assigned reading. All the readings assigned up to the time of the roundtable are good sources you can draw upon for your presentation. To facilitate you, for each roundtable I’ve proposed a controversial issue that can be addressed from a variety of angles with the help of the course readings. In fact, the ideal roundtable intervention is a short presentation that build on a selected brief passage from one of the readings. The principal aim of the roundtable is to explore further the assigned texts from the students’ point of view, identifying what might be special points of interest for the class community. The implicit aim is of course to spark debate. Roundtables are entirely managed by the students. Students on a particular roundtable will collaborate to ensure that time is managed effectively and that debate is encouraged. Right after your roundtable presentation, each participant will need to hand in a brief written paragraph summarizing his/her contribution.

Interested students who would like additional details, are welcome to contact me at:

Thank you.

This subject deals with topics related to the macro-area "Human capital, health, education" and contributes to the achievement of one or more goals of U. N. Agenda for Sustainable Development

Definitive programme.
Last update of the programme: 10/03/2023