Academic year
2022/2023 Syllabus of previous years
Official course title
Course code
LM6450 (AF:393636 AR:209670)
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

Week 1: Introduction: The public intellectual and European-American relations: The case of Susan Sontag

Part I: Early Sontag
Week 2: Sontag, “Against Interpretation”; “Notes on Camp”
Week 3: Sontag, “The Artist as Exemplary Sufferer”; “ Simone Weil”
Week 4: Sontag, “The Aesthetics of Silence”
Week 5 Student-run roundtable
Week 6: Writing workshop 1
“They Say”: starting with what others are saying, the art of summarizing, the art of quoting
Week 7: Writing workshop 2
The structure of the paper: paragraphing and the introduction

Part II: Thinking & Power
Week 8: Sontag, “’Thinking Against Oneself’: Reflections on Cioran’”
MIDTERM DUE (short paper 2-3 pp)
Week 9: Sontag, “Under the Sign of Saturn” (On Walter Benjamin)
Week 10: Sontag, “Fascinating Fascism”” & Student-run roundtable
Week 11: Writing workshop 3
“I Say”: ways to respond, distinguishing what You Say from what They Say, saying why it matters
Research paper proposal and bibliography due

Part III: War and Activism
Week 12: Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others
Week 13: Sontag, “Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo” & Student-run roundtable
Week 14: Writing workshop 4
Research as conversation: appreciating scholarly sources, evaluating them, staying focused
Week 15: Final student roundtable
Week 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.
Grading policy:
Active participation and roundtable 20%
Midterm paper 20%
Final Research paper 40%
Final exam 20%
A mix of:
writing workshops,
student-run roundtables
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 "Poverty and inequalities" and contributes to the achievement of one or more goals of U. N. Agenda for Sustainable Development

Definitive programme.
Last update of the programme: 18/07/2022