course
Visual Culture - The Tale of Genji

Jan 2005

It helps a lot to have a good background in Japanese history and culture. The Tale of Genji is so different from our culture that more often than not, the explanations given by the professors arenÂ’t enough to fully understand what is going on. The main problem I had with this course was that it went back and forth between literature and art history, and the course itself just seemed too disorganized. It wouldÂ’ve been much better if, say the first half of the semester was devoted to literary analysis and the second half was about art. At least, it wouldÂ’ve been less confusing. Otherwise, the course was decent. Each week, we briefly summarized the chapters that we had to read for the day, where Professor Shirane would discuss key topics. Then we looked at some paintings, etc. that were associated with the scenes from those chapters, and Professor McCormick would lecture on their significance, etc. Each student had to present on one scroll painting from the 12th century scrolls, where he/she would talk about the artistic as well as the literary significance of that painting. We also had to do individual presentations on one article from the course reader, where we summarized and led the class discussion. Neither of them were that bad, though they took way more time than was necessary. Professor McCormick was usually well-organized. She was approachable and was quite nice if you had made the effort to go see her for advice. Don't expect to be entertained by her, but she is not mean or angry. It's just the way she is.

Jan 2005

Professor Shirane co-taught this class with Melissa McCormick from the Art History Department. He is a very sweet man and a brilliant scholar--most of the books in English on the Tale of Genji are by him!--The class itself was a little disorganised and lacked focus, but I don't think it was necessarily Prof. Shirane's fault. He freindly if you go to his office hours and is very helpful if you have questions about paper and assingments. I wish I'd taken a class where only he was teaching.

Jan 2005

Don't take this class if you are not already a grad student or expert in Japanese art and literature. I learned a lot - but the class was more like whorlwind than any sort of meaningful examination of the Tale of Genji. Prof. McCormick is disorganized and often late for class. Her lectures are disorganized. The only saving grace of the class is Prof. Shirane. Worst of all, Prof. McCormick often seemed exasperated and like she didn't want to be teaching the class: not a good dynamic when most of the class is drowning in the amount and detail of the course work.

Nov 2004

Very competent, but slightly emotionally distant, teacher. By that I'm not saying she's mean--far from it. She's a actually pretty nice person at base. (She brought us candy from Japan one class.) It's more like she's always preoccupied and a little flustered, and so she may seem hard to approach in an academic setting. I doubt she has a thing against ignorant undergraduates. (Though I wouldn't be thrilled to teach Art Hum either.) I think that's just the way she is. Also, she's probably very busy trying to get tenure, etc. On the plus side, she loves and knows her shit. She's generally organized; her articles are among the clearest I've read in art history courses. She's pretty lax about deadlines as long as you don't act ridiculously. In short, a good teacher, but probably hard to befriend. This class has some logistical problems (see "Workload"). But with some modifications, it would be absolutely fabulous. We're basically cutting into the heart of a thousand years of high Japanese culture by focusing on Genji and cultural products inspired by it, including manga and some GREAT 20C literature. The Tale is superbly poignant, and the whole Japanese aesthetic culture is just very fascinating and beautiful. This is hard work, as the president likes to say, but it's worth it.

Nov 2004

if you love japanese art and literature, take this class. if you don't... well, i would advise you not to take it. i am an art history major and i was very excited for this class, but Prof McCormick makes the details of Medieval Japanese art boring and painfully excructiatingly obscure. there is a ludicrous amount of reading to be done and you will be totally lost in the class if you don't do it (even though it is impossible to complete it all). This class was a disaster. Professor Shirane was the saving grace of the class; the man is brilliant. just let me say: you were warned