Modern Comparative Fiction

Jul 2014

What can be said about Prof. Dames that hasn't been said already. He is not just a kind and helpful man, but also extraordinarily knowledgeable and passionate. He is an excellent leader of in-class discussion and seems genuinely eager to hear what others have to say, not a given in English courses. Excellent choice of readings. The only criticism I might offer is that Dames is too nice; this bothered me only when he would rather spin a silly comment into gold rather than shut it down (a la Erik Gray, his close competitor in excellence). But I guess that is just a mater of preference. This class was remarkable--not just for its engagement in close reading, but also for placing short stories in a historical context that was both illuminating and comprehensive.

May 2014

Do you like to read? I know that prior to the first day of this course, I hated reading whether it was for fun, or analytical purposes. However, the selection of novel's that construct the syllabus, combined with the often hilarious lectures opened up a whole new outlook on the act of reading and analyzing. With a heavy load of reading (13 Novels), the Professor and TA's managed to select novels that will keep you entertained the whole semester. In short, awesome course, awesome Professor, and awesome TA's.

Jun 2010

Class was easy as balls, books were chill, papers were extremely hard to do 5 hours before they were due (but manageable), final was chill sauce. I was expecting a lot of hot chicks to be in this class, didn't work out that way, only complaint. Other than that this class is chill and the classroom chairs are soft.

Jan 2007

I say this as a senior English major: Robbins' class was the biggest disappointment in my college career. His lectures left me more often than not uninspired and uninformed. They linked disparate ideas without logical rigor, stopped short of concluding anything with any determinacy, and misunderstood the literary intelligence of his audience (in both directions). Half-hearted doesn't do him justice, but he never seemed to take his job with more than three-quarters interest: always ending early, starting late, canceling class, even answering his cellpiece once (the wife) after stopping with mock annoyance every time someone's ringtone blew up. Plus there was this streak of what I perceive as faint arrogance and overestimation of self, exemplified by his overuse of bad metaphors and remarks which he intended as levity but fell completely unfunny. I got no beef with edutainment so long as it does at least one or the other; Robbins does neither. To be fair, he does a ok job in the grand scheme of all professors everywhere, and I did like some of his ideas. But such a great reading list deserves better. One should expect a higher perception of being correct/relevant and a more serious intellectual environment from a generally stellar Columbia literature faculty. That environment, by the way, includes flocks of assclowns, AIM addicts, overassertive or somnolent lifelong learners, and GS students (not the chill ones, the garrulous nitwits). Why anyone with any literary gumption would take this class over another Columbia offering is beyond me--well, except for that

Jan 2007

Don't let the fancy sounding name and great reading list fool you. Bruce Robbins is a terrible terrible lecturer. Every time I went to class, I felt like I was listening to Charlie Brown's teacher speaking. I probably got more out of the sparknotes I read to study for the final than from his lectures. If you want to have a meaningful experience as an English major, take a class with Nicholas Dames (he usually teaches 19th Century Literature) or Molly Murray. Maybe his inability to speak without rambling on about irrelevant sources or topics could be excused if he were a nice guy. Unfortunately, he is also not a nice person. In Bruce Robbins' head, he is the Brad Pitt of the English department, maybe of the world. Who else writes "No Kidding" next to a point on my friend's essay after a re-grade? And lastly, I bet you that "vectors of desire," a phrase he loved to throw around in every single class, means absolutely nothing. And yes, I'm pointing my vectors of hatred at Robbins. DON'T TAKE THIS CLASS. If you're looking for something to boost your GPA, this is not the class you want to take. If you're looking for a meaningful experience, this is not the class to take. Basically, I don't care who you are or what you're looking for, this class blows.

Dec 2006

While Professor Robbins has accomlished works on literary criticism like "Feeling Global" and "Cosmopolitics", his lectures tend to meander to fruitless comprehension. Many of the books on the reading list need further examination than what Robbins offers. Gone are the examinations of themes, extensions of modern day relevance, and character analysis; rather, Robbins places emphasis on cherry-picked snippets of text and examines them with deft analysis. However, the books he selects need more than this. For example, Midnight's Children is probably one of the most dense books of the 20th century, but he spent three classes on it (and ended each class 25 minutes early). He spends most of the class shouting about how you have to read the book because it will be on the exam, but then he spends less than half the class speaking about anything noteworthy in the author's intensions or anything laying within the subtext. Yes, the papers are graded very easily. Yes, you don't have to work very hard in this class; but it was incredibly disappointing that we ended with Sebold's The Emigrants, when he gives us a 600 page novel like Midnight's Children during mid-terms AND a paper due in his class. His final was easy from my perspective, but he did end up grading on a curve based on what he claimed were hard identifiers. If you take literature seriously, I don't recommend this course.

May 2006

It appears that Professor Robbins doesn't need another gushing review, but I assure you, he does. Not only is he an easygoing, funny, inspiring, and magnetic man-- his course is actually good too. His lectures are insightful, provocative, and worthy of standing side-by-side with the class' phenomenal syllabus. The texts are top-notch, but had someone handed me them to read on my own, my experience would have been maybe half as good as what I got out of Robbins' course. It's easy to forget how enjoyable reading can be when it piles to unseeable heights during a semester; Bruce Robbins' class helped me remember.

May 2005

I won't speak for lit majors, but I highly recommend that non-majors avoid this man. This is especially true for GS students who think this might be an easy way to get through the lit requirement. It isn't. Robbins is, without a doubt, the worst public speaker of all the teachers I've had at any school I've ever attended. Perhaps he's better in small groups, but this man has no business standing in front of 100+ people and speaking for an hour and fifteen minutes. He seems convinced that he's got a lot of important things to say, but he's never able to connect them into any sort of meaningful arc over the course of a lecture. In the end, he seems to string together lots of statements that are recited more to prove how important his theories are than to provide us with any kind of useful information. Perhaps I'm too used to the sciences (both social and physical), where statements are either supported or disproven by facts. I have no doubt that Robbins is a briliant author of criticism, but that doesn't make him a good lecturer. In the end, Robbins seems to think that everyone in the room is a masters student, and that he can use terminology that will only be familiar to people who are already on the road to advanced degrees in Literature. He would probably be disappointed to find out that the class had at least a couple of dozen GS students who had no intention of being Lit majors, let alone pursuing an advanced degree. The most offensive part was when he flat out lied about the midterm. He told us very specifically that there would be identifications on the midterm, and that he would ask us to match specific characters with the book they'd come from. He then gave a midterm in which he gave a list of identifications for each book, expecting us to be able to explain the place of each similarly named character within the book. Of course, everyone did poorly, since he'd told us to prepare for an entirely different exam. There has got to be a better way to get the GS lit requirement out of the way for non-lit people...

May 2005

You will leave this class every day wishing two or more of the following:<br> a) the lectures were longer and every day<br> b) Bruce Robbins would adopt you<br> c) Bruce Robbins would marry you<br> d) you were Bruce Robbins In my three years at columbia, this was the only class that actually inspired me to really learn. While the reading on its own is pretty awesome, I guarantee you will be less than impressed with at least one or two of the books when you read them. However, when you come to class and listen to what he has to say about them, you'll want to go back and read them again and again. Even though he's incredibly self-aware and some might say acerbic, he's really nice, isn't hard on anyone AT ALL and almost tries to put himself on the same level as students by constantly poking fun at himself. I actually looked forward to going to section and writing the papers (seriously, no joke), which is definitely a first for me. And to top all of this, the class is pretty easy. I've taken classes with most of the other "great" professors in the English dept, and Robbins definitely blows them all out of the water. Please don't graduate without taking this class, it will teach you things about the world we live in now that you won't get from any other class.

Jan 2004

Unlike most reviewers, I found this class rather disappointing. While the syllabus really is great and covers a nice batch of authors, Prof. Robbins gave little insight into the material. He relied on the same themes and interpretations for practically every novel, making lectures very uninspiring and superficial. To me, the strength of the course lies in the strength of the syllabus--not in Robbins' weak and obvious analyses. Also, beware Robbins' arrogance and the kiss-ups that eat up class time....My advice is to get the syllabus and read the books on your own.

Jan 2004

Professor Robbins is one of the most wonderful PEOPLE I have ever known. He is passionate, brilliant, kind, witty, and inspiring. I eagerly looked forward to each lecture. The assigned books are amazing. I have already recommended the entire syllabus to a lot of my friends! I am currently reading other books by the same authors. Please take a class with Professor Robbins. I assure you that this decision will be the best one you ever make.

Nov 2003

This course is fabulous. The readings are great and his lectures are engaging. He is a very smart, entertaining professor. It is easy to do well in this class. For the papers he just wants you to take one of his ideas from the lecture and prove it basically and you will get a good grade (providing you don't suck at writing). Enjoy!

May 2003

TAKE THIS MAN'S CLASS. Prof. Robbins is that rare professor who can let his scholar and teaching careers feed into each other while not expecting his students to immediately publish in the New Yorker. He has a great sense of humor which makes the long lectures much more bearable, and his syllabus is very reasonable. You'll enjoy the selections, too, of which there is a wide variety of non-American (and mostly non- Western) authors. Grading is fair although sometimes done by the TAs, but he generally picks good ones who grade the way he does. Try to read most of the books because the lectures are boring and make no sense if you don't, but are really interesting and packed with info if you do. Professor Robbins is so great that I'd reccommend taking any class that he's teaching.

Jan 2002

If I'm not mistaken, Robbins will be on sabbatical next semester and then will be joining the faculty full time for the 2002-03 school year. The course reading was fantastic, and he demonstrated that he sure knows his shit during the lectures. Unfortunately, he allows far to much discussion, especially given that in a 110 person lecture, there are bound to be quite a number of ass-clowns. Also, he puts up a guise of false modesty, in which he assures the students that they're all geniuses and learns so much from them and they always beat him to the point. It was frustrating to hear him--a rather smart guy and, after all, the only one in the room with a PhD in literature--falsely prostrating himself before students. I rather enjoyed his analyses, but it's worthy of note that the course definitely has a postcolonial timbre if you're into that.

Dec 2001

The man knows how to assemble a good reading list (he included Ishiguro, Ondaatje, and Rushdie, among others). That being said, it often seemed to me that Prof. Robbins was more interested in discussing the socio-political aspects of the texts rather than the literary merit/storytelling techniques. I would have preferred the latter, but hey. FYI-- there was an absurd number of Lifelong Learners in my class. Beware.

Dec 2001

I agree with the previous poster that most people enjoyed the class. But the class is basically the reading list. You could have another professor teaching the same class and people would still enjoy it because the books are so good. I'd say Robbins is not bad but the course was good because the books were. In response to the previous review, it's the professor's decision to cap or not cap enrollment so I don't see how the registrar is to blame. I think rather it's Robbins' inexperience with Columbia. Further, something that is commonly done isn't necessarily right, or even fair. We're all used to shitty professors at Columbia; does that mean they're supposed to be shitty or it's alright to be shitty? Although a junior myself, I personally agree with the other poster. In this case it's fairer to remove people according to registration time because I know a lot of juniors and seniors just saw the reading list and the hype and signed up for it as a "fun class." And they were right; it's really a fun class.

Dec 2001

It shocked me to see such scathing reviews of this professor--everyone I have talked to genuinely enjoys this class, and not just the amazing reading list. Robbins has strong opinions about the texts but doesn't dismiss students' comments. Although he sometimes gets distracted by post-modern criticism and forgets about the book as a whole, in general the essays he bring up are relevant and interesting. (In response to the previous review, it's unfair to criticize him for not capping registration: this is nearly always the fault of the registrar, not the professor, and also, it's by no means unheard of that seniors get first choice at popular classes.)

Nov 2001

This is not a really a course review; I'm just disappointed at what this professor did. Read on if you're interested. As one of the reviewers said, this class has an extremely lucrative reading list. And as a result about 200 people flocked to his first class, a lot of whom were or would soon be registered for it. I was one of them. Two days later I was very disappointed to be informed by the Registrar, in more diplomatic wording of course, that I was kicked out of the class, for no other reason but that I'm not a junior or a senior. So enrollment dropped from 150 to 70, and slowly rose back to 100 after a few days, presumably because some first-years and sophomores insisted and/or some more juniors and seniors signed up. In any case, I just want to say that I was very mad about the way he went around a problem he himself could've avoided (by setting an enrollment limit, for example). More important I don't think it was fair to remove people according to seniority, but rather according to who signed up first; I registered for the class when there were about 30 people in it. Not being able to do the class is okay, especially after I've read negative comments about him, but being deprived of an opportunity that was given to you was bad. Anyway, I hope next time when Prof Robbins teaches a class with such a great reading list, he remembers this experience.

Nov 2001

It's hard to dislike Robbins, since he seems like a nice, self-effacing guy. But by the end of the semester, you definitely do. His is one of the best reading lists at Columbia (Garcia-Marquez, Kundera, Ishiguro, Rushdie), but the class bored me to tears. He takes all the beautiful books and reduces them to vague political-theoretical analogies. It makes you want to squirm from frustration, as you hope and pray that one day, just once, he'll stray from the political influences of the book and maybe discuss the beautiful prose, or the imagery, or ANYTHING.