Jacinthe Ahmed Assaad
C LIT 200
Reading, understanding, and enjoying literature from various countries, in different forms of expression (e.g., dramatic, lyric, narrative, rhetorical) and of representative periods. Emphasis on the comparative study of themes and motifs common to many literatures of the world.
Modernity and Alienation
“[The Angel of History’s] face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair, to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm." —Walter Benjamin
We like to believe that modernity brought us progress, which was meant to improve our lives. In fact, much of what modernity has afforded us to build a more comfortable life isolates us. Characterized by industrial production, a market economy, and mass consumption on the one hand, and by a questioning faith, disenchantment of the world, and disillusion in humanity, on the other, our modern world has created a skeptical (wo)man constantly searching for meaning—especially since Nietzsche’s madman declared God’s death: humanity stands alone in modernity. And nowhere is that as obvious as when one is standing in a crowd. Crowds. They are the social formation characteristic of modernity: in public transport, at work, in shopping malls, in the streets, in airports, in demonstrations. They remind us that we are a multitude of anonymous individuals, looking to connect. And in T.S. Eliot’s words: “I can connect / Nothing with nothing."? We belong to the masses, and we comply to social norms in order not to be marginalized. But can our individuality survive the homogenization of the anonymous crowd? Doesn’t our individuality precisely separate us, isolate us? The authors that we will be reading here emphasize the alienation inherent in modernity by portraying the (vain) struggle to retain individuality in face of social challenges. What happens when communication breaks down and our voice mutters unintelligibly? when language no longer carries the weight of meaning? Is death inevitable when we lose our place in the world? when we are unable or unwilling to conform to society’s view of what is “normal?" What part of ourselves do we relinquish in order to belong? Which part of our individuality can we salvage in this struggle? These are some of the questions that we will explore in this class. Students will learn to explore thematic differences through critical readings of and analytic writing about the three main genres of literature: fiction (novel and short stories), drama, and poetry. A class website will be created, and will include downloadable versions of the poetry and any additional critical essays we might read. The list of poems is subject to change.
Novels and Short Stories: Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Mahfouz, Naguib. The Thief and The Dogs. Melville, Herman. Bartleby The Scrivener. Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Man of the Crowd." (Website) Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway.
Plays: Camus, Albert. The Misunderstanding in Caligula and Three Other Plays. Ionesco, Eugène. The Bald Soprano. Pirandello, Luigi. Six Characters In Search of An Author.
Poetry (Website): Eliot, T. S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Dickinson, Emily. “I felt a funeral in my brain." Pound, Ezra. “In a Station of the Metro." Stevens, Wallace. “Tea at the Palace of Hoon."
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Lecture and class discussion
Class assignments and grading
You will write 2 short essays (2-3 pages), a photo-essay (including a rationale and a reflection), and a final paper (5-6 pages). For the final paper, individual conferences will be held. All essays will be comparative in nature (whether comparing different texts, or genres).
Participation: 20% Short essays: 30% (15% each) Photo-essay: 20% Final essay: 30%