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Literature of the Fantastic

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

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Course Description

Students will hone their analytical skills with close readings of some of the most thrillingly strange narratives of the last two centuries. By foregrounding the irrational side of human nature and probing the limits of perceived reality, authors like Edgar Allan Poe, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez have greatly expanded the possibilities of literature. Their writings, poised on the blurry boundaries separating reality from fiction, provide an ideal starting point for exploring the role of the imagination and of unconscious forces in human experience. Students will finish the course with a repertoire of analytical and argumentative strategies that will contribute substantially to their development as critical thinkers and writers.

We will work our way through the classics of fantastic, uncanny, and "magic realist" literature at an intense, stimulating pace, view several important films related to the genre, and examine works of visual art that resonate with our literary materials. Students will also gain some familiarity with related movements in the arts, such as surrealism and expressionism. We will read several challenging theoretical works by prominent critics of the genre, including Aristotle, Tzvetan Todorov, and Sigmund Freud, and students will write essays applying their central concepts to literary works read in the course. Students will thus gain a detailed knowledge of an important area of modern literature, as well as extensive practice in the incorporation of secondary sources in analytical writing. The strategies of close reading, textual analysis, and argumentation that they develop in the course will have strong relevance to many other areas of study.

This intensive reading and writing course aims to equip students with the reading and writing skills essential to college-level work. Classes will emphasize discussion and participation, facilitated by brief writing assignments and individual and group presentations. Students will also work on the mechanics of writing analytical and research papers, including structuring arguments, using textual evidence, and working with secondary sources. Students will find that the strategies of close reading, textual analysis, and argumentation that they develop in the course will have strong relevance to many other areas of study.

Students will leave the course with:

  • A detailed knowledge of an important body of literary texts
  • An awareness of the historical, social, and psychological significance of fantastic and uncanny literature
  • An awareness of several influential accounts of the role of imagination and the unconscious in human experience

At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Write incisive analytical essays about challenging works of literature
  • Effectively incorporate perspectives from critical or theoretical texts into their analyses of primary texts
  • Productively compare literary expression with other artistic media, especially painting, photography, and film

The only prerequisites are an inquiring mind and a fascination with literature.