Russia’s Literary Titans: Major Works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky
Literature of the nineteenth century is dominated by the titanic figures of the great Russian novelists Lev Tolstoy and Fedor Dostoevsky. This course is a sustained examination of their careers through reading numerous major works including their masterpiece novels. Students will gain a better understanding of the development of novelistic style and the significance of these authors’ philosophical, psychological, and narrative achievements – innovations that would be central to all future novelists.
By showing how these two writers both fought against and were complicit in burning social issues, this course shows their enduring contributions to our own discussions of protest, state oppression, and social justice
Nabokov/Platonov: Literature, Revolution, and Exile in 20th-Century Russia
Both born in 1899, at the cusp of the twentieth century, Vladimir Nabokov and Andrei Platonov were writers who would come to lead rather divergent lives and careers. Yet they both provide a portal into the intricate ways in which aesthetics and ideology intersected in the early twentieth century. Nabokov permanently left Russia at the age of twenty and spent the next two decades living and writing among the Russian emigré communities of Berlin and Paris before embarking on his career as one of the most celebrated American novelists of the century. Andrei Platonov remained in Russia and experienced some of the century’s most trying conditions for an artist. As a working Soviet author, he negotiated the fraught (and often life-threatening) demands of integrating the political context into his writings while maintaining his esoteric voice and biting perspective on the world around him. This course will read Nabokov’s and Platonov’s major writings from the 1920s and 1930s in tandem, along with a significant number of relevant contextual and critical works, in order to grasp their places within the divergent historical, political, and aesthetic forces that indelibly marked twentieth-century Russia. We will concentrate on Russian culture of the 20s and 30s with its growing encroachment of the state into the realm of literature and the arts; the entwining of governmental and cultural institutions; and the establishment of a discourse of ideologically charged aesthetics (through the proliferation of propaganda, the creation of Socialist realism as a guiding doctrine, and the promulgation of a Marxist approach to literary theory).
Business in Today’s Russia: Culture, Society, and Capitalism
In December of 1991, after seventy years of nominal socialism, Russia abruptly became a capitalist democracy. The following two decades witnessed extraordinary fortunes mades and lost and an unprecedented influx of western material culture. This course will focus on the chaotic rise of capitalist business practices in the 1990s and the nature and consequences of Russia’s ensuing prosperity. By examining Russian business through a cultural and contextual approach, we will come to understand the place of business in Russian political and social life as well its popular perception in the media and art. Topics to be covered include the privatization of property and industry; the legacies of Soviet informal and underground business practices; the significance of Russia’s natural resources; the role of oligarchs and organized crime in Russian politics and the economy; the vicissitudes of pro and anti-Western sentiment; everyday life in Russia under Yeltsin and Putin; and depictions of business in Russian literature and film.
Monsters, Loose and Tight: Exploring Russia’s Great Books
In popular perception, Russian literature of the nineteenth century is dominated by “loose, baggy monsters” – Henry James’s term for weighty novels that assail the reader with heavy ideas as well as heavy volumes. However, there are numerous slimmer works among Russia’s great books of the period. This course will examine both shorter and longer examples of significant nineteenth-century writing with the aim of better understanding what sets the two apart. We will consider what elements are essential to successful short stories and novels by contrasting these distinct forms as well as analyzing their moments of intersection. Our consideration of these texts will be placed within the framework of broader topics including the theory of the novel, the aesthetics and reception of realism, and the meaning of a literary canon.
From Tsars to Commissars: An Introduction to Russian Culture (Summer Travel Course)
There is no shortage of wonderfully strange, eccentric, mad, tragic, and heroic personalities in Russian history and culture. Through an exploration of the literary, artistic, social, and political context, this course will introduce the major aspects of Russian life and culture. By becoming acquainted with the stories of such typically Russian characters and their worlds, we will better understand Russian culture and identity. This course begins with an intensive overview of themes and works seminal in the development of Russian literature, art, history, and politics. The final three weeks of the course will be spent in Russia (primarily St. Petersburg and Moscow) where these themes will be investigated more extensively through a variety of excursions. Visits to major attractions and museums will be complemented with explorations of less accessible facets of Russia ranging from medieval fortresses to modern day NGOs.
World Literatures:Introduction to Comparative Literary Studies (Game-Changing Women Writers)
This course is centered on the ways women have been central to literature and storytelling from the very beginnings of the spoken and written word. From Sappho to Hannah Gadsby to Tracey K. Smith to Murasaki Shikibu, we will consider the mark remarkable women have left on world literature over millennia. We will be concerned with literature in its broadest sense: how it is composed, what it looks like, where there are important points of conversion even among distant lands and epochs. Our overarching goal will be the hone our ability to read and discuss complex literature.
Scandals, Disruptions, and Transgressions: European Modernist Culture
Fluid identity. Disrupted lives. Transgressing boundaries. These hallmarks of early 20th-century German and Russian culture still resonate today. Our understandings of sexuality, artistic experimentation, society, and individuality are the legacy of the modernist period.This course will examine literature, film, performing and visual arts, and everyday life in Europe from 1900-1930. Through discussion, critical and creative writing, and media, students will articulate their own ideas about German and Russian culture. Co-taught with Prof. Meagan Tripp
Connections (First-Year Seminars)
Russian Realities and Realisms (Connections 1)
From Plato’s cave to The Matrix, the question of what is real has persistently popped up for as long as humans have been making art. While describing and documenting the world around us might seem to be a fairly straightforward task, coming to terms with the idea of reality was a defining aspect of literature and culture. In this course, we will see how writers, scientists, and filmmakers struggled with creating and explaining versions of reality. Starting by defining a traditional notion of realism, we will follow the meanderings of “the real” throughout upheavals in many fundamental aspects of daily life and see how the concept of realism became destabilized. The readings will therefore explore a variety of approaches for describing the experienced world and through them we will develop new appreciations of what we understand as real. In conjunction with these readings and films this course will also place a priority on practicing and improving your writing skills (particularly formulating, developing, and supporting an argument) and prompting you to better your ability to analyze and discuss works of literature and art.
Banned Books and Jailed Writers (Connections 2)
The history of language and communication is also the history of censorship and the prohibition of expressing ideas. In considering the nature of preventing certain works and thoughts from circulating and punishing their authors, this course will touch upon questions of literary taste, political and ideological writing, blasphemy and heresy, morality, and pornography. Through primary and secondary readings and regular writing and research assignments, students will juxtapose the right of free speech with the needs of society. The goal of this course is to explore the complex social and cultural forces revealed by censorship and to understand the importance of the fights and debates provoked when books are banned. We will utilize this nuanced and multi-faceted topic to hone critical thinking skills and discuss ideas from a variety of perspectives.