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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2008

E 379S • Pygmalion's Fantasy: Modeling Gender in Film and Literature

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
0 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
7:00 PM-9:30 PM
PAR 303
MEZ 1.122
Barton, S

Course Description

As part of our University-directed self-assessment project, the English Department has initiated an ePortfolio program for English majors. You will be asked to submit, in electronic form, two documents--a one page essay on the English major and a copy of your final paper for the seminar. Additionally, you will be asked to complete a brief four question survey. During the semester, you will receive details from your instructor or from the English Department on completing the survey and submitting the documents on your senior seminar's Blackboard website.

"But, with wonderful skill, he carved a figure, brilliantly, out of snow-white ivory, and gave to it exquisite beauty, no mortal woman, and fell in love with his own creation." -- Ovid's Metamorphoses (Book X)

According to the ancient Greek myth, Pygmalion could not abide the flawed women of Cyprus and set about constructing his own ideal image of femininity, modeled on the goddess Aphrodite. In contemporary Western culture, pursuit of the perfect female form persists in programs like America's Next Top Model, while weekly tabloids delight in revealing the body flaws of the stars. Rather than dismissing the myth of the ideal woman, this course will explore what makes that myth so compelling.

We will cover a selection of literary and filmic texts that, directly or indirectly, express the link between fantasy and idealized images of gender. Along the way, we will pose questions central to feminist critical inquiry: what is the significance of "perfect" femininity for each narrative? To what extent are characters changed internally, as well as externally, by their makeovers? How does the process of gendered transformation depicted in each text empower--or defeat--the "artist" and the "creation"? Why does violence so often enter into these Pygmalion narratives? How do ethnicity, class, and sexuality inform cultural fantasies of human perfection?

Much of our time will be devoted to close readings of the works on our syllabus. With our film texts, rather than studying words on a page, students will discover how visual language--e.g. camera angles, editing, lighting, setting--creates plot, character, theme, and cultural meaning. Analyses of the primary texts will be enriched by secondary readings in feminist criticism and film theory. Throughout the term, students will participate in online discussion board conversations about interesting examples of the "Pygmalion" phenomenon (in popular culture, among friends, etc.); you will develop one of your popular culture examples into a class presentation. Finally, the course will culminate in research papers. I may be amenable to less traditional final projects, depending on the needs of the student (see me to discuss this option).

Film Screenings: There will be five screenings scheduled throughout the term on Monday evenings, 7:00-9:30 PM. Attendance at these screenings is required.

Grading Policy

" Visual Analysis (3 pages): 15%
" Critical essay (3 pages): 15%
" Film Terms Test: 15%
" Paper Prospectus (1 page): CR/F
" Final paper (approx. 10-15 pages): 30%
" Classroom performance: 25% -- Includes regular class participation; submission of study questions/paragraphs; weekly contributions to our online discussion board; an informal class presentation on Pygmalion and Contemporary Culture.


Literary Texts:
Ovid, Selections from Metamorphoses [Course Packet]
Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown," "Drowne's Wooden Image," "Rappaccini's Daughter," "The Birth-Mark" [Course Packet]
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles
George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion
Nella Larson, Quicksand and Passing
Dao Strom, "Neighbors" [Course packet]
Min-jin Lee, "Free Food for Millionaires" [Course Packet]

Film Texts:
Vertigo, dir. Alfred Hitchcock (1959)
Pygmalion, dir. Anthony Asquith (1938)
Pretty Woman, dir. Garry Marshall (1990)
Paris is Burning, dir. Jennie Livingston (1991)


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