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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Fall 2004

T C 603A • Composition and Reading in World Literature

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
42130 MWF
12:00 PM-1:00 PM
MEZ 1.118

Course Description

"World literature" is a concept all too often associated with dusty tomes imposed upon readers because they represent "classics" and "eternal values." This course will take on the idea of "world literature" from a very different perspective: considering world literature as a set of texts that continue to resonate with authors, readers, adapters, translators, and filmmakers because of their rich appeal to issues that recur across many cultures. This course will, in consequence, present world literature as literature worth rewriting and adapting; it will take works that have been read and readapted for new audiences, to investigate why they were presumed to or able to catch the imaginations of new publics. Taking up comparisons between originals and their adaptations will show that, regardless of major or minor literatures, political positions, ethnic origins, or religious orientations, what was taken from the original text offers a true afterlife of the classics, whether rewritten as poem or play, novel or film, comic book or essay. That afterlife can take different forms. In the case of The Iliad, for example, the recent translation of Robert Fagles, heralded as superior to extant translations, reflects how different times and audiences think about war, political violence, and heroism. No wonder, then, that two films based on the Trojan War are epic blockbusters: virtually all war stories draw on the characters, tropes, and descriptive power of the original, which still speaks very clearly about personal and political vagaries.

Classic works can provide more than basic themes and plots. Rochester’s mad wife in Jane Eyre, for example, becomes the outsider and victimized child-bride of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Odysseus becomes Nemo (nobody) in his encounter with the Cyclops, a meeting with an alien landscape that finds its parallel in works such as Derek Walcott's Omeros or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man-- epic journeys of individual "no-bodies" who survive and reveal true culture. Whereas Miller’s play The Crucible looks at what fear mongering can do to a community, Maryse Conde’s short novel I, Tituba examines events from the perspective of an outsider, a slave caught in the maelstrom of those events. Sometimes relationships among classical texts become seminal for other disciplines. Oedipus Rex and Hamlet, for example, both deal with kings and their sons as sagas of royal families. Freud’s view of Oedipus, however, changed that relationship into a psychological, sexually based one rather than a fated conflict (Sophocles) or a tragedy of indecision (Shakespeare). Dante’s Divine Comedy has become determining in depictions of heaven and hell in the pictorial arts as well as in literature. These texts will be read or viewed as exercises in identifying and tracing the after-lives of the classics, as a discovery process about how classic sources have modified and where their influences are realized. In addition to the sample texts compared in class, students will do research on a text of world literature in an area of their choice (history, literature, film, visual arts). Class projects will focus on how to identify and talk about such target/source relationships within a context of a critical tradition still alive for writers and readers.

Grading Policy

Research Plan 10% Abstract 10% Statement--why a rewriting? 10% Research findings 10% Exemplifications 10% Oral Presentation 10% Final paper (initial/final draft) 40%


Sophocles, Oedipua Rex Shakespeare, Hamlet Homer, The Iliad Homer, The Odyssey Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man Derek Walcott, Omeros Dante, The Divine Comedy Arthur Miller, The Crucible Maryse Conde, I Titulus Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea Selected essays: Freud, Nietzsche, Marx


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