What is a narrative? What might it be? How does any narrative—whether short or long, literary or cinematic—make us know, understand, and feel, or fail to know, understand, and feel things? In this course, we will examine a wide assortment of narrative forms—epics, novels, tales, short stories (written and sung), films, television programs, graphic novels, and an interactive gamebook—asking why and how stories are formed. Our concerns will include: how narratives organize (or disorganize) knowledge, time, and space; the role of voice and point of view; how different media affect the construction and interpretation of narratives; and what happens when narratives become circular, layered, multiple, reflexive, or interactive. We will also explore what happens when narration is incomplete, when a narrator lies, is repulsive, mad, dead or dying—or, as in the case of Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy,” an ape.
Films include Citizen Kane, North by Northwest, Pulp Fiction, Run Lola Run, and Memento. We will also look at episodes of The Simpsons, The Sopranos, and the out-of-order sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Readings will include Homer’s Odyssey; Grimms’ fairy tales; Shelley’s Frankenstein; short stories by Poe, Kafka, Bierce, and The Velvet Underground’s “The Gift”; Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground; an Edward Packard “Choose Your Own Adventure” gamebook; and Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus.