Due to COVID19, MIT Literature Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 subject offerings will be taught virtually.
To find subjects taught in previous semesters, you may also look at the archived Literature Supplements.

Fall 2021 Literature Supplement / Posters IAP 2022 Spring 2021 Literature Supplement / Posters
Show Descriptions


21L.000[J] Writing About Literature: Section 1
Wyn Kelley MW 10:00 - 11:30 4-253

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-HW

Students, scholars, bloggers, reviewers, fans, and book-group members write about literature, but so do authors themselves. Through the ways they engage with their own texts and those of other artists, writers reflect on and inspire questions about the creative process. We will examine Mary Shelley’s shaping of Frankenstein (1818) from the dark materials of Milton’s Paradise Lost, German fairy tales, tales of scientific discovery, and her husband’s poems; Melville’s redesign of a nautical travel adventure into a Gothic novella in Benito Cereno (1856); and Alison Bechdel’s rewriting of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) in her graphic novel Fun Home (2006).

21L.000[J] Writing About Literature: Section 2
Sandy Alexandre TR 2:00 - 3:30 4-144

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-HW

How do elements of surprise in a work of fiction make us more aware of our position as readers? What can those elements of surprise teach us about ourselves? Can a shift in how we read texts inside the classroom reverberate through our experiences with processing reading materials outside of the classroom? If these surprises help to breathe new life into our reading experiences, then how exactly do they do that? In this course, we will attempt to answer these questions by exploring at least three different ways in which the element of surprise can take shape: Through 1. plot twists; 2. story endings; and 3. experiments with narrative style. The texts for the class may include the following: Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno,” some poems by Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein’s “Melanctha,” William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, three short stories by Flannery O’Connor, Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif,” Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense, and Ian McEwan’s Atonement.

21L.003 Reading Fiction: Section 1 MW 2:00 - 3:30 56-162

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

An introduction to the varieties of prose narrative: from fairy tales to short stories and novels. What makes a story different from a simple piece of information? What happens to stories and storytelling when we move from an anonymous oral tradition to written literature? How is the art of fiction related to its developing historical context? We will examine a spectrum of fictional modes, from the documentary realist to the expressionist and allegorical. Authors to be studied include Austen, Gogol, Poe, Dickens, Chekhov, Joyce, Woolf, and Flannery O’Connor.

21L.003 Reading Fiction: Section 2 Ina Lipkowitz TR 9:30 - 11:00 14N-112

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Fiction: late 14c., “something invented,” from L. fictionem, “a fashioning or feigning,” from L. fingere” to shape, form, devise, feign,” originally “to knead, form out of clay.”

So what is fiction? Something invented or something formed out of clay—or out of one’s life, one’s historical moment, or even someone else’s fiction? In this class, we’ll consider what fiction is, the difference between historical truth and fictional truth, and have fun looking at some of the many ways writers have formed their fictions out of the materials at hand. Authors might include: E.M. Forster, Jhumpa Lahiri, Mary Shelley, Kazuo Ishiguro, Tim O’Brien, Toni Morrison, Kate Chopin, Jon Krakauer, Edgar Allan Poe, & Arthur Conan Doyle.

21L.004 Reading Poetry: Section 1 Noel Jackson MW 3:30 - 5:00 5-231

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

An introduction to poetry in English, chiefly by British and American poets. We will explore the Renaissance, Romanticism, and Modernism in particular detail. Though the organization of the subject is chronological, our focus will be less on names and dates than on cultivating skills in careful reading and effective writing. Poets to be read may include Shakespeare, Sidney, Wordsworth, Keats, Dickinson, Frost, Eliot, and Elizabeth Bishop. Special course-related events (readings, lectures, film screenings) will take place on selected evenings throughout the term. Regular classroom hours will be reduced in the weeks for which special events are scheduled.

21L.004 Reading Poetry: Section 2 TR 12:30 - 2:00 4-144

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

An introduction to British and American poetry from the Renaissance to the present day. We will consider what is meant by the classical, the romantic, and the modern in poetry. Poets to be studied include Shakespeare, Donne, Marvell, Wordsworth, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats, Eliot, Lowell, and Bishop. Emphasis is on close reading together with consideration of historical context.

21L.008[J] Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies: Language and linguistics as technologies for domination or liberation—case studies from the Caribbean, especially Haiti
24.912[J], 21H.106[J], 21W.741[J], WGS.190[J]
Michel Degraff TR 1:00 - 2:30 56-167

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-A/H, CI-H

This subject examines a succession of pivotal events that came to define Haiti and its Caribbean neighbors, in which language was often used as “technology for domination or liberation.” Haiti will serve as a starting point for larger questions regarding Africa and the African diaspora, especially in the Caribbean. One such question is: What do theories about languages (and cultures) of the Caribbean reveal about the making of race- and class-related hierarchies of power throughout the world? Attending to linguistic usages, we will also touch upon education, history, music, religion, literature, etc., to examine how theories and concomitant attitudes about Caribbean languages (and cultures) have shaped, and have been shaped by, global events through struggle, rebellion, critique, and innovation.

21L.009 Shakespeare: Global Shakespeare in Performance Peter S. Donaldson TR 3:30 - 5:00 16-676

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

We will focus on three or four plays by Shakespeare, drawn from different genres. Close reading of the texts will be accompanied by examining how they have been adapted and performed around the world, on film and in theatre. Students will watch different versions of the plays chosen, reflecting upon how staging them in different ways and contexts changes our understanding of the texts and their cultural impact. We may also attend one or more theatrical performances, depending on what is available in the Boston area in the Spring semester. Plays selected will probably include: Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Tempest.

21L.011 Introduction to Film Studies Marty Marks T 3:30 - 5:00 4-270
Film Screening T 7:00-10:00pm 4-270
Recitation 1 R 3:00-4:00 56-180
Recitation 2 R 3:00-4:00 56-191
Recitation 3 R 4:00-5:00 56-180
Recitation 4 R 4:00-5:00 56-191

Prereq: none
3-3-6 HASS-A, CI-H

Almost every one likes some kinds of movies. The Film Experience should help you understand the why and the how of your responses. The class offers a rigorous approach to film studies, concentrating on close analysis and criticism.  Students will learn basic technical vocabulary for analyzing cinematic narrative, camera work, editing, and sound. Using this vocabulary, they will develop critical methods for turning close analysis into interpretations and comparative readings of films. Along the way, various theoretical approaches to cinema studies will be introduced. The key goal is to move from an appreciation for the surface pleasures of cinema into a deeper understanding of how films construct meanings, both explicit and implicit.

We will study a wide range of works, culled from different national traditions and genres. The latter will include romantic comedy, the musical, the western, the thriller, and/or film noir. Directors will include several, though not all, of the following leading figures: Coppola, De Sica, Eisenstein, Fahrhadi, Fellini, Ford, Godard, Hawks, Hitchcock, Huston, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Lang, Malick, Minnelli, Polanski, Preminger, Sturges, Tarantino, Truffaut, Varda, Welles, Woo, and/or Zhang. Readings will be drawn from the works of a wide range of film theorists and historians, as well as portions of the latest edition of Film Art, a textbook by Bordwell and Thompson.

Format: one 90-minute lecture, one evening screening, and one discussion hour per week.

21L.012 Forms of Western Narrative TR 11:00 - 12:30 4-253

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

“Once upon a time…” This course tells a story about stories themselves—how and why they appear and endure across different eras and formats. We’ll consider a range of narratives, from classical through contemporary, and their genres and media, from oral performance through fairy tales, novels, short stories, film, and comics. Several questions will help guide us: What’s the point of narratives, anyway? What conventions do they establish? What subversions do they invite? And how and why do some of them get retold, refashioned, or repurposed? Topics likely covered include beginnings, narrators (reliable, unreliable, multiple, absent), plot, time (and time travel), media history, metanarrative, voice, childhood (and parenting), authorship, the role of the reader, and happy/unhappy endings. Readings by some or all of: Homer, Cervantes, the Grimm brothers, Mary Shelley (Frankenstein likely will be a central text), Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Franz Kafka, Mikhail Bulgakov, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, Jon Stone (The Monster at the End of This Book), Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, and Twitter fiction writers, as well as films such as The Usual Suspects, Groundhog Day, and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

21L.014 Introduction to Ancient and Medieval Studies
Arthur Bahr, Will Broadhead, Eric Goldberg MW 1:00-2:00 4-261
Recitation 1 Eric Goldberg T 11:00-12:00 56-180
Recitation 2 Will Broadhead R 12:00-1:00 56-154
Recitation 3 Arthur Bahr R 1:00-2:00 56-154

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Interdisciplinary and comparative investigation of the Roman empire of Augustus, the Frankish empire of Charlemagne, and the English empire in the age of the Hundred Years’ War. Focuses on how large, multi-ethnic empires were created, sustained, legitimated, and contested through conquest, government, literature, art, and economic organization. Students examine different types of evidence, read across a variety of disciplines, and develop skills to identify continuities and changes in ancient and medieval societies.

21L.018 Introduction to English Literature: Comedy, Irony, Satire, Farce, and Silly Walks Stephen Tapscott MW 3:30 - 5:00 4-146

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

Readings in British Literature, chiefly (but not exclusively) from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Studies how modes of verbal and visual humor inform ideologies, construct social identities, mock deviants and encourage deviance, tell the truth and expel the truth-teller, topple monarchs and enforce social order.

Satire! Irony! Farce! Parody! Silly walks! Performance art!

Including works by: Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, William Hogarth, William Blake, Jane Austen, Robert Browning, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, Samuel Beckett, W. H. Auden, Barbara Pym, Lucian Freud, Phillip Larkin, Tom Stoppard, Sue Townsend, John Cleese and the Monty Python Troupe, Jeanette Winterson, Tracy Emin, and Bansky.

21L.021 Comedy: Film, Drama, Literature Alvin Kibel TR 9:30-11:00 4-257

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-H

This class considers comedy in drama, narrative, and film spanning more than 2000 years, drawing examples from narrative or dramatic works of literature and pairing them as well as we can with examples drawn from film. We will investigate the romantic comedy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Howard Hawks’s film, Bringing Up Baby; study the comedy of humors in Moliere’s The Misanthrope and Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day; try to understand the uneasy relationships between farce and romantic love in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Billy Wilder’s film Some Like It Hot; analyze the comedy of the grotesque in Rabelais’s Gargantua and Carl Reiner’s film All of Me; look into the workings of satire in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove; consider the anarchy of screwball comedy in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part I and the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup. We will touch upon the connections between violence and redemptive humor, satire and festivity, while noting certain fundamentals: an interest in the body as object and source of rebellious pleasure; a pattern of transgression against social norms corrected and reordered through laughter; a fascination with the possibilities and limits of verbal play; a concern with real and mistaken identity; an opportunity for political protest and social reform. As the class develops, we will note the ways writers appropriate and reshape comic plots and structures from the past for new uses, and we will read and discuss philosophic investigations of the sources of comic effect in works by Aristotle, Henri Bergson, Sigmund Freud, Northrop Frye, and others.


21L.310 Bestsellers: True Gothic Wyn Kelley MW 3:30-5:00 66-148

Prereq: none
2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit; first half of term

This half-term subject will meet once a week for the first half of the term to spring break.

What makes your blood curdle? This class will examine a wide range of Gothic fictions by women authors like Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, the Brontes, Jean Rhys, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, and Sarah Waters, with particular attention to the social conditions and literary artistry that produced this body of work.

21L.315 Prizewinners: Nobelistas Wyn Kelley MW 3:30-5:00 66-148

Prereq: none
2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit; first half of term

This half-term seminar meets one night a week starting immediately after spring break.

Would you have given these women writers the Nobel Prize in Literature? Alice Munro, Herta Muller, Doris Lessing, Elfriede Jelinek, Toni Morrison, and Nadine Gordimer are among the relatively small number of female Nobelists in the last century. We’ll talk about the history of the prize, sample their work, and consider the influence of the prize on their careers and reputations.

21L.320 Big Books: Reading Paradise Lost Mary C. Fuller T 7:00 - 8:30pm 14N-325

Prereq: none
2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit

Overturn the government. Invent your own belief system. Go blind. Then rewrite “Genesis,” and reimagine the origins of everything: culture, knowledge, gender, human beings, and the universe. That’s the story behind John Milton’s Paradise Lost: the greatest epic poem written in English.

The focus of the class will be on reading and discussion of Milton’s text. We will also use and interact with supporting materials generated by students in the concurrent subject, Literature from Anywhere: an Engineer’s Guide to “Paradise Lost” (21L.S88). Work will include frequent, informal writing, leading discussions, one or two short quizzes, and user feedback on the Engineer’s Guide materials.

21L.325 Small Wonders: Use and Abuse of the Fairy Tale William Donaldson TR 9:30 - 11:00 4-253

Prereq: none
2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit

This half-term subject will meet twice a week for the first half of the term to spring break.

This course will take a brief look at a big subject, beginning with the question: where do Fairy Tales come from? We will consider global distribution; movement from China to Middle East to Europe and back again, and go on to survey the work of the most famous of the collectors: the Brothers Grimm. How did they set about their task? Who did they collect from? How did they present their findings? Can we rely on what they tell us? We look at the structure of Fairy Tales, and the seminal work of Vladimir Propp on their deep roots in oral tradition. Then we consider meaning. Are Fairy Tales just for children, or do they have some deeper, perhaps darker, meaning? We consider Freudian interpretations by Bruno Bettelheim from his book The Uses of Enchantment. Then follow two case studies of the abuse of Fairy Tales: firstly by the Nazis in 1930s Germany; secondly, by Walt Disney in the famous series of animated movies starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937. Detailed study of two modern literary texts complete the course: the poem sequence “The Grimm Sisters” (1981) by Liz Lochhead and short stories by Angela Carter from her collection The Bloody Chamber and other stories (1979).


21L.430 Popular Culture and Narrative: The Sixties
M 7:00 - 10:00pm 4-145

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H; Can be repeated for credit

We will examine various forms of American popular narrative in the 1960s, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, film, animation, art, and music. Works to be studied include novels by writers such as Vonnegut, Roth, Pynchon, Heller, and Kesey; music by Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and other singer-songwriters; and art by Andy Warhol and other “Pop” artists. We will also look at nonfiction bestsellers of the ’60s by Wolfe, Capote, and Thompson and innovations in film and animation (Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Dr. Strangelove, Bonnie and Clyde, MASH, and Easy Rider).

21L.435 Literature and Film: Shakespeare, Film and Video
Peter S. Donaldson T 7:00 - 10:00pm 16-676

Prereq: One subject in Literature or Comparative Media Studies
3-3-6 HASS-H; Can be repeated for credit

Filmed Shakespeare began in 1899, with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree performing the death scene from King John followed by Sarah Bernhardt in the duel scene for the Paris Exposition of 1900. In the era of silent film, several hundred Shakespeare films were made: even without the spoken word, Shakespeare was popular in the new medium. The first half-century of sound included many of the most highly regarded Shakespeare films, among them—Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet and Henry V; Orson Welles’ Othello and Chimes at Midnight; Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood; Polanski’s Macbeth; Kozintsev’s Hamlet and King Lear; and Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. Another extremely rich and varied period for Shakespeare on film began with the release of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V in 1989 and includes such films as Richard Loncraine’s Richard III, Julie Taymor’s Titus, Zeffirelli and Almereyda’s Hamlet films, Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, and Shakespeare in Love. This period has also seen an extraordinary growth of films as well as theatrical performances of Shakespeare in Asia and other regions of the world, including India (Maqbool, Omkara), East Asia (major work in theater now available by directors such as Ong Keng Sen, Yukio Ninagawa, the Ryutopia Company, Wu Hsing-kuo), and many others.

Shakespeare on film and video raises many questions for literary and media studies about adaptation, authorship, the status of “classic” texts and their variant forms, the role of Shakespeare in popular culture, the transition from manuscript, book, and stage to the modern medium of film and its recent digitally enhanced forms, and the implications of global production and distribution of Shakespeare on film in the digital age.

This term we will emphasize international films and performance videos from Russia, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore, along with British and American works.

21L.451 Literary Theory: Feeling in Theory Noel Jackson MW 1:00 - 2:30 4-146

Prereq: none
3-0-9 HASS-H

The fields of aesthetics and literary theory have long concerned themselves with the question of how artworks move us and with the subject of literary or artistic experience most broadly. This subject will examine how aesthetic critics (from ancient Greeks to nineteenth-century Europeans) and literary theorists of the 20th and 21st centuries theorize the body and feeling in relation to texts and practices of reading. Along the way we will read some major exponents of reader-response theory; post-structuralism; historicism; psychoanalysis; cultural criticism; and media theory. This subject aims to acquaint you with some major modes of evaluation and interpretation by literary critics of the past and present.

21L.485 Modern Fiction TR 3:30 - 5:00

Prereq: One subject in Literature
3-0-9 HASS-H

This class considers representative novels and short stories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A chief concern will be what is meant by the notion of the “modern,” and how this historical question—presupposing a crisis of tradition—impacts the literary work’s form and content, its mode of narration, and its conception of character. What is the role of mimesis (realistic rendering of the human) in modern fiction, with its imperative of experiment? Authors to be studied include Chopin, James, Chekhov, Conrad, Lawrence, Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Mann, Forster, Woolf, and Faulkner. 21L.485 and 21L.285 when offered concurrently; students taking the 12-unit version (21L.485) complete additional assignments.

21L.504[J] Race and Identity in American Literature: Revolutionaries
Sandy Alexandre R 7:00 - 10:00pm 14N-325

Prereq: Permission of instructor
3-0-9 HASS-H; Can be repeated for credit

What can stories by and about the so-called “game changers” of America’s history of race relations teach us about how to change the world today? What are the various kinds of difficulties that one can expect to encounter in attempting to make the world a better place to live in, and how does the structure of a work of literature complement and supplement those real-life encounters with conflict, revelation, and turning points? How can a revolutionary’s life story—real or even fictionalized—serve as a blue print for a reader’s action in the real world? These are some of the questions that we will attempt to answer as we analyze the following readings during the course of the term: James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain, Malcom X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Audre Lorde’s Zami, Angela Davis’s An Autobiography, Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw, songs by Janelle Monae, and several of the writings from the anthology titled This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color.

International Literatures

21L.640[J] The New Spain: 1977-Present
Margery Resnick TR 1:00-2:30 14E-310

Prereq: One intermediate subject in Spanish or permission of instructor
3-0-9 HASS-H

This course examines the vast changes in Spanish life that emerged during the transition to democracy that followed Franco’s death in 1975. We will focus on the new freedom from censorship: cinema, literature—including fiction and theater—educational reforms, the reemergence of movements for regional autonomy, and changes in daily life: gender roles, work, and family that accompanied this transition. Course materials include documentaries, a telenovela, as well as DVDs produced in Spain that chronicle the Transición from dictatorship to democracy. The class uses the Spanish newspaper, El País, to discuss the way contemporary Spaniards view their own and international politics. In March, each student chooses a topic to research throughout the semester. The topics can include any theme of the course that is of special interest. The final project for the class will be based on that research and will be presented in class and in writing. The class is conducted in Spanish and all the readings, with the exception of Giles Tremlett’s history of the transition, are in Spanish.


21L.703 Studies in Drama: Stoppard and Company Diana Henderson TR 3:00 - 4:30 8-119

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

Taking as its starting point the works of one of today’s most respected, prolific—and funny— dramatists, this seminar will explore a wide range of knowledge in fields such as math, philosophy, politics, history, and art. The careful reading and discussion of plays by (Sir) Tom Stoppard and some of his most compelling contemporaries (including Caryl Churchill, Howard Barker, Tony Kushner, and Anna Deveare Smith) will allow us to time-travel and explore other cultures. Some will report on earlier plays that influenced these writers, others will research everything from Dadaism to the poetry of Lord Byron, from seventeenth-century antiquarianism to 1970s feminism, from the Battle of Lepanto to the bridges of Konigsberg. Employing a variety of critical approaches (both theoretical and theatrical) we will consider what post-modernity means, as applied to these plays. In the process, we will analyze how drama connects with both the culture it represents and that which it addresses in performance. We will also consider the wit and verbal energy of these contemporary writers…not to mention how Fermat’s theorem, futures trading, and chaos theory become the stuff of stage comedy.

21L.704 Studies in Poetry: "Word Over All": Walt Whitman and World Poetry Stephen Tapscott, Marja Roholl M 7:00 - 10:00pm 14N-112

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

A seminar in which we read a swatch of Walt Whitman’s poems and then follow how his reputation has spread across the world. We consider why he’s a heterosexual hero to New York women in 1890, a gay hero to Oscar Wilde in 1895, a nationalist patriot in Russia in the 1920s, a communist sympathizer in America’s Dust Bowl in the 1930s, an Incan stone-cutter in Peru in the 1940s, a mystic in Buenos Aires, and a dirty old man in Berkeley. Several short papers and presentations. Enrollment strictly limited to 12 students.

Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Mann, William Carlos Williams, Anna Akhmatova, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, John Steinbeck, Allen Ginsburg, and Grace Paley.

21L.705 Major Authors: Old English and Beowulf Arthur Bahr TR 7:00 - 8:30pm 14N-112

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

Hwæt we Gar-Dena in gear-dagum þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon…. Those are the first words of the Old English epic Beowulf, and in this class you will learn to read them.

Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon) is a language of long, cold, and lonely winters; of haunting beauty found in unexpected places; and of unshakable resolve in the face of insurmount-able odds. It is, in short, the perfect language for MIT students. (It is also the language of the people of Rohan in the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the twentieth century’s most influential Anglo-Saxonists.) We will read not just excerpts from the great Beowulf but also heartrending laments (The Wanderer, The Wife’s Lament), an account of the Crucifixion as narrated by the Cross itself (The Dream of the Rood), and a host of riddles whose solutions are variously obscene, sacred, and everyday but always ingenious. We will also try our hand at composing our own sentences—and maybe even poems—in Old English.

21L.706 Studies in Film: American Film Genres
Alvin Kibel TR 12:30 - 2:30 2-103

Prereq: 21L.011, one subject in Literature or Comparative Media Studies; or permission of instructor
3-3-6 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

This seminar in film explores elements of cinematic texts—and two in particular, misen-scène (the setting of action in time and space, the background landscape, the lighting, the decor, the placement of camera) and story or plot-line—in order to determine what makes a film an instance or version of a film of a particular kind, all of whose members discernibly expressing the same underlying narrative pattern despite differences in narrative details. Since each genre is adept at communicating a particular view of reality, classification by kinds is not an empty academic exercise. Discrimination of genre is implicit in understanding film narrative, as it is in understanding narratives of any kind—why the actions of the characters make sense and what they mean in relation to lived experience.

To get a handle on generic similarity, we will begin with two films which would seem to have the same kind of overt narrative premise and which yet do not belong to the same genres (as, say, a movie with all the trappings and plot-devices of science-fiction can have closer affinities to Westerns than to other Science-Fiction movies) and then move on to examine several popular American genres, such as Westerns, Detective Films, Screwball Comedies, Gangster movies, Romances, and also a nameless genre: films about the relation of the cinematic medium to reality. Directors whose films will be examined include Buster Keaton, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, John Ford, Francis Ford Coppola, Leo McCarey, John Houston, Roman Polanski, and Clint Eastwood. In addition to viewing films, we will also read some literary or dramatic texts or portions thereof to compare the treatment of similar narrative patterns in two different media, and we will take a glance at some theory of narrative—not just film narrative—as well.

21L.707 Problems in Cultural Interpretation: Reading Cookbooks: From The Forme of Cury to The Smitten Kitchen Ina Lipkowitz TR 11:30 - 1:00 4-146

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature or permission of instructor
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

How do literature, philosophy, film and other arts respond to the profound changes in world view and lifestyle that mark the twentieth century? This course considers a broad range of works from different countries, different media, and different genres, in exploring the transition to a decentered “Einsteinian” universe in the early decades of the century as well as later on. We will examine works by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the painter Paul Cézanne, the composer Arnold Schoenberg, the writers Kate Chopin, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Franz Kafka, the film directors Fritz Lang, Jean Cocteau, and Federico Fellini, and others.

Special Subjects and Topics

21L.S88 Special Subject in Literature: Literature From Anywhere: An Engineer's Guide To Milton's Paradise Lost Mary C. Fuller TBA TBA TBA

Prereq: Permission of instructor
Units arranged; Can be repeated for credit

This experimental subject combines a short, intensive seminar segment held during IAP with a longer segment that will meet only virtually. This semester, the class will focus on John Milton’s Paradise Lost (see 21L.320).

Class begins in week 2 of Sp14, picking up where the IAP course left off (refer to IAP website for details). During the next nine weeks of the semester, students will progress through reading the rest of Paradise Lost. Each week’s reading will be introduced by a short video, followed by online office hours (archived for reference). Participants will synthesize and record their questions and understandings about the text and produce materials for use and comment by on-­- campus students in 21L.320, Big Books: Reading Paradise Lost. Materials might include: video or audio recording of a key passage being read out loud; written or recorded commentary; storyboards of key scenes or plot segments; a wiki of FAQs and useful resources. The process will include feedback and discussion among the group and with the course TA before materials are “published” to the 21L.320 group.

The final four weeks of the semester will be devoted to a reflective project in the form of a short video organized around two questions: What was most important for you from the process of reading and engaging with this poem? How would you explain and teach it to others?