Catherine A. Ciepiela (Section 01)
We will read tales of rebels, deviants, dissidents, loners and losers in some of the weirdest fictions in Russian literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The writers, most of whom imagine themselves to be every bit as bizarre as their heroes, will include Kharms, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Saltykov, Sukhovo-Kobylin, Olesha, Erdman, Babel, Nabokov, Platonov, Tertz, and others. Their enigmatic masterpieces foreground the authors’ attempts to redefine the very idea of what art can do, and so to reshape the relationship between text and experience. Our goal, then, will be less to construct a canon of strangeness than to consider closely how estranged women, men, animals, and objects become the center of narrative attention. The "strangeness" of these texts--their unorthodox uses of character, motivation, plot, and genre--will help attune us to the less visible strategies of more familiar kinds of writing. Our discussions, student presentations, screenings of several films that engage with the texts we read, visits to the Mead Art Museum, the Frost Library and the Amherst Center for Russian Culture, and frequent short writing assignments, some of which will entail substantial revision of earlier work in the course, will provoke alert observation of how literary works are constructed and what effects they produce.