Who am I this time? Transformations in Fiction and Film

In this course, we’ll read and watch a variety of literary art that’s been created from 1600 to the present, from a variety of countries, languages, and cultures. The questions we’ll ask will concern the fragility of the self, the way identities shift and change, the desire for truth and certainty in a changeable world, the surprises and transformations that occur in fiction and in life.

We might start by noticing that literary art often works by tricking us into becoming someone else (we say we “identify” with—that is, take on the identity of—characters in a story), even though fictional characters and their lives might be quiet alien to ours. Fictional characters that we identify with might be of a different gender or race or nationality, or born in a different time, in the past or in the future, and they might not even be human beings.

On the other hand, literature also tricks us into identifying with a character very much like us—a character in whom we “see ourselves” and “relate to.” But over the course of the story, the character might make choices very different from ones that we have made or believe that we would ever make.

So, what do we mean when we say that we “lose ourselves” in books and films that we love? Is that a good thing?

Students will write an e-letter to the class every week. The final grade will be based on the weekly e-letters, the midterm and the final: each about 30%. To get a superior grade, students will have to make significant contributions to the class discussion. Attendance is mandatory.