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The 1001 Nights in World Literature

The 1001 Nights is a global phenomenon and a literary paradox: a book born in the East yet received, transformed and made famous in the West, a book without boundaries, identifiable author, or single text, consisting of an ever-growing number of dramatically different translations; a book that epitomized Western fantasies about the East yet decisively molded the West’s politics, literature and culture. Themes include: History of the text. Framing device and narrative cycles. Translation and globalization. The making of a world literature classic. The Nights and Orientalism. The Nights and political thought: despotism; reform; feminism. The Nights and Borges: hypertext and postmodernism. In English. 

Mental States in the Novel: Proust, Woolf, Borges

In the works of Proust, Woolf, and Borges, depiction of mental states, cognitive processes and emotional experience, seems to anticipate on an intuitive level what modern cognitive science is only beginning to verify as our knowledge of brain function develops. Issues include: memory and oblivion, the ethics and aesthetics of habit, memory and the fantastic, involuntary and unconscious memory, memory and trauma, metaphor and the moment of understanding, epiphanies of the mind, deductive reasoning and detective fiction logic, creativity and everyday experience, stream of consciousness, dream and sleep, collective memory and the reframing of selfhood, etc.

Europe’s Vision of the "Orient": Encounter of Civilizations or Culture Clash?

This course explores the centuries-old web of relations built up between the East and the West, primarily Europe. The East vs. West confrontation is set up as early as Herodotus’s account of the Persian wars, and is still ideologically prevalent today. In this particular sense, Edward Said saw “the Orient” as a creation of the European mind. Focusing on a key period encompassing the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, we explore Orientalism, Europe’s vision of the “Orient”, both as a seductive dream and as a way for the West to come to terms with its own political, religious and philosophical demons, or to renew itself artistically.

Fantastic Fictions

The Fantastic is one of the many inventions of the Nineteenth century. It has been described as the creative reaction to a bourgeois, prosaic world, dominated by capitalism and rationalism, and deserted by poetry, faith and the imagination. Writers of fantastic fictions were fascinated by the parallel realities of madness, dreams and drugs. The void left by the materialistic explanations of reality became the space where a fantastic perception of reality could develop and thrive, hesitating between the real and the supernatural, in the intermediate space of the unexplained and unexplainable. Stories by Balzac, Cortázar, Dickens, Dumas, Gautier, Gogol, Hoffmann, Kafka, Maupassant, Mérimée, Edgar A. Poe, and Villiers de l’Ile-Adam. 

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Reading Proust

Through reading of four volumes of Proust’s massive masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past (Swann’s Way; Within a Budding Grove; The Captive; Time Regained), we look at some of the key issues it exemplifies, including memory and childhood; art and artists; love and sex; World War I and the Dreyfus Affair; old and new translations, and more. Close readings of Proust’s text (in English translation) are paired with some of the major critical interpretations to which it has given rise. The class is taught in English, and relies on the 3-volume Moncrieff-Kilmartin translation, with selected comparisons with the more recent Prendergast version.

The Artist in the Novel

The portrayal of artists is a favorite theme in many Nineteenth-Century stories. The gift and curse of artistic creativity, the artists’ plight in a society that does not appreciate them, the connection between genius and madness: we will explore these and other major issues in some key texts of the Western Romantic tradition that feature artists as their main characters. Texts by Balzac, Goethe, E.T.A. Hoffmann, H. Murger, Edgar A. Poe, Oscar Wilde, Emile Zola, along with some modern variations on these classic stories (J.-L. Borges, F. Kafka, M. Schwob).

Epic Heroes, Classic Texts: What is a Hero? What Is a Classic?

Few texts have been so central to Western culture as Homer’s and Virgil’s epics, and few have been so continually and passionately referenced, modernized and rewritten up to the present day. Through our reading of these ancient epics (the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid) and modern variations on these old stories (W. H. Auden, J. L. Borges, C. Cavafy, R. Frost, S. Heaney, F. Kafka, P. Levi, M. Longley, E. Pound, E. St. Vincent Millay, S. Weil, and others), we explore the changing idea of hero and heroism, and probe the notion of canonicity and foundational texts in the Western tradition, and beyond, in world literature.

Cognitive Approaches to World Literature

Cognitive neuroscience has long recognized narrative as a basic organizing principle of our minds. Storytelling is often how we make sense of the world and the most powerful fictions of world literature are ones that deepen the understanding of our experiences. This course gives a grounding in the world literary classics in the context of some of the more significant developments in cognitive neuroscience, covering such topics as consciousness, rationality, memory, trauma, addiction, emotion and gender. By reading an array of great texts of world literature through a cognitive lens, from the 1001 Nights to 1984, the course provides a new perspective on the world literary landscape and offers new patterns of meaning to bring to our everyday lives.

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Borges and/as World Literature

Harvard Institute for World Literature

Jorge Luis Borges (Buenos Aires 1899 - Geneva 1986) has become synonymous with world literature. His relatively small body of writings, widely translated beginning in the sixties, has profoundly altered the literary landscape, not only in Latin America, but also in a global context. With his signature blending of fiction and non-fiction, Borges has shaped both literature and theory in equal measure, and offers an ideal point of entry into some of the major questions of contemporary literary criticism. We focus on the ways in which Borges’s writings engage with key aspects of world literature, including translation history and theory, the dialogue with the Western canon, the legacy of Goethe’s Weltliteratur, and generic hybridity.