CSCL 3141: Classics of World Literature

3 CreditsLiterature

This will be an introduction to the concept of world literature – that is, literature from the Arab, Asian, African, Latin American and Oceanic worlds, not only the English-speaking countries of England and its former colonies. And it will introduce students to some of the basic methods of comparative literary study such as close reading, genre analysis, etymology, stylistics, and translation. We will discuss classic problems confronted within comparative literature such as collective authorship, the spirit of a people, the historical reconstruction of the past through the study of language, comparative cultural value, and the effects on language and learning prompted by technology (in the form, for example, of the “digital humanities”). We will ask how comparative literature differs from other forms of literary study, but most of all concentrate on the low-tech (but not anti-technological) reading of literary texts – the student alone with a book in their hand -- while mastering as one’s own a handful of the enduring classics of world literature – books that have influenced many generations of thinkers and writers but that, oddly, are not typically covered in any college curriculum: not in English classes, humanities introductions, or general knowledge courses. Our focus will be on books that happen both to be central to Western and world culture as part of the inheritance of its educated citizens, but also that happen to be lost at the same time, known about rather than known, invoked but not studied, quoted from but not generally understood. We will be addressing books, in other words, that deeply inspired, but also shaped the thinking of many of the scientists, artists, and scholars of the past, and which were once common knowledge – the expected points of departure for all educated men and women. In our own day, their influence has hardly waned – although not in their original form. Modern film and television industries, for instance, rely heavily on their stories, even as philosophers and theologians cannot express themselves without drawing on their characters, languages, and plots. Even the basic elements of advertising would be unthinkable without being able to draw on their repertoire of common stories, mythological settings, and cast of heroes. In an age of radical departures and brave new worlds, we are interested here in invaluable traditions, which have not lost their relevance.

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