Aesthetics and Myths of Cultural Identity

Fall, 2016; Tuesdays and Thursdays; 9:30–10:50 am; Kauke 244

The course introduces world literary (and film) masterpieces that connect national literatures together in ways that enable the student to see the problematics of cultural and individual identity. The student trains to analyze and interpret the selected literary texts as elaborations of human experiences by writers and directors of different nations whose narrative works/films shape the way people imagine themselves as a nation and as in the world. Students are expected to recognize differing cultural emphases, recurring themes, conflicting values and attitudes as they compare and contrast the works that represent how people everywhere come to terms with histories and civilizations. The goal of the course is to develop a critical awareness and comparative approaches within which to interrogate and understand identities as cultural constructs and myths.

The integrity and success of the course presuppose your skills as a comparatist to

  • identify the basic structural components or forms (as opposed to content) of the text, which include the hero or protagonist, narrative points of view, plot, metaphor, symbols, allegories, genre (tragedy, comedy, satire, irony, romance, legend, folklore, myth, etc.), and of course, meaning;
  • apply theories and critical perspectives as frameworks within which to interpret and analyze individual works produced from diverse cultural traditions, and to historicise ideas and to recognize continuities as well as what is avant-garde
  • compare and contrast the ways a group of authors from very different cultural origins deal with a recurring (perennial or universal) theme across the East/West divide and first/third world divide;
  • interpret works as products of different cultural contexts and historical temporalities (periods), as attempts to call in to question privileged values and attitudes, and as answers to intellectual preoccupations of a given time;
  • discuss influence between cultures due to war, trade, migration (diaspora) that causes seismic changes and shifts in values, tastes and modes of thinking, and point out similarities (universals) and differences (particulars or specifics) in how human events are elaborated and represented.

The thematic foci for this course include but are not limited to the following:

  • humanity’s primitive passion for myth and symbol (totality)
  • humanity’s war against culture and ambivalence toward history
  • the split of modern man between his conscious values and attitudes on the one hand and the needs of the collective unconscious (primitive instincts and drives)
  • the deep anxiety and ambivalence of the modern individual to industrial civilization and mass society, and a sentimental and primitivist approach to pre-modern cultures
  • the idea of the problematic hero as representative of the quest for genuine values in a degraded world;
  • humanity’s mimetic desire as reflected in the novel
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