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Literature and Society

ENGL 093.920
instructor(s):
MTWR 2:40-4:15

Fulfills Distributional Course in Arts and Letters

The picaresque, with its ironic subversions, its episodic narration of the lives of losers, misfits, nonconformists, and malcontents, emerges as a valorized category in 20th century literature. Beginning with Apulelus and Cervantes and continuing to post-modern texts, we laugh at the antics of the unconventional protagonist wending his anti-heroic path of satiric destruction through culture; at the same time we are edified by the wide-open critique of society this genre subsumes. Certainly, the surreal world of the picaro forms a brilliant stage for the techniques of the post modern: magic realism, multiple viewpoints, and shifting diegetic contexts, to name several. Deceptively accessible, the picaresque shapes a vector for examining philosophical problems. In its postmodern incarnation, the picaresque addresses concerns including the role of stoicism in a consumer culture, the possibility of morality in a society that rejects religion, and an individual's search for meaning against a backdrop of nihilism by using works of philosophers like Nietzsche, Kant, and Boethius. Despite such depth, these texts remain readable, hilarious, and user-friendly. In this course, we will look at some contemporary picaresque texts as an introduction to the post-modern. We will examine three novels: A Confederacy of Dunces, The Amazing Adventures of Kavaller and Clay, and the Master and Margarita; we will compare these novels to cinematic treatments of the picaresque: Muriel's Wedding, Hedwig and Angry Inch, and Magnolia. There will be short writing assignments and a take-home final. There are two required evening film showings.