What do we mean when we praise a movie or a novel for its realistic portrayal of life? Have our standards for realism changed in the last 100 years? What makes novels or photographs seem realistic? When you watch "The Real World," why is a sidelong glance or a closed door meaningful, while someone’s T-shirt slogan or the meal they are cooking fades into the background? This seminar is designed to introduce students to the ways literature and media achieve the effect of realism as well as to the changing cultural significance of this concept of the real. We will begin with a nineteenth-century realist novel by George Eliot and move on to twentieth-century poetry and prose by James Joyce, Rebecca West, George Orwell, Muriel Rukeyser, Lucy Ellmann, and W.G. Sebald. We will also keep an eye on new media and genres that claim to represent the real (war photography, documentary journalism, hard-boiled cinema, reality television)and read theories of realism by Aristotle, Sigmund Freud, Eric Auerbach, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag. Course requirements will include a class presentation, 2 shorter seminar papers, and a longer final paper.