Shape-Shifters: Stories of Metamorphosis
Stories of transformation have been central to our literary traditions for thousands of years. This course will ask why we find such a basic connection between literature and unstable identities – whether these narratives of metamorphosis show humans turning to beasts, trees, or stones, or inanimate objects coming to life and taking human form. While looking closely at a range of literary examples, we’ll ask ourselves what each of these categories means, and will draw on philosophy and science to help us think about what it means to be human, or, on the other hand, to be a plant. What, moreover, is the appeal of these narratives? Why do we want to see our own identities undermined and transformed? Class readings will draw on examples from Ovid, Shakespeare, and Kafka, as well as more modern science fiction, and, finally, contemporary iterations of the theme on shows like Extreme Makeover, as we explore the enduring appeal of such narratives of transformation.