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C LIT 250 A: Introduction To Comparative Literature: Literature And Culture


Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 10:30am - 11:20am
SMI 304
Barbara J Henry

Syllabus Description:

Required reading:

We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, trans. by Natasha S. Randall. Modern Library paperback,

            New York, 2006. ISBN 0-8129-7462 X ($14.00)

The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Constance Garnett, Dover

            Publications, Mineola NY, 2004. ISBN 978-0-486-43409-4 ($3.44, from

            Amazon; Kindle edition $0.99)

Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society, and the Imagination, by

            Rosalind Williams, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2008 (2nd edition). ISBN 978-0-262-

            73190-4 (Retail $21.95, $13.91 at Amazon)


Coursepack available at Rams Copy Center, 4144 University Way (tel. 632-6630)


Week 1: Initiation

Jan 5: Introductions

Jan 6: So You Want to Visit the Underworld

Jan 7: Folktales: “Three Kingdoms” (Три царства – Медное, серебряное, и золотое, 128 ) and “Vasilisa the Beautiful” (Василиса Прекрасная, 104) (COURSEPACK)

Jan 8: Robert Graves, “The Gods of the Underworld,” from Greek Myths, 119-123


Written assignment 1: Draw a map of your personal underworld. What's there, and why is it there? On a separate sheet, discuss why you've included the sites that you have. Is your map very different from the one outlined by Graves?


Week 2 : Initiation 2

Jan 12  Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940), A Country Doctor’s Notebook   (Записки юного врача, 1925-27) (COURSEPACK) “The Steel Windpipe” (Стальное горло), “Baptism by Rotation” (Крещение поворотом).

Jan 13  A Country Doctor’s Notebook, “The Blizzard” (Вьюга), “Egyptian Darkness” (Тьма египетская)  “The Speckled Rash” (Звездная сыпь)

Jan 14  Bulgakov, A Country Doctor’s Notebook,

 “The Embroidered Towel” (Полотенце с петухом),  “The Vanishing Eye” (Пропавший глаз)

(Записки юного врача)

Jan 15 Bulgakov, A Country Doctor’s Notebook, “Morphine” (Морфий)


Week 3 Wisdom


Jan 20 Vergil (70 BCE-19 BCE), The Aeneid Book 6 (29-19 BCE) (COURSEPACK) 

Jan 21 Mary H. K. Choi, "Korean Thanksgiving,"  (November, 2013)

Jan 22 Meet the Ancestors

Written assignment 2: See the coursepack for specific guidelines & links for this assignment

Trace your family history back two generations or more (to your grandparents, more if you can).  Think about where your family came from, what kind of occupations and experiences they’ve had, and how these experiences influence you, the choices that you have, and the decisions you make about your own life. Is family a form of destiny? Can we escape the past, or are we, like Aeneas, forever linked with those who came before us, and those who follow?


Week 4 Redemption

Jan 26 Plato, “The Story of Er” from The Republic, 388-97 (COURSEPACK)

Jan 27 Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), The House of the Dead (Записки из мертвого дома, 1861), pp. 1-78, Ch. I (Introduction) through VI (The First Month)

Jan 28 Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead, pp. 78-160, Ch. VII (New Acquaintances - Part II, through Ch. II, The Hospital)

Jan 29 Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead, pp. 160-end (Part II, Ch. III, The Hospital - How I Left Prison)

Written assignment 3: Which features does Dostoevsky's underworld share with the others with which you're familiar, and which are unique to his work?


Week 5 Redemption

Feb 2 Dante’s Inferno: The Graphic Novel  PDF IS ON CANVAS SITE

Feb 3 Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)

Feb 4 Groundhog Day

Feb 5 Groundhog Day

Written assignment 4: What place does comedy have in the underworld story? Why are underworld narratives often as funny as they are horrifying?


Week 6 Madness & Grief

Feb 9 Allie Brosh, (b. 1985) Hyperbole & a Half

Reading: “The God of Cake”:,

“The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas”:

“Wild Animal. Simple Dog Goes for a Joy Ride”

Feb 10 Hyperbole & a Half: Adventures in Depression I & II

Feb 11 The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005)

Feb 12 The Descent


Week 7 It’s Different for Girls


Feb 17 The Descent

Feb 18 The Rape of Persephone, from Classical Mythology, by A. R. Moncrieff, and “Prince Danila-Govorila” (Князь Данила-Говорила, 114), "Inanna (Ishtar)," from Mythology: Voyage of the Hero, David Adams Leeming (COURSEPACK)

Written assignment 5: Why is violence so much a part of the female underworld descent?

Feb 19 "Orpheus and Eurydice,” from Classical Mythology (COURSEPACK)

Week 8 Modernity

Feb 23 Sarah Ruhl, Eurydice (COURSEPACK)

Feb 24 Notes on the Underground, Rosalind Williams, Ch. 1-4

Written assignment 6: Print up an image of "artificial infinitude," and explain why it qualifies as such. Please also upload the image to the Canvas site. Images must be uploaded by 2 pm.

Feb 25 Underworlds of our own making: the labyrinth

"Theseus," from Classical Myths that Live Today and "Heracles" from Mythology: Voyage of the Hero (COURSEPACK)

Feb 26 Walking tour of the U District.  Meet in our classroom as usual, and we’ll begin our descent from there.

Reading:  Jan Gehl, “Life Between Buildings," from Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space (COURSEPACK)


Week 9

Mar 2 Notes on the Underground, Rosalind Williams, Ch. 5-7

Mar 3 Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937), “On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters” (О литературе, революции, энтропии и прочем, 1923) (COURSEPACK)

Mar 4 Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (Мы, 1921) Records 1-19, pp. 3-100

Mar 5 We, Records 20-40, pp. 101-203


Week 10

Mar 9 The Communist Manifesto (1848), by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895)

Written assignment 7: Discuss a contemporary example of the workplace as hell.  It may be a film, a song, a news article or anything else.  What are the characteristics of workplace hells?

Mar 10 Sweatshop as Hell: Film: Made in LA (Almudena Carracedo, 2007)


Mar 11 Made in LA

Mar 12 Final thoughts, discussion of final projects

Additional Details:

C LIT 250 Listed with Russ 210/Engl 242 F

Underworlds are both real and metaphoric: subways and coalmines, Hades and Hell, criminal subcultures, political undergrounds, horror-movie basements and windowless office cubicles. Stories of these underworlds address the most profound questions of our lives: what happens after we die?  Where do we come from? Where are we going? What are our responsibilities to our world, each other, ourselves? This class looks at works of art and literature from Russia, the US, and Europe, set in many different underworlds, which intersect with and shape our perceptions of the world around us today. You will learn to recognize the mythic underworld and understand how it functions not only in art, but in your own life.

Catalog Description: 
Study of literature in its relation to culture. Focuses on literature as a cultural institution, directly related to the construction of individual identity and the dissemination and critique of values.
Department Requirements Met: 
Pre-req to Declare Literature Major
GE Requirements Met: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
April 28, 2016 - 9:20am