Graduate courses in Russian literature and topics related to Russian are offered through the Comparative Literature Program.
Recent Graduate Courses
Russian Literary Theory: Formalism, Bakhtin, Ginzburg, Lotman
Professor Emily Van Buskirk
Prof. Emily Van Buskirk
Novel Theories, Tutor Texts - Spring 2021
Prof. Chloë Kitzinger , Russian & East European Languages & Literatures
In an essay in his 1929 collection On the Theory of Prose, the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky called Laurence Sterne’s narrative-bending Tristram Shandy (1759–67) “the most typical novel in world literature.” Shklovsky’s provocation was intentional, but the questions it raises endure. How do choices about what is “typical” — a text, an author, a national literature, or a genre — shape the development of literary theories? What scope can any theory claim beyond the text(s) and readings through which it is articulated; conversely, how and why do single texts give rise to many theories? With the challenges to the limits of canons themselves articulated throughout the later 20th century, and the more recent rise of “distant reading,” what can we still do with theories that spring from interpretations of individual authors and works?
Beginning from this complex of questions, the seminar focuses on the place of what Roland Barthes called “tutor texts” in the theory of the novel, from its modern inception in the early 20th century to its many permutations today. Beginning with a discussion of two self-conscious origin-points of novel theory and the examples on which they are built (Georg Lukács’s The Theory of the Novel [1914–16], and Henry James’s Prefaces to the New York Edition of his novels [1907-9]), we will continue through a progression of “tutor texts” and theorists that traces one possible history of the theory of the novel, and poises us to ask what we can do with theory now. The provisional list of core texts includes Balzac’s “Sarrasine” (1830) (theorists: Barthes, Jameson), Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground (1864) (theorists: Bakhtin, Girard), Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) (theorists: B. Johnson, Gates), and Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) (theorists: Spivak, G. Stewart).
The final weeks of the course will be devoted to student-led sessions, broadening our range of tutor texts, theorists, and theories in accordance with participants’ interests and current projects.
Requirements: discussion paper (3–4 pp.), final paper, and leading approximately one hour of a class session, either singly or in collaboration with another seminar participant.
In the event of remote instruction, we will meet weekly via Zoom at the scheduled time of the course. Students who are unable to participate synchronously should contact the instructor.