Sep 1st 2014

The Fiction of Relationship (Coursera)

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What is the nature of our relationship to others and the world? How can literature help us see these relationships more clearly? This course seeks to explore such questions through adventurous readings of ten great works of narrative fiction from the 18th to the 20th century.

As individuals we are defined by relationships, by our connection to people, places, and things. Such connectedness can be not only emotional or erotic or political or environmental, but even textual, enacted through writing. In this course we explore the nature and meaning of such connections in ten major works of narrative fiction from the 18th century to the present. These include: Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost; two works by Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno; Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre; two stories by Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis” and “The Country Doctor”; Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; William Faulkner’s Light in August; an anthology of stories, Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges; The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas; Tony Morrison’s Beloved; and Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.

As this course will demonstrate, the most critical relationships in our lives—the linkages both known and unknown—are not always easy to get a fix on, but literature offers us a special sighting on these arrangements. Through exploratory readings of these narrative works, the course will seek to make relationship visible, bringing our traffic with the world and with others into clearer focus.

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