The primary focus of this course is Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the first canticle in his poetic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. After a close reading of this fundamental text, we will explore some more recent literary representations of hell, and consider the ways in which they echo Dante’s unique vision. Included in our discussion will be the way the journey to the underworld serves as a transformative experience for its hero. In addition to Inferno, texts will include Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, poetry by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and T.S. Eliot, Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
A nightmare was once believed to be a female spirit or monster who settled on and produced a feeling of suffocation in a sleeping person or animal. If most of us no longer believe in monsters, then why do nightmares still plague us? What makes nightmares scary? Are they distorted expressions of our deepest fears, or frightful fulfillments of our forbidden desires? In this course, we will examine the blurry line between fear and desire and consider the ways in which the “ugly” aspects of our unconscious unleash themselves into our consciousness in uncontrollable ways. Many works of literature present us with scenarios that resemble the surreal, anxiety-producing nightmares we’ve all experienced during otherwise peaceful and protective sleeps. As we probe these texts, we will explore the ways in which we are sometimes subject to the powers of our own imaginations. Texts will include William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Franz Kakfa’s The Metamorphosis, Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, and selected works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Nicolai Gogol, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. We will filter our discussions through the theoretical lenses of Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts.
From Romance to Novel explores the development of the novel and different narrative styles from the medieval roman, or romance, to the first novel (17th century), to famous novels of the 20th century. We will track elements integral to the medieval romance, such as betrayal, separation, conflict, and the roles assigned to different genders, and see how these themes are elaborated in novels from the modern period, which focus on love against the backdrop of war. By the end of the semester, we should possess an understanding of how classical and medieval tropes and narrative strategies have informed the modern novel, how the modern novel has evolved, and how different styles and narrative points of view influence our understanding of the novel. Readings may include Beroul’s Tristan and Isolde, Madame de Lafayette’s The Princess of Cleves, Dickens’ A Tale of two Cities, Frazier’s A Cold Mountain, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Ondaatje’s The English Patient, and Barker’s Regeneration.
As you think about leaving home and childhood’s end, you may find yourself reflecting on your life to date. The liminal state of the spring-term senior presents a ripe opportunity for memoir. In this course, we will explore the range of genres, styles, and techniques evinced in the work of great memoirists – from Hemingway to Joan Didion to Jimmy Santiago Baca and Sarah Suleri. While reading prose memoir, poetic memoir, food memoir, and memoir-comic, we will produce our own autobiographical compositions through a term-long writing process. Shorter-term analytical assessments, a creative imitation, and presentation projects will help us engage with and learn from the best in the field. As part of our culminating experience, we will share selections from our stories with the broader Catlin Gabel community.
This course will trace the rise of the modern queer canon from 1840 through the late 20th century. In studying selected literary works of Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, Rita Mae Brown, Jeanette Winterson, and others, we will focus on the way these authors develop an intertextual dialogue. Participants will also explore the construction of gender roles, how conceptions of sex and gender have changed over time. How do gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender authors express themselves amid a potentially hostile, “heteronormative” society? This and other, related questions will preoccupy us in discussion and in our writing this term. This course will include film, music, and selected sociological/historical reading to contextualize and enrich our study.
Modern and Contemporary Drama is a course that examines the development of Western dramatic conventions over the past 150 years. Students will track how playwrights have drawn upon and departed from prior works of drama, and will see how forces such as cultural and political context shaped the theatrical works of those playwrights. In addition to discussing and writing about the works under consideration, students will be expected to take part in performances and creative imitations, discovering how drama needs to be considered on its feet, rather than just from the classroom desk. Authors may include Chekhov, Strindberg, Ibsen, Brecht, Pinter, Shaw, Beckett, Parks, Smith, Wilson, and Kushner.
To choose or not to choose: that’s the real question. This course explores the power human beings have to choose, and the extent to which we use, or choose to use, that power. How much control do we have over our lives? What role does choice play in our search for meaning? What are the causes and effects of agency and passivity? We’ll struggle with these questions as we meet characters who struggle with their decisions. We’ll also dabble into a bit of existentialist philosophy.
This course attempts to probe human beings’ most brutish core. As we challenge our understandings of the terms “savage” and “civilized,” we consider what it means to be human on the most fundamental level. We’ll delve into the idea of “going native” as revealed in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King,” and William Shakespeare’s King Lear. We’ll contemplate the notion of the “noble savage” through the science fiction lenses of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. We’ll explore the construction of “the other” in two versions of Medea: Euripides’s classical version, and Christa Wolf’s modern retelling. Finally, we’ll examine Blanche Dubois’s urge not to “hang back with the brutes” in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and question her dependence on such things as “poetry and music” and “tenderer feelings.” We’ll supplement our literary texts with theoretical readings by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Creative Writing is a course in which students will explore a variety of genres, creating their own work across those genres. This course supposes that writing creatively should be a little more like messing around with a chemistry set and a little less like playing by a set of rules. That ham-handed analogy is to say that Catlin Gabel's writing students should be free to sense the wide-open possibilities of creative prose, poetry, drama, and journalism; most of the great pieces of literature we read at Catlin Gabel came to be because an author decided to break convention, instead of abiding by it. That said, it’s always good to know what rules you’re breaking before you go ahead and break them. The class will spend some time reading, but we’ll mostly use our reading to see how published writers deal with all the possibilities they see before them, and the bulk of the class will be spent writing, usually from prompts to free up the students' imaginations. We’ll seek larger audiences beyond the Catlin Gabel community, and students should leave the class with a surprising bundle of their own work. Students may even find themselves published in various outlets by the end of the year. Creative Writing is a half-credit class that meets twice a week all year long, and covers poetry, prose, drama, creative non-fiction, and maybe even some aural media (read: radio). Students should expect to get comfortable in a workshop setting, reading and then commenting honestly (but gently!) on the work of their peers. Creative Writing will be a lot of fun, and only as stressful as you would like it to be.