English 2707—Oil, the Devil, and Faith (Contemporary International Literature)

(Last offered Winter 2002)

Brian Kiteley

Course description:  The main emphasis of the readings is described by the title—an examination of the nature of evil and evil-doing, on a human as well as a global scale.  Rushdie in The Satanic Verses says, “In the East, nothing goes and everything matters; in the West, anything goes and nothing matters.”  We’ll examine this sort of thinking and how it may have changed since September 11th.  In The Master and Margarita, the Devil comes to 1930s Soviet-era Moscow, whose government was officially godless—so what do we make of an all-powerful, albeit somewhat comic, evil force in such circumstances?  Cities of Salt examines what happens to bedouin society in central Arabia after the discovery of oil by American petroleum engineers—another kind of violation.  The Satanic Verses sends its protagonists tumbling out of a jet blown up by hijackers, and the two men miraculously survive the fall but perhaps not their ensuing adventures.  It’s a dark path we’ll be treading, with patches of sunshine and hopefulness here and there, but not much.  We will also watch a number of movies, including “The Apostle,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Alexandria... Why,” “Sink or Swim,” and “Happiness.”


Course method:  Discussion with occasional lectures; two papers (six to eight pages—or around 2,000 words) and four email discussion papers (400 words minimum), which will be marked acceptable or unacceptable.  NOTE: We will read an average of 100 pages per class session.


Papers:  The four discussion papers will be at least 400 words.  Email them to me (bkiteley@du.edu) by class time.  Late papers will not be considered.  I will not mark up or comment on these papers—if you don’t hear from me by reply email, assume that you’ve received an “acceptable.”  I want you to discuss the book we are reading intelligently, with some critical insight into it.  You may ask questions, answer them, quote (briefly) from parts you like (and then comment on the quoted material)—in short, I want to see how you are reading the books.  These thought pieces should provide material for your longer papers.  For the long papers, I will hand out questions and paper ideas a few classes before the due dates.  I will not accept late long papers, either.


Plagiarism:  Don’t do it.  I can track down even a few stale sentences from other sources.  You harm yourself most by using other people’s words and ideas, but you will also fail the course if I find any evidence of plagiarism.  If I’m suspicious, be prepared to talk to me about what you have written in your papers.


Reading list:


Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North
Paul Bowles, The Collected Stories
Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Abdelrahman Munif, Cities of Salt
Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses


Meetings and due dates:


Jan 3—Opening session—We will talk about the papers and general terms of class
Jan 8—The Master and Margarita
Jan 10—The Master and Margarita
Jan 15—The Master and Margarita—first discussion paper due
Jan 17—Season of Migration to the North
Jan 22—Season of Migration to the North—second discussion paper due
Jan 24—from The Collected Stories (Bowles): “A Distant Episode” (p39), “Pages from Cold Point” (83), “The Delicate Prey” (165), and “The Frozen Fields” (261)
Jan 29—The Talented Mr. Ripley
Jan 31—The Talented Mr. Ripley
Feb 5—The Talented Mr. Ripley—third discussion paper due
Feb 7—Cities of Salt
Feb 12—Cities of Salt
Feb 14—No class—first long paper due (in box outside my office, by Friday Feb 15 at four)
Feb 19—Cities of Salt—fourth discussion paper due
Feb 21—Cities of Salt
Feb 26—The Satanic Verses
Feb 28—The Satanic Verses
Mar 5—The Satanic Verses
Mar 7—The Satanic Verses
Mar 12—Last class—wrap-up discussion

Mar 14 (exam date)—Final paper due at 3pm (which is the official exam time)—But you are welcome to hand the paper in earlier than this date


Links on course authors and related issues:


A Master and Margarita site at Middlebury College
A Stanford University Bulgakov website
An essay by Vana Goblot on altx.com on Bulgakov
A letter Bulgakov wrote to the Soviet government
A brief description of Salih's most recent novel
An essay by Season's translator
An essay on postcolonial Islam


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