The Italian Kafkaesque: Talking Animals, Cruel Families, & Strange Situations

Using Franz Kafka as a guide, this course explored a range of modern Italian authors, all of whom were interested in Kafka’s literary vision. By comparing select Kafka stories with the works of Italian authors such as Italo Calvino, Italo Svevo, Susanna Tamaro, Tommaso Landolfi, Elsa Morante, Massimo Bontempelli, and Dino Buzzati, we examined how Kafkan qualities, both thematic and stylistic, are transformed in Italian settings. With these readings students refined their critical reading skills, while developing a sense of the variety modern Italian literature. Taught (in Italian) at Duke University, Fall 2009 and the University of California at Berkeley, Fall 2010.

Kafka in the City

Franz Kafka’s works have been characterized as surreal, expressionistic, mystical, bourgeois, socialist, enigmatic, religious, existential, symbolic, allegorical, and the list continues. This course contextualized Kafka’s work, which often seems placeless and un-placeable, by concentrating on three cities and the authors’ relationships to them: a metropolis that Kafka never saw (but wrote about), Kafka’s hometown, and a place Kafka briefly visited. Focusing on New York, Prague, and Trieste, this course aimed to materialize Kafka’s work with a selection of biographical and historical information, precursor texts, travel writings, manuscript pages, and adaptations (translations, films, literary works inspired by Kafka, graphic novels). The goal was to engage, question, and analyze closely Kafka’s texts using a variety of techniques. Students worked to develop their own understanding of Kafka’s narrative modes and the relation between his texts and their cultural contexts. Students formed their own definition of “Kafkaesque” and a greater understanding of different approaches to literature generally. Taught at Columbia University, Summer 2008.

Literature of Humanities: Masterpieces of Western Philosophy

“Literature of Humanities: Masterpieces of Western Philosophy” is a yearlong course covering major Western works such as the Iliad, Bible, Inferno, Don Quixote, and To the Lighthouse required of all Columbia College freshmen. From the Core website: “. . . this yearlong course offers Columbia College students the opportunity to engage in intensive study and discussion of some of the most significant texts of Western culture. The course is not a survey, but a series of careful readings of literary works that reward both first encounters and long study.” The goal of this course was to engage, question, and analyze, in short to really read, these texts. This was accomplished first by the students’ careful reading and then through class discussion. What are these works about? Why do they narrate what they do and how are they narrated? I added select texts to the core syllabus, including Epic of Gilgamesh, Antigone, The Golden Ass, and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” Taught 2006-2007.