|Class meeting times||Contacting the instructor
For the couple of weeks, I'll be making assignments in class and via e-mail from the class roster. We'll be working with short stories, and I'll provide you with the texts.
- We'll start with Ernest Hemingway's "Soldier's Home". This will be the basis of our discussions in class on Friday (20 Aug) and Monday (23 Aug).
- Later on that same Monday -- but in King-004 (not our regular classroom, but a larger viewing hall), we'll look at Robert Geller's film adaptation of this story. (You should try your best to be on time in out "theatre" -- i.e., in your seat by 2:30 pm. The film runs only some 44 minutes. So, after an intermission, and some discussion, I'll run it again for those of you who want to etch it in your memory.)
This is a general education humanities course. It is designed for (though not restricted to) non-English majors. An important goal of any such course is to practice critically evaluating arguments, ideas, and points of view, and to participate in a community of thinkers. These goals we will pursue through in-class, online discussions and other written work, some of which will be shared among students.
The bill of fare
We will be reading the following stories, and seeing various film adaptations of them (sometimes more than one per original story):
Short stories (all 20th-centuiry)
- Sherwood Anderson, "I'm a Fool" (from Horses and Men, 1928)
- Ernest Hemingway, "Soldier's Home" (from In Our Time, 1925)
- Katherine Anne Porter, "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" (from Flowering Judas and Other Stories, 1930)
- William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" (from The Collected Stories of William Faulkner, 1939)
Novels and novellas
- Jane Austen, Emma (1815)
- Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness" (1902)
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
- Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)
To the short stories, we'll be comparing the films made between 1976 and 1980 for the acclaimed PBS series "The American Short Story." To the novels, we'll be comparing feature-length films designed for various sorts of "mass markets." In the case of both Emma and "Heart of Darkness,", we'll have several films to compare -- some feature films, and some miniseries for BBC or A&E television, and some more radical adaptations to situations contemporary to the films in question.
In the most general sense, the term "work of art" just means "something made," as opposed to something that nature just "presents us with." It embraces instances of practical engineering (things like electric drills, air conditioners, toys, barns, stoves, houses, artificial kidney machines, airplanes), strictly utilitarian verbal and visual artifacts (advertisements, edifying sermons), and aesthetic objects (paintings, stories, and films, for example). As "made things," they invite being interpreted and evaluated as the result of the totality of the maker's choices. If can be enlightening to think of "choice" here in a broad way -- as something that can be reflective and deliberate, but also as something that might be subconscious, or even in a sense "automatic" -- for example, dictated by assumptions the author so takes for granted as to be more or less unaware of them. But "choice" of whatever sort is always choice among alternatives -- whether conceived and deliberately considered by the maker, or imaginable by someone like us who is coming to the work of art after it has been published (fiction), released (films), put into production (engineered articles, technology). Making sense of a work of art is thus a matter of appreciating the differences that particular differences make: if a story, say, were changed in this particular way or that -- if this scene or this phrase or shot were omitted or altered in way X or way Y -- what other differences would result, in the overall meaning or operation of the work as a whole? People who read well are people who are actively engaged in carrying out these sorts of "thought experiments" as they read, and as they reflect on what they have read.
Film adaptations of short stories and novels can be especially useful in developing our skills as interpreters of works of art because they present us with ready-made thought-experiments of this sort. The production crew responsible for a film adaptation of a pre-existing story is cannot avoid thinking hard about how what they do has to -- and might, for the market, advantageously be -- different from the original they undertake to "translate," and about how what the various further ramifications might be of whatever changes they might commit themselves to. So film adaptations of works of literature afford us a convenient opportunity to sharpen our sensitivity for precision, for exactness -- our skills of analyzing the implications of things being exactly this way or that. These pairs (or more) of different "versions" of "the same" cases -- actually, of closely related, but significantly different situations and histories -- offer excellent opportunities for appreciating how writing enables us, through a series of drafts ("visions and revisions"), to arrive at insights that, were we to try to formulate them "immediately," at the outset, would simply be impossible for us to attain.
In general, our approach will be to exploit contrasts, between verbal/narrative and visual/dramatic media and between the presence or absence of specific scenes and plot elements. Insightful contrast always happens within a framework of comparison of course, and we'll be thinking through the differences in the meaning of shared elements that result from ways in which other elements diverge. Our goal will not be to pass judgment on the superiority of the literary original over the film adaptation, or vice versa -- though everyone is welcome to have his or her own opinion on these matters. Rather, we will be trying to use both the inevitable and the discretionary contrasts on hand to sharpen our sense of the implications and "feel" of each of the paired works we take up.
At the same time, we won't restrict ourselves from exploring other issues from time to time. In particular, these excursions will be invited with Emma and "Heart of Darkness," which we are reading in editions that make available a rich selection of related materials. Both the original fiction, and the films made from them, are embedded in history in ways that are enlightening to explore.
EvaluationSee the memo on the grading scheme for the course. Here, though, please take note of the following provisions and approximations: