Languages 190 (271): Society and Self in Modern European Literature and Film

January 2012
Mark K. Jensen, Department of Languages and Literatures

Required texts

The following texts are required and may be purchased at the PLU bookstore:

  1. Franz Kafka, The Trial
  2. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  3. George Eliot, Middlemarch

A booklet of supplementary readings will also be distributed to students enrolled in the course.

Please spend some time exploring this site. A good place to do this is the Language Resource Center in the Mortvedt Library or some other campus computer user room to see images and to print any material you need. When checking in at the LRC, please identify yourself as a languages student. Help is available from staff at the LRC.

Course description

This course aims to be an intensive investigation into the relation of society and self in the culture of modern Europe, as this has been represented in literature and film. European societies and American society are parts of a larger "Western civilization," a.k.a "the West," an amorphous and conceptually controversial entity that has now aggressively morphed into a global form that in the name of pleasure, profit, and power is so vast that it has destablized "nature" itself. This is a subject about which you already possess both information and experience. Throughout the course you will be asked to draw upon your own experience of Western society to deepen understanding of how self and society relate in our modern, or perhaps postmodern, culture.

Three novels written during the past century and ten films will be examined, all in the short space of one month.

The structure of the course is straightforward.

In Part 1 (Jan. 4-11), with the help of a number of supplementary readings in psychology, sociology, philosophy, contemporary journalism, and literary criticism, basic terms will be complicated and clarified: "self," "society," "modern Europe," "literature," and "film." Three films will be viewed in class: "The Wild Child" (1970), a film by François Truffaut that will serve as a first-day introduction to provoke thought about some basic themes; Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage," (1973), focusing on the demands of the self; and Ettore Scola's "We All Loved Each Other So Much" (1974), focusing on the demands of society.

Part 2 (Jan. 12-18) will suggest how the demands of society can overwhelm and even crush the self through Franz Kafka's The Trial (1925). We'll also a film with a comparable theme: Alain Resnais's "Mon Oncle d'Amérique" (1980) and "The Exterminating Angel." A short essay on Kafka's The Trial will be due in class on Tuesday, January 17.

Part 3 (Jan. 19-24) will present the self triumphing over the demands of society in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). We'll also watch Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" and a film version of Joyce's novel. A short essay on Joyce's Portrait will be due in class on Tuesday, January 24.

In Part 4 (Jan. 25-31), we'll examine some attempts to portray the ways in which the demands of the self and the demands of society mesh in the modern world. George Eliot's Middlemarch (1872) will be our principal literary exemplar of this, and view extracts from Michael Apted's "35 Up" (1991) as well as in their entirety François Truffaut's "Small Change" (1976) and, finally, Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" (1957).

There will be

Discussion in class and viewing the films are essential parts of the course. Absences without a medical excuse will affect your grade..

Important note:  The course will be fast-paced and very demanding.  Many of you will not have been asked to read this intensively before.  In addition to about fourteen hours in class, you should expect to spend at least thirty-five hours a week reading and writing.  The texts we'll read are subtle; they make considerable demands upon the reader.  They deserve and will repay every effort of attention you can bring to bear upon them:  they are worth careful reading and rereading.  They cannot be profitably skimmed or speed-read.  I cannot recommend strongly enough that you resolve at the outset to make the investment of time necessary to succeed in the course.  You should budget AT LEAST five hours a day for reading and writing; more may be necessary.

Schedule of reading assignments

Grading policy

Your grade in the course will be determined according to the following formula:

January 9 exercise  5%
January 17 essay20%
January 24 essay20%
Final exam20%

Office hours

Office hours will be held on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and by appointment.

Campus phone: (253) 535-7219
Home phone: (253) 756-7519
Comments and questions are welcome.
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Last revised: January 3, 2012