HOW DO STORIES SURVIVE AND HELP US SURVIVE?
Aristotle said it was laughter, but now fiction seems to be what distinguishes us from other animals. This course will try to honor both Aristotle and modern theories by reading several literary masterpieces that are both funny and complex. How might these stories help us survive floods, plagues, and tyrants? And how did the stories themselves survive those same disasters to communicate across cultures? After an investigation of the Gilgamesh flood tablet and Ovid’s tales of transformation, we will explore one of the great masterpieces of world literature, Boccaccio's Decameron, which not only transforms earlier traditions such as the Arabian Nights and Apuleius’ The Golden Ass but also inspires later experiments from Shakespeare to Calvino and Garcia Marquez. Censored for centuries, the Decameron’s hundred stories, told by ten storytellers as they flee the plague in Florence, consider pressing problems of how to survive in the modern world: maintaining one’s liberty in the face of tyranny, overcoming obstacles to achieve one’s desires, using wit to reprove one's superiors, and, most of all, telling stories to remake the world. We will ask how Boccaccio adopts and modifies his sources, while exploring the survival of the stories themselves. How does a life of the Buddha become a medieval saint’s life that
Boccaccio transforms into a defense of desire? We will visit Rare Books to examine some of these materials in
person and analyze how later authors (Joyce, Cervantes, de Zayas, Keats), illustrators (Botticelli, Kent),
performers (Fo), and filmmakers (Pasolini) transform Boccaccio to reveal distinctive features of his work, including
its concerns with women, religion, desire, and art. We will conclude with Calvino’s great modern experiment with
storytelling, If on a winter’s night a traveler.
LIT 89S, MEDREN 89S, ROMST 89S