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Class XII English Course Descriptions

MAGIC REALISM: magic realism is a genre of fiction in which fantastical elements are blended seamlessly with more traditional realistic narrative. Typically associated with Latin America, it emerged as an attempt to delineate a world rocked by, in the words of literary critic David Lodge, “historical convulsions”—colonialism, political upheaval, systemic violence—that “cannot be adequately represented in a discourse of undisturbed realism.” A house is haunted; a group of protestors drifts into the sky; a trail of blood flows down the street, turns at a few intersections and arrives to alert a mother that her son is dead. In this course, we will study the archetypal epic of magic realism, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the influence of magic realism beyond Latin America in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and the short stories of Haruki Murakami. Classes will heavily emphasize class discussion, and there will be a mixture of creative and analytical writing assignments designed with an eye on college-level writing.

MYTH REVOICED: this course calls into question the infamous reputations of the depraved enchantress Medea, the brutish giant Geryon, the condemned Titan Atlas and the seductive nymph Calypso by exploring what happens when they are given the chance to live past the end of their myth and find new voice in another. We will compare how four starkly different novels revoice the margins of myth in poignant and revealing ways to depict those who resist political censorship, historical oppression, or ancestral erasure in their own time: Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Jasmine Sealy’s The Island of Forgetting, Percival Everett’s For Her Dark Skin and Jeanette Winterson’s Weight. Within this framework, we will also uncover the surprising complexity of these mythic figures in their extant ancient Greek sources by reading short selections from Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, Aeschylus, Pseudo- Apollodorus and Stesichorus (in translation).

WOMEN IN TRANSLATION: as we read novels by and about women from around the world, we will think about why it is so important to read globally—what different perspectives can these texts offer us on our understanding of interpersonal relationships? What goes into translating a work of literature so that readers in English are able to engage with the same ideas and feelings evoked for readers of the original? Texts will include works such as Ladivine by Senegalese author Marie NDiaye (translated by Jordan Stump), in which a woman tries to keep the various parts of her life separate from each other to disastrous consequences; Three Summers by Greek writer Margarita Liberaki (tr . Karen Van Dyck), in which three sisters navigate the choices available to them as they transition from teenagers to adults and must compromise their competing desires; and The Hole by Japanese writer Hiroko Oyamada (tr. David Boyd), a novella about what happens when a woman chooses neither motherhood nor a career in a society that demands she devote herself to both.

STUDIES IN THE NOVEL: HENRY JAMES, VIRGINIA WOOLF AND ZADIE SMITH: this course will consider how three authors, separated by time, race, gender and sexuality, transformed the novel’s representation of human consciousness. Henry James began exploring new ways to depict character and point of view as early as The Portrait of a Lady (1881). With works like To the Lighthouse (1927), Virginia Woolf revolutionized the novel by incorporating not only shifting points of view, but also stream of consciousness and the expansion of subjectivity. Zadie Smith continued to play with multiple points of view as well as genre shifting in her 2012 novel NW. All three authors address topics of identity, family, class and gender as they experiment with different ways of presenting human experience.

SHAKESPEARE: in this elective, we will read three plays by William Shakespeare representing the three main genres in which he wrote: Hamlet, a tragedy; Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy; and Henry IV Part 1, a history. As we read, we will explore how each play dramatizes, in its own way, major cultural shifts taking place in Shakespeare’s era. Some of the topics we will consider include loyalty and ambition, service and self-interest, chivalry and statecraft, and gender roles in marriage and politics. As we think about how Shakespeare uses character and plot to make sense of larger societal and cultural shifts in his day, we will reflect on how the ideas and concerns that informed Shakespeare’s era can inform ours as well. We will complement our study of the plays by viewing recorded productions of the plays and reading excerpts of works by writers such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Francis Bacon, Margaret Cavendish and Queen Elizabeth I.

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