COMP 235 Fall 2012 Russian Literature Behind Bars: The Gulag and Its Cultural Legacy

Cross Listed as RUSS235
For as long as modern Russian literature has existed, incarceration has consistently been one of its central themes. In the nineteenth century, Dostoevsky described the prison world he got to know first-hand as "a world apart, unlike everything else, with laws of its own, its own dress, its own manners and customs" (The House of the Dead). However, it was not until the October Revolution and Stalin's purges of the 1930-1950s that political imprisonment became so firmly engraved onto these dark pages of Russian history that it formed a separate genre: Gulag memoirs. This course explores the representations of prison and hard-labor camp experience in Russian literature and culture across different artistic forms and media (folklore and songs, poetry, fiction, memoirs, diaries, personal correspondence, film, drawings, craftwork, and criminal tattoos). By looking at different aspects of life in the Soviet Gulag through the lens of a variety of first-hand accounts, students will be encouraged to compare the Gulag's legacy to other historical and geographical contexts from around the world (for example, to Holocaust memoirs or Latin American narratives of the "disappeared") and to think more broadly about prison as a semiotic space, and about imprisonment --as an existential experience. Throughout the seminar, we will address the function of art as a means of survival and analyze what permutations our life's key concepts and dichotomies undergo in a world behind bars. All readings and discussions will be in English.
Class Format: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: class attendance and participation, weekly reading responses (pre-circulated among class members), one class presentation (15-20 minutes), and a term paper
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Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preference: Russian Majors
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Divisional Attributes: Division I
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Enrollment Limit: 20
Expected Enrollment: 20
Class Number: 1832
CLASSES ATTR INSTRUCTORS TIMES CLASS NUMBER ENRL CONSENT
COMP235-01(F) SEM Russian Literature Behind Bars Division 1: Languages and the Arts Yakov L. Klots
TR 11:20 AM-12:35 PM Weston 031 1832
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