COMP 227
Outdoor Pools: Where Eros Meets Thanatos Spring 2024
Division I Writing Skills

Class Details

In an outdoor swimming pool is where Eros meets Thanatos: in both F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby (1925) and Billy Wilder’s movie Sunset Boulevard (U.S.A., 1950), the protagonists are shot dead in their pool, and in his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (U.S.A., 1996) Baz Luhrmann transposes the balcony scene to an outdoor pool where romance unfolds. What is it about outdoor swimming pools that they irremediably capture our imagination? This interdisciplinary tutorial explores the function and significance of outdoor swimming pools in French, German, and U.S. culture through literature, painting, photography, and film. Whether we regard them as a symbol of status and wealth, the remnants of Hollywood’s Golden Age era, the embodiment of order and discipline, or a major environmental impact factor, they nevertheless fascinate us. Because outdoor swimming pools, whether private or public, are a microcosm of society and a metaphor for human civilization, they have also been at the center of discussions about racial segregation and religious discrimination in Europe as well as in the U.S.A.. Although pools are mostly governed by tacit rules, such as respect for personal space and the desexualization of encounters, visitors have often disregarded and broken these regulations. That explains why outdoor swimming pools have often served as the perfect backdrop for literature and cinema’s steamiest and most violent scenes. We will start the course with a brief social history of pools and read a few sociological studies of swimming pools by experts (Jeff Wiltse, Kate Moles, Susie Scott) to lay the theoretical ground for our analysis. In the course of the tutorial, we will explore through novels, photographs, paintings, and films the various functions assigned to outdoor swimming pools depending on the time period. We will also delve into the genre of summer pool side literature (the satirical Summer House with Swimming Pool (2011) by Hermann Koch, the thriller The Swimming Pool (2018) by Clare Mackintosh, and Julie Otsuka’s latest novel, The Swimmers (2022)) and try to explain its great popularity. While the outdoor pool functions as a mirror of excess and decadence in the 1920’s as evidenced by the lavish pool parties thrown by The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925), it becomes the epitome of white middleclass suburban life in the 60’s as John Cheever’s short story The Swimmer narrates. During the 1970’s, the pool advances as a symbol of sexual liberation as the erotic thriller The Swimming Pool (France, 1969) by Jacques Deray, the sexually charged pool paintings Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool (1966) or Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972) by David Hockney, or the male nudes by Tom Bianchi in his Fire Island Pines: Poloroids 1975-1983 attest. In the 1980’s the outdoor pool becomes once more the mirror of opulence and eroticism, which Helmut Newton’s photographs of Hollywood celebrities (Liz Taylor swimming in her jewels) and for Playboy magazine capture as well as Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Boogie Nights (U.S.A.,1997) about the booming porn industry during the Reagan-era. Starting in the late 90’s, the outdoor swimming pool takes on greater political significance, largely due to the emergence and increasing visibility of female and gay filmmakers. In Fran├žois Ozon’s thriller Swimming Pool (France, 1996), the pool is the setting of female solidarity and feminist revenge. In her character study movie Everyone else (Germany, 2009), Maren Ade carefully examines how gender roles and stereotypes play out and get reinforced during a pool party. At last, in her recent comedy Freibad, (Germany, 2022) Doris Dorrie chooses a women-only public outdoor pool as the backdrop to raise questions of racial segregation and religious discrimination
The Class: Format: tutorial
Limit: 10
Expected: 8
Class#: 3901
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: six 5- to 7-page argumentative papers; six 2- to 3-page response papers; final paper optional
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors
Distributions: Division I Writing Skills
WS Notes: Each student will write five 5- to 7-page papers on which they will receive written feedback regarding grammar, style, and argument. Each student will write five 3-page critiques of their partners' papers. As the final assignment, each student will revise one of their five papers.

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