I've taught this course a couple of times, once in 1997 and once just last year. So far I've always taught it at the graduate level. In this course, the only text we read is Julio Cortazar's Rayuela (translated into English as Hopscotch). In part this focus stems from my general sense that graduate courses might be more useful if they were more focussed and entailed less reading and more focussed discussion of particular texts, with more general contextual and theoretical topics arising more spontaneously and organically out of our focus on particular bits of language in particular texts. But my approach to the course also responds to the nature of this particular novel. To begin with, it is a pretty lengthy and dense story. Briefly, it tells the story of Horacio Oliveira, a middle-class expatriate Argentine with a pronounced intellectual inclination living in Paris in the late 1950s. The story involves his search in the present for a lost love as well as his recollections of their relationship. This search begins in Paris (and all the flashbacks take place in Paris) but then moves to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The novelty of the book, and a big part of its claim to fame, however, lies in its structure, and the ways in which the novel's preoccupations are expressed in part through Cortazar's experimental organization. The novel consists of 155 chapters, number 1 through 155 and divided into three sections: "From the other side" (Chapters 1 through 36), "From this side" (Chapters 37 through 56), and "From Diverse Sides: Disposable Chapters" (Chapters 57 through 155). But it is preceded by a "Table of Instructions" in which the reader is informed that the book contains many books but above all it contains two. The first book, we are told, consists of Chapters 1 through 56, read in sequence. The second book includes all 155 chapters (except for Chapter 55, whose contents, in any case, are distributed among a couple of other chapters). The "Table" further gives a "random" order for the reading of this second book. We begin with Chapter 73 then "hop" to Chapter 1, then to 2, then to 116, then to 3 and so on.
Obviously, this presents some challenges for teaching the novel. The "Table of Instructions", in my view, emphasizes the reader's co-creation of the literary work. If we take seriously its claims that the book is many books, then it has struck me that a valuable part of the experience of the novel is becoming aware of the choices we as readers make in choosing our path or paths through the novel. Accordingly, when I teach the novel, I ask each student in the seminar simply to read twelve chapters per week, according to whatever path they select or invent. In the first few weeks, of course, it is quite an adventure since there isn't necessarily a great deal of overlap in the chapters that have been read. But over time, the webs of shared chapters become more dense, and lead to interesting discussions of the ways in which commonly read chapters "read differently" depending on where in the readers path they appeared. In addition to the weekly reading of twelve chapters, each student is assigned a number. At the beginning of each seminar meeting, we roll a die or a pair of dice to determine which student is going to offer us a tour of her path of twelve chapters for that week. This helps to set the agenda for each day but also helps create a web, that grows and changes each week, of preoccupations arising from the combination of novel, chosen path, and this particular set of readers. I like this because it seems to me most in the spirit of what Cortazar seemed to want for his work: that it would become a kind of ever-changing, vital stimulus and challenge every time someone picked it up. For more of my thoughts on Cortazar see my essay "Living Invention, or, The Way of Julio Cortazar."