"Why read? Why live? Do the two questions have the same answers? What does reading have to do with living?

In this course, we will take these questions as a framework through which to approach comparative literature as something people study and as a way they study it. But wait, there's more! The books you read, the thoughts you think, and the words you hear, speak, and write will slip under your skin with excruciating sweetness. They might make you feel itchy and uncomfortable. It may be difficult to walk and talk normally. You may begin to hear voices and to tell stories. I promise... But only if you do the reading (which will include work by authors such as Cortazar, Borges, McCullers, Puig, Suzuki, Nietzsche, Marx, Shelley, Oliver, and Snyder), writing (weekly short papers, one or two longer essays), talking, and thinking (constantly)"

That was the course description for "Reading to Live" (also known as Comparative Literature 240: Introduction to Comparative Literature).  I taught this course every Fall semester save one from 1996 through 2003.  It's an introductory course, formatted so that I would give a lecture every Monday to the whole course, and then 2 graduate student instructors and myself would divide that group up for two discussion section meetings per week.  Probably more than any teaching experience I've had, this course profoundly altered the way I think about what it is I do as a human being paid to read, think, write, and teach.

My basic stance to the course, especially after the first couple of times I taught it, was that my lectures must always be fresh, out of my current reading/living experience at that moment.  So, even if readings were repeated from one Fall to the next, the lectures were never repeated.  Of course, some ideas remained important to me when I would reread texts, but other were entirely new, and even the ones that were familiar were given new inflections by the life context in which I was reading them.  I don't know when I'll teach the course again.  The last time I did it, I found that my life context at the time really didn't yield up the freshness of energy for the class that I felt it deserved and so, this fall I moved on to other things.  But it was a powerful course for me and, I believe, for the students.  Here's the course guidelines and the syllabus for the version I gave in Fall 2003.

Comparative Literature 240: Reading to Live

General Course Guidelines

Assume the responsibilities that go with being free.  Assume the freedom that goes with being responsible.  Recognize that all of the guidelines set forth above, along with any additional guidelines your section instructors provide are just that: guidelines.  They are not "course requirements" or "homework assignments."  We propose them based on our experience of them as useful tools for students in this course.  If you choose to do them, you are responsible for that choice.  If you choose not to, you are responsible for that choice.  Do not attempt to shift either of those responsibilities onto us.

M 9.8 - Introductory Lecture - Breathing

M 9.15 -  Negative Capability and the I Ching (coursepack Keats and Pullman and Balkin on the I Ching + Wing at Shaman Drum + 3 pennies)

M 9.22 - Julio Cortazar, "Continuity of Parks" (coursepack)

M 9.29 - Jorge Luis Borges, "The South" (coursepack)

M 10.6 - Carson McCullers, Ballad of the Sad Café (Shaman Drum)

M 10.20 - Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman (Shaman Drum)

M 10.27 - Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (Shaman drum)

M 11.3 - Nietzsche, selections from The Gay Science (Shaman Drum)

M 11.10 - Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (Shaman Drum)

M 11.17 - Julio Cortazar "The Southern Thruway" (Coursepack)

M 11.24 - Mary Shelley Frankenstein (Shaman Drum)

M 12.1 - Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud (Shaman Drum)

M 12.8 - Gary Snyder, "The Real Work Interview" (Coursepack)



Reading to Live course page
Innocence and Experience course page
Pragmatism course page
Hopscotch course page
Julio Cortazar's Short Stories course main page
Gilles Deleuze Course Main Page
Romanticism and Buddhism course home page
Jorge Luis Borges course main page
Love course main page