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Art of Reading




Admission requirements


Course description

This course offers students a foundation in literary studies, and as such introduces them to the Arts, Literature and Philosophy track of the Human Diversity major. Each thematic section focuses on two distinct literary periods: a more distant one, and its rediscovery at a later date.

Blocks 1+4, Section A, Dr. Ksenia Robbe:
Romantic (Re)Visions: Enlightenment, Revolutions and their Postcolonial Afterlives

In this section, we will focus on the turbulent period between 1780 and 1830 – the aftermath of the American War of Independence, the time of the French Revolution, rapid industrialization in Britain, escalating debates about ‘the rights of man’ and the emergence of the ‘public sphere’. Known as the age of Romanticism, this period combined Enlightenment rationalism and romantic rebellion, sentimentalism and mysticism, libertarianism and liberalism. One of the paradoxes was the rise of imperialism against the backdrop of abolitionist and anti-colonial movements. In the 20th century, when these movements took concrete shape across the world, romantic sensibilities reappeared in literary fiction and non-fictional writing, reviving and revising Eurocentric biases of earlier revolutions, resurrecting and defying romantic heroes.

We will approach the complexities of the Romantic age through texts written by political thinkers, travel and autobiographical writing, poetry and popular fiction of the time. The 20th-century readings will include CLR James’ The Black Jacobins (1938), an account of the Haitian Revolution, Arundathi Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997), employing elements of ‘the gothic’ to speak about revolution and reaction in India, and JM Coetzee’s Disgrace (2000), a novel that shows the underside of romantic narratives in post-apartheid South Africa.

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (excerpt)
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (excerpt)
Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (excerpt)
George Gordon Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (excerpts)
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (excerpts)
CLR James, The Black Jacobins (excerpts)
Arundathi Roy, The God of Small Things
JM Coetzee, Disgrace

All the 18-19th century texts as well as CLR James’ book are available online at the Project Gutenberg website ( It is recommended that students read Arundathi Roy’s and JM Coetzee’s novels prior to the beginning of the course.

Block 3, Section B, Dr. Anna Dlabacova
Medieval literature and the Middle Ages in the Modern Era

This course introduces students to textual and reading cultures of the medieval period and to the ‘construction’ of the Middle Ages and the reception of its literary works in the Modern era. After a general introduction on aspects of medieval cultures of reading, its textual culture, and the introduction of print in the fifteenth century, we will consider a number of (literary) works from the high and late medieval period (c. 1100-1550) representing a variety of spheres and domains in which texts and reading were of prominent importance: the court and courtly love, didactic settings and intellectual life, the upcoming cities and their middle classes, and religion and mysticism.

On the one hand, we will read and discuss (excerpts from) significant medieval texts which circulated throughout Europe, including the Roman de la Rose, Reynard the Fox, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the anonymous Everyman, but also less well-known texts such as the Letters written by the mystic author Hadewijch, the Visio Tnugdali [The Vision of Tundale], and the Livre de Sidrac le philosophe [Book of Sidrac the philosopher; Sidrak and Bokkus]. On the other hand, we will consider modern historiographical works, representing twentieth century constructions of the Middle Ages and interpretations of medieval literature. We will also consider a modern literary (re)interpretation of medieval themes, namely Philip Roth’s Everyman. Reading Roth’s novel and (excerpts from) works such as Huizinga’s The Waning of the Middle Ages, C.S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image, and more recent texts we will discuss the challenging and changing task of interpreting works from a distant and multifaceted period and their current cultural and societal relevance.

In addition to familiarizing students with prominent literary works and modes of thought of the Middle Ages, the course introduces students to important themes in literary and medieval studies, such as historical context and the role of text and literature in societies. Students will get acquainted with various modes of communication and genres, including the romance, letters, dialogue, and drama. Periodization is an important aspect: students will learn how a period (i.e. the Middle Ages) can be constructed and interpreted (reception). Additionally, they will gain some insight into medieval textual culture, the effect of the introduction of the printing press and the relevant historiographical debates. Through practice they will get acquainted with methods of analysis (close reading) of literary works and they will engage in critically reading and interpreting scholarly works and establishing their value and position within scholarly debate.

Books to be purchased beforehand:

  • Philip Roth, Everyman