The Balkans include Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Named during the centuries-long Ottoman occupation, the region has politically been defined as the periphery of civilized Europe, while in literary terms it is best known as the dark and bloody realm of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula. Traditionally described in stereotypes of ethnic resentment and violence, no wonder its nations have for decades been trying to wash off the stigma of the Balkans and join a better company.
In this course we are embarking on a literary journey through the lands first described in ancient Greek myths, but in a completely novel way. The course is imagined as a juxtaposition of and intersection between myth and history, oral and written modes of narration, the uncertainty of memory versus the verifiable ‘truth’ of the book, ‘belated modernity’, modernity and postmodernity, the public and the private spheres, to the point where each pair of oppositions merge and become impossible to distinguish, like in the Greek word for the ‘novel’, mythistorema. Through the literary renditions and theoretical elaborations of myths created in the region, as well as those created about the region by the Western literature, film industry, and in the recent years, media, we will delve into the problematics of identity, ethnicity, gender, body, memory, totalitarianism, violence, exile, and the gaze. Simultaneous with our mythical journey through history will be our historical journey through myth, as we follow the development of pertinent mythical themes from classical antiquity to modern times. Central to our discussion will be the key metaphor of the Balkans as a bridge between East and West, and of the pan-Balkan myth of the immurement of the female body into a bridge, the myth which exists in many versions throughout the Balkans, which raises a multitude of questions for discussion, especially as we trace its origins in Hindu mythology and explore the figurations and symbolism of the bridge in myths, literature and theory.
Of our primary concern will be texts created by Balkan authors, but we will also explore the ways in which the Balkans are perceived, described and, in the final instance, created as an archetypal locale by the Western imaginary. All the texts included in the course are true pearls of literature, some of which have already been awarded the most prestigious literary awards (Nobel Prize, among others), while some of the authors are next in line to obtain them. Our primary texts include: Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina (Yugoslavia, 1945, Nobel Prize 1961); Ismail Kadare, The Three-Arched Bridge (Albania, 1978); Orhan Pamuk, White Castle (Turkey, 1985); B. Wongar, Raki (Australia, 1994). Although the course is primarily oriented towards novels, our readings will include selected poetry by Constantine Cavafy and Odysseus Elytis (Nobel Prize, 1979) (Greece). The films we will see and discuss are: Ulysses’ Gaze (Theo Angelopoulos, Greece, 1995), Before the Rain (Milco Mancevski, Macedonia, 1994), and The Time of Gypsies (Emir Kusturica, Yugoslavia, 1989).
All readings are in English.
Active class participation, including an oral presentation of a text assigned for the course, a 12/15-page midterm paper, writing workshops, and a 25-page final paper.
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