The RC Literature Program

The Literature Program, established as the first concentration of the Residential College in 1967, is designed to foster good writing, effective speaking, and a heightened understanding of culturally significant texts, within and beyond the canon We encourage students to develop their responsiveness to the literary imagination and their sensitivity to verbal art through a disciplined focus on language, historical contexts, and scholarly methods. Reaching into diverse branches of philosophical, psychological, political and artistic inquiry, our offerings enable students to write and speak with greater confidence and critical acumen. Close examination of comparative perspectives, small group discussion, and regular writing assignments build on the Residential College First Year Seminar experience, but our classes are open to all undergraduates. The great majority of the courses in the Literature Program exist on the upper level.

Courses range from the study of classic works representing key intellectual moments that have shaped Western culture to texts that explore revisionist responses to canonical authority. Whether engaged with major figures such as Homer, Luther, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kafka or Woolf or less famous writers, students have an opportunity to integrate genre and era with geographic dispersal in a way that lends coherence to an otherwise vast literary field.  The program enables students to understand issues of our humanistic heritage at the same time that it encourages them to pursue their own individual interests, aesthetic pleasures, and ethical deliberations. The Literature Program also cultivates conversation that does not follow traditional departmental boundaries, as our most fruitful lines of thinking extend across disciplines. Our program has been found to useful by students who enter a wide variety of fields, including film and television, education and arts management, law and government, business and journalism.

To this end, the Literature Program extends students a unique opportunity to examine texts in interdisciplinary frameworks through the lenses of a number of disciplines. Some examples:

History: Representing the Holocaust (examines from a Literary, Psychological and Historiographical perspective a period in European history that had a global impact on the intellectual thought and the arts through exile.

Philosophy: Existentialism (studies the modern European novel through the perspective of a major 20th century philosophical movement)

Psychology: Psychoanalysis and Literature (examines the modern European novel through
the psychological perspectives of Freud and Jung)

Urban Studies/Sociology: Explorations in Berlin (examines literary and visual representations  of urban life and space.

Cultural History/Theology: Biblical, Greek, and Medieval Texts and Modern Counterparts
(examines the texts of  three earlier civilizations are in terms of  their modern reinterpretations through film)

Childhood Studies: Children under Fire (analyzes representations of war, parental abuse, and childhood trauma in films and books for young readers)

The Role of the Literature Program in the Residential College

The Literature Program, with its dual perspectives, focusing on individual creativity and broad intellectual frameworks, offers all RC students – and L S & A students – an opportunity to expand their chosen academic focus.  Wrestling with texts of international excellence and encountering unique and varied interpretative views provide the necessary intellectual training for critical thought and informed action.  In all disciplines, students need to develop a keen understanding of the power of words and the commitment to use them with an awareness of the complexities of language. One of the most important effects of this intensive study of language in selected texts is that such close of texts informs students’ own writing.  

Students from many fields or concentrations who choose courses from the riches of the Literature Program develop broad cultural literacy and greater sensitivity to issues of diversity and historical specificity, while discovering a greater appreciation for the role of literature in society. The Literature Program’s interdisciplinary, multicultural, and trans-historical approach to literature lays the groundwork for all students to engage most fully in rich and complex analyses of texts and issues in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Courses in the Literature Program

Although the Literature Program teaches the traditional canon in relation to modern reevaluations, it also includes texts that fall outside the traditional canon as well as innovative courses that are informed by original critical perspectives.

Hums 207: Narrative Fiction: Growing Up Near the Great Lakes
This children’s literature course examines how “third coast” writers represented Michigan in narrative, from classic works of the great outdoors and the motor city to frontier sagas, regional folktales, and mysteries of its great inland seas. (Goodenough)                             

Hums 217: Fathers and Sons
This course studies literature and films that explore a variety of father and son relationships. Works range from Homer’s The Odyssey to Miller’s Death of a Salesman. (Cohen)

Hums 218: The Hero as Outsider, Outcast, Outlaw
This course examines literature and films that explore the anti-hero and the motives that have led people to reject accepted values or social conformity. Works by Dostoevsky, Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, Kosinski, Fugard, Puig, Brecht, Woody Allen. (Cohen)

Hums 230: Greek, Biblical and Medieval Texts and Modern Counterparts        
In this team-taught course, students study foundational texts from Greek, Old and New Testament and Medieval worlds in conjunction with their modern counterparts in film and literature. (Cohen, Peters)

Hums 275: The Western Mind in Revolution:  Six Reinterpretations of the Human Condition    
This course examines six reinterpretations of Western man’s concept of self and his/her political and cultural institutions between the 16th and 20th centuries prompted by intellectual revolutions in astronomy (Copernicus), theology, (Luther) biology (Darwin), sociology (Marx), psychology (Freud) and physics. (Einstein). (Peters)

Hums 333/English 307: The Poetry of Everyday Life  
Focusing on poetry and drawing, this literature seminar explores children’s imaginative responses to the natural world by working with local elementary school students and their teachers in the production of public exhibits, reading, and film. (Goodenough)

Hums 334/English 407: Children under Fire
This children’s literature seminar examines how boys and girls have been portrayed as killers or martyrs, soldiers or refugees, victims or survivors in fairy tales, films, memoirs and fiction for young readers. (Goodenough)

Hums 334: The City in Literature and Film
The city is studied as a central character in realist, modernist and postmodern literature and film. The course presents literary reflections on the Urban Experience from the perspective of flaneurs, tourists and travelers. Writers include Woolf, Breton, Keun, Calvino, Auster. (Goertz)

Hums 334: Explorations in Berlin
This course presents an interdisciplinary study of Berlin (1871 – present) as real and imagined city. Works: Symphony of the City, Artificial Silk Girl, Wings of Desire, Book of Clouds. (Goertz)

Hums 334: Harlem Renaissance: The New Negro Movement
This course focuses on the novels, poetry and short stories of the intellectual and cultural imagination of the African American writers of the Harlem Renaissance Movement with particular attention to the work of Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, James Weldon Johnson and Nella Larsen. (Davis)

Hums 334: Unlikely Heroes: African American Literature and the Crisis of Social Realism
Through a study of the works of Richard Wright, Ann Petry, Ralph Ellison, James  Baldwin and Chester Himes, this course examines the struggles of the post-World War   II African American authors who sought to merge their interest in artistic expression with their commitment to political protest. (Davis)

Hums 340: Four Interdisciplinary Studies in 19th and 20th Century Intellectual History
This course in interdisciplinary comparative humanities examines four intellectual disciplines each in connection with the literary works of one writer: Psychoanalysis and Literature  (Freud and Kafka); Nihilism and literature (Nietzsche and Sartre); Christianity and Literature (Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky); Communism and Literature (Marx and Brecht), in which each text reciprocally illuminates the world view of the other text. (Peters)

Hums 342: Holocaust Literature and Film  
This course studies the multi-generational responses to the Holocaust experience in literature, film, the visual  arts, and music. Works: Survival at Auschwitz, Auschwitz and After The  Investigation, Maus, Shoal.  (Goertz)

Hums 360: Existentialism
This seminar focuses on the theological, psychological and social questions that  preoccupy Existentialism as a philosophical and literary movement, with particular emphasis on the works and thinking of Pascal, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Kafka, Sartre, Camus. (Peters)

Hums 361: Psychoanalysis and Literature
This seminar introduces students to Freudian and Jungian theory and then applies their psychoanalytic concepts to the literary works of Kafka, Hesse and a number of other modern writers. Also, writers’ biographies are analyzed in terms of psychoanalytic theories of neurosis and artistic creativity. (Peters)

Hums 362: Nietzsche’s Last Year (1888): Final Vision and Mental Collapse
In this philosophy seminar, students focus on the six works written in Nietzsche’s   final creative year, works that represent the culmination of his philosophic mission to dismantle most of the ideals of Western civilization as defined by the Christian church, the democratic state, modern science and the bourgeois mentality. (Peters)

Hums 365: Experiences of Atheism: The History of Skepticism and Unbelief from the
Greco-Roman to the Modern Period
This seminar examines the concepts and expressions of skepticism and unbelief in its historical and social context in four periods in Western culture: 1) the Greco –Roman world (Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius, Sextus Empiricus); 2) the European Enlightenment (Spinoza, Hume, Darwin); 3) The Founding Fathers (Paine, Jefferson,  Franklin, Madison); and 4) the Modern Period (Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud.) (Peters)