Literature and Freedom
Professor: Amardeep Singh
Email: email@example.com (preferred); or firstname.lastname@example.org
Office: 221 Drown Hall
Mailbox: 101 Drown Hall
Philip Roth, The Plot
Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner*
Reading Lolita in
Orhan Pamuk, Snow
Amitava Kumar, Husband of a Fanatic
Brief Summary of the course:
This is an 'advanced introductory' writing course for
first-year students who have placed out of English 1. The topic of the course
is 'Literature and Freedom'; our focus will be on works of contemporary world
literature (including novels and creative nonfiction) that explore the desire
to be free in repressive conditions. Some of the books are situated in
countries where totalitarian regimes dominate, like
Note: This syllabus is liable to change. Check Blackboard or your Lehigh mail for updates.
August 30 Introduction
September 1 Philip
Roth, The Plot Against
class: discuss the background for this novel, including basic
On your own (for Thursday), look up political keywords: Fascism, Nazism, Totalitarianism, Democracy, Socialism, Communism, Stalinism, anti-Semitism. In class we will talk a bit about distinguishing these terms from one another.
Hint: use 'Wikipedia' as a starting point on these keywords.
In class: discuss the concept of 'allegory'. Is this novel an allegory?
9/8 Plot Against
paper on Roth due, on the question of allegory. Begin
In-class: Discuss background for the book, including brief summary of
modern Iranian history, Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Iranian revolution,
9/22 Reading Lolita
In-class: Discuss Nafisi's references to American literature: The Great Gatsby, Henry James' Daisy Miller, Saul Bellow's Herzog, Vladimir
Nabokov's Lolita, etc.
9/27 Reading Lolita
9/29 Reading Lolita
10/4 Reading Lolita
10/6 Reading Lolita
10/11 Pacing break No class
10/13 Short paper on Nafisi due; Begin Pamuk's Snow
10/27 Finish Snow
paper on Pamuk due; Begin Mehta's
11/15 Husband of a Fanatic
11/17 Husband of a Fanatic
of a Fanatic; Paper due on
11/24 Thanksgiving; no class
Runner or Bookseller of
Runner / Bookseller of
Runner / Bookseller of
Runner / Bookseller of
Final papers due: Friday 12/15
This is a course designed to address a very current issue, and that is the role of literature (and maybe artistic expression more broadly) as a means in expressing freedom in societies which are not free.
These writers tell stories of life in deeply repressive
societies. In some cases, we are talking about places like
Of course, asking this sort of question leads us to think
about what freedom is at a basic, definitional level. It's one thing to talk
about basics like democratic elections and constitutional rights, but it gets
harder when we look at societies whose definition of “democracy” and “freedom” don't look like the American version. It's particularly
tricky in places like
We can also test the idea of freedom from within. Are there
times when the loss of freedom can be necessary? Is it all right for the police
to search passengers randomly on the subway (as has been recently introduced in
For a course on literature and freedom, it might be surprising that three of the six books I've ordered are works of non-fiction – not novels so much as memoirs. But while they are not works of fiction, each of the three books is literary in its own way.
By literary I mean the books go beyond the simple accounting of events, such as one might find in a newspaper. The writers aim to tell 'true stories', but they are also aware that the stories they tell are still in some sense 'stories'. They don't tell the objective truth in an analytical way, the way a professional historian might approach an event. Instead, they use personal observations and insights, and in many cases, personal biases. Does this make them any less reliable? What do we do with this kind of nonfiction writing? [That is one of the questions we'll be addressing this fall]
One of these nonfiction books is Azar
One of the interesting aspects of her book in particular is the fact that she refers to quite a bit of American literature. For an Iranian, she knows an awful lot about the subject! I'll summarize the plots of some of the books she talks about as we work our way through her book. One of the side-benefits is, you may learn some things about classic American literature – books like Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Nabokov's Lolita -- from this Iranian writer.
This is a writing-intensive class, so I've kept the primary readings somewhat light. But there will be quite a bit of writing. Indeed, I'll be asking for a short paper on each of the books in the course. The topic, I can tell you in advance, will be up to you.
I'll also ask for a very short paper – an opinion piece, on the question of freedom – for next class. This is not going to be graded on a letter-grade. It's really a way for me to get to know you, and see where we are in terms of your writing skills.