HUMS 639
The Nobel Writers

Indira Karamcheti

Course Description

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) is the subject of an enormous irony: a fortune made in explosives funds the world's most prestigious award for peace, for "fraternity between nations." His will provides that his considerable estate award prizes in five areas: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, as well as for work promoting world peace (economics was added later as a prize category). Since 1901, these prizes have become the most prestigious international recognition of achievement, and they have been earned by a broadly international register of scientists, activists, and authors. Nobel's will explicitly states a desire to transcend national boundaries. He writes that the prizes should be distributed to "those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind," and that it is his "express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he is Scandinavian or not." The prizes for literature have followed Nobel's desire for international distribution, having been given to 104 persons from all continents for writing that is recognized as "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction." Seemingly, Nobel has an implicit belief in a universal humanity and in the possibility of progress towards the harmonious co-existence of different people.

As with all important texts, the problem since 1901 has been one of interpretation. What exactly are the criteria for establishing the "greatest benefit [to] mankind," or the greatest worthiness? How is "the most outstanding" to be gauged and what are the terms of its evaluation? In terms of the award for literature, what does exactly does "an ideal direction" mean? Professor Kjell Espmark, member of the Swedish Academy, writes in The Nobel Prize in Literature, A Study of the Criteria behind the Choices, that, "Indeed, the history of the Literature Prize is in some way a series of attempts to interpret an imprecisely worded will."

Keeping in mind Alfred Nobel's desire for a prize that recognizes a genuinely human achievement that transcends human differences, and recognizing that we don't really know what such an achievement might be, our class will analyze one selected text from each of the ten most recent winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. A capsule description of the three most recent reveals their global provenance and their monumental themes. Doris Lessing, the 2007 winner, born in Iran, longtime resident of South Africa, now in the United Kingdom, has long been recognized for a global perspective that critiques racism, colonialism, and especially the place and role of woman in a landscape riven by the unequal distribution of power. Turkey's Orhan Pamuk examines a world, located as it is at the intersection of Europe and the Middle East, that has historically been the site of the volatile mix of cultures, languages, and commerce. Harold Pinter, raised in World War II's war-torn London, is best known for plays that dramatize a world where the individual moves darkly between others' unknown motives and a menacing politics.

Since they and the other winners of the Nobel Prize for literature write about and are from places as diverse as South Africa, Turkey, Germany, Austria, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, what about these works achieves that standard of being the "most outstanding" internationally? We will examine the individual works in order to understand their own internal cultural, intellectual, and aesthetic dynamics. And we will also read them in relation to two kinds of contexts: first, the microcontext of the Nobel Prize itself. What does the Committee see in them that answers the terms of Alfred Nobel's will? Second, what are the broader socio-historical, political, and cultural contexts within which the work is produced, read, and in which the prize is awarded? In this way, the opportunity to read and enjoy some of the works recognized as the "best" will simultaneously allow us the chance to interrogate the desire for a universal humanity and a universal value.

Texts

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

Orhan Pamuk, My Name Is Red

Harold Pinter, The Homecoming

Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher

John Coetzee, Disgrace

Imre Kertesz, Kaddish for a Child Not Born

V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr Biswas

Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain

Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum

Jose Saramago, Baltasar and Blimunda

Articles (recommended reading)

http://nobelprize.org:  Go on the official site for the Nobel organization and get a sense of its history, including the biography of Alfred Nobel.  I recommend that you read the relevant portions of his Will and the description of the prize for literature.  As we go through our class, please read the presentation speeches and the Nobel Lectures for each author, and any other information you think relelvant.

JStor:  many articles are available on-line in this site.  You can find it by going to the Wesleyan University home page, then to “Library,” to “Indexes and Databases.”  Besides JStor, you will also find useful articles through the “MLA Index” and the ”Humanitiies” index, both available through the “Indexes and Databases” on Wesleyan University  “Library.”

I will put as many of the following articles on your electronic portfolio as I can:

“The Nobel Prize: History and Canonicity,” Richard Jewell, The Journal of the Midwest Language Association, Vol. 33, No. 1, (Winter, 2000), pp. 97-113

LESSING:  “Nuclear Cassandra:  Prophecy in Doris Lessing’s ‘The Golden Notebook,’” Sarah Henstra, Papers on Language and Literature, v. 43 no. 1 (Winter 2007) p. PLL3-PLL23

“Reading a Wordless Statement:  the Structure of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook,” Patrocinio P. Schweickart, Modern Fiction Studies, v. 31 (Summer 1985) p. 263-79

ORHAN PAMUK:  “Orhan Pamuk and the ‘Ottoman’ Theme,” Erdag Goknar, World Literature Today, 80, no. 6  November-December 2006, pp. 34-37

“A Pedagogy of Two Ways of Seeing:  A Confrontation of ‘Word and Image’ in My Name Is Red,” Feride Cicekoglu, Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 37, No. 3, (Autumn, 2003), pp. 1-20

HAROLD PINTER:  “Pinter’s The Homecoming Revisited,” Penelope Prentice, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 26, No. 4, (Winter, 1980), pp. 458-478

ELFRIEDE JELINEK:  “Elfriede Jelinek’s Language of Violence,” Beatrice Hanssen, New German Critique, No. 68, Special Issue on Literature, (Spring-Summer, 1996), pp. 79-112

COETZEE:    “J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the South African Pastoral,” Rita Barnard, J. M. Coetzee, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Summer 20003), pp. 199-224

KERTESZ:  “The Holocaust and Problems of Historical Representation,” Robert Braun, History and Theory, Vol. 53, No. 2 (May, 1994), pp. 172-197

XINGJIAN:  “The Case for Literature,” Gao Xingjian, Mabel Lee, PMLA, Vol. 116, No. 3 (May, 2001), pp. 594-6-8

“Conversations with Gao Xingjian:  The First ‘Chinese’ Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature,” Gregory Lee, Noel Dutrait, The China Quarterly, No. 167 (Sep., 2001), pp. 738-748

“China’s Writers, the Nobel Prize, and the International Politics of Literature,” Wendy Larson and Richard Kraus, The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No. 21 (Jan. 1989), pp. 143-160

GRASS:  “’To be Continued . . . ‘” Gunter Grass and Michael Henry Heim, PMLA, Vol. 115, Nol. 3, (May, 2000), pp. 292-309

SARAMAGO:  “Ebb and Flow:  Place as Pretext in the Novels of Jose Saramago,” Mary L. Daniel, Luso-Brazilian Review, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Winter, 1990), pp. 25-39

“The Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian World,” Domnita Dumitrescu, Hispania, Vol. 82, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 154-166

Requirements

One class-facilitation, and five response papers (1-2 pages), for which no research is required; YOU MAY GIVE ME THE RESPONSE PAPERS WHEN YOU THINK BEST.  HOWEVER, the responses are to be written before we discuss the book in question, and you may not give me more than one response paper at any one time.  Two essays (2-4 pages for the first and 8-10 for the second).  Research for the two essays is encouraged but not required.

Syllabus

Of course, it would be ideal if we could read all the books in their entirety.  However, I know that some of the books are quite lengthy; all are weighty and thought-provoking.  You are the best judges of your capabilities and time.  For each book, I will list the pages I would like you to have read for our class discussions; if you can read the entire work, that’s great.  If you can’t, just make sure you’ve prepared the pages I’ve listed.

The Golden Notebook

Tuesday, June 24:          Please read two the introductions (1993 and 1971) , and pages 1-145

                                    Recommended:  Browse the Nobel website and read “The Nobel Prize: History and Canonicity,” Richard Jewell

                                    BE PREPARED TO SIGN UP FOR A DAY ON WHICH YOU WILL FACILITATE A CLASS DISCUSSION

Thursday, June 26:         Please read pages 146-242 and  583-640

                                    Recommended:  “Nuclear Cassandra:  Prophecy in Doris Lessing’s ‘The Golden Notebook,’” Sarah Henstra

                                                            “Reading a Wordless Statement:  the Structure of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook,” Patrocinio P. Schweickart

My Name Is Red

Tuesday, July 1:                        Please read pages 3-128 and 356-417

                                    Recommended:  “Orhan Pamuk and the ‘Ottoman’ Theme,” Erdag Goknar

                                                            “A Pedagogy of Two Ways of Seeing:  A Confrontation of ‘Word and Image’ in My Name Is Red,” Feride Cicekoglu

The Homecoming

Thursday, July 3:                        Please read the entire play

                                    Recommended:  “Pinter’s The Homecoming Revisited,” Penelope Prentice

The Piano Teacher

Tuesday, July 8:                         Please read pages 3-109 and 212-280

                                    Recommended:  “Elfriede Jelinek’s Language of Violence,” Beatrice Hanssen

Disgrace

Thursday, July 10:          Please read all

                                    Recommended:  “J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the South African Pastoral,” Rita Barnard, J. M. Coetzee

Kaddish for an Unborn Child

Tuesday, July 15:          Please read all

                                    Recommended:  “The Holocaust and Problems of Historical Representation,” Robert Braun

                                    ESSAY # 1 DUE IN CLASS, 2-4 PAGES

A House for Mr. Biswas

Thursday, July 17:          Please read pages 5-76

Tuesday, July 22:          Please read pages 77-196 and 548-564

Soul Mountain

Thursday, July 24:         Please read pages v-57 and312-451

                                    Recommended:  “The Case for Literature,” Gao Xingjian, Mabel Lee

“Conversations with Gao Xingjian:  The First ‘Chinese’ Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature,” Gregory Lee, Noel Dutrait

“China’s Writers, the Nobel Prize, and the International Politics of Literature,” Wendy Larson and Richard Kraus

The Tin Drum

Tuesday, July 29:          Please read pages 15-206

                                    Recommended:  ’To be Continued . . . ‘” Gunter Grass and Michael Henry Heim

Baltasar and Blimunda

Thursday, July 31:         Please read pages 3-117 and 283-343

                                    Recommended:  “Ebb and Flow:  Place as Pretext in the Novels of Jose Saramago,” Mary L. Daniel

“The Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian World,” Domnita Dumitrescu

                                    ESSAY # 2 DUE IN CLASS:  8-10 PAGES

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