LITR 056G. Outbreak Narratives

(Cross-listed as GMST 056 )
This Medical Humanities course invites students to pause and think about the contradiction inherent in human contact: on the one hand, we need it in order to flourish, while on the other hand, it poses potential risks.  Informed by a theoretical framework that draws on insights from fields such as Disability Studies, Cultural Studies, and Gender Studies, this course offers students the opportunity to analyze German literature depicting contagious outbreaks, life in isolation, and explore the ethics of cure and human experimentation.

As part of a larger focus on the ways in which cultural representations of contagion are informed by cultural norms and how, in their turn, these representations have an impact on shaping and building cultural communities, students will be asked to consider the many connotations and valences of the term "contagion."  Most simply, the word "contagion" denotes a risk of contamination, a potentially lethal danger to the exposed subject.  This course invites students to go beyond this literal interpretation of the word in order to contemplate the ways in which contagion challenges the notion of an isolated, self-contained self, to explore the intriguing possibility of a self with fluid boundaries that is constantly shaped by a community, and to cultivate empathy for other community members in the face of shared vulnerability.  Using German literature in English translation to explore literature on the plague, cholera, tuberculosis, HIV, as well on as vampires, we will consider how race, gender, class, and historical époques shape illness stories.  In particular, we will look at the power dynamics that code contagions either as negative (where it refers, for instance, to a potentially deadly disease) or as positive (where it refers to contagious affects or an exchange of ideas).  Authors include Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Elfreide Jelinek, Thomas Mann, J. W. Goethe, Fanny Lewald, Heinrich Heine, Franz Kafka, Bertha von Suttner.
1 credit.
Catalog chapter: Modern Languages and Literatures: German Studies  
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