Political and Other Memoirs: The Odyssey and Voyages of [Self] Discovery

Discipline: Special Topics in Literature
Instructor: Bekavac
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1050
End: 1205
Field Work: Day 1 - Saturday, 30 August | Russia Download Syllabus

We will begin with The Odyssey, the account of a ten year “Semester at Sea” in which the hero, a veteran of the Trojan War, confronts challenges from monsters to sirens in his voyage home to re-establish his kingship.  A foundational tale of Western culture, it will frame our reading of other narratives of travel in which the adventures – only some at sea – teach us important lessons about the narrator and the societies he/she encounters.  Some, like Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries (2003), recount actual travels through South America; others, like Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom (1994) and Jacobo Timerman’s Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number (1981), are more metaphorical journeys of personal reflection during political crisis.  Students will be responsible for reading The Odyssey, background texts on politics and leadership, and selected memoirs selected from the list for the class, One of which will form the basis of a short paper and one of which will form the basis of a longer paper or project, to be presented in class. Students will also keep a journal – shared with the class – of observations based on the work during the semester in class and in shore visits we make.  They will be asked to reflect on which aspects of history, culture, economics, personal development, or politics they value most and to present their conclusions to the class in a final project.  Note:  This class will also involve viewing a number of films, and those films are to be regarded as a modern legacy of the oral tradition of the epic poem – that is, they are popular, demotic (in the language of the popular culture), dramatic and non-literary even if derived from literary sources.  To the extent possible, reflections on the films should be considered as viable sources for themes and issues presented in the papers.

Field Work

Country: Russia
Day: 1 - Saturday, 30 August

One of the key concepts of the course is the image of leadership and how it functions in the various countries we will visit.  Our field lab for this course will occur during the first stop of the voyage, so it is important that you read the first assignments and focus on the field lab assignment.  Leadership in any culture or society is shaped by cultural expectations and norms, and in St. Petersburg we will encounter both a solid image – a monumental equestrian sculpture of the founder of the city, Peter the Great – as well as reflections of that figure through both 19th century and 20th century literature.  You will note that the image itself was created at the order of another historic leader, Catherine the Great, as you will see on the inscription on the base.  The figure of this statue – actually designed and executed by a Frenchman at the behest of a German princess turned Russian autocrat – resounds down the centuries.  The assignment will be for you to look at the figure – REALLY LOOK – and reflect on what you see, what it tells us about the leaders represented and involved, how you respond to it and what you take the figures to represent.  You should connect your response to “The Bronze Horseman” and the Brodsky essay, and also to the Weber typologies of leadership.  This assignment is not only about Russian history and leadership, but is intended to model how you look at, interrogate, evaluate and respond to other cultural monuments we will encounter, including war memorials, chapels, triumphal arches and other public monuments throughout the voyage.  You will receive an assignment sheet before we go ashore. Do note, of course, that this aristocratic and historical image was never damaged by the Revolution of 1917 and, indeed, was carefully protected during the horrendous siege of then-Leningrad for over two years of starvation and bombardment by Nazi forces in the Second World War.  We will also visit another memorial to a Russian leader, Lenin, at The Finland Station, where he re-entered the country (sent by the Germans) to foment a rebellion, thus weakening Russian resistance on the Eastern Front in World War I.  You will be required to write a short response paper for the class – depending on class size, they may be presented during class time -- after our Russian visit based in you viewing and the reading materials.  NOTE:  This paper will count for as much as 20% of your final grade.   Academic Objectives: 1.  Analyze the symbolism of a monument in terms of political leadership and legitimacy; consider the historical roots of the monument and its present condition, civic importance, and whether it successfully conveys what it apparently was intended to convey. 2.  Develop a sense of the history and continuity/discontinuity of one of the world’s great cities 3.  Contrast the origin, materials, appearance and civic importance of Peter the Great/Lenin