Mark Danner

Laughter and Vision: Explorations in the Novel of Ideas

Laughter and Vision

Explorations in the Novel of Ideas

English 190/ Fall 2018 / Tuesdays 2-5 / Wheeler 301

Mark Danner

In this seminar we will trod fiction’s “path not taken” — the tradition of the novel of ideas that, with the triumph of Realism in the nineteenth century of Dickens and Balzac, became mainstream fiction’s dark shadow. Our exploration will stretch from Rabelais, in the sixteenth century, to Thomas Mann, Walker Percy, Milan Kundera and Iris Murdoch in the twentieth, with stops in between for Laurence Sterne, Denis Diderot, Franz Kafka and Marguerite Yourcenar. Throughout we will focus on what this tradition can tell us about what the novel is, what it became — and what it can be.

Course Lectures


Class Requirements This seminar will be a mixture of lectures and discussion, backed up by a large amount of reading, some student presentations and some writing. The most important requirements are that students

*Attend all class sessions

*Keep up with reading and writing assignments

*Participate in discussions

*Deliver one presentation to the class

*Complete a final research paper

A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the quality of his or her writing, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade.

Schedule Note that all classes will meet Tuesdays at 2 pm in Wheeler 301. Update: Class will meet in Wheeler 300.

Reading Our primary reading will draw on a series of novels, classic and contemporary. They are listed below under Required Texts. I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own copies and in the edition specified, either from local bookstores or from online suppliers, so that we will all be “on the same page” and so that you will be able to highlight and annotate them.

Presentations Each student will make one presentation on the theme of the course, in some way tied to the current reading. Use of multimedia and social media during the presentation is strongly encouraged.

Writing Depending on response to the reading there may be an occasional in-class quiz, which will be short “pop” quizzes presented at the beginning of class.

Each student will complete a research paper of 12 pages on a theme raised in the course or a text discussed in it or both. A précis – a description of three to four sentences of the final paper — is due November 13. The final paper is due December 4. (Anyone handing in the paper on November 27 – a week early — will receive extra credit.)

To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest studying two works: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language,” which can be readily found on the web, and Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style.

Office Hours I will count on meeting with each of you individually at least once during the course of the term. We will make these appointments on an ad hoc basis. I am best reached via email, at My offices are Wheeler 229 and North Gate 32. My writing, speaking and other information can be found at my website,

Grading Students will be graded on their preparedness and their participation in class, the strength of their presentations and the quality of their written work, as follows:

Attendance         25 percent

Participation       25 percent

Presentation       25 percent

Final Paper            25 percent

Required Texts

Denis Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist (Penguin, 1983 [1796])

Franz Kafka, The Castle (Schocken, 1998 [1930])

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Harper, 2009 [1984])

Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel (Harper, 2003 [1986])

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice (Norton, 1994 [1912])

Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (New Directions, 2006 [1936])

Walker Percy, The Moviegoer (Farrar Straus 2018 [1962])

Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (Penguin, 2006 [1552])

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (Norton, 1980 [1767])

Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian (Farrar Straus, 2005 [1951])

Tentative Syllabus

August 28 – Introduction to the Novel’s Other Path. Works of Art in Prose.

                     Franz Kafka, “The Judgment”

                     Jorge Luis Borges, “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”

September 4 — Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

                        Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel (excerpts)

September 11 – Thomas Mann, Death in Venice

September 18 – No Class

September 25 – Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

October 2 – Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

October 9 – Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

October 16 – Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

October 23 – Denis Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist

October 30 – Denis Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist

November 6 – Franz Kafka, The Castle

November 13 – Franz Kafka, The Castle

November 20 – Class Cancelled

November 27 – Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian

       Precis of final paper due

December 4 – Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian; Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

      Final research paper due, 12 pages

Annotated Syllabus  

August 28 – Introduction to the Novel’s Other Path. Works of Art in Prose.

                     Franz Kafka, “The Judgment” (Undiscussed)

                     Jorge Luis Borges, “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”

Additional handouts:

-Northrop Frye, “Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays” (Undiscussed)

-Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel (Pt. I: “The Depreciated Legacy of Cervantes”)  (Undiscussed)   

Our discussion focused on defining–or attempting to define–the genre of the Menippean Satire.

(Note: There are no extant Menippean Satires, yet the term is very much in use today)

-I have recreated the notes as Professor Danner illustrated them on the board; I thought his ‘map’ of sorts was helpful in its visual clarity–see below.)


Other mentions:

-Federico Fellini, Satyricon (film)

-Apuleius, The Golden Ass

September 4 — Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

                            Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel (excerpts) (undiscussed)

*Discussion will continue September 11; Additionally, read “Dialogue on the Art of the Novel” and “Dialogue on the Art of Composition”



1954- East Germany

1956- Hungary (Imre Nagy: Hungarian communist politician who was appointed Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Hungarian People’s Republic)

1968- Prague Spring

1987- Solidarity Coup

1989- Fall of the Berlin wall; end of the Cold War

*As Kundera writes The Unbearable Lightness of Being he has been living in Paris for nine years.


The book is divided into seven Parts:

*(The seven parts and the predominant character(s) of each)

The inherent musicality of the text can be seen in the seven parts of the book; the letters to the right emphasize the strange ‘chronology’ of the narrative, a chronology not predicated on the trajectory of ordered time but rather characters and their ‘themes’.


PART ONE: Lightness and Weight Tomas A

PART TWO: Soul and Body Tereza B

PART THREE: Words Misunderstood Sabina [Franz] C

PART FOUR: Soul and Body Tereza B

PART FIVE: Lightness and Weight Tomas A

PART SIX: The Grand March Sabina [Franz] C

PART SEVEN: Karenin’s Smile Tereza B

Reoccurring Themes:

(Think of a “theme” as resembling the overarching “theme” of a musical composition)

  1. Betrayal/Fidelity
  2. Bowler Hat
  3. Reoccurring dreams: crows nest and pool; the hill and Tereza’s assisted suicide; ‘Platform’ sex scene
  4. Bulrush
  5. Oedipus
  6. Es Muss Sein
  7. Mirrors
  8. Photography
  9. Grand March
  10. Vertigo

Other themes:

  1. Sickness
  2. Fortuity (pages 35, 48)

For next class: come to class with one passage of choice from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

September 11 – Thomas Mann, Death in Venice; also read: Mann’s “Working Notes”, “Extracts from Letters”,

Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel (“Dialogue on the Art of the Novel” and “Dialogue on the Art of Composition”)

Philip Roth (interview with Kundera) “The Most Original Book of the Season”:

*Death in Venice is realism but with a mythological, “mythico” (psychological level being brought into the novel), and allusionary ‘secondary plot line’. It is by no means a work of realistic fiction (such as Dickens).  It is a free and direct narrative that utilizes the “self-portrait” technique—we see this in Aschenbach’s description of his morning routine, among other things. Mann draws inspiration from Plato’s Symposium and Phaedra, and Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy.

Historical fictional elements:  In 1911 Mann took an identical trip to Venice with his wife where he encountered a young Polish boy (Wladyslaw Moes) in a sailor suit. Around this same time there was a malaria outbreak in Palermo. See:

  1.     Gilbert Adair, The Real Tadzio: Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and the Boy Who Inspired It

Apollonian (Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy)                   VS            Dionysian (Euripides, The Bacchae)

-Discipline             -Passion

-Self-control              -Uncontrolled

-Reason              -Self-indulgence

-Harmony              -Sensual

-Light (Apollo= god of the sun)              -Fertile

*The restrained, self-absorbed, precise life of the Artist

Conclusion: as the narrative progresses, Aschenbach’s apollonian obstinacy is adulterated. He becomes ever the more Dionysian in character.

Cholera and Dionysus

-Cholera as a “Dionysian infection”: the disease shares the same characteristics as the god; Dionysus is an outsider from Asia, an “invader from without” and Cholera was spread from the east to the west.  

The Beginning Scenes

Pages 3-4: Imagery of death (cemetery, Greek crosses, the “red” featured devil-like stranger).

-The beginning of a mythological stream that runs throughout the book.

-Series of figures described relatively the same way:

  1.     The strange “traveler”
  2.     The man on the ship
  3.     The gondolier
  4.     The performer/guitar player

*The first man possesses devil-like characteristics: red haired, horned, teeth pulled back, situated by a graveyard. This figure triggers Aschenbach’s sudden need to escape; the devil tempts him.

Page 5:

Description of the foliage: too ripe, verdant, monstrous, moist, rank= utter opposite of the “Apollonian Aschenbach” in its most unrestrained form.

To be continued:

-The ending: doesn’t make sense in the realistic vein of the story, but rather the mythological one.

-Notes on “Love”: Obsessional love or not love at all?

September 18 – No Class

September 25 – Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (Class Cancelled)

October 2 – Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (recording)

*A book about what it is to love humanity; we can consider it a philosophy book explaining the themes of its era.


*When Rabelais published his first chronicle (pre-dating Pantagruel) it was best seller. The chronicle is effectively a comic book with some of the same features that can be seen in his books on Pantagruel and Gargantua.

Giants: “Tales of giants” predate Rabelais—everybody knows the “giants” stories; Gargantua existed before Rabelais. Pantagruel also pre-dated Rabelais, however Rabelais made him a giant.

The High Renaissance

*The “high renaissance” 1490s-1527 (Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Durer)

-Advent of the printing press, mass-market books

-Italian renaissance artist came into France; culture percolated upward into France from Italy (original renaissance)

-Rabelais was the superlative renaissance writer

-He was exceptionally erudite (certainly a renaissance man)

-He studied medicine and learned about classic authors who wrote about medicine (e.g. Pliny)

Renaissance Humanism

-E.g. Erasmus

Renaissance politics (16th century, France)

*The reformation (occurring concurrently with the Renaissance)

-A revolt against papal authority

-with the revival of the classics and Greek/Latin, people were able to read the holy texts themselves.

-Three consequences of the Renaissance:

  1. Knowledge was widely distributed
  2. Printing press invented
  3. Greek and Roman (Greek= one could read the New Testament)

Rabelais became a Franciscan monk

-Greek is banned while he is learning it

-Rabelais is pushing the boundary line; he was an evangelical, a “mild” reformer (sympathetic to M. Luther, critical of the Church)

-Edits were made to Pantagruel/Gargantua because of church censorship (e.g. Rabelais stopped criticizing the Sorbonne, the center of French theology.

-Rabelais tries to group himself under the protection of the king (who is less conservative than the Sorbonne)

1537: a period of peace, humanist trying to gently shake off the church; free access to scriptures

-Rabelais product of oral literature; the king delighted in having Rabelais read aloud to him

-He is the first “major” author to write in demotic French

The Two “Voices” of the Book


*the voice of renaissance humanism and modern humanism

-Current of knowledge condemning war (rejecting ideas of aggressive war as seen with Picorole)

-Advocacy of benign leadership; both stories about the education of a king (yet diametrically opposed to Machiavelli’s The Prince)

-The angelic voice, the enlightened Christian sage; a Christian who believes in God but also the search for knowledge

-A mildly evangelic, mildly reformist voice

-Highbrow, intellectual

-serious, optimistic voice about humanity

-prevalent in the second book

-wisdom about avoiding bloodshed


The “Rabelaisian” voice

-encyclopedic curses


-childish folk-humor


-bawdy-The second book becomes much more “causal”

-Pop-culture, low-brow entertainment

*However, the books of Pantagruel and Gargantua are essentially parallels; both stories are about the education and development of a king; a degree of empiricism (i.e. “research” on “ass-wiping”)

-Both books have a similar arch (birth, hereditary, travel, education, exploits, war):

  1. baby
  2. education
  3. issues/obstacles pertaining to education
  4. eventually educated
  5. war, which proves compassion, humanism

*The second book exhibits these two voices

-Parodies parents

-Paradises education: old mode by rote and new ways (constantly being read to, exercise, languages)

-ideal renaissance education= formula for new learning in the new age!

– Serio-comic: many voices, not one authoritarian voice

Passages, Themes, Motifs:

Chapter 8, page 45:

*Gargantua’s letter to his son, Pantagruel

-Essentially a liberal humanist document

-depiction of the renaissance with allusions to classical learning, print press/books

-emergence of light and knowledge after the dark and middle ages” “bright beautiful age of knowledge”

-books are obtainable

-the church had a monopoly on knowledge (before the renaissance).


*evokes fellowship, story-telling, pleasure=HUMANITY

-a symbol of humanism, fellow feeling for all

-“lexographic drunkenness”

Page 156

-proportions are boundless; the giant is as large as you will imagine

-We are never told exactly how tall they are

-However, by book three the emphasis on them being giants disappears.

Page 373

-Pantagruelian voice

-Utopia (the new abbey)

-opposite of the restrained, ascetic monastic lifestyle

-humanistic, very optimistic vision

October 9 – Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (recording)


-Religion was the key intellectual topic of the time

-Rabelais threatened the establishment with his evangelical views and sentiments; his books were censored

-Rabelais fled to Metz, an imperial city in the Holy Roman Empire

-12 year delay between his first and second books (1546, after the High Renaissance)

-He wrote the first book for monetary purposes

Book 3

– “Giant” references are oppressed

-More of a menippean satire, far more satirical

– “Epistomophilia”: quest to find knowledge

-Full of recondite knowledge

-The model of Faust came 50-60 years earlier.

-The quest to find Panurge a wife

-They don’t do any of the practical things you might think they should, i.e. actually find Panurge a woman.

The end of Book Three

The conversation between Gargantua and Pantagruel:

  1. Pantagruel’s father will–in a hierarchical way–find him a wife
  2. Pantagruel is honoring his father
  3. Pantagruel’s situation is opposed to Panurge’s; Panurge does not have a father to do this for him
  4. The dialogue (i.e. the diatribe)  is at the root of this literature–this form is a descent of Lucien.

Page 594:

  1. Preservation of social order
  2. Assumed that Pantagruel will marry and Gargantua will chose his wife
  3. Pointing to the conservative ideas of social order
  4. Implies that we do not necessarily need to destroy old social values in exchange for new ones such as education.
  5. Reference to “syphillic pimps” is even conservative, as if to imply society/morality is continuously degrading

The Fourth Book

*Commentary on the reformation is especially prevalent in Book Four.

-The Council of Trent (1545) is happening.

  1. Attempts to solve the problems exposed by Calvin and Luther, among other reformists.
  2. Lays the groundwork for the Counter-Reformation
  3. Attempt to bolster the church and make doctrinal changes
  4. Ended up failing; intensified the clash

*Pantagruel calls The Council of Fools (satirizes the Council of Trent)

-Travels resembling those of Odysseus and the Argonauts

-A tale like the Odyssey where we come across real and imaginary creatures: i.e. the wind eaters (parallels the lotus eaters in the Odyssey), the chameleon-esque creature, the incident between the sheep merchant and Panurge (comedy of cruelty)

-In the fourth book Panurge becomes a coward and Frere Jean becomes more arrogant, boisterous, and heroic

-There is a lot more fantasy and fantastical ideology

-Pantagruel becomes more pious, remote, regal; there is not much emphasis on his size

Page 606:

-The Pantagruelian plant is actually a reference to marijuana

-Represents the new world, the age of discovery

-The discovery and exploitation of major stimulants: coffee, sugar, chocolate

-Seeing the Renaissance world through an “intellectual prism”

Page 552:

-The tale of “The Cook, the Smeller, and the Fool who Judges”

-Commentary on the things we cannot monetarise because they are intangible (i.e. smells)

Page 661:

-An attempt at geography

Page 670:

-Letters between Gargantua and Pantagruel: a pause from the comedy showing true filial affection

For next class: Read up to the end of volume IV (page 237) of Tristam Shandy

October 16 – Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (recording)


-Circa George III and pre-American Revolution

-Born in Ireland

-Attended Jesus College, Cambridge

-He was a clergyman

-Published sermons, wrote novels later in life

Rabelais versus Tristram Shandy

*Rabelais was Sterne’s favorite author

-Level of humanism: Toby versus Pantagruelism

-Structure: delay of information

-Women: theorized about

-Mention of classical learning (Greek and Latin)

-Both texts are obsessed with with learning

-Both books utilized a degree of allusiveness

-The book is narratively much more complicated than Rabelais

“The Reader”:

-Rabelais would almost always directly address the reader versus Sterne’s “syphilic”, pox ridden readers; a sort of camaraderie of readers

-Sterne often addresses the reader as “madame”, “sir”, or “your worship”

-The reader almost becomes a character, becomes imbedded in the narrative

-Dialogue is between Sterne and the reader

-The reader is even addressed as “a reader”


-Considered the first postmodern novel”: some may consider Cervantes’ Don Quixote the first of the moderns (he wrote fifty years after Rabelais).

-Released serialy in book form, two volumes at a time, from 1759-1767; by volume nine it was a very famous book, a hit.

-Sterne competed with his contemporary, Henry Fielding

Postmodern characteristics:

  1. Two main narrative lines” Tristam and Toby
  2. Reliance on foreshadowing
  3. Experiments in topography
  4. “Ab ovo” (versus in medias res): meaning “from the egg”. The book begins with conception versus “in the middle of things”.

-Pages 1-2: the “early interruption” (the source of all of Tristram’s problems).

-satirizing novels or the conventional beginnings of novels.

Page 26:

-A sort of stream of consciousness form

-Tristram’s history is not linear in the conventional sense

– “A history of what passes in a man’s mind” (61)

Digression and Progression

  1. Fragmented narrative (i.e. digression): sermons, his father’s story, Toby’s story, etc.
  2. Highly self-conscious; obsessed with the means of art-making. He is obsessed with the act of storytelling.
  3. Experiments with printing
  4. As a narrator he is preoccupied with time, duration
  5. The form feels open; it will take in all the flux and variety of the world
  6. Sterne gives more attention to time and duration versus clock-time, a form that will give the reader a more faithful depiction of reality.

Page 73-74: “It is about an hour and a half’s tolerable good reading…”

  1. He’s comparing narrative time to elapsed time, that of which can be further subdivided by pendulum time (time by the clock) and duration (time passing).
  2. Higher realism: a pretense of higher realism here

-A pretense of honesty and transparency, as if Sterne is trying to say: “I’m writing and trying to tell you   the story of my life but it’s taking a long time”

-Addressing a third party: “my hyper-critick”

Tristram’s Father (Walter)

-He’s stubborn and  peculiar (in his beliefs)

-He’s a “pseudo-scientific crank”

-One of his superstitions is noses: the family does not have big enough noses; Tristram’s nose is crushed by forceps.

-He’s obsessed with the “power” of christian names and hates the name Tristram

-Walter tries to fit things into his preconceived notions.  He has his determined categories into which everything can be organized .

-The book portrays the progress of a mental life–the mental life of the narrator (its unusual sequence)

-The book is about the writing of a narrative

-”Narrative heterogeneity”

October 23 – Denis Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist

*Notes adapted from Maddi Ghatak


-Open and all-inclusive; representative of the real world

-Portrays mental life of narrator

-Ultra postmodernist

– It was quite popular during its time

-Heavily criticized

-Grew in popularity over a period of eight years

Confusions and Misunderstandings:

-Page 62: More parallels with Rabelais

-Narrator/hero as minor character (paradox)

-Marriage plot reveals absurd consequentialism

Vivid Characters:

-e.g. Toby

-Virtues outweigh eccentricities

-Through hobby-horses (obsessions)

-Toby and Walter share ineffectuality

-Certain wholeness: endearing quality

-Humanistic elements

-E.g. Walter as mock tragic figure (vs. object of pure satire or tradition of skepticism in empiricist tradition)

-How do we know that the external world exists?

-How do we know other people? (Through hobby-horse obsessions)


October 30 – Denis Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist (recording)

The book is immensely self-conscious, aware of its subversity and its modernity. It is a long concatenation of stories, love stories actually, involving deception–as well as game-playing, masks, land lies. But why all the deception?

Literary-critical terminology:

  1. Chronotope: configurations of time and space are represented in language and discourse–either literal or figurative (or both, simultaneously) temporal and spatial elements.
  2. The “first narrative”: the temporal level of the narrative; the predominant narrative.

-What is the “first narrative” in Jacques the Fatalist? Because it reads like drama (in all of its realist, very immediate dialogue), what is the predominant narrative? Is it the discourse/conversation between Jacques and his Master? Is it the assumed author’s commentary and digressions?

Passage Analysis:

Page 406:

-Toby misses the double-entendres but the reader does not.

Page 252-53:

  • “The manuscript doesn’t say…”, i.e. the voice of the editor (and not the narrator). This voice is also present on page 251. Diderot is making fun of editors, scholars, critics. It is a much more knowledgeable voice than Toby’s: “You are wrong insidious slanderer” (the editor speaking to the reader). The editor also offers us three different options for the ending of book.
  • “Kisses her…hand” correction: in the original French edition, what Jacques kisses remains ambiguous; he does not necessarily kiss her hand.
  • Discrepancy with page 406 in Tristram Shandy: No naive, innocent character–i.e. Toby–interrupting  and misinterpreting. Also, Denise is aware of what she is doing; she’s notably nervous.

Page 254:

-The third ending is ridiculously novelistic.

-It ends with reference to Rabelais and cuckoldry.

Page 1:

-These questions come from who?

-Master-valet dynamic revealed

-The novelist has complete caprice but Jacques does not.

-Paradox between freedom and determinism: Jacques’ master stands for freedom, for Christian non-determinism.

Page 200:

-Pantagruelian voice/ Pantagruelism

November 6 – Franz Kafka, The Castle (recording)

*See notes below, November 13


November 13 – Franz Kafka, The Castle (recording)

Suggested Reading:

Biographical Notes

-Kafka wrote between the wars–WWI produced high modernism

-He’s grouped with the likes of Nietzsche and Ionesco

-Renaissance versus Modernity: things can be known versus what do we know?

-Known as the “poet of bureaucracy”= the strangeness/exoticism of bureaucracy

The Castle is a quest novel about…a quest for meaning

-Kafka’s parables: open (unclosable) vs. transparent

-One of the temptations with Kafka is to try to penetrate the surface and find an answer (but rather, try to ward off the constant itch to answer things).

The Castle: Facts and Criticism

-The latest of Kafka’s novels, in some ways The Castle is more like other novels (e.g. characters are returned to; more social connections)

-Kafka published six books in his lifetime. He was well-known amongst literary circles of his time.

The Castle: Context

-Max Brod salvaged Kafka’s manuscript

-Considering that The Castle was left unfinished, we are likely reading a first-draft

-Post-religious; modern; post-enlightenment; secular–absolute lack of spiritual authority

-An empty universe; a quest for a reenchantment of the world– a “dirty quest”

-Ending: certain degree of humor, paradox


-Kafkaesque: arbitrary bureaucratic, or paradoxical; taken as part of the existential tradition or reveal a sort of bureaucratic realism (bureaucratic totalitarianism)

-Kafkaesque in Kunders: the power of the bureaucracy as seen with Tomas’ Oedipus article

-Most humanistic of Kafka’s novels. Characters described; love; family; community explored

-A key theme in the novel is man’s trying to make himself part of a community

-Hannah Arendt on Kafka: Sees K. as a humanist figure who is isolated because he dares to ask for basic human rights. He should be regarded as the only “normal” character.

-Why is K. an outsider?; What makes him different? K. is an outsider for trying to make his way into a community. He’s a surveyor; he is scientific, a data collector

Modernity and Religion

-Religious obfuscation: in search of “the sacred”, i.e. the castle

-Searching for something in a post-god, post-religious world

– The castle officials seen as a “gang of agnostic demons” (Erich Heller)

-The misbehavior of the officials: they are certainly not “angels of the castle”

-Sleeping with the village women: a “homeric” twist–they come to the village and plunder in search of women

-In this way the officials seem god-like

-Amalie’s story shows the sexual exploitation of village women by the officials.

-Code of honor: if you turn down an official, you lose your honor.

Page 8:

“Earthly buildings”. It is what it is but it represents something; religious imagery paired with the castle. It is not necessarily heavenly but yet he’s extolling it.

-Religious imagery of his youth


-Klamm: “Klam” means “illusion” in Czech

-The assistants serve as rivals to K.; they undermine his quest.

Page 138-39:

– parody or melodrama?

November 20 – Class cancelled


November 27– Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian (recording)

Suggested Reading:

Precis of final paper due


December 4 – Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian; Djuna Barnes, Nightwood  (recording)

The rich glory of humanism in Hadrian vs. the darkness of Nightwood in which everyone is dealing with unsatisfied desire and grief over love-lost.

-But where do they cross paths?

  1. Considering homosexuality without much thought
  2. Each delves into loss; Nightwood “springs from loss”. It is a “hymn” to the collapsed love affair between Djuna and Thelma Wood
  3. Obsessessional quality in Nightwood and Hadrian. In Hadrian, grief was an impetus to create, i.e. Antinopolis.


-Everybody is putting forward a pretext

-Robin is described as a “beast turning human”


-Nora: ”A man is another person, a woman is herself…on her mouth you kiss her own”

-Reminiscent of the Symposium.

-Narcissistic framework about love

-Eternally angry, eternally separate; love itself, because you’re doomed to be separate, is painful.

-The novel very much came out of a failed love affair between Barnes and Thelma Wood

-Pessimistic pain about life

-There isn’t much that happens; the love affair does not have much to it; there is a sort of emptiness, then, at the heart of the book.

-Too much doctor, too much pain, and too little pith (in terms of the affair).

December 11– Final research paper due, 12 pages