LITR 400: Narrative in Film and Literature
Dr. Abby Coykendall
Office Location: Pray-Harrold Hall 603G
Office Hours: MW 2:45-3:45 PM; T 1:45-3:15; Th 10-11
Office Phone: 734-487-0147 (messages only)
~ or email for an appointment ~
Literature 400: Narrative in Film and Literature
In this class, we are going to look at how narratives in cinema and literature can together articulate that which escapes unnoticed from “rational,” realistic, or science-driven accounts of experience. If only that which is understandable and registerable shapes how we perceive ourselves and our culture, then why do cinema and literature return, with so haunting a vengeance, to remind us of such bigger-than-life incongruities, “perversions,” and terrors? Whether producing horror flicks or romantic comedies, the film and print industries attempt to appeal universally to the desires of everyone. But who is this hypothetical “everyone”? And in what ways do films or books reflect that person’s supposed desires? Mass-produced and widely distributed, cinema and literature are ultimately the foremost mediums used to mirror, as well as to escape from, everyday life. With attentive reading and viewing, however, we will see that they can also serve as thinly disguised barometers of cultural conflict, especially once taken in their historical and material contexts.
Course Objectives: The principal objective of the course is to investigate the narrative techniques and discursive structures found in cinema and literature. We will focus primarily, though not exclusively, on film, since that medium is most likely the one with which you are least familiar at this point in your undergraduate major. Our ultimate aim is to examine the social construction of identity, whether it be subjective or cultural — the narratives told of self, of nation, and of the larger global community — by closely analyzing an array of emblematic films produced in differing cultural contexts. Ultimately, by the end of the course, you will be better able to
1. Identify the narrative techniques that distinguish both film and literature, as well as those utilized by each;
2. Understand how literature and film work in tandem to instill ideologies of nationality, ethnicity, race, class, gender, or sexuality;
3. Investigate how film, whether in its adaptation of the literary canon or simply in its formal structure, goes hand in hand with literature to reflect and sometimes even generate anew our cultural heritage;
4. Explore the mutual intercourse between the literary, so-called “high art,” and popular culture, while coming to recognize the respective benefits and limitations of each;
5. Inquire how the filmic adaptation of literature, the relationship between film and literature, or cinema itself change over time in distinct cultural contexts;
6. Enhance verbal, visual, and cultural literacy, as well as the hermeneutic skills that each entail, by interpreting film with the same critical acumen traditionally applied to literature alone.
Course Structure: For the majority of the semester, we will be watching a pair of films in tandem — one older, and one more contemporary — to assess the shifts in the narrative imagination occurring over time. Each set of films will be juxtaposed with a cultural theorist of note (e.g. Noam Chomsky, Laura Mulvey, Frederic Jameson, Walter Benjamin, or bell hooks), theorists who will together comprise a select yet representative survey of narrative theory and cultural studies at this particular point in time. We will also read two books of narrative theory in full — John Berger’s Ways of Seeing and Roland Barthes’ S/Z — the first to hone your skills in visual literacy and the second to hone your skills in verbal literary. In addition, we will examine one filmic adaptation of a novel in depth: the 1946 Howard Hawks’ production of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.
Art of Watching Films, Ed. Boggs and Petrie (McGraw-Hill, 2003; ISBN # 0072556269)
Roland Barthes, S/Z: An Essay (Hill and Wang, 1991; ISBN # 0374521670)
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (Vintage, 1992; ISBN #0394758285)
John Berger, Ways of Seeing (Penguin, 1995; ISBN #0140135154)
Make sure to get the same editions pictured above even if you purchase the books online, where they may be significantly less expensive; otherwise, the differing page numbers will make it difficult for you to follow along with class discussions. The most reliable way to get the correct edition is to search by ISBN number, a unique fingerprint of sorts for the book.
A number of other required texts are
located online through the Electronic Reserves (ER): http://reserves.emich.edu/eres/coursepage.aspx?cid=1829
(password 400). It is best to print out
these materials every few weeks in advance from the multimedia computers on the
first floor of the
Weekly Homework Assignments: Responses, Quizzes, Discussion Questions, Extra Credit, & Class Participation
Critical Essay: 4½-page Semiotic Analysis of Raymond Chandler’s Big Sleep
Research Project: A 8- to 10-page Comparison-Contrast Essay on Two Films, Including a Research Proposal & In-Class Presentation
We will typically be viewing and discussing one film per week, although there will be some rare exceptions such as when I will show a film during class time in full or when we will have conferences on your research projects towards the end of the semester. There will also be fewer films midway through the semester, when we will be discussing The Big Sleep and S/Z during class time in depth. Those films that you will need to watch as homework are all specified on the Schedule that follows.
I have arranged film screenings on Fridays from 6:30-8:30 in Pray Harrold 204 in order to show the films to the maximum number of people in one sitting at the same time; however, if you cannot make it to the screenings at that particular time, you will need to acquire the films scheduled for each week and arrange to watch them on your own.
Ways to Access Films: Most of the films are available on reserve at the
The reading load for this course will be somewhat lighter than usual in order to account for the extra time that you will need to spend viewing the films each week. I have also restricted the bulk of the assignments to weekly responses and/or analytic essays rather than in-class exams for the same reason. However, you should plan for a more substantial reading load for Weeks 7-9, when we will be covering The Big Sleep and S/Z — though these books both read rather quickly per page for most people anyway. Typically, you will read around 20 pages of narrative theory each week, plus one chapter from the film textbook, sometimes in combination with literature and sometimes in isolation.
Though this reading schedule is technically less extensive page-wise, it will still be fairly challenging given its philosophical nature. It is important to focus on the big picture — tracing three or four of the main ideas and honing in on specific creative applications of the theory most of interest to you — rather than getting mired in the minutia or in the mechanics of each theorist. You will not be tested on this material in any depth or in any detail, but you must be able to connect it in interesting ways to the films in your responses, be able to discuss it articulately and critically during in-class conversations, and finally be able to incorporate a select portion of it into your research essay at the end of the semester. Altogether, this selection of cultural theorists should offer a firm basis for approaching topics in all sorts of literature and film courses, as well as for simply recognizing the range of questions that can be posed about literature, film, and the larger culture on your own initiative outside of the classroom.
A large portion of the grade (35%) is based on the homework assignments rather than on exams or other more conventional forms of evaluation, so it is very important to keep up with the reading assignments and thus be able to do the other kinds of tasks that are assigned for each class. Usually, you will be doing at least one homework assignment per week in addition to the reading. Sometimes the entire class will be posting a response to the course listserv (firstname.lastname@example.org); sometimes only a portion of the class will be posting a response to the listserv, and sometimes an even smaller portion of the class will be writing a discussion question instead of a response. You will also be taking brief, online quizzes after reading the more important chapters from the Art of Watching Films: http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072556269/student_view0/index.html.
Most evenings, we will have a lecture format for the first half of the class, then take a break, and finally conclude the class by doing either peer- or group-work on the various discussion questions generated by students. This structure not only makes for a very interactive, student-centered, and dialogue-intensive format, but also one in which all students must be prepared to engage with the materials covered for the week, if only by participating in small groups.
See the Weekly Homework Assignments handout for a more in-depth description of each kind of task: http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/hmwk.htm. To determine which group you are in, and thus which task you will be doing, see the List of Group Assignments (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/groups.htm).
** NOTE: A master list of all course links and handouts is available online: http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/hand.htm#l400.
The Critical Essay & Research Project
The critical essay, a 4½-page semiotic analysis of Raymond Chandler’s Big Sleep (incorporating Barthes’ S/Z), is described on the schedule below (November 6). To ensure that the requirements are the same for all students, both this essay and the research paper must have the standard margins (only 1 inch on all sides), the standard font (Times New Roman), the standard font size (12 point), as well as double spacing.
The research project essentially entails doing an 8- to 10-page close analysis of one of the films that we have viewed for the course, comparing and/or contrasting it to another film by the same director or to another film recommended as a companion for it on the Schedule. In addition to outside research, the paper should reference at least four of the theorists required as reading over the course of the semester (not including Barthes). See the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) to find information on the various films that you are considering for the paper: http://www.imdb.com/. Links to this database are provided on the Schedule for each particular film.
You will also need to do a research proposal by the week of November 27, when you will meet with me in my office for a conference instead of attending class proper. At that time, we will discuss your project, as well as the various ways to approach it. (If you want to write on either Do the Right Thing or Full Metal Jacket, which we will be watching after that time, you will need to see the film and perhaps do some of the accompanying reading for it in advance.) On the final day — December 18 — you will present your research to the class.
** All aspects of the Research Project will eventually be described in depth on Guidelines on the Research Essay: http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/essay.htm.
You can do up to two additional responses for extra credit (either posted to the course listserv or turned in by hand). These can be responses to films that the entire class is watching, but that you are not otherwise required to write a response on; responses to films that you have seen at the State Theater, the Michigan Theater, or the Detroit Institute for Arts (DIA) over the course of the semester; or responses to any other film that you are considering examining for the paper. Like any response, the extra-credit responses must allude to one of the theorists covered in the course (either as required or recommended reading), applying one of the concepts to the film and/or directly engaging with a passage from the text. It would be a very good idea to do extra-credit responses on films that you are considering for the paper, as you can then generate ideas and get feedback for the research project while also getting additional credit at the same time.
You can also exchange your research essay with another student in the class, peer reviewing his or her essay and having your own essay peer reviewed in turn, for extra credit. See the Rubric on Peer Editing for guidelines on how to document your work (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/315/rubric.htm), preferably emailing your answers both to the peer and to myself for quick credit and feedback. Reading the rubric would be helpful even if you do not plan to partake in peer review.
Plagiarism is a very serious offense against the Code of Student Conduct. Any cheating on the quizzes or plagiarized writing will automatically result in a failing, zero-percent grade for the assignment, as well as in further disciplinary action from the Student Judicial Services if egregious. The general rule is that if you use three or more words of another writer in a row without enclosing those words in quotation marks and acknowledging your source, you are guilty of plagiarism. Turning in a paper that you wrote for another course for this course, i.e. recycling the same words for double credit, also constitutes academic dishonesty at EMU. See http://www.emich.edu/halle/plagiarism.html for more specific guidelines on plagiarism.
Because this course primarily consists of reading and discussion — rather than facts, figures, or memorization — attendance is crucial. After three absences (or, in other words, after missing the equivalent of nine days of class in a regular schedule), your final grade will start being reduced by a letter grade: that is, the fourth class missed will turn a final grade of an A into a B; the fifth, an A into a C; and so on. These three absences are for emergencies, so make sure to conserve some of them for the end of the term when you may become ill or have other extenuating circumstances. Leaving halfway through a class period or arriving halfway into one each count as half an absence. Please do not distract other students by walking in or out of class unnecessarily, or by answering your cell phone or otherwise interrupting it. There will be 10-minute breaks midway through each class period when you can attend to personal business.
Week One (September 11): Class cancelled and meets next time instead
Recommended Film: Rear Window (1954),** dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 112 min.
Recommended Companion Film: Peeping Tom (1960), dir. Michael Powell
Optional: Elizabeth Cowie, “Rear Window Ethics” [ER 475-93]
Slavoj Zizek, “Gaze of the Other” [ER 2 pgs.]
Note: All reading and homework assignments are listed on the day that they are due (unless specified otherwise), so see what follows for the assignments for next week.
Recommended Companion Film: The Graduate (1967), dir. Mike Nichols
Fiction: E. T. A. Hoffmann, “The Sandman” [ER 85-118]
Theorist: Sigmund Freud, “The ‘Uncanny’” [ER 12 pgs.]
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter One [1-18]
Optional: Optional, but Recommended for Review: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Two [19-36]
HOMEWORK: Incorporating at least one quotation and/or concept from Freud, write a 275-350 word response on Blue Velvet, preferably though not necessarily by comparing it to some aspect of the Hoffman story or Rear Window. Email your response to the course listserv (email@example.com) by Wednesday, September 20. See the “Weekly Homework Assignments” handout for information on the responses: http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/hmwk.htm. NOTE: With each set of responses, the first student to post to the listserv will get extra credit; so too will those students who reply to the posts of other students in any substantive fashion. You should thus consider posting early and/or responding thoughtfully to the posts that other students have sent already
Recommended Companion Film: Memento (2000),** dir. Christopher Nolan
Theorist: Walter Benjamin, “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [ER 15 pgs.]
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Three [39-83]
HOMEWORK: If you are in Groups 1-2, write a discussion question on the Wilder film and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4PM 9/25. (See the List of Group Assignments: http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/groups.htm.) If you are in Groups 4-6, post a 275-350 word response on Sunset Blvd. to the listserv, incorporating at least one quotation and/or concept from Benjamin. All students must do the quiz for Chapter Three online: http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072556269/student_view0/.
Recommended Companion Film: Amelie (2001),** dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Theorist: John Berger, Ways of Seeing, Part 1-4
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Four [90-119]
Optional: Mary Anne Doane, “Economy of Desire” [ER 119-32]
Mary Anne Doane, Femme Fatales [ER 5 pgs.]
HOMEWORK: If you are in Groups 3-4, write a discussion question on the Mendes film and email it to email@example.com by 4PM 10/2; if you are in Groups 1-3, post a 275-350 word response on American Beauty to the listserv, incorporating at least one quotation and/or concept from Berger. All students must do the quiz for Chapter Four online.
Film: All about Eve (1950),** dir. Joseph Mankiewicz, 138 min. (Screening 10/6, 6:30, PH 204)
Recommended Companion Film: Imitation of Life (1959),** dir. Douglas Sirk
Theorist: John Berger, Ways of Seeing, Part 5-7
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Five [122-61]
Optional: Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society” [ER 185-202]
HOMEWORK: If you are in Groups 5-6, write a discussion question on the Mankiewicz film and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4PM 10/9; if you are in Groups 1-3, post a 275-350 word response on All about Eve to the listserv, incorporating at least one quotation and/or concept from Berger. All students must do the quiz for Chapter Five online.
Recommended Companion Film: Streetcar Named Desire (1951),** dir. Elia Kazan
Theorist: Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” [ER 57-79]
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Six [164-98]
Optional: Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, “Sex in Public” [ER 187-208]
Judith Butler, “Gender Trouble” [ER]
HOMEWORK: If you are in Groups 4-6, post a 275-350 word response on All about My Mother to the listserv, incorporating at least one quotation and/or concept from Mulvey. All students must do the quiz for Chapter Six online.
Fiction: Honoré de Balzac, “Sarrasine” [SZ 221-254]
Begin Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep [Chapter 1 only, pg. 3-7]
Theorist: Begin Roland Barthes, S/Z [SZ 3-6; 10-60]
HOMEWORK: Do a semiotic analysis of one of the
Recommended Companion Film: Gilda (1946),** dir. Charles Vidor
Fiction: Continue Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep [7-89]
Theorist: Continue Roland Barthes, S/Z [61-126]
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Thirteen [393-427]
HOMEWORK: Make a list of at least three significant motifs (repeating
images, situations, or rhetorical devices) in
Fiction: Finish Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep [90-213]
Theorist: Finish Roland Barthes, S/Z [126-97]
HOMEWORK: Begin writing the Critical Essay, a 4½-page semiotic analysis of the Chandler novel, or of both the novel and the film, drawing on Barthes in a substantive fashion and also incorporating at least one other theorist that we have covered in the course so far (due 11/20).
Recommended Companion Film: Dirty Pretty Things (2002),** dir. Stephen Frears
Theorists: Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, “Tropes of Empire” [ER 4 pgs.]
Benedict Anderson, “Imagined Communities” [ER 10 pgs.]
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Seven [203-31]
Optional: Edward Said, “Imaginative Geography,” Orientalism [ER 5 pgs.]
HOMEWORK: If you are in Groups 1-2, write a discussion question on the Soderbergh film and email it to email@example.com by 4PM 11/13; if you are in Groups 4-6, post a 275-350 word response on Traffic to the listserv, incorporating at least one quotation and/or concept from Shohat or Anderson. All students must do the quiz for Chapter Seven online and continue work on Critical Essay (due 11/20).
Film: Touch of Evil (1958),** dir. Orson Welles, 95 min. (Screening In-Class)
Recommended Companion Film: Chinatown (1974),** dir. Roman Polanski
Theorists: Homi Bhabha, “The Other Question” [ER 66-75]
Homi Bhabha, “Narrating the Nation” [ER 5 pgs.]
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Eight [235-62]
Optional: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Nine [265-81]
HOMEWORK: If you are in Groups 3-4, write a discussion question on the Welles film and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4PM 11/20; if you are in Groups 1-3, post a 275-350 word response on Touch of Evil to the listserv, incorporating at least one quotation and/or concept from Bhabha. All students must do the quiz for Chapter Eight online and finish Critical Essay (due 11/20).
Film: View either the recommended companion for the film that you are writing your paper on, or view another significant film by the same director to compare/contrast in the Research Essay (See the IMdB)
Context: “Writing about Film” [ER 14 pgs.]
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Twelve [368-90]
Optional: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Eleven [332-66]
HOMEWORK: Begin the Research Project (see http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/essay.htm). Search the MLA, JSTOR, Project Muse, and Google Scholar databases, as well as the Halle Catalogue, to find at least three appropriate sources for the paper, and then do the Research Proposal. All students must also do the quiz for Chapter Twelve online.
Recommended Companion Film: In the Heat of the Night (1967),** dir. Norman Jewison
Theorists: W. J. T. Mitchell, “Violence of Public Art” [ER 9 pgs.]
Houston A. Baker, Jr., “Spike Lee and the Commerce of Culture” [ER 7 pgs.]
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Fourteen [433-64]
Optional: Sharon Willis, “Theater of Interpretations” (on Do the Right Thing) [ER 777-93]
bell hooks, “Oppositional Gaze” [ER 247-64]
Art of Watching Films, Chapter Ten [295-316]
HOMEWORK: If you are in Groups 5-6, write a discussion question on the Spike Lee film and email it to email@example.com by 4PM 12/4; if you are in Groups 1-3, post a 275-350 word response on Do the Right Thing to the listserv, incorporating at least one quotation and/or concept from Mitchell or Baker. All students must do the quiz for Chapter Fourteen online and continue work on the Research Essay (due 12 PM 12/20).
Recommended Companion Film: Patton (1970),** dir. Franklin J. Schaffner
Theorists: Susan White, “Male
Noam Chomsky, “Manufacturing Consent” [ER 181-96]
Textbook: Art of Watching Films, Chapter Sixteen [512-35]
HOMEWORK: If you are in Groups 4-6, post a 275-350 word response on Full Metal Jacket to the listserv, incorporating at least one quotation and/or concept from White or Chomsky. All students must do the quiz for Chapter Sixteen online and work on the Research Essay (due 12/20). In addition, if you want to turn in any late homework or do extra-credit responses, you must turn them in by next class (12/18). However, you can turn in extra-credit peer reviews along with the essays themselves on 12/20.
HOMEWORK: Finish the 8- to 10-page Research Essay. Drop the paper in my department mailbox (612 Pray Harrold) or under my office door (603G Pray Harrold) by 12 PM 12/20.
Online Handouts and Links (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/hand.htm#l400):
· Course Syllabus (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/fa06/)
· Electronic Reserves (http://reserves.emich.edu/eres/coursepage.aspx?cid=1842)
· List of Group Assignments (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/groups.htm)
· Guidelines on the Research Essay (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/essay.htm)
· Art of Watching Films Website (http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/)
· Weekly Homework Assignments (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/hmwk.htm)
· Schedule of Film Screenings (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/screen.htm)
· Listserv Information (https://list.emich.edu/mailman/listinfo/novel)
Listserv Email Address (
· Listserv Archives (https://list.emich.edu/pipermail/novel/)
· Schedule for Conferences (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/400/confer.htm)
· Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/)
· American Film Institute (AFI) (http://www.afi.com/)
· Researching Literature (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/demo.htm)
· Roget's Thesaurus (http://humanities.uchicago.edu/orgs/ARTFL/forms_unrest/ROGET.html)
· Foriegn Language Translation (http://www.freeonline.it/link_dtml?id_sito=275)
· Glossary of Literary Terms: Norton Anthology (http://www.wwnorton.com/litweb/glossary/welcome.htm)
· Writing about Literature [Norton Anthology] (http://www.wwnorton.com/litweb/writing/welcome.asp)
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