online syllabus:

electronic reserves:

(password 400)

~ schedule ~

Literature 400:

Narrative in Film and Literature

Winter 2015

Dr. Abby Coykendall

Office: 603J Pray Harrold
Winter Hours:
Thursday 1:45–5:30 PM

~ or email for an appointment ~

Section #26846

TUESDAY 5:00-7:40 pm

Pray-Harrold Hall 318


Literature 400: Narrative in Film and Literature

Whether retailing horror flicks or romantic comedies, the mainstream film and print industries attempt to appeal universally to the desires of everyone. But who is that elusive “everyone”? And how can either cinema or literature gratify the innermost, deepest-darkest desires of such an infinitely interchangeable and anonymous set of people as that en masse? As technologies of popular fantasy, films and novels are the foremost vehicles used to mirror, as well as to escape from, everyday life. Mass-produced and widely distributed, they conjure not only that which slips unnoticed from conventional and thereby supposedly “realistic” accounts of experience, but also that which persists as all-too formulaic in the cultural imagination, potentially (re)producing reality itself from a limited repertoire of scripts and scenarios always already familiar yet otherwise long past. In this course, we will investigate an array of emblematic films produced in distinct cultural milieus, treating them essentially as time capsules of their social, historical, and aesthetic contexts. Of particular interest will be the ways in which filmic and fictional narratives influence the construction and reconstruction of identity, whether subjective or social, and how these forms of mass media inflect the stories that we tell of the self, of the nation, and of the larger global community.

Course Objectives:

Ultimately, by the end of the term, you will be better able to

* Identify the narrative techniques that distinguish film from literature;

* Understand how film and literature work in tandem to instill or counteract national, sexual, racial, ethnic, classist, or gendered ideologies;

* Investigate how film, both in its adaptation of literature and in its formal structure, goes hand in hand with other art forms to reflect and even generate anew our cultural heritage

* Explore the mutual intercourse between so-called high art and popular culture, coming to recognize the benefits and limitations of each;

* Inquire how filmic and literary narratives change over time in distinct cultural contexts;

* Enhance verbal, visual, and cultural literacy by interpreting film with the same critical acumen traditionally applied to literature alone.

Course Texts and Materials:


** Roland Barthes, S/Z: An Essay (Hill and Wang, 1991; ISBN# 0374521670)**

** Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (Vintage, 1992; ISBN# 0394758285)

** Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Signet, 1958; ISBN# 0451171128)

** Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000; ISBN# 0374527075)**

The remaining texts are available in the Electronic Reserves (ER), printable from any campus computer:, password 400. Always bring copies of required readings to class, whether the books pictured above or the ER materials. You will need everything on hand for groupwork and class discussions.

You need to watch the films on your own outside of class in a timely fashion; otherwise, you will not be able to participate in the class discussions each week. The most convenient way to access films is through a service like Netflix ( or Amazon ( Films marked with asterisks (**) on the Schedule (/sched.htm) are on reserve at the circulation desk of the Halle library, which also has computers available to watch DVDs (bring your own earphones). Make sure to watch the library versions of the films in advance since they may be in demand the day of class.

Course Itinerary:

Typically, we will watch a pair of films in tandem—a classic film one week and a more contemporary film the next—to assess shifts in the cultural imagination over time. See the schedule below for the viewing and reading activities required each week. The theoretical works may prove daunting to read, but you do not need to master every single concept that the author unfolds. Focus on the big picture, tracing three or four of the key arguments, honing in on specific ideas most of interest to you, and drawing connections between those ideas and the films that we will be discussing for the week. The more conversant you become in the course materials over the span of each section, the easier it will be to write essay exam at its conclusion.


Every class there will be informal homework assignments due to ensure ongoing preparation for and participation in class. Depending on your group number, you will be composing discussion questions, applying the theory to the films, presenting quotations from journal articles relating to the films, or writing responses. One response will be on an adaptation from literature to film; the other response a close analysis of a film inspired by Roland Barthes’ S/Z.

The groupwork is simply a way to organize which set of students do which assignment (and with which materials) each week, thus diversifying the topics highlighted in class discussion, the people responsible for bringing those issues to our attention, as well as the skills used to do so. Most classes will consist of interactive discussions stemming from the groupwork. However, there is no “groupwork” properly speaking; that is, collaboration with peers on the same assignment. You will not need to meet with peers outside of class, only contact them on occasion by email to make sure that you are not covering the same text or topic. See the Groups handout for the contact information (/groups.htm).

* NOTE: All homework must be emailed to by Monday at midnight.

Assessment Weights



Weekly Homework & Class Participation


Exam One (Self-Selected Essay Question)


500-Word Response on Film Adaptation


500-Word Close Analysis of Film


Exam Two (Self-Selected Essay Question)

Instructor Availability

I will be delighted to discuss course-related questions, interests, or concerns during my office hours, as well as at any time through email ( Emails with straightforward questions usually receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with thornier issues usually receive a reply within a week. Please limit inquiries to those that I alone can answer so I can give the more pressing issues of other students the attention that they deserve. If, for example, you are unsure about a due date, consult the syllabus, the handouts, or the peers in your group (, and then email only if the confusion persists.

The first time that undergraduates visit my office hours in person with a course-related inquiry, such as to get guidance on homework, discuss readings lately covered, or brainstorm essay ideas, I will give 10 points extra credit for the visit.


Because this course primarily consists of reading and discussion—rather than facts, figures, or memorization—regular attendance is crucial. You never need to explain your absences, as I will always assume that you have an excellent reason to miss class. However, students who miss more than TWO classes for any reason will have their final grade reduced by a full mark, and those who miss more than THREE classes will not be eligible to pass. Any further absences would make it impossible for you to achieve the course objectives. Reserve absences for illnesses, car accidents, or other unforeseen emergencies preventing you from coming to class, and refrain from exhausting your allowable absences too early in the term.

When you must be absent, contact the other students in your group to share notes or determine what you missed. All missed homework is due on your return, and any changes to the schedule will be sent to the class as a whole by email. Note: exams cannot be rescheduled without documentation of a medical or other emergency preventing you from attending class.


The most essential information—due dates, assignment instructions, clarification of issues—is given at the beginning of class, so it is essential to come on time. Make sure to leave early just in case you encounter any problems along the way (traffic jams, late busses, no parking). Arriving well into the period or exiting well before its conclusion both count as half an absence. If you are late, it is your responsibility to sign the attendance sheet to avoid being marked absent. Habitual lateness that disrupts the class will eventually count as an absence as well.

Classroom Etiquette

It is important to be mindful of your peers during class time, listening to them with the same respect and attention that you hope to receive yourself. Once class begins, do not distract your peers by walking in or out of the room unless there is a genuine emergency. If you have a medical condition requiring you to leave occasionally, bring a doctor’s note confirming as such; otherwise, conduct all personal business outside of class.

Disruptive exits can be both mental and physical. Students unprepared to discuss the materials for the day, or discovered using laptops or phones for purposes unrelated to the course, will be asked to leave and marked absent.

This course has a no-laptop, no-cell-phone policy, so do not bother using those instruments during class time unless specifically asked to do so to look something up.


This class is meant to be a welcoming educational experience for all students, including those who may have challenges or disabilities that impact learning. If you find yourself having difficulty participating or demonstrating knowledge in this course, please feel free to contact me to discuss reasonable accommodations (preferably at least one week prior to the need), even if you currently lack a Disability Resource Center (DRC) accommodation letter. You can also contact the DRC directly to talk about possible accommodations (734-487-2470; 240K Student Center;

Academic Integrity

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all coursework on your own, is imperative. Copying the homework of peers, taking credit for essays that you find on the internet, cheating on exams, or recycling your own essays written for other classes for double credit are all forms of academic dishonesty. The worst form of academic dishonesty is plagiarism, which, put simply, is taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own.

You must acknowledge when you make use of the concepts and/or expressions of other people without any exception under any circumstance, whether it be by drawing on Wikipedia for mundane (and quite possibly specious) information or channeling the most holy of holy books for heavenly inspiration. When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to signal as such (e.g., So and so says X … ”); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your own writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (e.g., So and so says “X”). Writing that lacks these acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and any writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source.

All instances of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment; second instances will result in outright failure of the course. There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, nor will there be any exceptions to this policy. Make sure that your work is plagiarism-free before turning it in.

Grading Scale:





























Academic Resources & Campus Safety

At some point in the term, you might consider taking advantage of the University Writing Center, located in Halle 115, which assists with the writing skills necessary for success in this or any other class. The Academic Projects Center, located in Halle 116, offers one-to-one consulting for students on writing, research, or technology-related issues. The International Student Resource Center located in Alexander 200 (487-0370) is dedicated to second-language students from abroad.

You can also avail yourself of the campus escort service, Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety, by calling 48-SEEUS (487-3387). If you sign up for the emergency text-messaging system (, DPS can notify us of any calamity afflicting the campus.


Schedule for LITR 400: Narrative in Film and Literature (Winter 2015)


Check handouts the Group Assignments handout for your group number. Required readings are available either in the Electronic Reserves (ER) for LITR 400 (password 400), or in the course books listed above purchased separately. Supplemental readings are available in the Electronic Reserves for “LITR 400 SM” (same password). The green asterisks (**) below mean that the film is on reserve at the library—simply ask for them at the circulation desk.

The homework abbreviations are as follows: DQ (discussion question on the weekly film); QTN (quotation from the weekly theory that you will discuss in class as applied to the weekly film); and CRIT (a 3-4 line passage from a journal article relating to the film that you will share with the class—articles must derive from the Project Muse, JSTOR, or MLA databases, or from Google Scholar).  NOTE: all homework must be emailed to by Monday at midnight.

Week 1:
January 6

Introduction of Students, Course, & Topic

Week 2:
January 13

Film: Virgin Suicides, dir. Sofia Coppola (1999) **

Theory: John Berger, abridged Ways of Seeing, and Laura Mulvey, abridged “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” [ER]

Optional theory: Nancy Armstrong, “Occidental Alice” [ER]

* Homework: Group 1 & 2 (DQ); Group 3 (QTN); Group 4 (CRIT)

Week 3:
January 20

Film: Rear Window, dir. Alfred Hitchcock (TBA) **

Theory: Mary Ann Doane, “Economy of Desire,” and Slavoj Žižek, “Gaze of the Other” [ER]

Background: Elizabeth Cowie, “Rear Window Ethics” [ER]

 Optional theory: Lee Edelman, No Future [ER]

* Homework: Group 5 & 6 (DQ); Group 7 (QTN); Group 8 (CRIT)

Week 4:
January 27

Film: Memento, dir. Christopher Nolan (TBA) **

Theory: Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society” [ER]

 Optional theory: Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding” [ER]

* Homework: Group 3 & 4 (DQ); Group 1 (QTN); Group 2 (CRIT)

Week 5:
February 3

Film: Imitation of Life, dir. Douglas Sirk (1959) **

Theory: José MuĖoz, abridged Disidentifications, and W. E. B. DuBois, “Double Consciousness” [ER]

Theory: bell hooks, “Oppositional Gaze” [ER]

 Optional theory: Lauren Berlant, “National Brands, National Body” [ER]

* Homework: Group 7 & 8 (DQ); Group 5 (QTN); Group 6 (CRIT)

Week 6:
February 10

Exam One (self-designed essay exam tying together section materials)

Week 7:
February 17

Special Guest Lecture: Annette Saddik, 2015 McAndless Scholar

Film: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, dir. Richard Brooks (1958) **

Literature: Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Background: Joseph Boggs, “Film Adaptation” [ER]

Criticism: Annette Saddik, Politics of Reputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams' Later Plays [ER]

 Optional theory: Michael S. Kimmel, “Masculinity as Homophobia” [ER]

* Homework: Groups 1–4 email a 500-word response by midnight Monday to analyzing both filmic and dramatic versions of the play with at least one quotation from Saddik or Kimmel; Groups 5–8 prepare a discussion question to ask Prof. Saddik given time during the Q&A.

Week 8:
February 24

No Class (Winter Recess)

Week 9:
March 3

Film: The Big Sleep, dir. Howard Hawks (1946) **

Literature: Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Theory: Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, abridged “Tropes of Empire” [ER]

 Optional theory: Francesco Casetti, “Adaptation and Mis-Adaptations” [ER]

* Homework: Groups 5–8 email a 500-word response by midnight Monday to comparing/contrasting the filmic and novel versions of The Big Sleep with at least one quotation from Shohat/Stam or Cassetti; Groups 1–4 prepare to serve as respondents when the other groups discuss their responses during class.

Week 10:
March 10

Literature: Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place

Theory: Benedict Anderson, abridged “Imagined Communities” [ER]

 In-Class Film: Life and Debt, dir. Stephanie Black (2001) **

Optional theory: Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone” [ER]

* Homework: Be prepared to write an in-class response on Life and Debt by drawing on various sections of Kincaid’s A Small Place (bring the book itself to class).

Week 10:
March 12

JNT Dialogue: Nancy Armstrong and Jonathan E. Elmer (6PM in the McKenny Ballroom)

Week 11:
March 17

Film: Do the Right Thing, dir. Spike Lee (1989) **

Theory: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “13 Ways of Looking at a Black Man,” and W. J. T. Mitchell, “Violence of Public Art”

 Optional criticism: Houston A. Baker, Jr., “Commerce of Culture” [ER]

* Homework: Group 1 & 2 (DQ); Group 4 (QTN); Group 3 (CRIT)

Week 12:
March 24

Film: Dirty Pretty Things, dir. Stephen Frears (2002) **

Theory: Arjun Appadurai, “Here and Now” [ER]

 Optional theory: Michel Foucault, “Panopticon” [ER]

* Homework: Group 5 & 6 (DQ); Group 8 (QTN); Group 7 (CRIT)

Week 13:
March 31

Film: All About My Mother [Todo sobre mi madre], dir. Pedro Almodóvar (1999) **

Theory: Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces” [ER]

 Optional criticism: Film Analysis, “All about My Mother” [ER]

* Homework: Group 3 & 4 (DQ); Group 2 (QTN); Group 1 (CRIT)

Week 14:
April 7

Film: The Crying Game, dir. Neil Jordan (1992) **

Theory: Judith Butler, abridged “Gender Trouble” [ER]

 Optional theory: Susan Stryker, “An Introduction to Transgender” [ER]

* Homework: Group 7 & 8 (DQ); Group 6 (QTN); Group 5 (CRIT)

Week 15:
April 14

Theory: Roland Barthes, S/Z

Literature: Honoré de Balzac, “Sarrasine” (in S/Z)

 Optional theory: Roland Barthes, “Reality Effect” [ER]

* Homework: All groups do a 500-word close analysis of one or two scenes from the following films, depending on your group number, modeled on Barthes’ analysis of the Balzac story, and be prepared to discuss your analysis in class by way of review: Virgin Suicides (Group 1); Rear Window (Group 2); Memento (Group 3); Imitation of Life (Group 4); Do the Right Thing (Group 5); Dirty Pretty Things(Group 6);  All about My Mother (Group 7); Crying Game (Group 8).

Week 16:
April 21

Exam Two (self-designed essay exam tying together section materials)


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