Dante and the Afterlife of the Book: Rematerializing Literary History, from the Digits of Scribes to the Digital

This course uses Dante to intervene in current debates about the history of the book and media by investigating both the representations of books in Dante’s works and the afterlives of Dante’s own works in various media. At the center of our concerns will be how Dante’s Comedy and Vita nuova have been transformed by medieval scribes and illuminators, early modern printers and woodcutters, modern philologists and engravers, translators and altered-book artists, composers and filmmakers, cartoonists and comic-book writers, web-designers and video-game producers, painters and poets. By observing the changes these works undergo in these different media environments, this course aims not only to reflect on the current anxieties about the death of the book that has accompanied the birth of the Kindle and iPad, but also to reconsider the many possible meanings of Dante’s own works. Readings will draw from the rich literature in the history of the book and media (McLuhan, Darnton, Mitchell) as well as selections from the substantial critical corpus that has taken shape around Dante (Singleton, Barolini, Ascoli). Each seminar meeting will move between exploring Dante’s world, through historical materials from Special Collections, and the various “Worlds of Dante” and “Danteworlds” online. No previous knowledge of Dante required.

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Sex, Death, and a Little Love: Boccaccio’s Decameron and the Novella Tradition

This course will focus on a close reading of Boccaccio’s often bawdy masterpiece, which has often been banned and frequently bowdlerized and assembles an extraordinary range of medieval narrative forms into its 100 (or is it 101?) tales. To fully appreciate the extent of Boccaccio’s achievement, we will read selections from previous frame narratives like the Arabian Nights and Apuleius’ Golden Ass, in addition to addressing the influence of Ovid’s various erotic poems and Heroides. Some topics to be addressed include Boccaccio’s apparent feminism, the relation of language to reality, the uses of literature, the contest between human wit and fortune, the power of love in the face of societal forces, the changing views of religion (and the religious), the birth of the merchant (and middle) class, and the seriousness of comedy.

Encompassing all these issues and many more, the Decameron is often regarded as the human comedy to match Dante’s divine one, and it continues to elicit creative responses, from Pasolini’s film version to Aldo Busi’s modern rewriting. These materials, as well as selected secondary and theoretical readings, will be used to help us understand the complexities and contemporary resonances of Boccaccio’s attempt to recreate a world through storytelling in the face of the Black Death.

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