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"My Life Had Stood - A Loaded Gun": Dostoevsky, Dickinson, and the Question of Freedom.

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Instructor
Term
  • Spring
Subject Code
SLAVIC
Course Number
15N
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"My Life Had Stood - A Loaded Gun": Dostoevsky, Dickinson, and the Question of Freedom.

As far apart as Dickinson and Dostoevsky are in terms of national contexts, gendered possibilities of life, and their choice of minimalist or maximalist forms, their experiences of constriction and freedom bore significant similarities. Dostoevsky penned his vow to love life on the day that he was manacled as a political prisoner and marched off to thirteen years of forced labor and exile in Siberia. He exploded back on the Petersburg literary scene in the early 1860's with three block-busters, <em>Notes from the Underground</em>, <em>Memoirs from the House of the Dead</em>, and <em>Crime and Punishment</em>, establishing himself forever as Russia's most controversial explorer of the violence of human thought. In these same years Emily Dickinson was sequestering herself in her family's Amherst house for the remainder of her life, yet she announced her rebel's credo in these enigmatic lines: <em>"My Life Had Stood, a Loaded Gun</em> - until the Day..." In this class we will explore the idea that Emily Dickinson and Fyodor Dostoevsky may be seen as original shifters of modern literary art and philosophy. We will unpack the agonizing relationship of freedom, action, and language that both authors explore. Classes will be organized around presentations, debates in pairs, the exploration of "scandalous scenes," and finally a symposium in which students will present and contribute to each other's paper projects. There are no prerequisites for this course apart from a desire to read poems and novels closely and in tandem.