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The Grotesque and Supernatural in Twentieth-Century Fiction

“The grotesque” is a slippery term that has as many definitions as there are potential definers; the word originally meant “of a cave” and referred to the fantastic and exaggerated art found in ancient grottos.

For our purposes, “the grotesque” will connote exaggerated and frightening characters who engage in freakish behavior, are subjected to (or cause) outbreaks of violence and who face (to quote Sophocles), “the encounter of man with more than man.”   We will examine works by a variety of authors, all of whom have employed some elements of the grotesque in their work—and we will examine them not simply because they employ the grotesque but because they use it to better explore the human condition.  Ezra Pound famously remarked, “Literature is news that STAYS news”—and our goal will be to read a number of works which employ the grotesque and supernatural to see how they are still “newsworthy.”  

Flannery O’Connor, Paul Auster, Vladimir Nabokov, Cormac McCarthy, Dennis Lehane, Shirley Jackson, Thomas Berger, George Saunders, Alan Moore, and Patrick Suskind are all likely candidates for our reading list.  All students must also read (and internalize) Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.  Strict attendance, weekly reading quizzes, and periodic papers are course requirements.  (Note: we will be using the whole class time on the first day and all the days that follow.)

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