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Classics in Context: The 2011 Season!

This past year at Classics in Context we were treated to an engaging history of humor in the Spanish Lanuguage with Professor Mauricio Tenorio and a of the life and work of Juan Jose Arreola with special guest Professor Nelly Palafox, as well as turning a critical eye toward Arreola’s satirical work in both English and in Spanish.   We explored the monstrosity of Victor Frankenstein’s creation with Professor Heather Keenleyside, and discussed the creature in the context of the “Last of his Race” legends popular at the time of “Frankenstein”’s publication.  We acted out scenes from “A Raisin in the Sun” with Professors Francesca Royster and Phyllis Griffin, and learned about Lorraine Hansberry and her life in Chicago.  We wrapped up the year with a close reading and discussion of the characters, style, and critique of commodity culture in “As I Lay Dying” with Professor Julia Stern.  I attended, and furiously took notes at, every session and I know I’m not alone in saying that it made me not only nostalgic for college, but excited about reading and re-reading the classics!

On the heels of such a successful year, we eagerly turned our attention to Classics in Context 2011.  After spending the summer planning with our wonderful Classics partners, we have put together what I think is a really top-notch series for this coming year.  We’ll begin the year in February at the Franke Institute for the Humanities with a discussion of dystopian sci-fi classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.  I saw Blade Runner for the first time a couple of years ago when the Final Cut version was released, and I was riveted.  I’m really looking forward to delving into the source material.  In addition to exploring the ever-present anxiety of so many science fiction classics (that human technology will have unforeseen and dire consequences), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? should have lots of connections to last year’s discussion of Frankenstein. What, if anything, distinguishes the androids (like Frankenstein’s monster) from human beings, and what is the moral obligation of the human characters to these creations?  Bill Brown, Karla Scherer Distinguished Service Professor in American Culture at University of Chicago, will lead the discussion.

In March we will return to the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago for a Classics in Context first: a session on a classic of the Portuguese language.  Professor Alfredo Cesar Melo, an expert on Portuguese culture and literature with a focus on the experimental novel, will lead this discussion of João Almino’s Samba-Enredo, a novel in the Brasília Quartet.  Drawing on another common theme in depicting technology in literature, the sentient computer, the novel is written in short chapters from the perspective of a computer.  João Almino is one of Brazil’s most acclaimed contemporary authors, in addition to serving as the Consul General of Brazil in Chicago.  We are extremely fortunate to have not only the benefit of reading a new, yet to be published translation of Samba-Enredo, but also to have the author himself as a special guest speaker at this session.

A mere month later in April we’ll join DePaul University Professor John Shanahan to discuss the contemporary short story “Literary Devices” by Illinois’s own Richard Powers.  “Literary Devices” is, in Prof. Shanahan’s words “one of the most important literary meditations on writing and creativity in the age of web 2.0.”  The story centers on a correspondence between an author and a piece of seemingly intelligent computer software that can generate stories and letters.  As in our discussion of As I Lay Dying this past spring, we’re likely to address themes of the implications of technological advancement   for art and creativity.  We’ll also be trying something new with the scheduling of this session.  We wanted to offer an alternative for those who aren’t available on the weekend, and for whom an evening event might be more convenient.   So, rather than a Saturday morning, this session will be held on a Thursday evening from 4:30 pm – 7:00 pm. 

We’ll close Classics in Context 2011 with a session at the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities at Northwestern University with a session on Bram Stoker’s gothic classic Dracula. I’ll admit that, at first, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the very mention of vampires (even literary classic vampires).  What I came to find out about Dracula, however, was how well-deserved its classic status is and just how closely it fits with the theme of technology.  This novel was written at a time when England had reached a point of prosperity, Imperial power, and technological sophistication that was believed at the time to be the apex of civilization.  But the citizens of every empire since Rome have feared the fall, and the people of Victorian England were no exception.  Dracula is often considered part of the horror genre, which seems appropriate given that it represents the fears of a society with everything to lose.

Registration for all four sessions begins January 6!

Tags: 2011 CIC, professional development

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