Slavic R5B, Section 2: Documenting Atrocity: Literary Witness and the Memory of War

MWF 8-9, 250 Dwinelle. Instructor: Antje Postema.

Units: 4

All Reading & Composition courses must be taken for a letter grade in order to fulfill this requirement for the Bachelor’s Degree. This course satisfies the first half or the “A” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.

This course focuses on literary texts that document legacies of violence during and after key historical conflicts of the long 20th century. We will examine how literature has both represented war and conflict, but also how literary works have intervened in larger social and legal debates about war. The majority of our attention will be on the variety of generic and rhetorical positions authors take as they document war and, in many cases, trauma. The following themes will recur throughout the semester, refracted differently in each text: representations of traumatic violence, the role and portrayal of victims and perpetrators, media-specific practices of documenting war, gender and atrocity, truth and accuracy, memory and forgetting, documentary ethics, and the variety of forms testimony can take.

This class will provide opportunities to develop three interrelated skills: critical reading, meaningful discussion, and clear academic writing. By the end of the semester, students will be comfortable analyzing a variety of texts with a careful eye for nuance and considering alternative viewpoints. Reading will be approximately 60-80 pages per week. Students will be expected to complete all assigned reading and come to class prepared to participate actively in class discussion. Writing assignments will include close readings of specific texts (250 words each), as well as four papers (three expository essays and one research paper). Over the course of the semester, students will focus on all stages of the writing process: selecting an essay topic, crafting a thesis, developing and sustaining an argument, working with sources, structuring units of prose, editing and proofreading, word choice, sentence flow, and other topics in grammar, mechanics, and usage.

Required Texts:

  1. Svetlana Alexievich, Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices From a Forgotten War (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992). ISBN: 0393336867
  2. Charlotte Delbo, Days and Memory (Evanston: Marlboro Press/Northwestern UP, 2001). ISBN: 0810160900
  3. Emir Suljagić, Postcards From the Grave (London: Saqi, 2005). ISBN: 0863565190
  4. Leo Tolstoy, The Cossacks and Other Stories (London: Penguin Classics, 2007). ISBN: 0140449590

Prerequisite: Successful completion of the “A” portion of the Reading & Composition requirement or its equivalent. Students may not enroll in nor attend R1B/R5B courses without completing this prerequisite.