Slavic R5A Section 1: Magical Machines: Living with Technology

TT 8-9:30, 206 Dwinelle. Instructor: Matthew Kendall.

Units: 4

Instructor’s email:

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.

It’s often said that our lives today are mediated by various forms of technology than ever before. In this course, we will explore how literary and cinematic works from the 19th and 20th centuries, an era often considered prior to the Information Age, depict various interactions between humans and technology. As we contemplate life with technology, we will ask several questions of our texts: does technology hinder or augment human relationships, experiences, and productions? Or do these spheres shape technology? How are technology and the idea of magic related, if they are related at all? Does technology empower the individual, the state, or only itself?

Many works of literature and cinema of the last 200 years represent the historically adjacent spheres of scientific and technological innovation differently, and our task is to determine how particular works respond to the ever-changing world from which they hail. Spanning from the Imperial to post-Soviet periods, this course will feature readings in Russian literature from Nikolai Gogol, Evgeny Zamiatin, Yuri Olesha, Andrei Platonov, and Victor Pelevin. As we explore these texts, we will sequentially view Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which raises several of the course’s questions. In addition to Kubrick’s work, we will consider the films and writings of Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov. Alongside our Russian authors we will read texts from EM Forster, HG Wells, ETA Hoffmann, Martin Amis, and others.

Course Requirements: The central goal of this course is to develop the necessary skills to write clear and persuasive papers, and also to hone our ability to read critically and closely. Over the course of the semester, students will write several papers and participate in peer review sessions. Students will be expected to read between 50-60 pages per week, and to actively participate in class discussions. Because we will spend some class time watching assigned films, attendance is crucial.


H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, ISBN: 978-0393927948

Yuri Olesha, Envy, ISBN: 978-1590170861

Victor Pelevin, Omon Ra, ISBN: 978-0811213646


Nikolai Gogol, “Nevsky Prospekt”

ETA Hoffman “The Sandman”

Dziga Vertov, “Kino-eye”

Andrei Platonov, “Amongst animals and plants,” “Fro”

Martin Amis, “The Immortals”

Evgeny Zamiatin, “The Cave”

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five (excerpts)


Vertov, Man with a Movie Camera (сlips)

2001: A Space Odyssey (over the course)

Prerequisite: Successful completion of the UC Entry Level Writing Requirement. Students may not enroll in nor attend R1A/R5A courses without completing this prerequisite.