Slavic R5B, Section 3: Photography and Narration

MWF 10-11, 206 Dwinelle. Instructor: Robyn Jensen.

Units: 4

This course satisfies the second half or the “B” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.

What can a photograph tell us? From its inception, photography has been hailed as an exemplary method for objectively capturing reality. And yet, photographs can be manipulated in numerous ways, from removing images from their original context to using a “nostalgic” filter on Instagram. This course looks at how writers have reflected on and incorporated photography into their works. We will explore what has fascinated writers and thinkers about photography as a medium. As Susan Sontag writes, photographs “are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy.”

Throughout the course, the relationship between reality and imagination, history and memory, fact and fiction will demand our attention. As we read, some of the questions we will consider are: What is the relationship between word and image? How do writers use the photograph album to narrate? Do photographs verify or deceive? What would it mean to narrate photographically?

We will explore a range of genres that engage with photography and its narrative potentials, including: poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky; short stories by Anton Chekhov, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Andrei Bitov, Dubravka Ugrešić, and W.G. Sebald; essays by Ilya Ehrenburg and Joseph Brodsky; a memoir by Vladimir Nabokov; films by Dziga Vertov, Alfred Hitchcock, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Chris Marker; as well as theoretical texts on photography by Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, and Andre Bazin.

The primary goal of this course is to develop our reading and writing skills. Students will be guided through the various stages of writing, such as outlining, drafting, writing, and revising. Students will also gain experience finding, evaluating, and incorporating secondary sources to support their arguments.

Most texts will be available either online or in a course reader. Students should purchase the following texts:
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010). ISBN: 978-0374532338

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (New York: Vintage, 1989). ISBN: 978-0679723394

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.