Slavic R5B, Section 1: Session C (June 18-August 10): Crime, Punishment, and Kanye West

TWTh 10-12, Dwinelle 134. Instructor: Caroline Brickman.

Units: 4

What does it mean to sin? What does it mean to believe in God? What does it mean to love? What is injustice? Is violence always wrong?


Can literature and music answer questions posed by philosophy, religion, sex, and politics?


The first half of this course will introduce you to the Russian masterpiece Crime and Punishment (1866), as well as its literary, social, and philosophical contexts. We will read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel in its entirety alongside some short stories and essays by his contemporaries and influences. We will discuss Dostoevsky’s depiction of a murderer’s psychology in light of his conservative nationalism, his devout Christianity, his acute sense of social injustice, his sexual politics, his relationship to mental illness and medicine, and his radical narrative innovations.


The second half will be devoted to the work of the contemporary American rap artist Kanye West, as well as the context of his media presence and celebrity status. Focusing on his later albums, we will chart Crime and Punishment’s themes throughout My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), Watch the Throne (2011), Yeezus (2013) and The Life of Pablo (2016). Is there something specifically Dostoevskian about Kanye’s depiction of the American criminal justice system? What about his struggle with mental illness? Can we find traces of Dostoevsky’s prostitutes in Kanye’s porn stars? In addition to major themes, we will discuss the specific literary devices employed by each writer, and their philosophical and ethical consequences. Can rhyme, rhythm, voice, and irony represent a certain experience of time and space? Can they represent racism? Can they dismantle it?


The primary aim of this course is to help you develop your interpretive and critical writing skills. We will be reading closely and writing critically every day in class. You will be asked to write short interpretive essays on individual passages and verses (“close readings”), longer comparative and argumentative papers, and an original research paper.


Required Texts: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Vintage, 1993. ISBN-10: 0679734503 ISBN-13: 978-0679734505

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

 Prerequisites:  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.

Instructor pending appointment.