Slavic R5B, Section 102: Session D (July 6- August 14)

M-Th 1-3, 103 Wheeler. Instructor: Zachary Johnson.

Units: 4

Instructor e-mail:


The Problems of Love and Desire


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

“For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.”

This sparse, halting, and ironic sentence opens J. M. Coetzee’s novel, Disgrace. Why is sex a “problem”? And what would it mean to “solve” it? As the novel unfolds we find not a solution to the problem of sex, but a narrative exploration of the nature of love and desire. In this course, after examining foundational accounts of Eros in St. Augustine’s Confessions and Plato’s Symposium, we will turn to some of the best short works of fiction on love and desire. We will see how the great Russian 19th-century writers Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Lev Tolstoy question the boundaries between pleasure and pain, same-sex and opposite-sex attraction, and sex and violence. The course will then conclude by reading the recent works of South African novelist John Maxwell Coetzee and Canadian author Alice Ann Munro (both recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature), asking how politics, race, and gender shape expressions of love and desire. Throughout the course we will continually take up the question: why is the particular mode and form of thinking we call storytelling especially conducive to understanding the problems of love and desire?

This class meets from 1 pm to 3 pm, Monday through Thursday. Daily readings of approximately 20-40 pages will be assigned. A number of films that complement our readings will also be screened in class. In addition to discussing the readings and films, much of class time will be devoted to writing workshops, where you will outline, draft, edit, and revise your papers in consultation with the instructor and in dialogue with your peers. Students will write three short papers (one of which will be a revision of an earlier paper) and one research paper. The foundation for a successful undergraduate experience is proficiency in the written and spoken word. Participating in intellectual conversations is also an essential part of our life experience. This course aims to link the two tasks.

Required Texts:
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Eternal Husband and Other Stories, trans. By Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky [Random House, 2012, 978-0-8129-8337-1]

J. M. Coetzee. Disgrace [Penguin, 2000, 978-0-1402-9640-2]

Course Reader Available at Metro Publishing (2440 Bancroft Way): Plato, Symposium (excerpts), St. Augustine, Confessions (excerpts); Ivan Turgenev, First Love; Lev Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata; Alice Munro, The Love of a Good Woman.

Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (1958)

Woody Allen, Annie Hall (1977)

More TBA

Prerequisite: Successful completion of the “A” portion of the Reading & Composition requirement or its equivalent. The “A” course requirement (or its equivalent) is the prerequisite for the second half of this two-course sequence. Students may not enroll in nor attend R1B/R5B courses without completing this prerequisite.