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CompLit Syllabus



Disrupted Landscapes: Time, Space, and Magical Realism

Comparative Literature 233: International Fantasy (80057)

University of Massachusetts Amherst, Fall 2016

4 Course Credits


“I entered the classroom with the conviction that it was crucial for me and every other student to be an active participant, not a passive as the practice of freedom.... education that connects the will to know with the will to become. Learning is a place where paradise can be created.”

 –bell hooks, Teaching Fairly in an Unfair World


Instructor: Sandra Joy Russell

PhD Student in Comparative Literature

Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, University of Massachusetts Amherst Email:

Meeting times: M/W/F 10:10-11:00 AM

Bartlett Room 119

Office Hours: W 11:30-1:00PM and by appt.


Course Description:

This course will provide an introduction to the heterogeneous genre of fantasy, focusing particularly on the area of magical realism and its political, philosophical, and social implications and representations. Throughout the course, we will explore how literary and filmic portrayals of magical realism participate in a broader negotiation of political, ethical, national, and social geographies. Moreover, we will examine how these representations include the historical and cultural intersections of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and politics. In addition to the novels, short stories, and films, we will also cover some secondary texts to provide a framework for clarifying and defining the relationship between magical realism and the represented geographical and temporal spaces. 

Course Objectives:

  • To gain exposure to some of the most striking and thought provoking works of contemporary, world literature
  • To engage with critical secondary sources and think about their relationship to the text(s)
  • To gain confidence, experience, and poise as a public speaker
  • To gain experience working through collaborative projects
  • To refine your writing skills through a variety of writing exercises
  • To build and refine your critical reading and thinking skills within a community of learners

Required Texts:

All texts available at Amherst Book Store (8 Main Street, Amherst, MA), but I also encourage you to buy them used online or use the library. Don’t feel that you have to buy them brand new. All other readings will be on Moodle.

Brodber, Erna. Louisiana: A Novel. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1997. Print. ISBN: 978-1578060313 

Bulgakov, Mikhail. The Master and Margarita. Trans. Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor. New York: Vintage, 1996. Print. ISBN: 978-0679760801     

Márquez, Gabriel García. Chronicle of A Death Foretold. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Vintage, 2003. Print. ISBN: 978-1400034710

Murakami, Haruki. After Dark. Trans. Jay Rubin. New York: Vintage International, 2008. Print.   ISBN: 978-0307278739  

Winterson, Jeanette. Sexing The Cherry. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. Print. ISBN: 978-0802135780  


Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

Short Stories and Secondary Texts will be available on Moodle.

Grading Breakdown:


  • Attendance and Participation: 20%
  • 3 Short Response Papers: 15%
  • Presentation of Research: 10%
  • Discussion Leading: 5%
  • First Essay (5-6 pages): 20%
  • Final Essay (8-10 pages): 30%

Grading Scale:


A         (100%-93%)

A-        (92%-90%)

B+        (89%-87%)

B          (86%-83%)

B-        (82%-80%)

C+        (79%-77%)

C          (76%-73%)

C-        (72%-70%)

D+       (69%-67%)

D         (66%-63%)

D-        (62%-60%)

F          (59% and below)

Class Attendance & Participation (20%):

As it is part of your grade, I will take attendance daily. Each of our class discussions is prepared with you in mind, so please inform me in advance if you expect to be late or absent. In the event of an absence, do obtain notes from a classmate to review what you missed, and try to schedule an appointment with me if you have further questions

Short Reading Responses (15%, 50 points each):

You will be expected to write four short reading responses (1-2 pages, double spaced, 12pt Times New Roman font) relating to some of the texts and films we will be covering over the course of the semester. These responses are intended to generate ideas about the materials and concepts discussed in class. The goal is to encourage reading, critical thinking, and to work through some of the complicated ideas the authors present. You may also use these short responses as a way to brainstorm for the longer papers. All reading responses should be submitted online through Moodle.

Final Presentation (10%):

The last few sessions of class will be devoted to holding a “mini-conference” wherein you will present your research and final paper. You should plan to discuss your research and findings for about 10 minutes. This is an opportunity for us to hear about the research you have done, share with each other, and get feedback. This is also good practice for future academic conferences! I encourage you to be creative with this presentation and include visuals, video/audio clips, and/or interact with the audience.

Discussion Leading (5%)

Each student will sign up for one class meeting in which they will be responsible for leading part of the discussion of a text. This can be done in a number of ways including identifying a particular passage they would like to discuss, bringing in some specific questions about the text, and/or connecting it with something else within or outside of class. Plan for generating around 20 minutes of discussion. NOTE: This should not be treated as a presentation. Think of this as a way to create dialogue about what we are reading and discussing.

Graded Papers (50% total):

You will be assigned two papers during the semester. Further details on each assignment, and on the expectations and grading criteria for your papers will be announced/distributed in-class in advance of the paper deadlines. The first paper will be approximately 5-6 pages long and your final paper 8-10 pages long. All papers should be submitted online through Moodle.

Classroom Policies:

  • Please arrive on time, prepared, and stay for the entire class period. If you need to leave early, let me know ahead of time either by email or before class.
  • Please refrain from staring at your phones during class. You are welcome to use devices to reference texts or notetaking, but I expect that you are engaged with the materials and the class discussion.
  • We will be discussing some heavier questions, and ones that undoubtedly (and hopefully) raise debate and disagreement. This is how learning, growth, and critical thinking happen. However, be respectful if and when you find yourself in disagreement with other views. Sometimes simply listening can be a radical act, and I encourage thoughtful, kind, and critical dialogue.
  • Please pay attention to due dates for assignments and upload them to Moodle in a timely manner. If, for some reason, you are unable to meet a deadline, please get in touch with me. I am a person, I understand that things happen, but I can’t help you unless you communicate with me.
  • Keep up the readings and come prepared to discuss them.

Class Schedule (Subject to change as I see necessary)

Week 1: Introduction

Wednesday 9/7: Course introduction and expectations, Syllabus overview

Friday 9/9: Borges “Borges and I” and “The Library of Babel”

Week 2: Short Stories/Defining Magical Realism

Monday 9/12: Marquez “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” John R. Clark’s “An Angel in Excrement,” David Quinn “‘Detective Plotting’ in García Márquez’s ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’”

Wednesday 9/14: Franz Kafka “A Country Doctor,” Rosario Ferré “A Poisoned Tale”

Friday 9/16: Franz Roh “Magical Realism: Post-Expressionism”

Week 3: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Monday 9/19: Marquez pp. 3-48

Wednesday 9/21: Marquez pp. 48-72

Friday 9/23: Marquez pp. 72-end. Response #1 Due to Moodle by Midnight

Week 4: After Dark

Monday 9/26: Murakami pp. 3-65

Wednesday 9/28: Murakami pp. 65-106

Friday 9/30: Murakami pp. 106-142

Week 5: After Dark

Monday 10/3: Murakami pp.142-189  

Wednesday 10/5: Murakami pp. 189-end

Friday 10/7: No Class (Moodle Discussion) The Master and Margarita pp. 3-55

Week 6: The Master and Margarita

Monday 10/10: Columbus Day—No Class

Tuesday 10/11 (Monday Schedule): Bulgakov pp. 55-110

Wednesday 10/12: Bulgakov pp. 110-143

Friday 10/14: Bulgakov pp. 143-181

Week 7: The Master and Margarita

Monday 10/17: Bulgakov pp. 181-236

Wednesday 10/19: Bulgakov pp. 236-280

Friday 10/21: Bulgakov pp. 280-end, Response #2 Due to Moodle by Midnight.

Week 8: Louisiana

Monday 10/24: Brodber pp. 1-50

Wednesday 10/26: Brodber pp. 50-80

Friday 10/28: Brodber pp. 80-110

Week 9: Louisiana

Monday 10/31: Brodber pp. 110-end Brodber’s “Beyond the Boundary: Magical Realism in the Jamaican Frame of Reference”

Wednesday 11/2: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Will decide on evening for screening)

Friday 11/4: Beasts of the Southern Wild Paper #1 Due by Midnight

Week 10:  Sexing the Cherry

Monday 11/7: Winterson pp. 1-42

Wednesday 11/9: Winterson pp. 42-67

Friday 11/11: Veteran’s Day, No Classes.

Week 11: Sexing the Cherry

Monday 11/14: Winterson pp. 67-95

Wednesday 11/16: Winterson pp. 95-112

Friday 11/18: Winterson pp. 112-end

Thanksgiving Break! No Classes

Week 12: Conferences

Monday 11/28:

Wednesday 11/30: Individual Conferences

Friday 12/2: Individual Conferences, Response #3 Due to Moodle by Midnight

Week 13: Mini-Conference

Monday 12/5: Presentations

Wednesday 12/7: Presentations

Friday 12/9: Presentations

Week 14: Mini-Conference

Monday 12/12: Presentations

Wednesday 12/14: Presentations

Final Paper Due: Friday 12/16 By Midnight (Upload to Moodle)