Honors | Transformations and Metamorphoses
H203 | 0008 | Gubar


In Lois Gould's short novel, A Sea Change, the main character
transforms herself into a version of the man who attacked her. In John
Varley's novella, The Persistence of Vision, a main character disables
her own sense of sight in order to join the in-group of her society.
In Jose Saramago's Blindness, all of humanity loses its sight.
Mythic heroes turn into starry inhabitants of the night sky and
contemporary storytellers show up in Sheherazade's bedroom in John
Barth's Chimera  A golem and a cyborg play major roles in Marge
Piercy's He, She, and It. In Kafka's Metamorphosis, the main character
awakens one morning to find himself turned into a bug.

What's going on here? Sure, most fictional narratives present
characters in flux, characters whose attitudes or statuses alter as
their stories track. But the above do more. Their changes often
manifest physically; transformations occur tactilely or spatially. Why
do such explicit ideas or acts of transformation and metamorphosis
inform so many fictions? (I've mentioned just a few - there are
countless more.) Why is shape-shifting such fun to read about, so easy
to imagine? Does the motivation for such events come from religion,
from folklore, from magic? Or are such happenings really about
fiction-making? (How do words synapse into embodied characters in your
heart and mind after all?)

We will read Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics, some of Ovid's Metamorphoses
(as mediated by Ted Hughes) and Shakespeare's The Tempest to start.
And then look at most, if not all of the texts mentioned above, as
well (perhaps) at some appropriate films, and maybe some works of some
of the following: Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Will Self, and Manual
Puig.

During a time when the transformations you are experiencing approach
shape-shifting in their magnitude and significance, it might be useful
to look at some literary shape-shifting, just to keep your own morphs
in perspective. Then again, in tracking the transformation trope, we
might also learn something about the age we inhabit, where images
supersede words and information goes cyber.

Directed discussion format.
Several short papers, one exam.