Slavic Languages and Literatures | Fools and Misfits in Russian Literature
S320 | 35192 | Braley

Are the wise truly wise? Are fools always foolish? What does it mean
not to belong? Keeping in mind the substantive role of irony and
paradox, this course explores Russian literature as a landscape
populated with “fools” and “misfits.” First we consider the figure
of the fool as it appears in Russian folklore, Orthodox hagiography
(in lives and icons of holy foolish saints), 19th- and 20th- century
literature (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Leskov, Babel…) and other cultural
texts. Boundary figures (such as Ivan Groznyi) invite provocative
comparisons, challenge assumptions, and reveal folly’s polemical
edge. Discussion topics include the fool’s dual role as social
outcast and social institution and foolishness as an evolving
literary topos. During the course’s second half, we turn to
incarnations of the social misfit, reading a range of authors
(Gogol, Nabokov, Erofeev…) and discussing that panorama of
pathological anomalies so characteristic of Russia’s literary
topography. Master themes include social belonging/isolation,
alienation, self-delusion, doubling, ab-normality, and a-typical
perception. Occasional slide presentations and short film
screenings.  Reading journal, two short papers and final exam.