Sample Syllabus: Feeling Sick: Illness and Literature

Introduction to Comparative Literature, Comparative Literature Department, University of Michigan

Illness is a theme that continues to haunt art. From the modernist writings of Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust, to Pablo Picasso and Julian Schnabel’s film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, it at once transcends and is shaped by historical, national, and generic boundaries. As readers and viewers, what is it about illness that continues to fascinate us? How do we “read illness?”  What creative possibilities emerge when the mind or the body fails an artist?  We will take a comparative approach to this theme by studying a variety of texts—short stories, plays, poems, and films—from different cultures, time periods, and literary traditions.

The larger aim of this course is to help students strengthen their writing and to become better analytical and critical thinkers. Students will be expected to complete a number of writing assignments, including at least one essay for each of the four sections of the class. Students will also be expected to give in-class presentations on one set of the readings. There will also be intensive, constructive full-class workshops, which will be an opportunity for students to receive feedback on their work. Active student engagement, open-mindedness, and sensitivity towards varying opinions are crucial for making this an engaging, stimulating course.