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The Imaginary City: Why Writers Love Venice

office of international programs

Venice, Italy

Venice occupies a unique place in the artistic imagination of the west.  Rising from the lagoon in a riot of color, form, and texture, the shimmering reflections of Venice incarnate the essence of beauty. This seminar studies some of the most important ways modern writers have discovered in Venice an opportunity to explore and unsettle the traditional meaning that beauty holds for thought, art, and life.

Starting with the post-romantic era, the seminar focuses on how several literary giants refashion the beauty of Venice into a paradox of great richness and complexity.  For Henry James, Thomas Mann, and Marcel Proust, the beauty that is everywhere visible in Venice also possesses a hidden side of risk and peril.  The course will study the specific ways that each of these writers—along with John Ruskin before and Joseph Brodsky after them—reveals Venice to be an imaginary site of powerful tensions, traversed by the competing forces of growth and decay, desire and knowledge, truth and illusion.  The seminar studies also offers students the means for experiencing their own stay in Venice as a valuable source of self-reflection, an intellectual voyage into unfamiliar territory and waters.  To encounter the beauty of Venice fully can open new perspectives on what it means to live, to love, and to understand wherever we find ourselves.

Alongside its central focus on literary masterworks from the modern European tradition, the seminar also develops three complementary areas of instruction:  a philosophical context stretching from Plato to Nietzsche and beyond; a cinematic dimension composed of "Summertime," "Morte a Venezia," (Death in Venice) "Don't Look Now," "The Comfort of Strangers," and "Pane e Tulipani" (Bread and Tulips); and a regular supplement of on-site visits to Venice itself—the marvel of its churches, palazzi, museums, pathways, and waterways.

Professor Kevin Newmark, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures




3 credits

Arrival/Departure Dates: June 3 - 30

English major/minor elective

Philosophy major/minor elective

Course #: EN280


Estimated Student Cost (2012)