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Unit information: A Kidnapped West?: Czech Literature since 1918 in 2015/16

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Unit name A Kidnapped West?: Czech Literature since 1918
Unit code RUSS30066
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Chitnis
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Russian
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Milan Kundera once described that part of Central European culture that fell under the Soviet sphere of influence between 1945 and 1989 as a ‘kidnapped West’. Since 1918, Czech literature can claim to have been repeatedly ‘kidnapped’ by cultural models and ‘hijacked’ by political and nationalist ideologies, and has leaned both West and East in its influences. In this unit, students will explore these shifts through key examples of prose, poetry and drama, examining both unexpected continuities and perceived ruptures. They will examine, for example, Czech responses to Surrealism, Existentialism, Socialist Realism, the Absurd and postmodernism, earnest, sentimental and witty reflections on political and artistic utopianism, German occupation and Communist dictatorship and expressions of nationalism, dissent, political and religious conviction. Students will thus develop an understanding of the place of Czech literature in the competing currents of twentieth-century European culture.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will have

1) Developed a critical understanding of the key themes of Czech literature since 1918.

2) Have understood how Czech literature has reflected and informed the period’s key literary movements and how Czech literature has reflected and debated its historical experience in the period.

3) Developed a thorough understanding of the ways that literary texts can be approached and interpreted.

4) Have become particularly adept at using the vocabulary of literary analysis, building extended arguments based on close reading of texts and writing extended comparative analyses of complex texts, appropriate to level H.

Teaching Information

Two seminar hours per week across one teaching block (22 contact hours).

Assessment Information

2 x 3000-word essay (50% each).

The first 3000-word essay, to be written on ONE of the first three texts studied, will test skills of close reading and literary analysis, and focus on the author’s approach, for example, to narration or characterisation, use of language, imagery or genre, relationship to particular literary movements etc (testing ILOs 1-4).

The second 3000-word essay, to be written at the end of the unit, will test skills of comparison and awareness of changing artistic trends and/or socio-political attitudes (testing ILOs 1-4). The essay will compare TWO texts studied (on which the student has not previously written) to explore, for example, different approaches to nationalism, history, prevailing ideologies, particular historical experiences (e.g. German occupation, Communism), particular figures, groups or themes (e.g. Masaryk, Jews, the exotic, the individual and collective) or literary representation and experiment (e.g. between 1920s, 1960s and 1990s Avantgardes).

Reading and References

Vladislav Vančura – Marketa Lazarová (1932)

Julius Fučík – Reportáž, psaná na oprátce (1945)

Milan Kundera – Žert (1967)

Daniela Hodrová – Podobojí (1991)

Jiří Holý – Writers Under Siege: Czech Literature since 1945, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2008.

Peter Steiner – The Deserts of Bohemia: Czech Fiction and its Social Context, Ithaca, London: Cornell

University Press, 2000.