R5B, Section 4: Underworlds, from Dante to Delillo

MWF 8-9 | 251 Dwinelle | Instructor: Stanley Levers

Units: 4

All Reading and Composition courses must be taken for a letter grade in order to fulfill this requirement for the Bachelor’s Degree. This course satisfies the second half or the “B” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.

In this course we will explore the theme of “underworlds” in literature. After looking at excerpts from ancient and traditional texts involving travels to the underworld (i.e. the story of Orpheus, and anthropological accounts of shamanistic rituals in different cultures), we will read Dante’s Inferno, not only a famously beautiful, lucid poetic rendering of an underworld but also a significant bridge from ancient literary texts to modern ones. We will then read Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, several short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, and finish with works by authors like Primo Levi, Italo Calvino, and Don Delillo. Alongside discussions of these texts, students will work on developing methods for effective academic essay writing: formulation of a thesis, use of evidence, techniques for structuring and editing. Students will be graded on three essays, a take-home final, and participation in in-class discussions and writing exercises.


Mircea Eliade, excerpts from Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

Ovid, excerpts from Metamorphoses

Virgil, excerpts from Georgics and Aeneid, book 6

Dante Aligheri: Inferno

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground

Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Primo Levi: short stories

Delillo, White Noise and excerpts from Libra and Underworld

Prerequisites:  Successful completion of the “A” portion of the Reading & Composition requirement or its equivalent.  Students may not enroll in nor attend R1B/R5B courses without completing this prerequisite.