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Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students
"My Life Had Stood - A Loaded Gun": Dostoevsky, Dickinson, and the Question of Freedom
As far apart as Dickinson and Dostoevsky are in terms of national contexts, gendered possibilities of life, and their choice of minimalist or maximalist forms, their experiences of constriction and freedom bore significant similarities. Dostoevsky penned his vow to love life on the day that he was manacled as a political prisoner and marched off to thirteen years of forced labor and exile in Siberia. He exploded back on the Petersburg literary scene with three block-busters, Notes from the Underground, Memoirs from the House of the Dead, and Crime and Punishment, establishing himself forever as Russia’s most controversial explorer of the violence of human thought. In these same years Emily Dickinson was sequestering herself in her family’s Amherst house for the remainder of her life, yet she announced her rebel’s credo in these enigmatic lines: “My Life Had Stood, a Loaded Gun – until the Day…”
In this class we will explore the idea that Dickinson and Dostoevsky are the original shifters of modern literary art and philosophy. We will unpack the agonizing relationship of freedom, action, and language that both authors explore. Classes will be organized around presentations, debates in pairs, exploring “scandalous scenes,” and eventually a symposium of students’ paper projects. There are no prerequisites for this course apart from a desire to read poems and novels closely and in tandem.