The frontiers of the Roman Empire, dragon-infested England after the death of King Arthur, the Reconquista Wars between Christians and Moors, and conquistadors in New World America – perhaps these sound like settings you would encounter in a trans-historical survey of world literature, but they’re in fact worlds you will find within the pages of novels written just decades ago.
In this course, we’ll explore contemporary works of fiction that are drawn to the past and, in re-imagining history and legend, seek to contemplate our present situation in the modern world. Pairing contemporary readings with literature from these by-gone eras, we’ll examine what it means to read, write and live in media res, “in the middle of things,” where old and new, strange and familiar encounter one another in collisions of time, place, and culture. Our literary examination of boundary-lines will spill over into other modes of border crossings: in the cultural sphere, where populations and traditions meet and mark one another, and in the corporeal sphere with the contamination of bodies through literal and figurative infection. Across overlapping genres of literature and art – ancient tragedy, medieval ballads, contemporary novels, poetry, and film, to name a few – we will attend to voices that issue from the “in-betweens” and compel us to question what refuge literature offers – and if it is a safe one.