M/W/F 11:00-12:00 234 Dwinelle Instructor: Molly Bronstein

In this course, we will explore a variety of approaches to description, from Classical examples of ekphrasis (that is, vivid visual description), to modern renewals of the technique.  We will read descriptions of fictional artworks from antiquity (Homer’s Shield of Achilles, Ovid’s Pygmalion) alongside recent fictional re-imaginings of the art world (Siri Hustvedt, The Blazing World). 

Charles Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen and Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles will provide us with two very different takes on descriptive portraits of cities.  We will also consider literary representations of the sublime and the ineffable — at essence, descriptive failures — in which authors stress their own inability to recount something that really cannot be captured in words.  And yet, in one way or another, these purported “failures” generally manage to capture something quite rich and fascinating along the way.

Texts may include:

The Lais of Marie de France

Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen

Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles

Siri Hustvedt, The Blazing World


Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Federico Fellini, 8 1/2

Our course reader may also contain selections from Homer’s Iliad, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Edmund Burke’s On the Sublime and Beautiful, and essays by theorists such as W.J.T. Mitchell and Umberto Eco.