The Cosmopolitan Picaresque (World Literature)

Course Description:

This semester we will explore the genre of the picaresque, a kind of literature that uses humor and satire to level a social, moral and political critique against the culture in which it is produced. We will trace the development of the picaresque from its classic form in Cervantes’ Don Quixote to its powerful influence on modern and postmodern literature from around the world. Along the way, we’ll look at how the picaresque has influenced and been influenced by other kinds of literature and cultures. Ultimately, our study of how texts and ideas develop in conversation with others will lead us to a deeper understanding of the global nature of literature today.

As we progress through the course, the following questions will focus our study:

  • What makes a text picaresque? How do the texts we read both embrace and challenge to formal elements of the picaresque?
  • How does the picaresque form shape our understanding of the work the text does on its chosen subject? What kinds of critiques do these works effect? Where are they successful and where do they fail?
  • In what ways does the picaresque inform other movements, from the artistic to the cultural to the political? How do we see the picaresque operating today?


Week 1: Introduction to the picaresque Cervantes, Don Quixote, selections

Week 2: Wu Cheng’en, Monkey/Journey to the West, selections

Week 3: Johan Grimmelshausen, Simplicissimus, selections

Week 4: Voltaire, Candide Paper Due, First Half

Weeks 5/6: Eliza Haywood, The Fortunate Foundlings Weeks 6/7: Tabitha Gilman Tenny, Female Quixotism

Midterm Exam

Week 8: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Week 9: Amos Tutuola, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Week 10: Jorge Luis Borges – Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius; The South; The Library of Babel;

Pierre Menard; The Babylon Lottery.
Alaina Pincus, sample syllabus, EN 202: World Literature II 1

Weeks 11/12: Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger Paper Due, Second Half

Weeks 13: Orhan Palmuk, The White Castle Weeks 14/15: Ricardo Piglia, Artifical Respiration Week 16: Final Exam


In addition to a midterm and final exam, you will write two papers for this class. The first paper will be a short (4-5 pages) close reading of one of the assigned texts. The second paper will treat a text of your choice (you’ll sign up during the first week of class) and accompany a creative interpretation that you and a partner(s) develop together. This project can take many forms: a staged scene, either during class or on film; a video diary; a board game; a web-based project; or something else that you develop and that I approve. We will devote class time to viewing (perhaps participating in) and discussing your project in conjunction with the text that your project treats. The paper (4-5 pages) that your group writes will discuss how your project interprets and helps others to interpret the text. The due date for each paper will vary depending on when you schedule your presentation: if you present prior to the midterm, then the other paper will be due in the second half of the semester, and vice versa. The paper that accompanies your presentation will be due on the day of your presentation.