French 4335 Topics: World Literature and Global Health 

Spring and Fall 2014 Semester  

Dr. Suzanne LaLonde

COURSE RATIONALE:  This course is in response to a prevalent “neurological trend” to study the human condition. For instance, brain sciences are profoundly influencing our understanding of human behavior, from “neuropsychology” to “neuroaesthetics” and even “neurotheology”. The newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) provides a keen example of this current tendency. Some critics of the new edition argue, for example, that depression may soon be over-diagnosed, since the DSM5 removes the “bereavement exclusion”. If normal grief associated with mourning is mistaken for major clinical depression, then it might be treated with antidepressants, and the normal and necessary processes of healing could be compromised. Although neuroscience provides insights into the complex nature of the human brain–from electro-chemical pathways of synapses to the secretion of hormones that determine human thought, emotion, and behavior—the field “can often answer the obvious questions but rarely the interesting ones,” as Adam Gopnik claims in a recent article in the New Yorker (09/2013). Worse still, this neuro-perspective seems to “medicalize” “normal” human emotions and experiences.  

In light of this recent trend, we will study short stories from contemporary authors from all over the world in light of different theories on human behavior that contain a humanistic approach, such as: psychoanalysis, trauma theory, and ecocriticism, among others. This course also puts forward two core arguments: while the human and social sciences benefit from a “neurobiological colonization,” so too should these fields colonize science and medicine. After all, the human and social sciences offer holistic insights into the human mind and existence that neurological perspectives fail to provide. Secondly, this course puts forward that literature and especially World Literature provide a nuanced portrait of the human condition. Literature has the power to stimulate intense emotional responses such as sympathy and empathy, hence rendering a portrait of a “case” or “condition” more poignant. Furthermore, World Literatures reveal culturally specific and thus unique readings of human experiences. Considering their potential to portray the human mind and behavior from non-Western perspectives, they also add to a biological research oriented perspective of health and medicine prevalent in the West. Seen from this perspective, World Literatures defy the spirit of globalization–the erosion and universalization of characteristics of peoples–that otherwise defines many aspects of the 21st century. If there has been a globalization of Western health theories and practices throughout the world, then World Literatures may very well offer unique forms of “research” about the human mind and play a pivotal role in a change of consciousness about best practices.  Finally, at the heart of the mater, this course is designed to promote a dialogue between psychoanalysis, philosophy and contemporary neurology and thus address a prevalent case of humanities “undernourishment” among students in the health sciences.


N.B. All terms in blue contain a file or a link to a file; please make print-outs of these files.


All excerpt-material in blue is for educational purposes only





A. Introduction to the Class—Syllabus

B. Summary of How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton

C. Summary of "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell



A. Topic: Medicine Before Medicine: The Alchemy of Fairy Tales

B. Literature: Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault

C. Theory:   Bruno Bettleheim The Uses of Enchantment 

HW #1



A. Topic: The Anatomy of Violence

B. Literature: The New Yorker short story Free Radicals” by Alice Munro

C. Theory: Adrian Raine The Anatomy of Violence



A: Topic: Melancholy, Depression and Illness

B. Literature: The New Yorker short story “Naima” by Hirsham Matar

C. Theory: Sigmund Freud “Mourning and Melancholia”




A. The Noonday or the Eleventh Hour Demon: Depression and Regret

B. Literature: The New Yorker short story "The Shinagawa Monkey" by Haruki Murakami

C. Theory: Andrew Salomon The Noonday Demon (excerpt from Ch.1) 




A. Topic: The Trauma of Poverty and Malnourishment

B. Literature: The New Yorker short story “The Elephant” by Aravind Adiga

C. Theory: Kai Erikson Notes on Trauma and the Community




First essay due! 

Guide to Effective Writing1-The Economist

Guide to Effective Writing2-SL

Rubric Guide for Grading 

Assignment #1

Students’ in-class presentations on their essays

(10-minute exposé of “case-studies” presented in your essay)



A: Topic: Female Psychology

B. Literature:  The New Yorker short story “The Reptile Garden” by Louise Erdrich

C. Theory: Caol Gilligan In a different voice” (Extra excerpt)



 A. Topic: The Diagnosis: The Sea of Neural Misery

B. Literature: The New Yorker short story East Wind” by Julian Barnes

C. Theory: Jeffry Alexander "Trauma: A Social Theory" 



A: Topic: Suicide: Cosmic and Cultural Factors

B. Literature:  The New Yorker short story “Alone” by Yiyun Li

C. Theory: Laura Brown "One Feminist Perspective on Psychic Trauma".



Essay "The Wall" Example

Spanish-English Writing Guide

Second essay due! 

Students’ in-class presentations on their essays! (10-minute exposé of “case-studies” presented in the essay)



A: Aging: Withering of the Mind and Body

B. Literature:  The New Yorker short story “In the South” by Salman Rushdie

C. Theory: Henry Kristel “Trauma and Aging A Thirty Year Follow up



A. Topic : Dementia

B. Literature: The New Yorker short story “Town of Cats by Haruki Murakami

C. Theory: Rebecca Mead “A Sense of an Ending



A. Topic : The Globalization of Western Health Practices

B. Literature: The New Yorker short story “Aphrodisiac” Ruth P. Jhabvala

C. Theory: Huggan and Tiffin’s “Development


A. Topic: Science Fiction, Scenarios of Disaster, and the Quest for Immortality

B. Literature: The New Yorker short story “The Slows” by Gail Hareven

C. Theory: Patrick Murphy Scenarios of Disaster




FINAL EXAM date to be announced!


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