Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2018-2019 (archived)

Module ENGL42030: Representing the Self: from Sophocles to the Sopranos

Department: English Studies

ENGL42030: Representing the Self: from Sophocles to the Sopranos

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2018/19 Module Cap


  • Students must hold a good BA degree in English or a related subject to be eligible for entry onto the MA in English Literary Studies


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • Building upon analytic and persuasive skills acquired at undergraduate level, the module will introduce students to the cultural, political, medical, religious, social, and historical relevance of the representation of the self.
  • Students will address the question of how the way people represent themselves informs their behavior.
  • Students are expected to read and analyze in detail specified works that centre on the following topics to do with mimesis: the relationship between fact and fiction; fictions and modes that shape our sense of reality; the construction of selfhood; which presumed non-representational approach to an understanding of ourselves (as based on scientific-medical fact) is more accurate than a representational one?
  • Students must demonstrate advanced knowledge of critical debate and explore the literature and philosophy of representation.
  • These objectives will be met through the requirements that students undertake appropriate reading and writing for seminars and through the assessment process (2 essays of 3,000 words).


  • This module discusses a wide range of materials. The particular content may be subject to change from year to year. My idea is to capture the attention of students in the first session by analyzing how Tony Soprano justifies his sometimes violent behavior through his self-representation as a “soldier”. Is it the function of our self-representation to shield us from gaining insight into who we really are? If so does representation work along the lines of Marx’s notion of ideology (which is, to put it simply, that of a commonly accepted lie). Do we try to live what is representative of us either according to our self-image or the image that society expects of us? These questions raise larger moral issues concerned: Does Aristotle’s account of the arts as a morally fitting depiction of our human condition do justice to what he discusses (Greek tragedy)? Is literature’s truth representative (rather than straightforwardly factual) or does it disrupt the status quo? What is the cultural effect of the intervention of Freud’s and psychoanalysis’s take on Greek tragedy (in this case the disruption of the Oedipus Complex)? This brings us back to the role of psychoanalysis in the Sopranos. Is the work of the psychiatrist one that intervenes in everyday mimetic representation? Further materials will discuss the role of both representation and its disruption in works such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, J. Conrad’s Nostromo, V. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Doctorow’s Andrew’s Brain, T. McCarthy’s Remainder, Powers’s The Echo Maker, P. P. Pasolini’s version of Oedipus and J. Franzen’s Freedom.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students are expected to acquire a sound working knowledge of various notions and representations of selfhood by attending closely to the way ‘characters’ are represented in literature, philosophy and film.
  • Students will attain a clear understanding of relevant critical issues and the philosophical debates about mimesis and selfhood.
  • In a wider context, students will learn to analyze the impact of the arts through the exploration of our notions of self from a wide-range of philosophical, literary, and filmic mimetic representations of the self.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will reflect on both experimentation as well as continuities in the arts and the philosophy of representation. This approach will combine advanced critical and formal literary analysis with a specialized understanding of the various cultural, historical, medical, religious, political, and intellectual contexts reflected in and shaping topics related to the representation of the self.
Key Skills:

    Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

    • Students are encouraged to develop advanced conceptual abilities and analytical skills as well as the ability to communicate advanced knowledge within seminars.
    • The capacity for advanced independent study is demonstrated through the completion of two summative pieces of work (3,000 words each).
    • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

    Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

    Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
    Seminars 9 Fortnightly in the Michaelmas and Epiphany terms 2 hours 18
    Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
    Preparation and reading 272
    Total 300

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Essay 1 3,000 words 50%
    Essay 2 3,000 words 50%

    Formative Assessment:

    One essay of 2,000 words

    Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University