Master and Margarita



Reading Schedule: master-and-margarita-reading-schedule

Website on the Novel and Moscow: The City of Master and Margarita

Website with a click-on character guide: guide

[Like these literary websites? Your final project could also turn into something like this!]

Writing about the unwritable: from-chapter-7-a-naughty-apartment

In 2005, a very successful Russian serial of Master and Margarita aired on television. It is filmed on location in Moscow and set in period (1930s).




We read “A Continuity of Parks” by him, and Tuesday we’ll explore a few more stories by Borges’ literary grandson, Julio Cortazar.Stories for Tuesday: “Night Face Up,” “Axolotl” “House Taken Over”




Additional Cortazariata:

Interview_Cortazar.pdf copy – Here Cortazar writes about his writing method.

Paris Review: Julio Cortazar, 1914-1984

AND – A new blog on Borges and the Divided Self! 

Borgesia – The movie Spiderweb based on Death and the Compass 

cortazar gatoAdd your






This week!

Time –  “a labyrinth in which all men will lose themselves” (Garden of Forking Paths)

If you are thinking about what to do for a SECOND post on Borges, you can try this:

Borges’ stories are short but dense and confusing. Also kind of dry—much like you’d expect from an Argentinian librarian of the 1940s. And yet…they kind of dig into your mind and stick with you. Choose a Borges story and write about it in order to convince a reader why we should still read Borges today. Use at least ONE QUOTE from the story itself. Because this is targeted towards a real or imagined comrade, you can let loose on your style– but stay grammatical. Think of it as something you could publish in a magazine.

Next Thursday we’ll read three stories by Julio Cortazar. Argentina’s ‘other writer,’ Cortazar is a generation younger and quite different from Borges, though still recognizable as his spiritual son. Cortazar loved Poe, Jazz, and cats. I think you’ll enjoy the stories – they are more emotionally gripping but still very mysterious.

We will start with Master and Margarita Thursday.  – It’s a novel, so you should start reading now; we’ll be going to go through it fairly (a little too) quickly. This is the greatest and most beloved novel of 20th century Russia, and is a lot of fun – especially as it was written secretly in the era of the Stalinist Terror. Enjoy!

M 9/12 Film Mon. Sept. 12 Pan’s Labyrinth
4 T 9/13 Borges – Labyrinths“The Library of Babel”

“Funus the Memorius”

“Death and the Compass”


TH 9/15 Scholars Symposium 2-4

EHFA 164


TU 9/20 Julio Cortazar [from Blow Up] “Night Face Up,” “Axolotl” “House Taken Over” PDFs




TH 9/22 Master and Margarita – Read at least the first 2 chapters!


Thursday – Forking Paths

Is all reading a matter of choosing a fork in the path?! The way we choose to interpret or “follow” a story? Thank you for those who will introduce the next Borges stories – In reading your journals I always remember how many different paths there can be besides the paths I choose. Everyone will get a chance to introduce a story through the course of the class – I’ll bring a sign-up sheet so you can think ahead. These are the stories for Thursday:

“The Garden of Forking Paths” “The Secret Miracle”  “The Circular Ruins”

With Borges, Barthes idea of literature as “the question minus the answer” really comes to the fore. Borges’ little stories (he modestly calls them ficciones) are puzzles. It is very useful to think about what he is questioning, since I’m not sure he will always give you an answer.

Websites: As you can imagine, Borges’ stories have inspired a lot of art, websites, etc. – here is one Culture Blog (Open Culture) that you can explore. If you find cool sites, please comment on this blog! A PBS Nova about the “Garden of Forking Paths” (I haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds exciting!)

A literary blog on WilderUtopia

The Library of Babel on Open Culture

If you’re interested in Borges’ biography/legacy, here is article/obituary that talks about his life: borges_worlds

Also – thinking as writers: Despite his dry, technical style, odd narrators and lack of emotional pull,  Borges fascinates. Why? What is he doing? How does he do it?

If you are introducing the story, concentrate on what in it you find most interesting to discuss, what questions you want to ask the class. Don’t feel you have to ‘figure it out.’ It’s always more useful to open stories than to close them.

For your journal, you can respond to this writer as a whole, or choose one story or theme.

I have added a few stories to the syllabus – my apologies! But seeing your reading and writing interests I wanted to squeeze in a few stories by Cortazar before we move on to Master and Margarita.

Happy Reading! –

Jorge Luis Borges

Thank you for your journals on Metamorphosis, which I read with pleasure – as Borges said, every book becomes new with each new reader, so you’ve brought Kafka’s odd little classic some great new light.

The Argentinian master Jorge Luis Borges (1889-1986) was himself a great fan of Kafka, and translated him into Spanish – he shares Kafka’s love for the technical, but his fictional worlds are all his own.

“I have always imagined Paradise would be a kind of library” – Jorge Luis Borges

For Tuesday, we’re reading William Gibson’s introduction to Labyrinths. It’s one of the best introductions I’ve ever read, very inspiring. And Gibson was born in Conway!

In addition, we’re starting off with the difficult story “Tlon, Uqbar and Orbus Tertius” – Part mystery, part….well you’ll see.  It will help if you dust off your Philosophy 101 and take a short look at the philosophy of Subjective Idealism, especially as presented by 18th century philosopher George Berkeley. If you have a chance, you can also read this interview with Borges where he talks about these ideas: tlon__uqbar__orbis_tertius_by_blu_remi-d658pjrBorges_Interview 2





The Languages of Tlon: “The nations of this planet are congenitally idealist. Their language and the derivations of their language – religion, letters, metaphysics – all presuppose idealism. The world for them is not a concourse of  objects in space; it is a heterogeneous series of independent acts” (8)

“There are no nouns..For example, there is no word corresponding to the word moon, but there is a verb which in English would be to moon or to moonate…. The moon rose above the river would be…:upward beyond the constant flow there was moondling….upward behind the onstreaming it mooned” (8)




“In those [languages] of the northern hemisphere…the prime unit is not the verb, but the monosyllabic adjective. Nouns are formed by an accumulation of adjectives. they do not say moon, but rather round airy-light on dark or pale-orange of the sky” (8-9)…

“There are objects of many terms”: sun, water on swimmer’s chest, “vague tremulous rose color we see with our eyes closed,” the feeling being carried along by a river or sleep….The word forms a poetic object” (9)
















“There are no nouns..For example, there is no word corresponding to the word moon, but there is a verb, to moon or to moondle…. The moon rose over the sea would be…:upward beyond the constant flow there was moondling….upward beyond the onstreaming it mooned” (23)


For Thursday, I’ll ask for three volunteers to briefly introduce the following stories and offer discussion questions. Can you do this in pairs? Yes. Do you have to? No. But a pair should have twice as many questions to offer, n’est pas?!

“The Garden of Forking Paths” “The Secret Miracle”  “The Circular Ruins”

For your journal, you can respond to this writer as a whole, or choose one story or theme.