MIT: Independent Activities Period: IAP

IAP 2014 Activities by Category - Literature

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"Abraham on the mountain with a knife": An Interfaith Text Study

Kari Jo Verhulst, Lutheran Chaplain to MIT

Jan/23 Thu 12:00PM-01:30PM W20 Coffeehouse Loun

Enrollment: Unlimited: No advance sign-up

Jewish, Muslim, and Christian scriptures all contain some version of the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, and this text holds a central place in all three of the Abrahamic faiths. This open study will provide an opportunity to learn more about how the 3 traditions approach their texts, as well as open conversation about the challenging questions the story raises about obedience, sacrifice, trust, and God.

Absolutely no prior experience or knowledge required. MIT Chaplains Rabbi Gavriel Goldfeder, Imam Suheil Laher, and Rev. Kari Jo Verhulst will lead the discussion and serve as resources. A vegetarian kosher lunch will be provided. 

Sponsor(s): Hillel, Lutheran Ministry at MIT, Muslim Chaplaincy
Contact: Kari Jo Verhulst, W11-030, 617-252-2325,

Harry Potter, World War II & and War on Terror

Amanda Rothschild, PhD Student Political Science

Enrollment: Unlimited: Advance sign-up required
Sign-up by 01/14
Attendance: Participants welcome at individual sessions

Are the Harry Potter books just a fictional account of a fantastical wizarding world, or do the books offer a more nuanced political commentary on current and past international events? This course explores the political implications of the Harry Potter series, with a particular focus on parallels to World War II and the War on Terror. Topics explored include the sorting process, minority persecution, resistance movements, historical parallels to Death Eaters, and similarities between violence in the Harry Potter series and terrorism today. All students are welcome, but ideally students would have read all seven books or be familiar with the films. Wizarding robes are optional, but encouraged.

Sponsor(s): Political Science
Contact: Amanda Rothschild,

Harry Potter, the Sorting & the Series

Jan/27 Mon 06:30PM-08:00PM Location TBD

The series begins and ends with significant emphasis on the sorting process. How does Rowling define courage and why might that definition be important? What does Dumbledore mean when he says we must choose between what is right and what is easy? Why do readers assume Hufflepuffs are not as capable as others? Why is ambition the quality associated with the darkest house and what are the implications of that association?

Persecuted Minorities & the Holocaust

Jan/29 Wed 06:30PM-08:00PM Location TBD

We discuss parallels between Muggle-borns and other persecuted minorities throughout history with a particular focus on the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. Discussion may include the Muggle-born registry, racial purity in the series, ideology of Lord Voldemort, Grindelwald and "the greater good," racially derogatory terminology, Snatchers and the Gestapo, Death Eaters and the Nazi Party, and other topics.

Death Eaters, Terrorism & War on Terror

Jan/30 Thu 06:30PM-08:00PM Location TBD

Are the tactical axioms of Death Eaters similar to those of terrorist organizations? How do attacks by Death Eaters mirror terrorist attacks? How does the Ministry of Magic's response to the return of Lord Voldemort, under both Minister Fudge and Minister Scrimgeour, parallel the response of governments to terrorist attacks?

Resistance Movements, Moral Courage

Jan/31 Fri 06:30PM-08:00PM Location TBD

Is moral courage a central theme? Who are the courageous in the series? Which characters resist evil and how do they do it?  What does it mean to value courage, fairness, wit, or ambition most? Is Dumbledore correct that we are defined not by our abilities, but by our choices? How do we apply this lesson to our life at MIT and beyond?

Love and Romance in Ancient India

Shekhar Shastri

Enrollment: Unlimited: Advance sign-up required
Sign-up by 01/20
Attendance: Participants must attend all sessions

Romantic poetry was considered the supreme form of aesthetics in ancient Indian literature. Strikingly uninhibited in their content and intensity, the works of poets such as Bhartrhari, Kalidasa, and Jayadeva are unparalleled in their sublime expression of love which provide deep insight into ancient Indian society, culture, and relationships in general. In addition, a brief background in Indian aesthetics would be provided to help in understanding the literary works and the sensibilities of the era under study; paintings inspired from the above-mentioned love poetry would be shown and discussed.

Students would be encouraged to create original works on their own deriving inspiration from the works studied in the class. The final session will take place in the Indian Art gallery at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Comments from IAP 2011-13 students:

“ … very engaging and dynamic ... what a wonderful way to learn Indian culture. … drew us in immediately …very stimulating ... beautiful ... moving”


Shekhar Shastri is an entrepreneur, poet, and filmmaker and is a Director of Meru Education Foundation, which produces educational programs on the arts and culture of India. He writes poetry and plays in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, and English. He has produced four films, one of which was nominated for a National award in India.

To register, please email:

Sponsor(s): Mechanical Engineering
Contact: Shekhar Shastri,

Jan/21 Tue 07:00PM-09:00PM 1-135
Jan/23 Thu 07:00PM-09:00PM 1-135
Jan/28 Tue 07:00PM-09:00PM 1-135
Jan/30 Thu 07:00PM-09:00PM 1-135

First four classes at MIT.  Fifth and final class at MFA, Boston - date TBD.

Shekhar Shastri

MIT Writers' Group

Steven Strang

Jan/06 Mon 12:00PM-01:00PM 12-134
Jan/13 Mon 12:00PM-01:00PM 12-134
Jan/20 Mon 12:00PM-01:00PM (CANCELED)
Jan/27 Mon 12:00PM-01:00PM 12-134

Enrollment: Unlimited: Advance sign-up required
Sign-up by 01/04
Attendance: Repeating event, particpants welcome at any session
Prereq: none

Calling all creative writers! Want to write something creative but need some motivation or support? Join other MIT writers to get advice about your own writing, to be a reader of other writers' work, and/or to get inspiration to write something. Any type of creative writing is welcomed:  fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, memoirs, personal essays, plays, blog entries. We help each other get started on a creative writing project, we help each other develop ideas and style, we function as engaged and encouraging readers of each other's material.  We meet every Monday from noon-1:00 p.m. in 12-134. Open to MIT undergraduate and graduate students, lectuers, staff and faculty.

Sponsor(s): Writing and Communication Center
Contact: Steven Strang, 12-120, 617 253-4459, SMSTRANG@MIT.EDU

Mobile Marathon: The Great Gatsby

Sandy Alexandre, Professor

Enrollment: Unlimited: No advance sign-up
Attendance: Participants welcome at individual sessions

The Literature Section hosts its annual IAP Mobile Reading Marathon of a crowd-pleasing work of literature. We've chosen F. Scott Fitzgerald 's The Great Gatsby (1925). Members of the group, including students, faculty, staff, and community members, will take turns reading from the book out loud until we've finished reading it in its entirety. Following the reading we will gather to watch Baz Luhrmann's 2013 film adaptation of the novel, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The reading is neither an acting audition nor an endurance test. You can choose to read your part(s) simply or perform them with impressive élan. Don your flapper dress, felt fedora hat, or something 1920s appropriate if you have it. If you don't, please come wearing whatever you have on that day!

Let's not forget the mobile aspect of the reading marathon.

The novel will lead us through East Egg (East Campus/Talbot Lounge), Valley of Ashes (Ashdown/ Hulsizer Room), and West Egg (Chocolate City/Main Lounge). Feel free to drop in and out throughout the day!

You can tweet the Mobile Marathon at #IAP2014Gatsby.

Sponsor(s): Literature
Contact: Sandy Alexandre, 14N-422, 617-253-4450,

The Great Gatsby

Jan/23 Thu 10:00AM-11:30AM East Campus (Bldg62), Chapters 1-3
Jan/23 Thu 11:50AM-02:00PM Ashdown House (NW35), Chapters 4-6
Jan/23 Thu 02:00PM-04:00PM Chocolate City (W70), Chapters 7-9
Jan/23 Thu 05:00PM-08:00PM 3-133, Movie

The Mobile Marathon will kick off in the Talbot Lounge of East Campus Dorm (bldg 62), move to Ashdown House (bldg NW35) in the Hulsizer Room on the first floor, and finish reading in Chocolate City's Main Lounge on the third floor of New House-House 1. The reading will be followed by a screening of Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" in building 3, room 133.

Nuns and Writers in the Colonial Americas

Jimena Castro Godoy, Visiting Researcher at BU, Latin American Studies

Jan/15 Wed 10:00AM-12:00PM 66-156, With a short break in the middle

Enrollment: Unlimited: Advance sign-up required
Sign-up by 01/13

In this session we will explore the context and the writings by four nuns of Mexico, Peru, Chile and Spain of the 17th century. We will deepen into how they struggled to become writers in a very regulated environment and also get to understand their feelings, thoughts and the message they tried to communicate despite the male control that reigned in that moment of history.

Sponsor(s): SpousesandPartners@mit
Contact: Jimena Castro Godoy,

Pleasures of Poetry 2014

David Thorburn

Enrollment: Unlimited: No advance sign-up
Attendance: Participants welcome at individual sessions

This popular activity –- which aims to reach all lovers of poetry -- has been offered every IAP for the last fifteen years.  Each one-hour session is devoted to a single poet, usually a single poem.  The goal is discussion and shared pleasure.  No lectures or professorial arrogance allowed. Some participants attend every session, but many others attend only once or twice to read and discuss a favorite poet or poem.  The roster of poets is always immensely diverse: from ancient Chinese masters to contemporary American poets laureate, from such famous Greats as Shakespeare, Keats and Auden to Dr. Seuss and Bob Dylan.  Discussion and collaborative close reading are the aim and ideal of each hour.  A packet of all the chosen texts will be posted online ( and will be available in hardcopy from the Literature Office.

Sponsor(s): Literature
Contact: David Thorburn, 14N-335, 3-6950,


Jan/06 Mon 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/07 Tue 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/08 Wed 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/09 Thu 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/10 Fri 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/13 Mon 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/14 Tue 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/15 Wed 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/16 Thu 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/17 Fri 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/21 Tue 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/22 Wed 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/24 Fri 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/27 Mon 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/28 Tue 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/29 Wed 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/30 Thu 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304
Jan/31 Fri 01:00PM-02:00PM 14E-304

Schedule and poems available at

Polish Literature in the Digital Age

Piotr Marecki, dr.

Jan/21 Tue 06:00PM-07:30PM 14N-233

Enrollment: Unlimited: No advance sign-up
Prereq: none

Polish digital literature has a rich tradition to build on: from Polish experimental literature to avant-guarde filmmakers associated with Warsztat Formy Filmowej (Film Form Workshop) of the 1970s, including Bruszewski and the Oscar winner Rybczyński. Other precursor phenomena include Jan Potocki's “Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie”, interwar avant-garde and the work of concretist artists like Stanisław Dróżdż. Poland's contribution to the developement of world hyperfiction was the notion of sylwa (from the latin silva rerum), "a form more capacious”, very popular in XX century literature. The description of this form by Czesław Miłosz inspired Michael Joyce to write an essay on this subject. Polish digital literature develops alongside the phenomenon of liberature, which, since its beginnings in 1999, influences our understanding of the digital medium. A rather isolated position on the international scene and a separate, unique historical background contribute to the distinctiveness of Polish digital literature. The most important authors from this field (including Radosław Nowakowski, Robert Szczerbowski, Wojciech Bruszewski and Katarzyna Giełżyńska) will be presented during the lecture.

Sponsor(s): Comparative Media Studies/Writing
Contact: Piotr Marecki, 14N-233, MARECKI@MIT.EDU

Re-imagining the Mahabharata

Kamesh Aiyer

Enrollment: Unlimited: No advance sign-up
Attendance: welcome at individual sessions but no transition help provided
Prereq: Comfortable in English discussions

The Mahabharata is a 100,000 verse epic poem that is a source book of Indian myth.  It is many things: it is a story of a great war that engulfed all South Asia; it is History, beginning with Genesis – of the universe, the gods and demons, the first people, onwards, to the story of the generations preceding the war; it is a soap opera; a religious text; a textbook of how to rule; a treatise on how to live. There is something in it for everyone and it has been the wellspring of inspiration in India for the last two thousand years.

Sponsor(s): Center for International Studies, MIT India Program
Contact: Melanie Mala Ghosh, 258-5917,

Re-Imagining the Mahabharata

Jan/07 Tue 01:00PM-03:00PM 4-149
Jan/14 Tue 01:00PM-03:00PM 4-149
Jan/21 Tue 01:00PM-03:00PM 4-149
Jan/28 Tue 01:00PM-03:00PM 4-149

Jan 7 - Lecture 1: Introduction

Jan 14 - Lecture 2 - Tribal People

Jan 21 - Lecture 3 - Caste and Farming in the Gangetic Heartland

Jan 28 - Lecture 4 - The Limits of Empire and Dharma

Kamesh Aiyer