No snobbery: new University course delves into pop culture

A Master's degree in Tradition and Popular Culture will allow students to explore less conventional areas of study.

From Dante to Dracula: a new University course will invite students to delve into both 'high' and 'low' culture.
From Dante to Dracula: a new University course will invite students to delve into both 'high' and 'low' culture.

It may seem like an unorthodox pathway for postgraduate study, but next year's intake of Master's students will have the opportunity to delve into their favourite film, comic book and television characters as part of a new course within the Arts Department of the University of Malta.

Accepting their first batch of students in October of this year, the newly-devised MA in Tradition and Popular Culture will allow students to explore connections between 'high' and 'low' culture - focusing as much on popular and cult literature, films, books and comic books as more 'respected' canonical texts.

Given its wide-ranging scope, the course will incorporate seven departments within the Faculty of Arts, in the aim of taking full advantage of its 'cross-over' appeal.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Deputy Dean of the Arts Faculty Prof. Gloria Lauri Lucente said that, true to form, the course itself arose out of a kind of 'popular demand', in the wake of a push towards an inter-disciplinary approach among Arts departments in the past few years.

"This is the first time that the Faculty of Arts will be embarking on such a cutting-edge initiative by providing students with an opportunity to follow lectures and seminars offered by seven different departments that will be working collaboratively rather than on an individual basis," Lauri Lucente said.

Although students are free to explore pop culture within existing MA programmes forming part of various departments of the University of Malta, this new course aims to provide a more specifically engaged syllabus.

In particular, the course - which will be made available both on a part time and full time basis over three semesters - will provide students with a jumping off point from a number of areas, including: comparative literature, cultural theory, theory of literature, film and the literary canon, Biblical literature, modernist literature, postmodernist literature, the literature of the avant-garde, the aesthetics of decline, representations of the Mediterranean, the translation of canonical and popular texts.

But while it appears that one of the aims of the course is to 'democratise' how we talk about popular culture versus its more vaunted counterpart, the title of the course itself implies that the two are still separate entities, and that we're hardwired to experience them with a different yardstick.

According to Lauri Lucente, this rift - be it real or imaginary - is one of the key starting points of the course itself.

"While bearing in mind the distinctive connotations that each of these two terms brings into play, the programme will explore the complex engagement of these two conceptual categories with one another and the spaces of theory and critique they share," Lauri Lucente said.

She added that it was important to consider how contemporary culture draws immensely on literary texts which, over time, have acquired a more 'privileged' position.

"The programme will study the permutations and the 'afterlives' of a canonical work such as the Bible and Dante's Divine Comedy as it takes on the cast of a popular text and as it is viewed and rewritten from several angles of interpretation, including non-traditional ones. Or it can take as its starting point the scholarly speculation and popular fascination triggered by such figures as Frankenstein and the zombie and trace their origins to traditional literary works," Lauri Lucente added.

Asked to speculate on some potentially popular topics among students of the course, Lauri Lucente was reluctant to single out specific texts or genres, but believed that students will be intrigued to trace the roots of their favourite pop culture products.

"It is fascinating, for example, to see the metamorphosis that a Homeric figure or the legend of Faust undergoes, and it is equally intriguing to trace the literary roots of, say, the different filmic portrayals of Dracula."

The course is not just limited to language and literature graduates - but welcomes Honours graduates (Second Class or better) as well as all those holding an Ordinary degree at Category II or better.

 For more information, log on to the course description.