From The Deputy Provost

Kafka's Metamorphosis for Penn Reading Project 2000

On behalf of the Council of Undergraduate Deans, I am pleased to announce that Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis will be the text for this year's Penn Reading Project, which will take place on Wednesday afternoon, September 6, 2000.

The Penn Reading Project (PRP) is marking its tenth year. All entering undergraduate students are assigned a text; these students are then put in small discussion groups where they meet with Penn faculty. For these students, PRP represents their introduction to intellectual life at the University and to the engagement with faculty which they will experience throughout their years at Penn. It is one of the highlights of the New Student Orientation program, and thus it contributes in a significant way to the shaping of students' expectations about their upcoming college career.

Kafka's well-known story is particularly well-suited to serve this purpose. From its famous first sentence ("When Gregor Samsa awoke from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into a giant insect"), The Metamorphosis, published in 1915, begins a journey into modern consciousness. Samsa, a protypical working man, finds that his grotesque rebirth requires him to confront not only the mundane circumstances of ordinary life--how can he walk in his new body? can he still work? --but larger, quintessentially modern issues of alienation and belonging. The story has traditionally served as a prism through which young people may view their own sense of self. At the same time, The Metamorphosis is an artistic monument to its own time, an artifact of a culture involved in a whirlwind transformation into modernity. It offers superb opportunities for multidisciplinary inquiry: historical, religious and psychoanalytical as well as literary.

All Penn faculty are invited to take part by leading one of our discussion sections in September: I can think of few activities that more effectively introduce our newest students to the University's core values and purposes.

To add your name to the list of discussion leaders, please respond to David Fox by e-mail at or call (215) 573-5636. A copy of the text will be sent to discussion leaders in July, along with additional information about the Reading Project. As in previous years, prior to the PRP sessions we will have some orientation activities for our discussion leaders; we will be in touch with information about these events, also. Many faculty have found these preliminary meetings with colleagues from around the University to be as rewarding as the discussion sessions themselves.

I very much hope you will agree to join us. Many thanks.

--Peter Conn, Deputy Provost for Undergraduate Education

--Andrea Mitchell, Professor of English

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 30, April 25, 2000

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