ENGL738L - Seminar in Nineteenth-Century Literature: Sensation and the Literary

What is the relationship between literature and the physical senses? Is the aesthetic experience of literature simply an appeal to the senses, or is it something else? What are the ideological implications of separating literary experience from “mere” sensation? What does it mean to think of such a separation in terms of “high” and “low” (or “mass”) forms of cultural production? Does sensation actually exist? Is it a phenomenal, psychological, or linguistic event? Is it historical? How does the question of sensation underwrite a host of other terms—materiality, form, feeling, aesthetics, and sentiment—pertinent to the study of literature and critical theory? We will begin to explore such questions in this seminar on Sensation and the Literary, with the intent of profitably complicating any easy assumptions about “Sensation,” the “Literary,” and their relationship. We will be reading a number of critical works on sensation from a number of theoretical traditions, including phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and deconstruction. Theorists might include Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, Massumi, Lacan, _i_ek, De Man, and Derrida. Literature for the class will be mostly drawn from the British long eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as perhaps nineteenth-century American writings. Possible literary figures might include Walpole, Burke, Kant, Austen, Wordsworth, Byron, Marx, the Brontës, Collins, Poe, and Crane. We might also look at other mediums (such as pre-cinematic attractions, the cinema, and the internet) to complicate further our own sense of what “Sensation” and the “Literary” mean. Course requirements: seminar presentations, a short paper, and a seminar research paper.


Permission of department.