ENGL729A - Seminar in Eighteenth-Century Literature; The Postmodern Enlightenment
0101 - Tita Chico


 “Postmodern” and “Enlightenment” are historical and theoretical designations that rarely, if ever, occupy the same breath: postmodern connotes a challenge to orthodoxy, enlightenment an enthusiastic articulation of it.


This course challenges such a dualism by studying literary (and some visual) texts from the long eighteenth century and the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, texts that repeatedly grapple with what it means to exist in society, what value might be, and how representation mobilizes and occludes subjectivity. We will study Enlightenment texts that begin to articulate a range of ideals and critiques concerning race, diaspora, gender, celebrity, and affective relations; these are paired with contemporary rewritings that explicitly revisit and rework the Enlightenment materials. Our operating premise is that the articulation and legacies of the Enlightenment—both as an ideal and as an uneven and inequitable practice—linger profoundly in our contemporary, postmodern moment.


Throughout the seminar, students will contribute to various in-class presentations. We will also work in the Special Collections at Hornbake Library, with possibilities for additional research at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress.


The course will culminate with a significant research project that uses texts from both periods to focus on the emergence, critique, and/or elaboration of a particular idea such as aesthetics, universal human rights, liberty, cosmopolitanism, and so forth.


[Possible readings]


Margaret Cavendish, “A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life” (1656); Cavendish, The Blazing World (1666); Danielle Dutton, Margaret the First (2016)

Mary Shelly, Frankenstein (1818)Victor LaValle, Destroyer (2017)Ahmed Saadawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel (2018)

Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African (1789) & Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing (2016)

[Anon.], The Woman of Colour, A Tale (1808); Lucy Peacock, “The Creole” (1786);  and Amma Asante’s Belle (film; 2013)

Casta paintings by Miguel Cabrera, José Joaquín Magón, José de Ibarra, and Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz; Natasha Tretheway, Thrall (2012); Beyoncé and Jay-Z, “Apeshit” (2018); Titus Kaphar, “Enough about You” (2016) and “Unfit Frame” (2016)

John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera (1728), selections from Newgate Calendar, and Jordy Rosenberg, Confessions of a Fox (2018)

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and Colin Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (2016)



Postmodern Enlightenment, in Theory

John Locke, selections from Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693)

Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1696)

Denis Diderot, selections from Encyclopedia (1751)

Adam Smith, selections from The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, selections from The Social Contract (1762)

Denis Diderot, selections from Supplement to Bouganville’s Voyage (1772)

Adam Smith, selections from The Wealth of Nations (1776)

Johann Karl Möhsen, “What Is to Be Done toward the Enlightenment of the Citizenry?” (1783)

Moses Mendelssohn, “On the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” (1784)

Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?”  (1784)

Karl Leonhard Reinhold, “Thoughts on Enlightenment” (1784)

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman


Simon Gikandi, Slavery and the Culture of Taste

Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment

What Is Enlightenment: Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions, ed. James Schmidt (U California P, 1996).

What’s Left of Enlightenment? A Postmodern Question, ed. Keith Michael Baker and Peter Hanns Reill (Stanford UP, 2001)

Geoffrey Galt Harpham, “So…What Is Enlightenment? An Inquisition into Modernity.” Critical Inquiry 20, 3 (spring 1994), 524-564.

Sarah Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness


Meets the MA LIT Long Eighteenth Century Requirement