ENGL738T - Seminar in Nineteenth-Century Literature: Technoromanticism

In a bad book with a bold thesis, Richard Coyne argues that contemporary understandings of the computer, “with its promises of interconnectivity, subversion of hierarchy, restoration of the tribe, revitalism of democracy, and new holism”--all have their historical roots in Enlightenment and Romantic thought. This course will explore the extent to which the ideological formations of Romanticism both underlie and resist the way technology is imagined in contemporary culture through poetry, fiction, film, virtual worlds, and computer gaming.

Throughout the semester, we will be concerned with Romanticism as a discourse about cultural change; about monstrosity and the body; about art as technology; about the necessity for and the impossibility of making art or technology that isn't always already co-opted; about abjected, alienated, resistant subjects at the mercy of phallic power structures; about the gendering of technology; about textual and sexual reproduction; about utopian imaginings and dystopian worlds; and about the world itself as a consensual illusion.

The syllabus will be divided into such sections as Blake and Hacking, Automata and Cyborgs, Virtual Realities, Prosthetics of the Imagination, and Prosthetics of Memory. At the core of the course will be the masterpiece of Technoromanticism, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and its re-mediations in film (Edison, Whale, Branagh), hyperfiction (Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl), virtual worlds (FrankenMOO and The Trail of Terror). The syllabus will include such other Romantic era writers as E. T. A. Hoffman, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Thomas DeQuincey; such contemporary writers as William Gibson, Jean Baudrillard, Donna Harraway, Philip K. Dick, and Richard Powers; and such films as Blade Runner, The Matrix, and Memento. Students will be taught digital humanities methodologies (text markup, macroanalysis) and participate in collaborative digital projects. They will also lead discussion (as part of a small group) and undertake a long final paper or project.