February 28, 2010

My cancelled class. It didn't "make." Also the registrar emailed me because she was confused because she wasn't sure it was a "real" course description. She said she wasn't used to seeing them in the first person.

Systemic Theories of Literature

When I began to think about this seminar, I began by thinking about what books published in the last five years have most changed my thinking about literary criticism. When I sat down and looked at my list, I realized that a number of books on it had something in common: all were attempting to think about literature less through close reading and/or aesthetics and more about how it functions in (world) culture. Many of these works were discussing literature as if from a great distance, were indulging in what has been called a sort of “sociological formalism.” On my list were Franco Moretti, who provocatively argues that literature scholars should stop reading books and start counting, graphing, and mapping them instead; Pascale Casanova whose work charts out relationship between literary capital and the struggle of international power; James English who studies the ever expanding literary prize circuit; and Mark McGurl who looks at the defining impact that creative writing programs have had on US literature in the last fifty years. I have not yet finalized the reading list but I am fairly certain we will read from these… Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History, Pascale Casanova’s World Republic of Letters, Mark McGurl’s The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing, and James English’s The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value. The first half of the semester will be spent reading in the criticism and discussing it. The second half will be spent on student presentations written under the sway of this sociological formalism. I’ve designed the course so that it is not genre or historical period specific. You should be able to bring your own areas of interest to the course (including the culture around the institution of creative writing). If you are thinking about applying to graduate programs in literary criticism, this might be a good opportunity to develop a writing sample. But at the same time, this course does not require previous knowledge in literary theory. We will be reading the criticism as slowly as we need to.

Blog Archive