English R1B

Reading & Composition: Perceptual Decadence

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Summer 2017 Creasy, CFS
MTuW 2:00-4:30 87 Evans Reading and Composition

Book List

Moore, Alan: From Hell; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four; Stevenson, Robert Louis: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Other Readings and Media

A course reader that may include excerpts from Max Nordau, Oscar Wilde, Max Beerbohm, Vernon Lee, Henry James, Walter Pater, W.B. Yeats, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Arthur Symons, Sigmund Freud, Gottfried Benn, Ezra Pound, Mary Butts, Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy, Samuel Beckett, and others.

Visual Art may include works by J.M. Whistler, Aubrey Beardsley James Ensor, Walter Sickert, Jack B. Yeats, and others.

Films and Television may include: Penny Dreadful.


Discourses of decadence (etymologically, de- down + cadere to fall), responding to crises about history, science, and culture, have been haunting us for longer than we know. From the fall of the Roman Empire to the anything-but-falling ratings of the current television program Penny Dreadful, ideas of decadence, decay, and degeneration have been lodged within the European and American imaginary. This course will approach decadence in the cultural—and, more specifically, literary—history of the last century or so, in order to think history as decadence. We will begin with the end of the 19th century (with its concern that the fin de siècle might be, as Oscar Wilde put it, the fin du globe) and then move to modernist and more contemporary appropriations and revisitations of the idea of the fallen, the belated, and the dangerously degenerate. Along the way we will consider issues of modern urban life, transgressive sexuality, and (often pseudo-) scientific discourses of decay. We will focus primarily on novels and poems, but we may also consider painting, films, graphic novels, music, and television. The course aims to provide students with a sense of what literary criticism offers as a mode of engaging with culture—in its more rarefied as well as more popular forms—and as a mode of interrogating the historical and aesthetic contours of our own world.

Building on what you have already learned in the first of the Reading and Composition courses, this second course will use the questions that this material poses of us, as well as those we pose of it, to develop your critical reflection as well as your writing and research skills that will culminate in a larger research paper at the end of the summer. Our attention will be devoted in large part to approaching a research paper as a series of cumulative but individually small and manageable pieces. Supplementing the successively longer and successively more revised essays, these intermediate steps will include things like peer editing, an annotated bibliography, and a draft outline.

This 4-unit course will be taught in Session D, from July 3 to August 9.

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