English 250

Research Seminars: Poetry and the Fate of the Senses

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Fall 2014 Francois, Anne-Lise
M 3-6 258 Dwinelle

Book List

Stewart, Susan: Fate of the Senses


This comparative seminar in lyric poetry borrows its title from Susan Stewart's Poetry and the Fate of the Senses (University of Chicago Press, 2002), to ask about the relation between poetry and sensory deprivation (or plenitude) and prosthesis. We will fcous on early modern to twentieth-century poetry written in English, French, German, Italian and Japanese, in the age of print culture or what will later become, in Walter Benjamin's terms, the "age of mechanical reproducibility." From the emergence of "haiku" out of haikai no renga (comic linked verse) to modernism's fascination with isolated images, the course will give some attention to the "lyricization" of poetry--the privileging of isolated, individual, brief forms abstracted from once collective practices--as well as to the changing roles--messianic, consolatory, critical, representative--assigned the figure of the "solitary" poet and "autonomous" work of art in the context of industrial capitalism, the rationalization of time and space, and European colonialism. We will also ask about "the fate of the senses" in relation to contemporary ecological crisis and, in particular, to the paradox of simultaneous sensory impoverishment and perpetual stimulation.

Most crucially, however, we will want to ask what happens when we read poetry as a series of substitutions (touch for sight, and sound for touch) and read together poets who, pushing the limits of language as an expressive medium, interrogate the relations of the verbal to the visual and musical arts, of visionary experience to sensory perception, of memory to imagination, and of language to the natural world and/or phenomenal experience. Tracing the meeting of stone and flesh, of the carnal and the transcendent, the transient and eternal, we will compare recurring figures of poetry as the only remaining sign of otherwise irrecoverable, lost, fugitive experiences.

Poems by Petrarch, Shakespeare, Herbert, Milton, Basho, Buson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Dickinson, Hardy, Rilke, Valéry, Stevens, Niedecker, Rankine; primary readings will also be determined by special interests of students. Secondary readings by Adorno, Benjamin, Culler, Jackson, Barbara Johnson, Lessing, Krieger, Prins, Stewart, among others.

The one required text will be Susan Stewart's Fate of the Senses, ordered at University Press Books.

Interested students are encouraged to purchase used editions of individual poets and/or reliable anthologies. Assigned poems will be available on the course website.

This class is cross-listed with Comparative Literature 202B.

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