English 190

Research Seminar: Materialism--Ancient and Modern

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Spring 2015 Goldsmith, Steven
TTh 9:30-11 305 Wheeler Research Seminars

Book List

Byron: Don Juan; Homer: The Iliad ; Lucretius: The Nature of Things; Melville: Moby-Dick, or The Whale; Weil: The Iliad or The Poem of Force


“As human beings we inhabit an ineluctably material world. We live our everyday lives surrounded by, immersed in, matter . . . Our existence depends from one moment to the next . . . on our own hazily understood bodily and cellular reactions and on pitiless cosmic motions, on the material artifacts and natural stuff that populate our environment, as well as on socioeconomic structures that produce and reproduce the conditions of our everyday life. In light of this massive materiality, how could we be anything other than materialist?” So write the editors of a recent collection of essays on New Materialisms (2010). The aim of this seminar is to consider how four monumental literary texts, ancient and modern, reckon with “this massive materiality.” For our purpose, “ancient” means Homer (The Iliad) and Lucretius (The Nature of Things), and “modern” means the nineteenth century: Byron’s comic masterpiece Don Juan and Melville’s anything-but-comical Moby-Dick. Concentrating on these four texts will allow us to examine the possibility of an epic materialism, one that—in the absence of spiritual, divine, or metaphysical principles—minimizes human mastery and instead strives to convey a comprehensive range of worldly forces: bodily, physical, environmental, technical, economic, and political. Some through-lines in our seminar will be: violence (and especially war) as an all-encompassing material condition; the role of empirical observation and description in rendering the material world; the materiality of the literary object, itself subject to copying, piracy, deterioration, and repurposing. As time permits, we will also raise questions about the “new materialisms” in criticism and philosophy, reading essays by Weil, Althusser, Greenblatt, Harman, Bennett, and Morton, among others. Why has materialism become so appealing to recent thinkers? How do these “new materialisms” open windows onto past texts? Perhaps more importantly: can these older texts speak back, altering the way we view current trends?

In addition to informal assignments throughout the semester, students will produce 20 pages of writing, divided into two or three essays, including the option of a longer research paper.

Please read the paragraph on page 2 of the instructions area of this Announcement of Classes for more details about enrolling in or wait-listing for this course.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Spring, 2018
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/1 Research Seminar: Trials of Literature: Romanticism, Justice, and the Law Langan, Celeste
190/2 Research Seminar: James Joyce Flynn, Catherine
190/3 Research Seminar: Hawthorne & Melville Tamarkin, Elisa
190/4 Research Seminar: Reading Walden Carefully Breitwieser, Mitchell
190/5 Research Seminar: Harlem Renaissance Wagner, Bryan
190/6 Research Seminar: Sixty Years Since: The Historical Novel Kolb, Margaret
190/7 Research Seminar: Contemporary Historical Fiction Yoon, Irene
190/8 Research Seminar: Literary Theory and Its Objects Creasy, CFS
190/9 Research Seminar: The Faerie Queene: The Ethics of Imagination Landreth, David
190/10 Research Seminar: Pagan Fictions in Christian Literature Hobson, Jacob
190/11 Research Seminar: Andrew Marvell Picciotto, Joanna M
190/12 Research Seminar: California Books and Movies Since World War I Starr, George A.
190/13 Research Seminar: Alfred Hitchcock Bader, Julia
Fall, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/1 Research Seminar: Britain in the ‘60s Gang, Joshua
190/2 Research Seminar: The Historical Novel Puckett, Kent
190/3 Research Seminar: Another Day in Purgatory: Irish Literature and the Afterlife Creasy, CFS
190/6 Research Seminar: Literature and Revolution Lee, Steven S.
190/7 Research Seminar: Monsters, Exiles, and Outlaws in Medieval Literature Hobson, Jacob
190/8 Research Seminar: George Eliot and the Realist Novel Kolb, Margaret
190/9 Research Seminar: Historiography and Narrative: Literature and the Interstices of History Jones, Donna V.
190/10 Research Seminar: Suspicious Mind Best, Stephen M.
190/11 Research Seminar: Nonsense Hanson, Kristin
190/12 Research Seminar: Making Memories Yoon, Irene
Spring, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/1 Research Seminar: The Urban Postcolonial Ellis, Nadia
190/2 Research Seminar: Harlem Renaissance Wagner, Bryan
190/3 Research Seminar: Literature and the Linguistic Turn Blevins, Jeffrey
190/4 Research Seminar: Jane Austen and the Theory of the Novel Miller, D.A.
190/5 Research Seminar: Writing a World in Crisis: Medieval and Modern Perry, R. D.
190/6 Research Seminar: Shakespeare: From the Globe to the Global Bahr, Stephanie M
190/7 Research Seminar: Place-Love: Fiction and the Melancholy of Form Xin, Wendy Veronica
190/8 Research Seminar: Literatures of the Ocean Sorensen, Janet
190/9 Research Seminar: Beowulf Thornbury, Emily V.
190/10 Research Seminar: Hollywood in the 1930s Knapp, Jeffrey
190/11 Research Seminar: The Literature of Immortality Jones, Donna V.
190/13 Research Seminar: California Literature & Film Since WWI Starr, George A.
Fall, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/1 Research Seminar: Emily Dickinson Shoptaw, John
190/2 Research Seminar: Slow Seeing / Slow Reading Hejinian, Lyn
190/3 Research Seminar: Moby-Dick, and More Otter, Samuel
190/4 Research Seminar: U.S. Modernism Goble, Mark
190/5 Research Seminar: Alfred Hitchcock Bader, Julia
190/6 Research Seminar: The Medium Is the Message: Reading Poetry in Manuscript & Print, 1300-1600 Bahr, Stephanie M
190/7 Research Seminar: Note new topic: Troy and Tragedy Perry, R. D.
190/8 Research Seminar: James / Baldwin Best, Stephen M.
190/9 Research Seminar: On Style Xin, Wendy Veronica
190/10 Research Seminar: Do I Dare? Indecision and Modernist Literature Blevins, Jeffrey
190/11 Research Seminar: Modern California Literature and Film Starr, George A.
190/12 Research Seminar: Modern Utopian and Dystopian Literature and Film Starr, George A.
Spring, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
190/1 Research Seminar: The Sixties Goble, Mark
190/2 Research Seminar: Through a Future Darkly: Global Crisis and the Triumph of Dystopia Danner, Mark
190/3 Research Seminar: Late Henry James Breitwieser, Mitchell
190/4 Research Seminar: The Urban Postcolonial Ellis, Nadia
190/5 Research Seminar: Contemporary British Literature and Culture Falci, Eric
190/6 Research Seminar: Classical and Renaissance Drama Knapp, Jeffrey
190/7 Research Seminar: Materiality: How the Physical World Is Made to Mean Flynn, Catherine
190/8 Research Seminar: Vital Texts: Literature and the Discourse of Life Gaydos, Rebecca
190/9 Research Seminar: Medieval and Renaissance Lyric Crosson, Chad Gregory
190/10 Research Seminar: Purcell and Handel: Their Art in Setting English Texts to Music Hanson, Kristin
190/11 Research Seminar Lee, Steven S.
190/12 Research Seminar: Daniel Defoe and the Rise of the 18th-Century Novel Starr, George A.
190/13 Research Seminar: Keats and Literary Tradition Francois, Anne-Lise

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