English 190

Research Seminar: Vital Texts: Literature and the Discourse of Life


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
8 Spring 2016 Gaydos, Rebecca
TTh 11-12:30 305 Wheeler

Book List

Kazuo, I.: Never Let Me Go; Shelley, M.: Frankenstein; Stoker, B.: Dracula; Venter, C.: Life at the Speed of Light

Other Readings and Media

A course reader including texts by Eramus Darwin, Immanuel Kant, Williams Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, Gertrude Stein, Henri Bergson, Ezra Pound, Wolfgang Köhler, W.H. Auden, Robert Duncan, Norbert Wiener, Katherine Hayles, Mark Hansen, Michel Foucault, and Achille Mbembe.

Films: F.W. Murnau, Nosferatu; James Whale, Frankenstein

Description

If the romantic trope of “organic form” naturalizes literature by likening literary texts to living organisms, it equally suggests that man-made forms can be "alive." In this course, our task will be to trace the trope of "organic form" through the romantic period into the 21st century, keeping in mind that the notion of "organic form" is thoroughly ambiguous: it at once grants literary forms a biological significance and challenges the traditional distinction between life and artifice. We will read romantic and modernist poetry that tries to capture the flowing rhythms of lived experience, and we will examine novelistic representations of artificial and unholy life--the undead and monstrous beings that test the very limits of life as a normative and scientific category. Moving into the contemporary era, we will investigate how the romantic interest in the ambiguity of life reemerges in recent debates around the politics and ethics of synthetic biology and biotechnological interventions into human (and nonhuman) bodies. How might the long history of literature's relationship to the living help us better understand and/or challenge contemporary forms of biopolitical control?

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