English 190

Research Seminar: Do I Dare? Indecision and Modernist Literature


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
10 Fall 2016 Blevins, Jeffrey
TTh 3:30-5 C57 Hearst Annex

Book List

Barnes, Djuna: Nightwood; Barth, John: The End of the Road; Ellison, Ralph: Invisible Man; Ford, Ford Madox: The Good Soldier; James, Henry: The Golden Bowl; Woolf, Virginia: To the Lighthouse

Other Readings and Media

A reader that may contain short pieces by Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cleanth Brooks, Kenneth Burke, E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, James Joyce, Alain Locke, Marianne Moore, John Crowe Ransom, I.A. Richards, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone Weil, Edith Wharton, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and others.

Please note that the book list and and the contents of the reader were revised on April 18.

Description

From Prufrock's peach to Frost's two roads, modernism gave us many famous moments of indecision. We will follow along with texts depicting speakers and characters as they hesitate, delay, cavil, evade, hedge, sidestep, prevaricate, tergiversate, equivocate, and otherwise wring their hands over even the most inconsequential choices. Their protracted deliberations foreground states of uncertainty and feelings of doubt, which we will investigate by closely reading the ambiguous and often paradoxical language that constrains and displays them. These uncertainties and doubts will provide openings for discussions of how texts present the situations that elicit indecision in the first place: temerity, alienation, physical peril, disaffection, ethical vagueness, mental exhaustion, circumstantial complexity, and so on. At the same time, we will see how indecision provokes fantasies about other outcomes and speculations on alternative possibilities, which become microcosms for the broader imaginative procedures behind literary world-building.

In tandem we will consider contemporaneous essays on the role of ambiguity and paradox in literature, and we will study how the early history of literary criticism dramatized its own indecisiveness over just how to read and evaluate (modernist) texts. We will also touch on broader philosophies of decision, judgment, choice, will, and selfhood.

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