English 203

Research Seminars: Visuality, Textuality, and Cultural Memory

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2010 Abel, Elizabeth
Abel, Elizabeth
W 3-6 108 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Theorists will include: Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Walter Benjamin, Jonathan Crary, Guy Debord, Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Jacques Lacan, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, W.J.T. Mitchell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Susan Sontag. Primary texts will include: T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, selected World War I poets, Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room, and Mrs. Dalloway; and collections of Holocaust photographs.


Probing what has been called the “visual turn” in literary studies, this course will scrutinize the interplay between verbal and visual modes of representation in a range of philosophical, literary, and visual texts. We will ask how and why visual perspectives and materials have been incorporated into literary study. Through readings in semiotics, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and Marxism, we will map some key tensions of twentieth-century cultural theory and production: the relations between subjects and objects of observation, mechanical reproduction and imaginative creation, the legibility of images and the visibility of words. Literary and photographic theories and practices will be our primary subjects, but we will also glance at film from time to time. The course will be divided into three basic units: a broad theoretical inquiry into questions of epistemology, subject formation, and vision; a more targeted exploration of topics that cross different media (the codes of realism, the composition of the image, the construction of perspective); and an inquiry into the uses of verbal and visual media in the construction of cultural memory. This final unit will dwell primarily on two defining crises of the twentieth century: World War I, a famously literary war, and World War II, specifically the Holocaust, as a vexed crux of iconic images.

Two papers will be assigned: depending in part on your choice of topics, the course could satisfy either the twentieth-century or the non-historical requirement.

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