English R1B

Reading and Composition: Sympathy and Identification "After" the Affective Turn


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2017 Ding, Katherine
MWF 10-11 80 Barrows Reading and Composition

Book List

The Craft of Research, 4th edition; Austen, Jane: Northanger Abbey; Ishiguro, Kazuo: Never Let Me Go; Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night's Dream; Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein

Description

Note the changes in instructor, topic, book list and course description for this section of English R1B (as of May 19).

In recent years, certain sectors of the humanities have been undergoing an "affective turn." Put broadly, scholars from diverse fields are challenging an older model of the self as the repository of deep, private feelings ("interiority"). Instead, they variously locate passions and affects (terms resusitated and revised from pre-19th-century sources) in the dynamics of interaction rather than locked within the interiority of demarcated selves. Under this model, feelings are thought to be generated through material, social, and formal structures of engagement rather than produced solely in "me", the person who experiences them. Emotional life becomes remarkably mechanical and even eerie, but perhaps no less alluring or vivacious. For some of the writers we will examine, sympathy is a capacious term that dictates not only which individuals (or animals or things) we identify with, but an entire structure of emotional and mental engagement that creates and modifies identity. However, sympathy also has its dark side, for its demarcating line produces exclusions as well as inclusiveness and renders certain selves undesirable or invisible. Some of the texts we read will focus on the ethical ambivalence of this complex concept. 

In this class, we will strive to be agnostic towards the desirability of sympathy ("is it a good thing?" or "is my sympathy for a particular character justified?") and instead focus on its metrics and effects, both in the text and in ourselves as we engage with texts. Whether we are examining an advertisement on campus, a movie, or the parody of a gothic novel, we'll be asking questions such as "what formal mechanics does the text employ to engender sympathy in the audience?" We will also be reading philosophers who study sympathy (in addition to writers and artists who deploy it), focusing on 18th-century authors and the 21st-century revisions of affective life that draw upon them.

This class is structured as a workshop to hone close reading skills and to guide students through the critical tools needed to write a research paper. To that effect, students will write four formal papers: a short diagnostic essay, a close reading paper, a research summary paper, and a final research paper that combines research and close reading skills. In addition, students will be turning in informal reflections and shorter assignments every week in which no paper is due.


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