English R1B

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

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
8 Spring 2018 Ding, Katherine
MWF 2-3 122 Wheeler

Book List

Austen, Jane: Northanger Abbey; Ishiguro, Kazuo: Never Let Me Go; Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night's Dream; Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein

Other Readings and Media

Film: Her (2013, English, dir. Spike Jonze); Anamolisa (2015, English, dir. Charlie Kaufman)

Selections, short texts, and criticism in course reader: Ovid, “Echo and Narcissus” and “Pygmalion” from Metamorphoses; Eliza Haywood, “Fantomina”; Edmund Burke, “On Language,” from A Philosophical Inquiry; David Hume, selections from A Treatise of Human Nature; Adela Pinch, "The Philosopher as a Man of Feeling" from Strange Fits of Passions; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, selections from Reveries of a Solitary Walker; Roy Brand, "Communicating Solitude" from LoveKnowledge; Sarah Kareem, "Fiction & the Pursuit of Knowledge" 18th Century Fiction & the Reinvention of Wonder; Erving Goffman, "On Face-work"; John Keats, “This Living Hand”; William Blake, Pity (painting) & “On Another’s Sorrow” (from Songs of Innocence); Steven Goldsmith, “On Another’s Sorrow” from Blake’s Agitation


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 resuscitated 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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