English R1B

Learning and Constraint

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
10 Spring 2010 Weiner, Joshua J
Weiner, Joshua
MWF 3-4 225 Wheeler Hall

Other Readings and Media

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile; Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe; Jane Austen, Persuasion; Vikram Seth, The Golden Gate; Georges Perec, A Void


This class will try to stimulate reflection on what learning is, and what its relation is to different kinds of constraint. The pressure of this question (learning) and this theme (constraint) will be everywhere brought to bear on the task of this course: learning to write and research better. How can we think more critically about our own learning processes and the forms of constraint that enable them?

The first part of our readings will consider some of the constraints around learning that we are perhaps most likely to think of – universities, classrooms, pedagogical relationships, the essay form, even language itself – by reading two Enlightenment texts that worked hardest to situate learning elsewhere: Rousseau’s Emile and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The second part of the course moves away from the scene of education to look at two late 20th century texts that manifest the productive possibilities in different kinds of self-imposed constraint: Vikram Seth’s novel in verse The Golden Gate, and Gilbert Adair’s translation of Georges Perec’s La Disparition, written without the letter e. The hinge between these parts will tackle in many ways the hardest aspect of our theme, the relation between writing and the personal, through a reading of Austen’s novel Persuasion and a selection of poems by Gerald Manley Hopkins. These literary works will be interspersed with bite-sized selections from such theorists as D.A. Miller, Jacques Ranciere, Gregory Bateson, and Jacques Derrida.

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