English 190

Research Seminar: Trials of Literature: Romanticism, Justice, and the Law


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2018 Langan, Celeste
MW 9:30-11 305 Wheeler

Description

This seminar will focus on the way literature imagines the relation between law and justice, concentrating on literature of the Romantic period. We’ll consider writers’ interest in persons (from beggars and trespassers to gods and sovereigns), actions (from breaking a jug to killing a father), and events (from revolution to war) outside the law.

We’ll focus in particular on the intersections of language and the law.  Many Romantic dramas, novels, and poems are structured around some sort of trial scene.  What does it mean to speak “before the law”?  How is the concept of “testimony” transformed when it takes the form of fictional or poetic utterance?  How do so-called “sovereign” speech acts like commands and promises relate to law and justice? What effects does censorship have on literary expression?  (We'll consider actual trials for sedition and blasphemy.) If poetry is "pleading before unjust tribunals" (Wordsworth), in what sense are poets, as Shelley declared, “unacknowledged legislators of the world”?

The seminar will conclude by considering a larger historical arc, tracing the figure of injustice from Kleist’s Mchael Kohlhaas to Kafka’s The Trial to Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K.

Texts: Byron, Manfred, Marino Faliero;  S.T. Coleridge, Remorse; W. Godwin, Caleb Williams, excerpts from Enquiry Concerning Political Justice; H. von Kleist, Michael Kohlhaas, The Broken Jug; W. Scott, The Two Drovers;. P.B. Shelley, The Cenci; Prometheus Unbound; F. Kafka, The Trial;  W. Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads; Coetzee, The Life and Times of Michael K.

Secondary readings will include: W. Benjamin, “Critique of Violence”;  J. Butler, “Critique, Coercion, and Sacred Life”; J. Derrida, “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation’ of Authority'”;  Foucault, “The Life of Infamous Men”; A. Sitze, “What Is a Citation?”

Please read the paragraph about English 190 on page 2 of the instructions area of this Announcement of Classes for more details about enrolling in or wait-listing for this course.

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