English 165

Special Topics: The Materialist Epic


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
7 Spring 2019 Goldsmith, Steven
TTh 12:30-2 61 Evans

Book List

Homer: The Iliad (Fagles trans.); Knausgaard, Karl Ove: My Struggle: Book 1; Lucretius: The Nature of Things (Stallings trans.); Melville, Herman: Moby-Dick, or The Whale; Weil, Simone: The Iliad or the Poem of Force

Description

“We live our everyday lives surrounded by, immersed in, matter . . . Our existence depends from one moment to the next . . . on our own hazily understood bodily and cellular reactions and on pitiless cosmic motions, on the material artifacts and natural stuff that populate our environment, as well as on socioeconomic structures that produce and reproduce the conditions of our everyday life.  In light of this massive materiality, how could we be anything other than materialist?”  (New Materialisms, 2010).  The aim of this seminar is to consider how four epics, ancient and modern, reckon with “this massive materiality.”  For our purpose, “ancient” means Homer (The Iliad) and Lucretius (The Nature of Things), and “modern” means Melville (Moby-Dick) and Knausgaard (My Struggle).  Concentrating on these four texts will allow us to examine the possibility of an epic materialism, one that—in the absence of spiritual, divine, or metaphysical principles—minimizes human mastery and instead strives to convey a comprehensive range of worldly forces: physical, environmental, technical, economic, and political.  Some through-lines in our seminar will be: violence (and especially war) as an all-encompassing material condition; the role of empirical observation and description in rendering the material world; the materiality of the literary object itself.  As time permits, we will also turn to the “new materialisms” in criticism and philosophy to ask why materialism has recently become so appealing to so many thinkers.

In addition to informal assignments, students will write two essays and a final exam.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

fall, 2019

165/1

Special Topics: Utopian and (mostly) Dystopian Movies

165/2

Special Topics: The Pleasures of Allegory

spring, 2019

165/1

Special Topics: Global Tudors

Honig, Elizabeth

165/2

Special Topics: 21st-Century U. S. Poetry

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Special Topics: John Milton's Last Poems

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Special Topics: The Art of Writing: The Visible Made Verbal

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Special Topics: Note: See English 165 section 6

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Special Topics: Nabokov and Naipaul

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Special Topics: The 1890s

fall, 2018

165/1

Special Topics: Oscar Wilde and the Nineteenth Century

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Special Topics: The English Department

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Special Topics: Literature and Media Theory

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Special Topics: The Ecology of Utopia

165/5

Special Topics: Reading Walden With Care

165/6

Special Topics: Hardly Strictly Lyric Poems

165/7

Special Topics: Utopian and (mostly) Dystopian Movies

spring, 2018

165/1

Special Topics: H.P. Lovecraft in His Tradition

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Special Topics: Handel's Art in Setting English Words to Music

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Special Topics: Is It Useless To Revolt?

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Special Topics: Neo-Slave Narratives

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Special Topics: Incarcerations: The Literature of (Physical, Mental, Spiritual) Imprisonment

fall, 2017

165/1

Special Topics: Genres of Free Speech

165/2

Special Topics: Art of Writing

spring, 2017

165/1

Special Topics: The Graphic Memoir

165/2

Special Topics: Incarcerations: The Literatures of Physical Confinement and Spiritual Liberation


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