English 190

Research Seminar: Literature on Trial: Romanticism, Law, Justice


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
6 Fall 2019 Langan, Celeste
TTh 11-12:30 262 Dwinelle

Book List

Brooks, Peter: Troubling Confessions; Coetzee, J. M.: Life and Times of Michael K.; Godwin, William: Caleb Williams; Godwin, William: Enquiry Concerning Political Justice; Kafka, Franz: The Trial; Kleist, H. von: Selected Writings; Shelley, Mary : Frankenstein; Shelley, P.B.: Poetry and Prose; Wordsworrth & Coleridge: Lyrical Ballads

Other Readings and Media

W. Benjamin, "Critique of Violence"; J. Derrida, "Before the Law"; Carl Dreyer, Joan of Arc; E. Scarry, from On Beauty and Being Just

Description

This course will introduce students to “law and literature” studies, focusing on the way literature imagines the relation between law and justice.  We’ll concentrate on literature of the Romantic period, which often foregrounds the injustice of laws, and represents persons (from beggars, trespassers, and refugees to gods and sovereigns), actions (from shooting a bird to killing a father), and events (from revolution to war) outside the law.  How and to what end does literary representation encourage the exercise of aesthetic judgment, and does aesthetic judgment correct or corrupt legal judgment?

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 and/or confession.  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 Michael Kohlhaas to Kafka’s The Trial to Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K.

Please click here for more information about enrollment in English 190.

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