English 165

Special Topics: Elegy, Mourning, and the Representation of the Holocaust

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2020 Goodman, Kevis
MW 3-4:30 note new location: 300 Wheeler

Book List

Levi, Primo: The Drowned and the Saved; Sebald, W. G.: The Emigrants; Shakespeare, William: Hamlet; Teichman and Leder, eds.: Truth and Lamentation: Stories and Poems on the Holocaust

Other Readings and Media

A Course Reader (possibly in two volumes)


After World War II, the German writer Theodor Adorno famously commented that it is “barbaric” to continue to write poetry after Auschwitz, because any attempt to convert extreme suffering into aesthetic image or form commits an injustice against the victims. Yet, as Adorno also acknowledged almost in the same breath, art forms are also necessary, because silence, or at least the failure to render or to transmit the event and its implications in some way, can constitute an injustice of another sort. As that statement can suggest, the Holocaust has posed an acute challenge to the long history of literary mourning and to the elegiac mode in particular, because the elegy, traditionally a poem that performs the work of mourning, looks for—though it does not necessarily find—consolation in language and literary form.

This seminar has two main parts. We will first establish a background and a vocabulary by reading selected elegiac texts (largely but not exclusively poetry) from different historical moments and in different traditions, from classical pastoral to the present. These will be collected in an important Course Reader.  Later in the semester, we will turn to problems in Holocaust representation, trauma, and memory. Throughout this course, we will combine attention to primary texts with consideration of relevant criticism and theory, as we ask questions about the relationships between elegy and anti-elegy, loss and language, mourning and historiography (the writing of history), personal grief and collective expression.

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