English 203

Graduate Readings: Literature and Analytic Philosophy

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2020 Gang, Joshua
MW 1:30-3


It’s hard to overstate literary study’s indebtedness to continental philosophy. For much of the past century, figures such as Hegel, Nietzsche, Derrida, and Rancière have informed some of our most important conversations about what literature is, what it does, and what it tells us about ourselves and/or the external world. In contrast, we appear considerably less indebted to analytic philosophy—even as we grant the importance of someone like Bertrand Russell for modernist literature and criticism. Whether because of its styles of argumentation, its naturalistic assumptions, or its perceived antipathies to politics and aesthetics, the consensus among literary critics is that analytic philosophy has less to offer us than its continental counterpart. 

This seminar puts that conclusion to the test. Our aim will be to determine what aspects of analytic philosophy might be valuable for literary study today—and the ways we might incorporate those aspects meaningfully and judiciously. After a brief overview of analytic philosophy’s foundations, each week of the seminar will pair key texts from analytic philosophy with key texts of literary criticism or critical theory on a related topic. Topics of consideration might include: linguistic reference, meaning, and performance; logic and rationality; empiricism and the external world; reductionism; intention; the natures of moral and aesthetic value; feminism and sexuality; personal identity; justice; human and animal rights; the concept of mind; mind-body dualism; and the problem of other minds. Philosophical readings will potentially include those by: Anscombe, Appiah, Austin, Carnap, Chalmers, Danto, Davidson, Goodman, Foot, Frege, Kripke, Manne, Murdoch, Nagel, Parfit, Quine, Rawls, Russell, Ryle, Singer, Strawson, Thomson, Williams, and Wittgenstein. Critical readings will include those by: Albright, Apter, Bartlett, Best and Marcus, Butler, de Man, Miller, Ngai, Richards, Scarry, Sedgwick, and Spivak, and many more.

All course readings will be made available online through bCourses. Evaluation will be based on several short papers and presentations as well as a longer essay at the end of the course.

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