Tu/Th 09:30-11:00 20 Wheeler
Current Graduate Students
Amanda Goldstein and Margarita Zaydman
Though they seemed to lay bare the workings of so much of the natural universe, Newton’s Principia famously declined to posit a cause, physical or metaphysical, for the gravitational attraction at work between bodies separated in space. Over the following century, meanwhile, the distance between literature and science grew to define increasingly separate means of observing and representing the world. This course seeks to hone your critical reading and writing skills through the examination of literary, philosophical, scientific, and category-defying texts (from early to very recent modernity) that take up physics’ problem of action-at-a-distance. How, in these works, do forces of sympathy, similarity, memory, writing, or desire assume the capacity to move without touching? Are there influences that operate across distances in time, as well in space? How do our texts depict the medium (physical or otherwise) through which a delayed, waylaid, or mislaid “action” might pass?
The fictions, poems, essays and films we will be discussing here present situations where the difference between cause and effect, action and reaction, break down: they will provoke us to ask just what kind of an action “looking-on” might be; how ideas might work as contagiously as germs; how war and violence can happen by remote-control; and how different genres, such as elegies or odes, engage their absent and present objects.
Meanwhile, our emphasis on critical reading and writing will entangle us in new problems of distance and proximity. And although the notion of “action” will be called routinely into question, it is clear that our class will require your active participation and preparation on several fronts: attentive reading before class and thoughtful contributions to discussion when we meet; writing and revising several essays; presenting a midterm multimedia group project; and preparing short, written homework assignments to be shared on bSpace or in class.
Books for purchase
William Shakespeare, Othello
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
Denis Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew and D’Alembert’s Dream
J. W. Goethe, Elective Affinities
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground
Vladimir Nabokov, The Eye
Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others
Ari Folman, Waltz With Bashir
Isaac Newton, from the Principia, “General Scholium”
Michel de Montaigne, “Of Physiognomy,” “Of Cannibalism”
Adam Smith, from The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments
Denis Diderot, from The Indiscreet Jewels
Heinrich von Kleist, “On the Marionette Theatre”
Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle”
Friedrich Nietzsche, selected aphorisms from The Gay Science
Franz Kafka, selected parables and “The Hunger Artist”
Walter Benjamin, from Berlin Childhood
Poems by Horace, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Charles Baudelaire, W. H. Auden, Thomas Hardy, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Rainer Maria Rilke, Elizabeth Bishop, and Daniel Berrigan.
Texts by Victor Shklovsky, Barbara Johnson, Jean Starobinski, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Bruno Latour, Sigmund Freud, Paul Valèry, Charles Baudelaire, and Karl Marx.
*Some of these will not be included in the course reader but available on b-space e-reserve.
Course Catalog Number: 17233