This course has two major aims. First, it will attempt to consider how the novel can work as an ambivalent form or as a form that induces ambivalence. Second, it will explore the concept of ambivalence more widely through texts whose narrators, characters, and plots engage in the anxiety and melancholia of ambivalence.
Our study of the novel will take particular interest in ambivalence’s formal properties both in the subject who experiences ambivalence and in texts that seem to evoke this subjective state through narrative. As we read these novels, we’ll also look at literary criticism, psychoanalytic works, and philosophical texts and attempt to understand the production of some of ambivalence’s kin: ambiguity, irony, and paradox. We’ll examine the structure of ambivalent desire and its relationship to the fetish in novels that portray love-hate relationships, sadomasochism, and repressed (contradictory) desires. Likewise, we’ll read works that help us probe the states that follow ambivalence from resolution and resignation to the “madness of the decision.” As we ponder the fraught relationship of ambivalence to action, we’ll ask, adapting Simone de Beauvoir’s terminology, how these novels offer or refuse an “ethics of ambi[valence].”
Major assignments may include two papers, several shorter assignments, and one presentation.
Djuna Barnes. Nightwood.
Denis Diderot. Jacques the Fatalist.
Henry James. What Maisie Knew.
Thomas Mann. Death in Venice.
Vladimir Nabokov. King, Queen, Knave.
François Rabelais. Le tiers livre.
Robert Louis Stevenson. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
A course reader with selections by Beauvoir, Butler, Empson, Freud, Girard, Kierkegaard, Sade, and others.