Tu/Th 12:30-2 55 Evans Instructor: Ramsey McGlazer
This introduction to the study of literature in comparative contexts will focus on the essay. We may have come to think of the essay as an academic chore, but at its best, and throughout its long history, the essay form is characterized by curiosity, openness, intimacy, patience, provisionality, paradox, and play. Neither treatise nor memoir, neither exposé nor op-ed, the essay enjoys what Theodor Adorno called a “freedom from identity” that makes it an apt place from which to begin to think seriously about literature’s place in the modern world. We’ll see that this also means developing a critical vocabulary for the analysis of form and its literary and political implications. What does it mean to account for form in our own writing about literature, and what difference does form make to our reading of texts, literary and otherwise?
Although our readings will center on the twentieth century, we’ll study earlier and later essays as well. We’ll discuss the work of essayists from Europe, Latin America, and beyond. As we retrace some of the essay’s travels in time and space, we’ll also ask how and why the essay form (like the discipline of comparative literature) so often becomes a refuge for those whom one early commentator called “the strays of literature.” In a final unit, we’ll study various hybrid forms, considering the essay’s encounters with other genres and media, including fiction, poetry, photography, film, and video.
Essayists will include some of the following: Als, Baldwin, Barthes, Benjamin, Berger, Borges, Carson, de Andrade, Leopardi, Montaigne, Pater, Perlongher, Pitol, Rankine, Sebald, Sontag, Valenzuela, Wilde, Woolf.