(A)political Texts: What Does Literature Do?
Here is a course description: What does it mean for a literary text to be political? One option is that political art is art that has something to say about politics: in this view, literature exists in its own self-enclosed domain, and that very distance from the “real world” gives it a neutral perspective on that world, like the referee in a soccer game. Another option is that telling stories is a form of political action: even if those stories aren’t about politics in their own right, the way they represent the world has real cultural and political effects on real people. In this course, we will think about these questions through a wide range of European texts from a variety of historical periods. In the first half of the semester, we will read a series of 17th-century plays, which approach the relationship between art and politics in a political world extremely different from ours today. In the second half of the semester, we will turn to more recent texts, from the 20th and 21st centuries, with the hope that our work on the earlier material will show them in an unexpected light, and lend nuance to or even take us beyond the two positions I’ve laid out here.