Studies in Contemporary Literature
Narrative, Description, Affect
In his recent Antinomies of Realism, Frederic Jameson identifies an unresolvable tension in the realist novel between two impulses. One is familiar enough: it goes under the banner of récit, the tale, the story, or simply “narrative.” It’s characterized by a movement of progress and a temporality organized by past-present-future. The other impulse, which Jameson curiously calls “affect,” is everything that impedes this narrative movement. In his analysis this affective impulse is characterized by a dilatory, perpetual presentness, and its growing dominance in the later 19th century leads to the dissolution of realism into modernism.
In the twentieth century, theorists of the novel, whether from the perspective of structuralism, narratology, or Marxist criticism, have tended to privilege the narrative impulse, enshrining it as central to the novel form. In this seminar we will turn our attention instead to narrative’s lesser-known others, what Cathy Gallagher recently described as the “unmapped continent of nonnarrative novelistic features” – or, everything we read for when we don’t read for the plot.
Our critical corpus will feature a range of histories and theories of the novel as well as more recent affect theory. The past few decades have seen an enormous surge of interest in affect, and we will pay particular attention to how it is registered or produced through literary form. Our literary corpus will be a set of novels that charts a trajectory from realism to modernism. Students are also welcome to write final papers on literary texts in their own area of specialization.