Studies in Symbolist and Modern Literatures

Studies in Symbolist and Modern Literatures

Critical Art, Critical Theory: Modern Poetry and Frankfurt School Aesthetics
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Robert Kaufman
225 Dwinelle

[Note: This seminar emphasizes the importance of 19th and, especially, 20th-century poetry and poetics in the development of Frankfurt School aesthetics, criticism, and theory; it likewise considers more recent dialogues between later 20th and  21st-century poetry/poetics and Frankfurt-oriented criticism.  The seminar is, in addition, co-listed as a Critical Theory 205 core-course offering for students in the Program in Critical Theory's "Designated Emphasis" course of study.  Whether enrolled through Comparative Literature, or through the Critical Theory Program, students are welcome to take the seminar as a survey of some major texts in Frankfurt aesthetic, literary, and cultural theory more generally, provided they are also willing to study and engage actively with the modern poetry and poetics that will constitute the seminar’s primary literary field.]

Seminar Description: Readings in modern, and above all modern lyric, poetry (much of it from the U.S., but also from Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Near East) in relation to major Frankfurt-School texts on aesthetics, criticism, and social theory that emphasize the significance of literature (as well as the other arts) and especially poetry. Focused concentration on the writings of Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno, and on their development of Kantian, Hegelian, and Marxian traditions of aesthetics and critical theory. Sustained attention to how and why poetry turns out to be so crucial to the Frankfurters' (and, in particular, to Benjamin's and Adorno's) overall analyses of modernity, mechanical/technical/ technological reproduction and reproducibility (in both the socioeconomic and artistic-aesthetic spheres), and critical agency. Consideration of how Frankfurt-School concerns and legacies might engage the changed sociopolitical circumstances and artistic-aesthetic tendencies—-and the changed poetry—-of the last three decades; analysis in turn of how later-modernist and contemporary poets' work may challenge Frankfurt analyses of and assumptions about poetry, aesthetic experience, and critical agency themselves. Tracing of the poetry, aesthetics, critical-theory, and sociopolitical histories leading to Adorno's controversial statements from the late 1940s through 1969 about "poetry after Auschwitz" (including the ceaseless, prominent international debates those statements caused and have continued to occasion in the poetry-world, the other arts, criticism, and the cultural sphere more generally). Readings of poetry throughout the course will tend to emphasize formal, stylistic, and philosophical-theoretical matters in order to highlight the question of how--and to what degree--artistic technique, in relation to aesthetic form and aesthetic experience (especially lyric experience), may offer stimulus toward and insight into historical, sociopolitical, and ethical understanding and engagement. Some treatment of Romantic and nineteenth-century poetry, and of 21st-century poetry, but the seminar will focus primarily on twentieth-century, modernist poetry (including modernist poetry written and published during the apparently postmodern period). 

As a shared project throughout the semester, the class will read and continue discussing together in a sustained manner a facing-page, French-English volume containing Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal / The Flowers of Evil [1857] and Le Spleen de Paris/Petits Poèmes en Prose [1869]; and also poetry by a number of contemporary poets, likely including Nathaniel Mackey, Claudia Rankine, Barbara Guest, Ed Roberson, Michael Palmer, Emmy Pérez, Myung Mi Kim, D.S. Marriottt, Roberto Tejada, and others writing in the 20th and/or 21st centuries (e.g.: Vallejo, Duncan, Brecht, Hughes, Lorca, Mayakovsky, Ponge, Éluard, Rilke, Neruda, Ginsberg, Hansberry, Zurita, Celan, various Surrealists and Objectivists, W.C. Williams, Moore, Bishop, Stevens, Paz, Olson, Levertov, Creeley, Ashbery, Paz, O’Hara, Adonis, Monchoachi, Rich, Darwish, Avidan, Morejón, Césaire, Pizarnik, Bachmann, Castellanos, Daive, Albiach, Pasolini, et al.).

[Additional Note: Texts of critical theory, philosophy, aesthetics, and/or criticism will be presented and studied in English translation, though, with texts not initially written in English, we will frequently consider the German, French, Spanish, etc., originals.  Poetry not originally composed in English will be read and discussed primarily in English translation, but we will almost always also consult a poem's facing-page (or at-hand, xeroxed) original language--including German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic,  (as well as other languages, depending on students' own poetry selections). Knowledge of languages other than English--especially German, French, and/or Spanish—-is NOT required, though it will prove helpful.]