ENGLISH 627 - Critical Theories and Cross-Cultural Literature
Section: 001 Reading Romantic Natures
Term: FA 2017
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
With permission of department.
Advisory Prerequisites:
Graduate standing and permission of instructor.
May be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

The perspective of this course is the successive waves of critique of the ideology of nature that have occurred in the field of Romanticism over the past 40 years. Broadly speaking, these have successively been linguistic/epistemic, sociological/historical, and ecological/ontological in character. To understand their purchase, however, we need to understand what was being rebelled against.

Accounts from the Victorian period through World War Two treated Romanticism’s “nature term” as a conceptual donnée (standing in for an ideal of unity, wholeness, etc.), as a blank slate for the projection of human thought, or as raw material for poetic invention. After 1945, these positions were partly challenged, partly continued, through the repositioning of nature as an order of brute negativity against—but also, perforce, through—which human self-consciousness brings itself into being.

Such approaches came to seem out of sync with the perceptual fineness and intellectual toughness of the poetry itself. Beginning in the 1970s, Paul de Man and other deconstructive critics of Romanticism countered them by reading their attenuated construct of nature as byproduct of the infinite play of the signifier. What little materiality the first wave of readers had allowed Romantic nature now migrated to the linguistic realm.

Yet with the new prominence of Raymond Williams’ work in the US academy, the historicity of nature called out for study. Putting nature on the seminar table was the contribution of 1980s Romanticists formed in the traditions of British and Continental Marxism and themselves forming the movement called New Historicism, dominant through the 1990s. Typically, the project was to “materialize” nature by restoring to it the political, cultural, economic, and above all, labor histories inscribed in it and made invisible by the “naturalizing” effects of ideology. Along with that project went an interest in discovering what symbolic work Romanticism’s abstract and idealized picture of nature served.

But nature “itself” again seemed thereby to do a disappearing act, and what it disappeared into was, again, some practice or history of the human. The forward-looking response re-thought the human and the natural on a continuum and not as a power dynamics. The search was on for a way to conceive of nature non-anthropocentrically, and in the same stroke, of the human in a fashion not predicated on its self-fashioning resistance to what Blake had called, contemptuously, “the merely natural.” This response has generated the most exciting work of our own time.

Course Requirements:

Course Objectives:

    1) Overview of the reading of nature in the discourse of British Romanticism, primarily from the 1980s through the present, weighted toward current work; 2) Study of relevant discourses that are either non-period specific (eco-criticism, post-humanism, animal studies, new materialism) or that address U.S. literature; 3) Interpretation of major Romantic poems organized around the image and concept of nature; 4) Exercises in conjunctural thinking, where we try to grasp the relationship between the critic’s own scene of writing and her choice of study text and method.

Students already thinking toward a dissertation area are encouraged to follow their own interest in genre, literature, period, or ethnicity in their seminar paper. For the weekly oral presentations, students are also encouraged to explore non-fiction prose of the period.

ENGLISH 627 - Critical Theories and Cross-Cultural Literature
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
Th 4:00PM - 7:00PM
002 (SEM)
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM
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