04:30 PM to 07:10 PM M
Aquia Building 219
Section Information for Spring 2020
The Enlightenment is the name both of a historical era in the European world (roughly the period from the late 17th century through the end of the 18th century) and of a self-consciously modern and progressive intellectual and cultural movement that took shape during this era. This intellectual and cultural movement was not necessarily the dominant cultural force in the era, but it was a powerful critical or dissident force that has—in its contest with anti-Enlightenment counter tendencies—shaped fundamental aspects of our modern world. Helping students to gain a richer, deeper understanding of the Enlightenment is thus one main objective of this course.
More particularly, we’ll be interested in examining how ideas, especially new ideas, manifest themselves in literary culture and in literary works. The Enlightenment was a period of great intellectual ferment in European societies, as a new spirit of inquiry took hold of the intellectual and cultural worlds of these societies and all sorts of received ideas were questioned or critiqued. This led to reformist attention to many aspects of social and cultural life and, in turn, to challenges for literary authors on whether and how to grapple with this ferment in their works. In our own time, literary authors face a very similar challenge: how to engage contemporary intellectual-cultural-social concerns in literary works? How might an author take up contemporary debates around multiculturalism, immigration, and the changing face of US society; about feminism (e.g. the MeToo movement); about income and wealth inequality in a democratic society; about prison and policing reform and racial injustice; about the climate crisis, etc.? How do these concerns find their way into contemporary writing? Writers in the Enlightenment faced similar challenges in relation to the issues of their own day, some of them very different from the issues we confront, some of them with some resonance with our own concerns. In this course, we’ll be interested in examining the literature of the Enlightenment period with an eye to the variety of ways authors took up the intellectual debates of their time., what forms a literature of ideas and/or engagement took in this era.
Our focus will be on the range of old and new genres that were adapted for these purposes, but that often fall to the side of our typical focus on novels, poetry, and plays. Genres such as philosophical dialogues, conversations with the dead, fables, periodical essays, fictional travels, Oriental tales, popularizing science writing, philosophy, reviews and criticism, lectures and demonstrations. We will read British writers as well as European ones (in English translation) as we explore the ways in which a new kind of literary culture emerged under the influence of the Enlightenment and as a way of propagating enlightenment.
Enrollment limited to students with a class of Advanced to Candidacy, Graduate, Non-Degree or Senior Plus.
Enrollment is limited to Graduate, Non-Degree or Undergraduate level students.
Students in a Non-Degree Undergraduate degree may not enroll.