Douglass M Furrh
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
For SUMMER 2007: This course will focus on the literature of the American Renaissance with a particular focus on the historical construction of vision, the workings of ideology and their relation to nineteenth-century concepts of madness. Drawing on a range of writings from the period we will look at the aesthetics of the sublime and the problematics of vision at work in the fictions from the 1820s through the 1850s. Specifically, the larger cultural enterprises – landscape painting and the picturesque, and transcendence with nature – and their attendant “ways of seeing” allow members of nineteenth-century society to look out upon a landscape -- that once would have been viewed as harsh and life-threatening -- as instead beautiful, unblemished, and serene. It was a way of seeing that allowed people, who enjoyed the advantages of spectatorial distance, to view the fresh snows that blanketed a rugged “top most cliff” as a “new-dropped lamb, its earliest fleece” (Melville). This sentimental mode of seeing the world can and was transferred to social spaces and urban landscapes as well as people and the result is a breakdown of nineteenth-century concepts of social justice. For those who did not participate in these culturally-constructed meanings of the natural world, but instead took notice of the horrors of slavery, genocide of Native Americans, the plight of urban workers and women there emerged in the fictions of the period the nervous body (and the unreliable narrator) with its host of physical and/or psychological ailments. We will be reading Melville’s Piazza Tales and “Billy Budd,” several short stories form Poe (including “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Black Cat,” “The Maelstrom”), Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” Louisa May Alcott’s “Flower Fables,” as well as the poetry of Whitman, Emerson and Dickinson. We will also draw on a few non-fiction texts to assist in our analysis, including: Emerson’s “Astronomy,” Fitzhugh’s “Cannibals All!”, Frederick Douglass’s 4th of July speech, and Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts. All of these titles are available online and will be included in a course packet.
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