ENG 545S: Romantic Aesthetic Theory and Aesthetics

According to a well-known–and largely accurate–narrative, the study of “aesthetics” was invented in the eighteenth century, and then consolidated in the Romantic era. This course is intended to provide an introduction to this narrative of the emergence of aesthetics as a realm of study, and we will accordingly focus on the classic three categories of eighteenth-century and Romantic aesthetic theory–the beautiful, the picturesque, and the sublime—as well as classic Romantic aesthetic methods, such as irony and reflexivity. We will also consider several more “minor” Romantic aesthetic categories that have increasingly come to the fore in recent literary and media criticism (e.g., “the monstrous” and “the interesting”). We will employ Immanuel Kant’s monumental and synthetic late work, The Critique of Judgment,  as a lens through which we can reflect on both earlier eighteenth-century aesthetic theory and the distinctive emergence of “Romantic” aesthetic theory. While the course will focus on aesthetic theory, we will also parse this theory through case studies drawn from eighteenth-century and Romantic-era literature and art. Readings will be drawn primarily from late seventeenth-, eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century authors such as Lord Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Edmund Burke, Uvedale Price, Immanuel Kant, S. T. Coleridge, P. B. Shelley, Mary Shelley, John Keats, G. W. F. Hegel, and Friedrich Schiller, though we will also consider select readings from a small number of key twentieth-century reflections on Romantic aesthetics, including those of Clement Greenberg, Peter Bürger, Theodor Adorno, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze. Taught by Professor Robert Mitchell.

ENG890S: Shakespeare, Philosophy, Tragedy: Value, Suffering, and the Human

Wednesday 10.05 am-12.35pm

A first aim of this class will be to explore Shakespearean tragedy as a “lethal attempt to deny the existence of another as essential to one’s own.” So tragedy in Shakespeare’s handling turns out to explore acknowledgment as the home of our knowledge of others and of ourselves. This class explores Shakespeare’s tragedies as a set of meditations on the costs of denying that we share language. Why does this idea become compelling and attractive right then? How is such a denial so much as possible? We will focus on Shakespeare’s late tragedies (King Lear, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Anthony and Cleopatra) but we will also ponder tragic matrix of comedy in plays such as Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well that Ends Well, as well as those plays that begin as tragedies but turn aside from that form: The Winter’s Tale; The Tempest, and Cymbeline.

A second aim of the class, and closely connected with the first, is an exploration of ordinary language philosophy (Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell) in relation to theatre. I see a natural affinity between the practices of theater and the practices of ordinary language philosophy because each practice is committed to examining particular words used by particular speakers in particular situations. Each practice understands language as situation, which is different from “context” because sometimes we only understand the context when we understand what it is that is being said. Ordinary language philosophy makes the very radical claim that we will fail to understand what something means until we understand what it does, until we understand the force of the words used on any particular occasion as, say, entreaty, command, order, suggestion, permission, request, prayer. Each practice understands language as act, as event in the world, and so asks us to extend our conception of the work of language beyond the work of representation, the chief focus of historicism old and new.

We will read some central essays of J.L. Austin, Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, and especially Part 4 of Stanley Cavell’s work: The Claim of Reason: Skepticism, Morality, Acknowledgment, Tragedy where we will attempt an exploration of the intimacy of these four terms to each other. This will help us explore tragedy’s work between “avoidance and acknowledgment.” In addition we will explore some of the tragedies of Shakespeare’s contemporaries to explore Shakespeare’s specificity and paths not taken.

This class should be of interest to anyone interested in exploring Shakespeare, tragedy as a genre, theatre, ordinary language philosophy and ethics, and performance studies. Taught by Professor Sarah Beckwith