Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG414H1F L0101

ENG414H1F   L0101   T11-1
Advanced Studies Group 1: How to Read Literally
Prof. C. Schmitt
Office Location: Jackman Humanities Building, Room 728

Brief Description of Course:
For students of literature, to read means to interpret or to explicate: to make clear whatever may be obscure in a poem, novel, or play; to discover a text’s disguised, buried, or otherwise inaccessible meaning. In such a context, to read literally is a contradiction in terms. In what might be called the literal turn, however, long-dominant practices that seek to articulate a text’s political unconscious, ideology, or non-dit are being abandoned or postponed in favour of interpretative strategies that attempt to grasp and construct meaning out of textual surfaces, givens, or denotations. In this course we will read a number of (mostly Victorian) novels that, in their different ways, foreground the denotative aspects of fictionality. Equally important will be critical and theoretical readings that should enable us to consider the possibility or impossibility, productivity or uselessness, of approaches that refuse or defer the moment of "deep" (paranoid, figural, ideological) reading in hopes of dwelling in the superficial or the literal. With luck (and work!), we will learn to read literally.

Required Reading: We will begin with examples of deep or symptomatic reading as practiced by Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Fredric Jameson. This is to be followed by recent work in the literalist vein, including Elaine Freedgood, from The Ideas in Things; Margaret Cohen, from The Novel and the Sea; Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "Reparative Reading"; Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus, "Surface Reading: An Introduction"; Sharon Marcus, from Between Women; Elaine Freedgood and Cannon Schmitt, "Denotatively, Literally, Technically”; and Roland Barthes, from The Preparation of the Novel, among others. All along, these critical and theoretical readings will be paired with fiction by authors such as Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Gissing, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

First Three Authors/Texts: Marx, from Capital; Freud, from The Interpretation of Dreams; Jameson, from The Political Unconscious.

Method of Evaluation: Seminar (i.e., guided discussion and analysis) supplemented by mini-lectures as needed.

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