How does emotional life get written about in fiction? Why do some readers hate books that others love? These are the sorts of questions we’ll take up in the course. We'll think about why characters seem to act as they do in fiction, we’ll explore personal reactions to very recent novels, and we'll read essays about emotions themselves. What does it mean to "identify" with a character, really? How much of our own lives do we read into a character's life? What does "being moved" by something we read or view involve? How do writers (try to) solicit particular responses from readers? Are emotions universal or do they vary from culture to culture? How do emotions become a commodity in work and personal life? What kinds of situations require emotions on demand? How do we account for the bodily responses that sometimes accompany intense emotional responses? What are the consequences of repressing one's feelings? What are the differences between related emotions like shame and guilt, and jealousy and envy?
Lively opinions and an interest in emotions in fiction and in life will be central to the class. Students can choose between writing one longer or two shorter papers; they’ll also take an exam, and present their developing ideas to the class. We’ll read novels by such diverse contemporary writers as Nicole Krauss, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Kevin Powers, Louise Erdich and Don Lee.