Reading Affect (w/C. Lit 599D)
This one-credit course is designed as a short introduction to academic literary studies of affect. It is framed by the question of how we might rethink our practice as scholars of literature to take our scholarship public. Several recently published books by non-academics—Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read: The Serious Pleasures of Books (2014) and Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch (2014)—express the many meanings their authors find in and through reading of literature. As scholars of literature we should be contributing to the articulation of the value of what we study. We will meet on five Tuesdays during the Spring Quarter 2014. Reading and ardent discussion is required, as is a two-page paper on a possible project of public literary scholarship.
Over the past twenty-five years research on the emotions has exploded across virtually every discipline—history, anthropology, neurology, philosophy, art history, and literary and cultural studies. Recently several strains of this research have been labeled the “affective turn.” The focus of Reading Affect will be work on affect and the emotions by scholars of literary studies. It is a vibrant area: at the January 2014 convention of the Modern Language Association, held in Chicago, there were over sixty papers devoted to aspects of affect and the emotions—among them, violent sympathies, terror, nostalgia, narrative empathy, and the feeling of blackness.
• April 8
Appraising the divergence between what the lay reader wants and the affective registers of contemporary academic literary criticism. Reading drawn from Rita Felski’s The Uses of Literature (2008) and her essay “Suspicious Minds” (2011).
• April 15
Literary Texts as Sources of Knowledge about the Emotions
Reading narrative literature for knowledge about the emotions. Excerpts from my Statistical Panic: Cultural Politics and Poetics of the Emotions (2009) and Ann Cvetkovich’s Depression (2012).
• April 22
Making distinctions between affect, the emotions, moods, and structures of feeling in terms of the body, the individual, and society, and in terms of temporality. Reading includes Brian Massumi’s “The Autonomy of Affect” (2002) and excerpts from Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (2011) and Jonathan Flatley’s Affective Mapping (2008).
• April 29
Case Study: Risk as an Affective Category
Exploring the affective dimensions of risk as a mega-keyword in contemporary culture. Readings include Paul Virilio’s The Administration of Fear (2012) and my work-in-progress on frailty, with a focus on Joan Didion’s Blue Nights (2012).
• May 6
Affect, Public Scholarship, and Literary Studies
Inventing ways to take literary criticism public. Readings include Albert Wu and Michelle Kuo’s essay-review of Barbara King’s How Animals Grieve (2013), published in the online journal Public Books (September 9, 2013), http://www.publicbooks.org/nonfiction/animal-feelings