The Object(ive)s of Literature
English 302: The Object(ive)s of Literature. Literature needs objects. There’s a famous scarlet letter, a golden bowl, a lighthouse, a cookie (well, a French madeleine), a red chicken beside a wheelbarrow, and many other objects (famous or not) that populate poems, novels, and appear as props in plays. Understanding how literature re-presents (that is, makes figuratively present what is literally absent) the world of things is to understand the trickiness of texts and the profound claims that literature makes on us as readers. When we read, “He pulled out a gun,” we believe in some mysterious way that there really is a gun somewhere, rather than just a bunch of words on a page. But what is the gun? Is it a gift, a weapon, a commodity, or something else entirely? This course will explore different theories of objects in order to understand how they function in texts to ground the reader in a fictional world and shape the reader’s sense of significance. How literature makes use of objects, that is, what the objectives of literature are will be our focus. In order to understand this process of representation, we will consider Lewis Hyde’s theory of the gift, Marx’s commodity, Freud’s fetish, and Bill Brown’s thing theory. And we will put these theories to work by reading two novels, Aimee Bender’s An Invisible Sign of My Own and Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine.