Graduate Program

350:566 - Art/Objects: Literature and the Ideal of the Fine Arts

Course No: 350:566
Index # - 18240
Distribution Requirement: A4, B
Monday – 1:10 p.m.
MU 207

Art/Objects: Literature and the Idea of the Fine Arts

Jonah Siegel

Although the visual arts have been a constant point of reference for writers and literary critics, the relationship between word and image took on greater complexity and richness from the end of the eighteenth century. Seminal formulations from the nineteenth century in turn shaped a rich theoretical tradition that is more often gestured at than studied in depth.

This course will serve as an introduction to the relationship between literature and the fine arts in the long nineteenth century, as well as to the interdisciplinary study of these fields today. As discussion of a number of current topics in literary studies and in culture more broadly is often routed through the fine arts, the course is intended to be of more than specialist interest. Topics will include concepts of historical continuity or breaks, the ethics and psychology of collection and display, the role of ekphrasis in narrative, the place of the body and of sexual difference, the question of technological change, and the cultural role of the figure of the artist. The place of ethics and politics in relation to the aesthetic will inevitably recur.

We will touch on influential literary critics who have engaged with the fine arts, such as Hagstrum, Mitchell, and Barrell, but our focus will be on the texts that have shaped their thinking. We will read works by Winckelmann, Diderot, Reynolds, and Lessing in the eighteenth century, as well as a few texts by Ruskin, Baudelaire, Pater, Wilde, and Vernon Lee in the nineteenth. Our discussion will also include a few influential manifestos from the early twentieth century.

Theorists of interest will include Hegel, Freud, Greenberg, Barthes, Belting, and Ranciere, as well as art historians such as Alpers, Batchen, Berger, Kenneth Clark, T.J. Clark, Didi-Huberman, Fried, Gombrich, Krauss, Kristeller Panofsky, and Warburg.

Literary texts will include poems by Blake, Keats, Browning, and Michael Field, and stories by Balzac and James. We will also read at least one novel: Hawthorne's The Marble Faun and/or Wyndham Lewis's Tarr.  

Requirements will include one annotated bibliography, two papers, and a number of brief in-class presentations.