Fall 2017 English Graduate Courses

350:605 - Seminar: Rape/Culture

Course No:  350:605
Index # - 18107
Distribution Requirement: A3, B, C
Thursday - 9:50 a.m.  
MU - 207 

Rape/Culture

Abigail Zitin

Frances Ferguson's 1987 article “Rape and the Rise of the Novel” proposed that sexual violence was integral to the development of the realist novel as we know it, and not just on the grounds that the threat of rape to a vulnerable young woman drives the plots of Samuel Richardson's epochal Pamela and Clarissa. The specific attribute of rape that makes it integral to the history of the novel, Ferguson argues, is the legal inscrutability of consent, which finds in narrative a technique for juxtaposing social exterior with psychological interior, dramatizing “the ongoing possibility of the contradiction between what one must mean and what one wants to mean.”

Thirty years on, this course aims to reexamine Ferguson's thesis in the context of a new wave of debate around sexual violence as an endemic threat and a condition of contemporary sociality. In particular, we will consider how the new prominence of “rape culture” as an analytical frame might reshape attention to mental states (intention; consent) as it informs the definition and representation of rape. What's gained—and lost—when rape gives way to rape culture? What is culture, in this deployment, and how might a literary-critical theory of culture help us to refine the terms of a feminist critique of sexual violence? Finally, how might that feminist critique help rewrite eighteenth-century literary history, and, conversely, what might the eighteenth century know about rape culture that the twenty-first has yet to learn?

Through this lens we will read a variety of 18th-c. texts: novels, and Richardson's novels, centrally, but also poetry and drama, from the libertinism of the Restoration (Rochester's poetry, amatory fiction by Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood) to Pope's mock-heroic “Rape of the Lock” to the allegorical inscriptions of rape culture—cultivation, alternately, as complicit with or resistant to imperial plunder—in the English georgic tradition. We will also read key texts in feminist theory and literary criticism, likely including Gayle Rubin, Catherine Mackinnon, Nancy Armstrong, Wendy Brown, and Sandra Macpherson.