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Undergraduate English Courses

358:435 Seminar: Restoration and Eighteenth Century Literature: Fiction/ Addiction

01  TF2  CAC  13838    ZITIN   MU-114

 Fiction / Addiction

Addiction, like the novel, has a cultural history. This course will explore the parallel development of these two very different phenomena, seeking to discover how each might illuminate the other.

Worries about the toxicity of fiction have a long history in European culture; beginning with Plato, philosophers have warned us to mistrust mimesis (the representation of reality). The exploding popularity of novels in eighteenth-century Britain reawakened the old fear that mimesis is a kind of lie: specifically, the kind of lie one might mistake for the truth. This mistake, in turn, was just one manifestation of a broader anxiety about the rational, self-regulating capacities of the modern individual: do we control what we consume, or does what we consume control us? What does the history of narrative fiction tell us about veracity, deceit, habit, and the will? And why would novelistic character be the form of representation appropriate to the way modern capitalism constructs the individual: as an agent of rational choice but also as a repository of conflicting appetites?


Topically, we will focus our reading on narratives about addicts—people who engage compulsively in damaging behaviors, although they may not necessarily be substance-abusers in the familiar sense. We will ask, with authors from classical Greece to the present day, who fits the definition of an addict, and why their stories take the various forms they do. To anchor our approach to 18th-century fiction (Defoe, Haywood, Lennox, Burney, Edgeworth), we will investigate discussions of appetite, reason, motivation, and compulsion in philosophy and critical theory (Plato, Locke, Johnson, Foucault, Sedgwick, Gallagher).

Requirements include regular attendance and active participation, two short essays, and a longer final essay.