This seminar affords an opportunity for close study of the two most important British authors of the early nineteenth century, William Wordsworth and Jane Austen. In addition to their centrality for the moment in which they wrote—the Romantic period—the novelist and the poet had even more significant afterlives, both in the development of the novel and concerning matters of subjectivity and being in the world. Readings from George Eliot, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf will bring these continuities into focus, particularly the partnership of Romanticism and realism, which is generally overlooked in the standard divisions of literary history and knowledge.
Our examination of these writers will unfold alongside an engagement with theoretical and cultural studies of the "everyday" and the "ordinary"—keywords in Wordsworth's and Austen's aesthetic practice. Wordsworth's aspiration to compose a poetry of "common life" (against the transcendental impulses of "high" romantic lyric) and Austen's attention to modest domestic dramas (against the exhilarations of the gothic and the fantastic) reflect a shared commitment to the "ordinary" and the "common" that is formal as well as thematic and ultimately far-reaching. We will therefore be exploring a relationship that is, on the one hand, contemporary and timebound regarding the region of the everyday (at a particular moment of literary and cultural production) and, on the other hand, transhistorical, involving anthropological, phenomenological, and philosophical accounts of the ordinary in the writings of such thinkers as Maurice Blanchot, Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, Stanley Cavell, Veena Das, and Jane Bennet.
The seminar will be of particular value to students interested in Romanticism, in the nineteenth century, in the development of realism, in intersections between philosophy and literature, and in the relationship between two dominant currents of postwar cultural theory: phenomenology and philosophy of language.
Requirements: Weekly 1-page response paper; final seminar paper (20 pages).