Graduate Course Description

350:566 - Imagining the Collective in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Course No:  350:566
Index #: 14718 
Distribution Requirement:  A4
Tuesday - 3:50 p.m.
MU 207

Imagining the Collective in the Nineteenth-Century Novel
David Kurnick

Even as it involved readers in the particular fates of a few spotlit imaginary people, the nineteenth-century realist novel also depicted an unprecedentedly expansive social canvas. This course will examine the novel’s ambition to represent the collective as a narrative, political, and ethical problem, and develop a vocabulary to account for the ways novelists attempt to solve that problem. We will be trying to multiply the ways we can talk about imaginative abstraction: How do the classic realist novelists build out from the details of individual lives to convey a sense of social amplitude (if “building out” is even an appropriate metaphor to describe the contours of fictional universes)? How is readerly attention managed between the foreground and background (if we can tell which is which)? What specific techniques did the novel develop to encourage a leap from the characterological to the social, or from the local to the global: analogy, symbolism, multi-plottedness, extreme typicality or extreme eccentricity, synecdoche, reverberation, etc? We will be trying to answer these questions in terms of concrete stylistic and narrative procedures, and to ask how these techniques work with or interfere with one another. And we will be considering key theorists of the named containers—sexual partnership, family, race, nation, empire, class—that mediate the collective at different scales, and asking whether and where those entities find expression in narrative form.

We’ll combine close readings of a number of major primary texts with theoretical and critical material. Because nineteenth-century fiction’s aspiration to social representation was related to developments in adjacent cultural domains, we’ll be tracing the formal and historical exchanges between fiction and the genres of anthropology, sociology, history, statistics, and urban reportage. We’ll also be considering Marxist theories of totality, classic sociology’s notion of the ideal type, and more recent philosophical accounts of social assemblage and social complexity.

 This course fulfills distribution requirement A4, and will be taught as a 600-level course, which means one seminar paper of ~20 pp. and (very likely) a presentation during the semester.

Novelists: Austen, Balzac, Dickens, Eliot, Galdós, Gissing, Rizal

Critics and Theorists: Benedict Anderson, Erich Auerbach, Mikhail Bakhtin, Pierre Bourdieu, Elaine Freedgood, Catherine Gallagher, Lauren Goodlad, Christopher Herbert, Audrey Jaffe, Fredric Jameson, Anna Kornbluh, Bruno Latour, Georg Lukács, Karl Marx, Claire Pettit, Mary Poovey, Bruce Robbins, Edward Said, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Emily Steinlight, Raymond Williams, Alex Woloch