Graduate Course Description

350:562 - The Everyday

Course No:  350:562
Index # - 15987
Distribution Requirement:  A4, B
Tuesday - 1:10 p.m. 
MU 207

The Everyday

William Galperin
Nancy Yousef  

Questions regarding the everyday and the ordinary have been central to discussions both in the humanities and the social sciences for some time. But they are especially and increasingly relevant to literary studies, partly because their methods all but shadow the discipline's evolution (and current formation) in uniting and juxtaposing two fundamental orientations that have shaped critical practice: the structural and the phenomenological. Maurice Blanchot puts this quite succinctly when he observes that "the everyday is never what we see a first time but only see again, having always already seen it by an illusion that is, as it happens, constitutive of the everyday." From the structural perspective, this discovery is recursive: "the everyday" proceeds from something that "escapes," something that, like ideology, is never quite seen, to something suddenly visible, but with no alteration apart from being retrieved and corralled as a condition of being understood and in many instances lamented. From the phenomenological (and in many ways the literary) perspective the situation is completely different: a parallel world of which we are unaware, or unmindful, becomes visible as if for the first time, but as a condition of remaining what Stanley Cavell terms "missable" and therefore discoverable in various forms. Our course will explore the everyday from both angles of vision.

Although largely theoretical, our exploration will engage two major literary figures-Jane Austen and William Wordsworth. These writers' redactions of the everyday, either in a poetry of "common life" (against the transcendental impulses of "high" romantic lyric) or in modest domestic dramas (against the exhilarations of the gothic and the fantastic), reflect a shared commitment to the "ordinary" and the "common" where attention and concept merge. These primary readings will be supplemented in turn by related contemporary theoretical accounts of the everyday (Cavell, Michael Fried, Michel de Certeau, and Jane Bennett among others) and tested by "everyday life studies," chiefly the writings of Henri Lefebvre and Guy Debord. In addition, we will take up theories of the ordinary/everyday that are more explicitly philosophical and where the writings of Cavell, in particular, provide a bridge: notably Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.

Requirements: Weekly 1-page response paper; final seminar paper (15-20 pages).