Graduate Course Description

350:550 - Enlightenment Undefended

Course No: 350:550
Index # - 20487
Distribution Requirement: A3
Monday - 1:00 p.m.
MU 207

Enlightenment Undefended 

Abigail Zitin

This course is an experiment in juxtaposition, exploring the timely question of enlightenment and its legacies through readings in eighteenth-century verse. The recourse to poetry is intended as a provocation, with a dual aim: on the one hand heading off the tendency for critical evaluations of enlightenment to take the form of a referendum and on the other asking why and whether poetry should merit this kind of exemption. We will alternate weeks focusing on philosophy and theory with weeks devoted to poetry and criticism, the latter organized mostly by genre and theme (for instance: embodiment, georgic, England and/in the world). Critiques of enlightenment are especially urgent and vital in this moment of reckoning with systemic racism and its institutional and intellectual rationalizations, but this very urgency poses problems of method. The scholarly obligation to complicate and particularize can produce a kind of defense-in-spite-of-itself in the name of a neutral or critical history (as opposed to the polemical mode embraced by self-appointed defenders of “enlightenment reason”). A related problem: the genealogical study of 18th-century modernity as the source of our current predicament often seems to be the least literary version of the 18th century. But what does that imply about the constitution of the literary, and more broadly the aesthetic, then or now? Poets we read will likely include Pope, Swift, Montagu, Thomson, Leapor, Wheatley, Goldsmith, Crabbe, and Cowper; philosophers will include Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Horkheimer and Adorno, Foucault, Wynter, and Mills. Writing assignments, similarly, will alternate between close analysis of poetic language and approaches to writing with and about theory.