Studies in Critical Theory: What Do Novels Do? Form, Structure, Aesthetics

What Do Novels Do? Form, Structure, Aesthetics
ENGLSH 4060/7060
Section 01
Joshua Brorby
Course Description

Unstable, aimless, confused. “Products of estrangement” tethered to “sheer brutal materiality.” The novel as a form or genre has been described by critics in less-than-flattering terms that emphasize its formlessness, its status as a “genre without genre.” Is the novel definable by its formal characteristics, by what it depicts, by what it does or is supposed to do? In this course, we will look at what novels do—with people, with history, with language—to identify and describe the array of possibilities that emerge from the form. In doing so, we will read critical theory in structuralism, Marxism, aesthetics, and the relatively recent return to formalism. Throughout the semester, we will ask: What do novels do with the world, and what can we do with novels? Along the way, we will read three novels from across periods: Jane Austen’s Emma, Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, and W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Critics and theorists may include Hegel, Bakhtin, Eric Auerbach, György Lukács, Roland Barthes, Fredric Jameson, Edward Said, Catherine Gallagher, Mary Poovey, D.A. Miller, Caroline Levine, Anna Kornbluh, Sianne Ngai, and others.