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ENG 451

Seminar in Literature

Concentrated study of a topic in literary studies. Prerequisite: two 300- or 400-level courses in literature. Required of majors in English with emphasis on literature. May be repeated once for credit.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Two 300- or 400-level courses in literature. Required of majors in English with emphasis on literature. 1 course

Current Semester Information

David Alvarez

451A: Sem:EnlightenmentLit

Senior Seminar: Aesthetics and the Project of the Enlightenment

By examining the relationship of aesthetics to the project of the Enlightenment, we will try to understand the promise of literature for us today. The course is designed to give you the opportunity to reflect upon the meaning of your experience with literature at DePauw by placing us in dialogue with thinkers and writers who have fundamentally shaped our approach to it.

The discipline of aesthetics and literary criticism was born in the eighteenth century, and we begin our historical overview of its development with the period's odd reception of Longinus' On Sublimity. Through readings in literature, literary criticism, and philosophy, we will try to understand both the promise of aesthetics and its risks. (Such peril may be seen, for example, in Walter Benjamin's famous labeling of Nazism as the "aestheticization of politics.")

We will reflect on the pleasure we take in reading literature, the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, the beautiful and the sublime, the possibilities and dangers of aesthetic community, the place of art after philosophy, aesthetic experience and secularism, and the kinds of knowledge offered by literary experience.

Students will have the opportunity to obtain a rigorous introduction to the foundational texts of aesthetics, an understanding of the philosophical work that supports contemporary literary theory, and a better grasp of the basic tensions and conflicts that constitute the Enlightenment project. We will close our course with some recent thinking about the apparently perennial political and ethical promise of the aesthetic. Above all, the course is designed to give you the ability to think more fully about your experience with literature. What has it all been about?