MWF Goldspohn 36 WI 2003
“The heart of ethics is the desire for community.”
~ Tobin Siebers, The Ethics of Criticism
Davis, Todd F. and Keith Womack, eds. Mapping the Ethical Turn: A Reader in Ethics, Culture,
Dillard, Annie. For the Time Being. Vintage, 2000.
Dunn, Katherine. Geek Love. Vintage, rpt. 2002.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Plume Books, 1988.
Powers, Richard. Operation Wandering Soul. HarperPerennial, rpt. 1994.
Xeroxed readings throughout term (modest charge, collected Week Four).
In this seminar we will study some of the most persistent and perplexing human concerns: how do we live? How ought we to live? What do we value and believe? Why, and with what sense that any one position we might take is just or good or fair? By what means do we pass judgment among conflicting values when a decision must be made or some perspective supported? With what degree of certainty do we affirm or reject a given claim? Might certainty itself be suspect in the face of “the other’s” exorbitant needs? What are the uses of narrative (in the academy, in everyday life) to help us sort through these questions?
English 460 will encourage reflective, deliberative thinking along with close reading and well-articulated interpretations or arguments. We will pay special attention to defining terms and imagining critical approaches, describing what, for example, ethics, politics, rhetoric, and cultural analyses entail. Our aim is not to argue what’s “right or wrong” in simple, moralistic pronouncements; certainty and entrenchment, as we will see, are rarely effective positions, though pragmatic alternatives may also prove troublesome. Nor will we be concerned with making simple prescriptions. Rather, our purpose will be to recognize and account for the complexity of ethics, to discover what is at stake in current dialogues over ethics in the humanities, and to wonder what might make possible a more just and sustainable community without (and here is the difficulty!) forcing consensus or erasing difference, sometimes in the name of an innocent-seeming pluralism. These are complicated matters. The ultimate aim is to convince you that despite the muddle we are obliged to delve into it.
In this course, we’ll investigate the “ethics of reading” through selected works of literature, critical theory, philosophy and other discursive practices. We will concentrate on “ethics,” circumscribing its application somewhat (not much!) by connecting the term to reading. We will map the intersections of ethics, reading, responding from ethical positions, examining such linkages to learn what might be of value (for whom, and toward what ends, each of us will have to specify). A cooperative endeavor, reading and interpretation function as a kind of making, a technology, immersing us in desire and the possibility of ethics. We’ll make much of the between.
Work and Assessment
460 is an upper-level seminar, so we will use discussion, frequent writing, and group interaction to study these issues. Participation is expected in a 400-level course, though points will not be awarded for what should be a given. Short lectures will clarify problems and suggest further research. I vary activities when possible to accommodate different learning styles. However, there is no substitute for attentive reading; thoughtful, informed, relevant comments; interesting, focused, and convincing writing; wakeful critique. Students who demonstrate these strengths (assuming other requirements are met) and whose reading stretches beyond obligatory texts will earn an A.
Work at a glance scope due dates points
Response essays (1-2 pp.) as assigned, in-class & out 50
Exploratory essay (5-7 pp.) F 1/31 100 Research paper (15-18 pp.) W 3/12 200
Group presentation questions, tasks, handout as assigned 75
Comprehensive test IDs/short answer/essays F 3/14 75 500
All assignments must be typed, double-spaced, and submitted on time; if you’re absent and miss an in-class response, there will be no make-up. See policies for late papers.
Response essays: writing should explore a question coherently and thoughtfully.
The exploratory essay should take up a question discussed in class and explore its facets: how should we approach the problem? why? with what or whose interests at stake? “A” papers will define terms and develop inquiry with persistence and a keen sense of possibility.
The research paper should be proposed by Monday of Week Seven (2/17) and will demonstrate your ability to situate yourself among arguments concerning a particular aspect of the ethics of reading. You must avail yourself of a minimum of four (4) scholarly articles from peer reviewed journals and a minimum of five (5) scholarly books. The best papers will set a narrow but complex problem in the context of conversations about the ethics of reading, drawing on a particular literary or other cultural text (film, phenomenon, democratic movement, and so on) for close reading and examples. There will be several prior due dates (the proposal, an annotated bibliography 3/3, a draft 3/5), and I will hope to meet with each of you individually or in small groups to discuss your plans and progress. We will share potential topics prior to Week Seven, though you may propose your own.
The group presentation will be demanding, but, if the past is indicative, great fun. Your group will form early and meet often to devise strategies for presenting a critical text (see list, below) to the class for review and critique. Groups must provide a minimum of three (3) questions in advance of the presentation date; a thoughtful handout on the day of the presentation; and a pedagogical task for peers to carry out in class.
A comprehensive test asks you to stay tuned-in all term, because (no news here, folks) cramming during Week Ten cannot substitute for conscientious reflection during the previous nine weeks. Comprehensives make for joyful, exuberant writing, in part because by March you will be fairly bursting with information and need an outlet for liberating your considerable knowledge. A comprehensive offers provocation and release. Sweet!
Using literature and other cultural productions
Ethical knowledge is in part aesthetically mediated. To evaluate someone ethically, we need to be able to analyze his or her character, and fiction arguably provides the best conceptual apparatus for doing that. The strength of an ethical idea lies in its applications, in how it plays out. In fiction, we can put an ethical idea through its paces, testing its ability to gain our assent. We can also check out its alignments, limitations, repercussions. We can face moral reality in all its complexity and drama. Representation itself—the effort to re-present—is teeming with ethical and political dilemmas. This term, the ethics of reading will come into focus through three novels:
Beloved: What if you were born to be sold and
flayed, degraded and raped, treated as less than human while carrying on your
scarred and hurting back the weight of the consuming world? What if, tonight, rather than affording
yourself the cheap or costly pleasures of America’s bounty you were tied to a
stake, crazed or just broken, with no hope of knowing the shape and weight of
your little child’s hand ten year’s hence?
What if race and its bloody legacy skew any and all claims to moral or
ethical readings of
Operation Wandering Soul: What if you were a child, with no one to comfort you, no assurance that tomorrow would offer respite from danger and hurt? What if you were an adult in such a world (you are) and yet responding to its myriad injustices, particularly the cruelty waged against the world’s children, seemed beyond your gifts? What help for this (our) world? What bromide that isn’t in advance a cliché, an already determined defeat?
Geek Love: What if you were a freak, labeled and dismissed as abnormal, diseased, different, threatening, or just repugnant? What if you tried to imagine cobbling a life of dignity or joy despite—no, because of—these differences? What if you were a monster? Who got to place the name on your head? How will you carry on under the sign? How are the normal deformed in your wake? Difference and disability may be the prime categories of postmodernity because they redefine the body in relation to concepts of normalcy, which underlie the very foundations of democracy and humanistic ideas about the body. Disability, difference, or freakery may become the new prism through which we examine and define ourselves, supplanting categories of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, but perhaps not.
We will also deliberate philosophical worries in For the Time Being, which wonders aloud about nothing less than the meaning of life; and, finally, throughout the term we will critique essays in Mapping the Ethical Turn along with a number of xeroxed essays, to be distributed regularly, which take up in conflicting ways why anyone would choose to study the ethics of reading in the humanities in these arguably post-human times.
English 460 Syllabus
Week One: Ethics of reading? Ethics and reading? ethics? reading?
M 1/6 Introduction to course; syllabus review; in-class writing.
W 1/8 Groups formed; introduction to terms and issues; essays (handouts).
F 1/10 Xeroxed essays.
Week Two: “Rough choices”
M 1/13 Beloved
W 1/15 Beloved
F 1/17 Beloved
Week Three: Notes for now, or family and ‘other’ values
M1/20 Beloved to end.
W 1/22 Geek Love
F 1/24 Geek Love
Week Four: The ethics of reading in the vortex of the “normal”
M 1/27 Geek Love
W 1/29 Geek Love
F 1/31 For the Time Being; exploratory essay due.
Week Five: How can one person matter? How to live? What can we understand?
M 2/3 For the Time Being
W 2/5 For the Time Being
F 2/7 For the Time Being
Week Six: Vanishing narratives of childhood
M 2/10 Operation Wandering Soul
W 2/12 Operation Wandering Soul
F 2/14 Operation Wandering Soul
Week Seven: Story cures for the hopelessness of here
M 2/17 Operation Wandering Soul; proposal for research paper due.
W 2/19 Operation Wandering Soul to end.
F 2/21 Peer review of proposals; xeroxed essays.
Week Eight: The ethics of/and reading; presentations begin
M 2/24 Xeroxed essays.
W 2/26 Xeroxed essays.
F 2/28 Group presentation; sample research paper drafts for discussion.
Week Nine: Presentations; conferences
M 3/3 Group presentations; annotated bibliography of research paper due;
W 3/5 Group presentations; drafts (intro, outline, 4-5 pp.) of research paper due.
F 3/7 Group presentations; meet with Professor Jackson to discuss final paper
M 3/10 Group presentations continue.
W 3/12 Research paper due; group presentation as needed; review for test.
F 3/14 Review for comprehensive test; course summary; course evaluations.
Exam Week Monday, March 17, (G 36) comprehensive test
Critical Sources for Group Presentations and Final Paper
The following list of secondary texts is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather suggestive of the references you might draw on for your group presentation and your final paper. As a group, meet to discuss your interests and to share information on the texts below. Then, meet with me locate the most likely text for your presentation. Consult this list as a starting point for relevant arguments to include in your annotated bibliography and final paper.
Aristotle. The Nicomachean
Attridge, Derek. “Innovation, Literature, Ethics: Relating to the Other.” PMLA v. 114, 1
Bauman, Zygmunt. Postmodern Ethics. Blackwell, 1993.
Bernasconi, Robert, and Simon Critchley, eds. Re-Reading Levinas.
Bérubé, Michael. Public Access. Verso, 1996.
---. Life as We Know It: A Father, A Family, and An Exceptional Child. Vintage, 1998.
Booth, Wayne. The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction.
Bostock, David. Aristotle’s
Cavell, Stanley. Must We
Mean What We Say? A Book of Essays.
---. The Claims of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and
Chalier, Catherine. “Ethics and the Feminine.” Bernasconi and Critchley 119-29.
Chow, Rey. Ethics
After Idealism: Theory, Culture, Ethnicity,
Cornell, Drucilla. Beyond Accomodation: Ethical Feminism, Deconstruction, and the Law.
Critchley, Simon. The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas. Blackwell, 1992.
Derrida, Jacques and Gianni Vattimo, eds. Religion. Stanford UP, 1999.
---. “Adieu.” Critical Inquiry 23 (1996): 1-10.
---. The Gift of
Death. Trans. David Wills.
---. “Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas.” Writing
and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass.
Chee. Residues of Justice: Literature, Law, Philosphy.
Eaglestone, Robert. Ethical
Eagleton, Terry. The Ideology of the Aesthetic. Blackwell, 1990.
---. Sweet Violence: The Idea of the Tragic. Blackwell, 2002.
---. The Function of Criticism. Verso, 1996.
Ebert, Teresa. Ludic Feminism and After: Postmodernism, Desire, and Labor in Late Capitalism.
Foucault, Michel. The Care of the Self. Trans. Robert Hurley. Random, 1996.
---. Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth. Trans Robert Hurley et. al. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New
Gaard, Greta and Patrick D,
Murphy, eds.. Ecofeminist Literary Criticism.
Garber, Marjorie. The Turn to Ethics. Routledge, 2000.
Guillory, John. Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation.
Harpham, Geoffrey. “Ethics.” Critical Terms for Literary Study. 2nd Ed. Ed. Frank Lentricchia
---. Getting it Right: Language, Literature, and Ethics.
---. Shadows of Ethics: Criticism and the Just Society. Duke UP, 1999.
---. Language Alone: The Critical Fetish of Modernity. Routledge, 2002.
Hitchcock, Peter. Oscillate Wildly: Space, Body, and Spirit of Millenial Materialism. U of
Irigary, Luce. “Questions to Emmanuel Levinas: On the Divinity of Love.” Bernasconi
and Critchley 109-18.
Jagger, Alison. Living with Contradictions: Controversies in Feminist Social Ethics. Westview
Korsgaard, Christine. Creating
Levinas, Emmanuel. “Ethics of the Infinite.” Interview with Richard Kearney. States of
Dialogues with Contemporary Thinkers.
---. Otherwise than Being; or, Beyond Essence. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Kluwer, 1991.
---. Totality and Infinity. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Duqesne Up, 1969.
Michael B. Smith.
Merod, Jim. The Political Responsibility of the Critic. Cornell UP, 1987.
Miller, J. Hillis. On Literature. Routledge, 2002.
---. The Ethics of
Mohanty, Satya P. Literary Theory and the Claims of History: Postmodernism, Objectivity,
Multicultural Politics. Cornell UP, 1997.
Nealon, Jeffrey. Alterity Politics: Ethics and Performative Subjectivity. Duke, 1998.
---, and Caren Irr. Rethinking
SUNY Press, 2002.
Arrogation, Letting-Be.” ALH v. 13.3 Fall 2001.
---. Narrative Ethics. Harvard UP, 1995.
Norris, Christopher. Truth and the Ethics of Criticism.
Nussbaum, Martha. Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature.
---. Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Beacon, 1995.
Parker, David. Ethics, Theory, and the Novel.
Phelan, James. Narrative as Rhetoric: Technique, Audiences, Ethics, Ideology.
Robbins, Jill. Altered
Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Harvard UP, 1989.
Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. Vintage, 1994.
Siebers, Tobin. The Ethics of Criticism. Cornell UP, 1988.
Smith, Barbara Herrnstein. Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory.
Harvard UP, 1988.
Steele, Meili. Theorizing
Textual Subjects: Agency and Oppression.
Class List for ENG 460 (Winter, 2003)
Name phone e-mail
Professor Jackson 637-5278 firstname.lastname@example.org