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England's Ruins: British Lit.

ENGL 550.640
instructor(s):
T 6:30-9:10

In this class, we'll explore a range of texts written in Britain during two centuries of political idealism and agitiation, and government repression and reform. At a time when Britain itself is undergoing incredible economic and political changes both at home and abroad, its poets become actively interested in producing writing that is ostentatiously British -- either by self-consciously placing themselves within an identifiable national lineage, or by inventing new genealogies out of the fragments of British history. As an object that contains both history and its absence, that is a fragment and yet implies the complete object, and that though its incompleteness forces us to complete it, ruins become invented with multiple significances in England beginning in the early 18th Century. They become the basis for early theories of psychology as well as for thinking about how language and narrative works. Most importantly, they almost viscerally lay out for history its task -- of accounting in language for what materially is disintegrated. In representing what no longer is present, however, History as a discipline increasingly comes under fire beginning in 1750, precisely because it must imagine and make coherent that which either no longer exists or lacks coherence. In its broadest sense, then, this course will explore the relation between History and Literature by focusing on that troubling hybrid called Historical Literature. Graded work will include four responses and a long essay due at the end of the semester.