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Social Formations of Intimacy in American Writing 1850-1910

ENGL 583.401
instructor(s):
T 12-3

This course has as its background the transformation within Western societies from kinship to forms of modern intimacy, or what Goethe called “elective affinities.” Whereas kinship once organized affective ties through politically stratified households, the modern notion of intimacy defines for us an increasingly autonomous sphere of elective relations—forms of friendship, the romantic couple, the consensual family. This transformation is the reason theorist Niklas Luhmann counts intimacy as a modern “system”: like the economy, science, politics, art, and law, intimacy is at once highly autonomous and yet highly interdependent with those parallel systems.

Also like those systems, Luhmann argues, intimacy evolves chiefly through specific forms of writing. Particular genres—forms of lyric, letters and epistolary fiction, domestic novels, and later, therapeutic self-narratives—mediate between intimacy as social system and as spontaneous affinity. In this course, we will examine novels and other works that articulate points of tension and development in the history of intimacy in 19th C United States. Central topics will include: enslavement and intimacy; sentimentality and intimate nationalism; consent and contractual intimacy; interracial marriage; monogamy and its others, polygamy and divorce; same-sex intimacy; the consensual family and its incest taboo. One of the aims of the seminar will be to test theoretical ideas about the role of intimacy in historical projects of social cohesion, control, and liberation in the US. Do these nineteenth-century works seem to foster Foucault’s "disciplinary intimacy",” or might they hold the origins of Anthony Giddens' idea of "intimacy as democracy"?

Along with novels, stories, and poems from the period 1850-1910, we will read a number of theoretical works and recent critical studies, and hear reports on selected cultural histories. Graduate students will be required to present one written book report, two informal response papers, and a 15-page research paper or proposal.

Primary texts may include works by H.B. Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Elizabeth Stoddard, Harriet Wilson, William Wells Brown, Henry James, Charles Chesnutt, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Martin Delany, Sui Sin Far, Mark Twain, Sarah Orne Jewett, Pauline Hopkins, and Edith Wharton. Theoretical and critical studies may include chapters from: Anthony Giddens, The Transformation of Intimacy; Nicklas Luhmann, Love as Passion: the Codification of Intimacy; Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality; Drucilla Cornell, At the Heart of Freedom; Wendy Brown, States of Injury, Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights; Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection; Robert Reid-Pharr, Conjugal Union; Marianne Nobel, The Masochistic Pleasures of Sentimental Literature; and June Howard, Publishing the Family, among others.

Fulfills 2 & 4 requirements.