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Thinking Work

ENGL 571.301
instructor(s):
T 9-12:00

How might we understand the history and future of work from the nineteenth century to the present? What experiences of labor and analyses of its changing structures and definitions do different genres of writing make available? Whether or not we accept the conventional wisdom that the repetitive nature of work makes it more or less unrepresentable in narrative fiction, in what other ways than representation might novels and other aesthetic objects enable thinking about work? What difference does it make that literature is itself an object of leisure, to be read (except, of course, in our case) off the clock? What accounts of literary production are useful in comparing writing with other forms of work, and what ideas about mental labor mark its distinctiveness? How should we approach the division of manual and intellectual labor so essential to nineteenth-century critiques of industrial capitalist society, and what are some of the contemporary pressures on our thinking about labor division in the past and present? What politics of work or what antiwork politics are possible now, attending to casualization and unemployment, as well as to reproductive and affective labor, carework, and other largely uncompensated social obligations not automatically recognized as labor? To consider those questions, we will read fiction by George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Émile Zola, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, William Morris, and Colson Whitehead, and criticism and theory by Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, Thorstein Veblen, Theodor Adorno, Silvia Federici, Carolyn Lesjak, Sianne Ngai, Mark McGurl, Tung-Hui Hu, and Kathi Weeks, among others. Requirements include participation, a presentation, and a conference paper.