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Wet the Ropes: Splicing Philosophy and Literature

ENGL 5900.401
also offered as: COML 5901
Wednesdays, 5:15-8:14pm

Wet the ropes! This exclamation used by Paul Valéry to condense the insight that allowed him to complete La Jeune Parque after endless drafts, derives from a 1586 anecdote in Rome, when a sailor shouted to workers erecting a 332 ton Egyptian obelisk that they had to “wet the ropes'' to tighten them and prevent the monument from crashing to the ground. This injunction did not come from engineering but simple savoir-faire, which calls up a kind of wet theory that I propose as a way of rethinking the links between literature and philosophy. The point would be less to ask « how does literature think ?» than to imagine a performative thought mobilizing ropes and tropes, which provides traction and knots half-way between concepts and affects. Deleuze and Guattari stated that literature progresses by inventing affects. Broch and Kundera see literature as knowledge-bound, anticipating a totality to come. For Borges and Badiou, literature thinks insofar as it uncovers infinity. If philosophy provides a meta-language allowing authors to revise and gloss their own texts, we readers need to know how to “wet” the ropes and “know the ropes,” which means finding effective writing methods. This class will explore a double practice of writing between affect and concept by reading authors who write between philosophy and literature like T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Walter Benjamin, Hermann Broch, Jorge Luis Borges, Maurice Blanchot, Georges Bataille, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Derrida, Milan Kundera, William Gass, Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva and Sheila Heti. M.A. students and submatriculated undergraduate students may enroll in the course without permission. Advanced undergraduates should contact the instructor to request permission, and should submit a permit request when adding the course to their cart.

English Major Requirements
  • Sector 1 Theory and Poetics (AETP)
English Concentration Attributes
  • Theory & Cultural Studies Concentration (AETC)
College Attributes
Additional Attributes