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Enlightement Fictions

ENGL 275.601
instructor(s):
T 4:30-7:10

What does it mean to be "enlightened"? Insofar as it entails a belief in progress, in the ability of science to harness nature for the benefit of humankind, in the primacy of reason over superstition and liberty over oppression, Western culture has inherited its Enlightenment from the extraordinary intellectual, social, and political revolutions of the eighteenth century. We will explore the roots of a modern worldview not in the philosophy of the time but in its fictions. From prejudicial metaphors of light and dark to a fascination with all things mechanical, from a preoccupation with seduction to new methods of organizing information, we will explore how eighteenth-century fiction, in reflecting a particular vision of the world, helped in turn to create it. These imaginative portraits of culture will help us understand and question the values of the Enlightenment, which will in turn tell us a great deal about ourselves. We will read both European and American literature; authors may include Defoe, Richardson, Swift, Fielding, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Goethe, Franklin, and Crevecoeur. All texts will be read in English. No prior background is required.