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Speech and Writing in the Enlightenment

ENGL 540.401
instructor(s):
W 3-6

This course looks at theories of the (assumed) opposition between speech and writing in the context of Enlightenment. After an introduction to speech/writing theory, we start with a detailed study of Jacques Derrida's deconstruction of this binary in Of Grammatology (the course will not assume any special knowledge of deconstruction). Then we turn one of Derrida's chief "targets" in this book: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and read him in the context of other 18th century accounts of the origin of language. Our aim will be to see how deconstruction functions under varying historical conditions.

The rest of the course explores post-Rousseauvian ideas about speech and writing in their historical context. We will look at the emergence of an idealised "orality" and consider the emergence of storytelling as a literary method. We will read the work of Beattie, Blake, Macpherson, Burns, Scott, Hogg, Edgeworth, and Wordsworth. The course will finish with a short study of some 19th century developments in the writing of George Eliot and Kipling.