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Beauty and the Text

ENGL 294.601

What makes us perceive things as beautiful?  Why do certain works of art move us emotionally, while others engage us intellectually? The concept of aesthetics is nothing if not fluid: it can relate to perception through the senses; the philosophy of beauty; the art (or science!) of what is pleasing; the study of good taste; the standards by which art is judged—the list goes on.  We will embark on a transhistorical exploration of beauty and the senses in Western literature across multiple genres, beginning with Plato and moving through the ideas of beauty and the sublime in the medieval world, representation and the self in the Renaissance, taste and sentiment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, finally ending with the modern period and the turn toward self-conscious artistic creation. Likely texts include Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as well as works by Longinus, Thomas Aquinas, Jone Donne, Thomas Gray, Edmund Burke, William Wordsworth, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Oscar Wilde, and Walter Benjamin. Final assessment will be based on participation, brief responses to the reading, a short (4-5 pp.) midterm paper, and a longer (10-12 pp.) final paper.