Literature and Affect - CP817

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2021 to 2022
Spring 7 30 (15) DR K Haustein-Corcoran checkmark-circle


We live, it is often said, in the 'age of affect'. Paradoxically, since Fredric Jameson's dictum on 'the waning of affect' in postmodern times, there has been a burgeoning surge of interest in our affects and emotions that has touched most academic disciplines as well as the general public. But a look at the historiography of affect shows that the current interest in our feelings and their cultural transformations, and with it the transformations of their often restrictive codes of representation, has been ongoing since the age of Romanticism at least. When we now speak of the 'emotional turn’, we tend to forget that in 1882 the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche already complained about the absence of ‘a history of love, of avarice, of envy, of conscience, of piety, or of cruelty’; that in 1941 the French historian Lucien Febvre contemplated the relation between ‘sensibility and history’; and that in the 1980s the American Historian Peter Gay flirted, at least temporarily, with a concept he defined as ‘psycho-history’.

The aim of this module is to reflect on this longstanding debate by addressing the following questions: What is an emotion, and what is an affect? Do emotions and affects change over time in intensity, prevalence, and character, or do they essentially remain the same while it is our attitudes towards them that change? And, most importantly to us as students of comparative literature: where or what is the subject who feels, and how can we define the relation between his or her feelings and the manifold ways in which they are represented? Our discussion will be based on critical analysis of a range of literary and autobiographical works from the eighteenth century to the present (for example by: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Emily Brontë, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Marguerite Duras, C.S. Lewis, and Roland Barthes). These works will be discussed in close conjunction with a selection of classic and contemporary theoretical texts (for example by: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Arthur Schopenhauer, Ruth Leys, Helmuth Lethen, Martha Nussbaum, Amy Coplan, and Eugenie Brinkema). The module is structured according to the following three areas of inquiry: Love & Desire; Loss & Mourning; Guilt & Shame.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 20

Method of assessment

Essay (5,000 words) - 80%;
Presentation (15 minutes) - 20%

Indicative reading

Any edition of the following:

Barthes, Roland (1977-79) Camera Lucida (1980) and Mourning Diary;
Benjamin, Walter (1930/38). Berlin Childhood around 1900;
Brontë, Emily (1847). Wuthering Heights;
Dostoevsky, Fyodor (1866) Crime and Punishment;
Duras, Marguerite (1980). The Lover;
Lewis, C.S. (1961) A Grief Observed;
Kafka, Franz (1925) The Trial;
von Kleist, Heinrich (1808) The Marquise von O…;
Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann (1774). The Sorrows of Young Werther

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module, students will be able to:

Gain a critical overview and understanding of modern European Literature in light of a theory of the emotions;
Engage thematically and comparatively with a range of literary and theoretical texts from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds and in a broad chronological scope;
Demonstrate a profound understanding of key philosophical concepts through analysis of the role of affects and emotions in the texts;
Demonstrate a systematic and critical understanding of classic and recent criticism relating to texts and contexts studied on the module;


  1. Credit level 7. Undergraduate or postgraduate masters level module.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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