Affect in Contemporary American Literature - EN912

Sorry, this module is not currently running in 2019-20.







This course investigates what has come to be known as the affective turn in literary criticism. This turn, acting as a response to linguistic criticisms popularized during the moment of high postmodernism in the 1970s-1980s, seeks non-linguistic, or pre-linguistic ways of understanding the world. Under this new critical regime, feelings, mood, forces, and emotions become ways of tracking, describing, and engaging with the contemporary. In both the literature and the theory, students will be tasked with investigating representations of subjectivity in the present. The contemporary sees an enmeshing of theoretical and literary texts where both become crucial tools of critical inquiry. Thus, the literary texts in the module will reflect the theoretical concerns of the theoretical texts, and vice versa.
Students will examine a range of contemporary American fiction and poetry that investigate representations of feelings, emotions, and mood. In this way the module will focus on the place of humans within a larger ecological structure, and through working with the literary and theoretical texts students will ex-amine the construction of boundaries between humans and their surroundings. Some broad questions the module seeks to explore: What is the relationship between the individual, the public, and literature? What can the study of affect add to literary criticism? Finally, are there particular aesthetic techniques that capture something as ephemeral as a mood, or a feeling?


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 20
Private Study Hours: 280
Total Study Hours: 300


Available autumn term 2019/20

Method of assessment

Essay (5,000 words) – 100%

Indicative reading

Indicative list, current at time of publication. Reading lists will be published annually)

Ahmed, Sara (2010). The Promise of Happiness, Durham and London: Duke University Press
Berlant, Lauren, (2011). Cruel Optimism, Durham and London: Duke University Press
Gibson, William, (2003). Pattern Recognition, Berkeley: Penguin
Julavits, Heidi, (2012). The Vanishers, New York: Random House USA Inc.
Kosofsky, Eve, (2002). Sedgwick Touching Feeling, Durham and London: Duke University Press
Massumi, Brian, (2002). Parables of the Virtual, Durham and London: Duke University Press
Morrison, Toni, (1997). Paradise, London: Vintage
Spahr, Juliana, (2005). This Connection of Everyone with Lungs, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press
Whitehead, Colson, (1999). The Intuitionist, New York: Anchor
Wojnarowicz, David, (1991). Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, London: Serpent's Tail

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Demonstrate a clear understanding of the importance of the affective turn in contemporary American literary studies;

2 Display a critical engagement with both the theoretical and literary concerns of periodising contemporary American literature;

3 Show an ability to effectively and fluently articulate the concerns, divisions, and nuances of affect theory, and, moreover, demonstrate this ability through integrating theory in discussions of contemporary American literature;

4 Demonstrate their understanding of the long history of affect in theory and philosophy;

5 Demonstrate the ability to critically evaluate recent trends in both American literature and affect theory;

6 Demonstrate understanding of aesthetic trends in contemporary American literature.

7 Demonstrate the ability to apply new conceptual terms or frameworks to their study of literary and other cultural texts and to incorporate these into their own research;

8 Discuss an array of literary works with precision, nuance, and confidence;

9 Produce complex arguments in both spoken and written contexts;

10 Carry out independent research.

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