L399 16318 JUNIOR HONORS SEMINAR
4:00p-5:15p TR (15 students) 3 cr. A&H.
College intensive writing section. Requires approval from the Director of English Honors, Judith Brown, email@example.com. Obtain Authorization from BH 442.
TOPIC: “Collectors Collecting”
As figures who combine acquisitive passions and god-like ambitions with, as often as not, eccentricity and a certain nerdy pathos, collectors have long fascinated the literary imagination. This course will consider representations of the collector from roughly the seventeenth century to the present, from Thomas Shadwell's The Virtuoso (1676) to Nick Hornby's High Fidelity (1995), in order to examine the sources of that fascination. Although in our readings we will be making some forays into other disciplines (e.g. psychoanalysis, anthropology, art history, and library science), the hypothesis that will engage us this semester is that close examination of the addictive impulses that nowadays take many of us to E-Bay or to "comix" shops can tell us something fundamental about the nature of literature. To ponder their own processes of meaning-making, literary works have often pondered the processes of assembly and arrangement that transform disparate objects into a collection. People's experiences of the physical spaces that modern cultures devote to display and admiration-- the curiosity cabinet, the botanic garden, the library, the museum, and the waxwork gallery—have shaped their experiences of the verbal spaces of the novel and the poem.
The reading list we will use to examine literature's relationship to the cultures of collecting and collecting's relationship to ethics, politics, and psychology is still in flux, but possibilities include Shadwell and Hornby, as noted above; Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels; Charles Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop; Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover; Henry James's “The Aspern Papers” or “The Spoils of Poynton”; poetry by Alexander Pope, John Keats, John Clare, Robert Browning, and Marianne Moore; theoretical writings by Walter Benjamin, Susan Stewart, Stephen Bann, and Jean Baudrillard. Assignments will include a short mid-term paper, a longer research-based final paper, and a series of short responses. I hope, too, that we'll be able to go on field trips that will introduce us to the legacies of such local collectors as Josiah Kirby Lilly and Alfred Kinsey.