English | Special Studies in English & American Literature
L780 | 25942 | Miller


L780/V711  25942/21063 AH MILLER (#4)
Special Studies in English & American Literature

12:20p – 3:20p M

“My one regret in life,” Woody Allen once remarked, “is that I am
not someone else.”  This course will explore the emotional, ethical,
and aesthetic possibilities lurking within this thought—lurking
within, that is, the counterfactual imagination of alternate lives.
What are the conditioning pressures, social and psychological, that
situate individuals within one identity while instilling, as a
defining feature of that identity, an identification with--often a
longing for--other identities, apparently unattainable?  How do
these pressures also shape literary form and our reading
experience?
	
Counterfactuals have been of great interest recently to historians,
philosophers of history, metaphysicians, and logicians. The deep
history of the topic stretches back at least to Leibniz and his
discussion of possible worlds, and it has recently been energized by
the writing of David Lewis and Niall Ferguson; in these regions of
thinking, it bears on questions of causation with special force. We
will glance down these historiographical, metaphysical, and logical
paths—especially if there is student interest—but our main focus
will be on the questions raised above about individual lives.  	

Our reading and conversations will intersect with recent work on
literature and affect; on ethics and literature; and on narrative
form in history. I imagine us reading fiction and essays by Henry
and William James, Charles Dickens, Charles Lamb, and Phillip Roth;
scholarship by  Frances Ferguson, Tilottema Rajan, and William
Galperin as well as selections from a forthcoming issue of
Representations devoted to the topic.  My own work so far on this
has been in the nineteenth century, and I think there are strong
reasons (historical and formal) why counterfactuals would be
specially prominent during that time. But I am eager to learn about
the counterfactual in other periods, and would welcome students of
life writing, narratologists, and theorists of various stripes as
well as specialists in other historical moments.  Please drop me a
note (at ahmiller@indiana.edu)if you have questions.