Comparative Literature | Lyric Poetry
C315 | 25737 | Prof. Herbert Marks


MW 4:40-7:10
fulfills A&H requirement

Taking as starting point the critical aphorisms of the Jena school and
Friedrich Schlegel’s essay “On Incomprehensibility,” this course will
consider the role of obscurity in poetry--or, to put it more starkly,
the relation of literary language to the unspeakable. Why are riddle
and enigma the vehicles of choice for traditional “wisdom”? Are there
continuities between literary obscurity and the lure of the occult?
How useful is the Freudian model of manifest and latent, surface and
depth, for the understanding of figurative language, and how might it
be modified in light of contemporary chaos theory? What do we mean by
“difficult pleasures”? How should one respond to the student or naive
reader who says of a poem, “I like it because I understand it”?
Keeping these and similar questions in mind, we shall devote each
two-and-a-half-hour session to intensive reading of a small number of
texts that go out of their way to resist comprehension. These will
range from the fragments of Heraclitus and biblical proverbs and
parables to poems and critical prose by such modern writers as
Dickinson, Mallarmé, Kafka, Stevens, Crane, Celan, and Ashbery.
Written work: brief response papers on assigned topics and a final
essay on a topic chosen by the student.