English | Literatures in English, 1800-1900
E303 | 6782 | Rae Greiner

Rae Greiner

6782 - 1:00p-2:15p TR (30 students) 3 cr.  A&H.

TOPIC:  “Civilization and its Discontents”

In his Civilization and its Discontents (1930), Sigmund Freud argued
that that civilization is a source of our unhappiness, malaise,
or “discontent,” in part because the power of the individual is
sacrificed to the power of the group (diminishing individual
freedom), and in part because we must, therefore, renounce our
instincts—which return in pathological forms.  Freud calls this “the
return of the repressed,” and argues:
Aggressiveness is introjected, internalized; it is, in point of
fact, sent back to where it came from, that is, it is directed
against his own ego. There it is taken over by a portion of the ego,
which sets itself over against the rest of the ego as super-ego, and
which now, in the form of conscience, is ready to put into action
against the ego the same harsh aggressiveness that the ego would
have liked to satisfy upon other, extraneous individuals. The
tension between the harsh super-ego and the ego that is subjected to
it, is called by us the sense of guilt; it expresses itself as a
need for punishment. Civilization therefore obtains mastery over the
individual’s dangerous desire for aggression by weakening and
disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch over
it, like a garrison in a conquered city.

In this class, we will explore many of these themes, through a
variety of nineteenth-century texts (British and American).  In
particular, we will be asking:  What does the repressed look like on
its return?  In what ways does modern society (“civilization”)
contribute to pain and anxiety rather than alleviate it?  What do
nineteenth-century portrayals of guilty feelings tell us about how
the authors of that century viewed themselves and their worlds?

Major texts (will probably) include:  Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads;
Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience; Shelley, Frankenstein;
Brontë, Wuthering Heights; Dickens, Great Expectations; Conrad, the
Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’; Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener”;
Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Barrie, Peter Pan;
stories by Hawthorne and Poe, and additional selected poems (Emily
Dickinson) and essays (Carlyle, Darwin, Ruskin).  Weekly quizzes and
a midterm exam, along with three long semi-formal writing
assignments, and one long paper required.