Upper-Division Seminar: A Life Less Ordinary

Course Number: ENGL 197
Prerequisites: Upper-division standing, English majors only
Advisory Enrollment Information: This course cannot be repeated and is limited to upper-division English majors only.
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 197
Quarter: Fall 2011
Instructor: Boscagli, Maurizia
Day(s): TR
Time: 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM
Location: SH 2617
Description:

This course cannot be repeated and is limited to upper-division English majors only.

This class studies the concept of the ordinary, (the everyday, the mundane , and the trivial) and its aesthetics. We will be concerned with the way the ordinary is represented in literature, art, and film, but also with the artistic genres it contributes to create (for instance the realist novel). To begin with, we will concentrate on realism, and its chief tenet, mimesis, in nineteenth century fiction and photography. Modern fiction and photography were born in the same period, and both claim to capture reality "as it is", in its immediacy: to debate this claim we will examine nineteenth and early twentieth century photographs, and read Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes on this topic. Then we will move to Henri Lefebvre's idea of the everyday in the 1960s, and consider how it informs later twentieth century texts (Muriel Sparks' The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and Raymond Carver's Shortcuts). Realism, literary and photographic, always claims to be just documenting reality, but in fact it's continually undercut and complicated by the unexpected and the extraordinary, as the texts we study show (Cortazar, Godard). We will discuss boredom, life in the suburbs, the prosaic, and the need to escape its repetitive routine (from Melville' "Bartleby the Scrivener" to Mendes' film American Beauty). The interest in the minutiae of the ordinary also informs a new way of doing history. This is Michel Foucault's method of analyzing power and in particular biopower, and we will conclude with a discussion of how biopower works at the level of the body and of our everyday.

Among the texts we will study are (fiction): Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Paul Auster, Smoke, Raymond Carver Shortcuts. Criticism: Walter Benjamin, "Little History of Photography", Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, Susan Sontag, On Photography. Film: Mike Leigh, Happy Go Lucky, Sam Mendes, American Beauty, Godard, Weekend.