COMP 354
Aestheticism & Decadence Spring 2015
Division I
Cross-listed COMP 354 / ENGL 344
This is not the current course catalog

Class Details

“Fin de Si├Ęcle”: Despair over the seeming perilous decline in moral standards, scandalously avant-garde fashions in art and writing, anxieties brought on by Britain’s uneasy relation to its colonies, and the emergence of new dissident sexual and social identities, led some to fear (and others to celebrate) that the ways of Victorian Britain were not long for this world at end of the 19th century. This course will consider two loosely affiliated artistic movements, aestheticism and decadence, as responses both scandalized and scandalizing to this exhilarating period. Part of what’s so tricky here is the elusiveness of the terms we’ll be studying. So, much of our work will entail tracing out the multiple and often contradictory uses of them: do these terms designate a distinct cultural moment, an historically bounded period, a loose set of writers and artists, a theme? Or, might we better conceptualize aestheticism and decadence as a style of writing or a style of the self, or even a mode of art that seeks to disrupt such distinctions as the one between the self and writing–one we might find in 21st-century New York as 19th-century London? We’ll read writers such as Oscar Wilde, who reveled in amoral manifestos like “art for art’s sake” by elevating artifice and shallowness to first principles of life; but also Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who has his own thing for artifice. Noting the high body count in these works, we’ll also ask why these texts seem so concerned with fatality, with death, with addiction, with various forms of losing the self–in art, in the metropolis, in another person. We’ll focus as well on attempts to rethink traditional social bonds in works that value variously, solitude over sociality, the transient encounter over the enduring relationship, promiscuity over fidelity, and to think about how literary form might relate to those efforts.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 25
Expected: 25
Class#: 3649
Grading: OPG
Requirements/Evaluation: 2 short papers, a series of shorter response papers, regular and substantial contributions to class discussions
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis
Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam
Enrollment Preferences: English majors
Distributions: Division I
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
COMP 354 Division I ENGL 344 Division I
Attributes: ENGL Literary Histories B

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