ENGL 301
Distraction Spring 2016
Division I
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Why does being deeply absorbed in an artwork or activity often feel a lot like zoning out, a drift into a state of distraction? Do artworks encourage, or discourage, certain forms of attention? Reverie, absorption, immersion, daydreaming: this class will be about the history and affects of attention and distraction. We’ll immerse ourselves in a range of literary and visual works to get at the varied histories and states of attention over the past two centuries. The nineteenth-century realist novel–whose attention to the unnoticed and ordinary is one of its distinctive features, and whose size can lend itself as much to skimming as to intensive reading–will be of particular interest to us. But we’ll also read around in detective fiction, poetry, experimental novels about what happens when nothing happens, art history, Erving Goffman’s sociology of everyday life, and theoretical works on perception, attention, and reading. We’ll also take the measure of our own moment, what Jonathan Crary called a state of 24/7 attentiveness, an “unremitting glare of monotonous stimulation.” Likely works or authors include: Middlemarch, Charles Dickens’ Sketches by Boz, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Sherlock Holmes, Perec’s Exhausting a Place in Paris, Jonathan Crary’s 24/7, Michael Fried, Erving Goffman, Andy Warhol, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. Also, the minimal states of absorption generated by Twitter, Tinder and the like.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 25
Expected: 25
Class#: 3315
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: 2 papers, 1 presentation, micro-responses, use of social media
Prerequisites: 100- or 200-level ENGL course
Enrollment Preferences: English majors
Distributions: Division I
Attributes: ENGL Literary Histories B

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