English 525: Love and its Critics

Dr. Michael Bryson
Sierra Tower 832

Paolo and Francesca

Course Description

This course is an attempt to tell a story, to relate a history of love through literature and its sometimes adversarial relationship to the laws and customs, the political and economic structures of the times and places in which that literature was produced. But it also attempts to relate a history of the way love has been treated, not by our poets, but by those our culture has entrusted with the “authority” to maintain and perpetuate the understanding, and even the memory, of poetry. Together with the tradition of love poetry has grown a tradition of criticism that tends to subordinate human passion and desire to the demands of theological, philosophical, and political considerations, often arguing that what merely seems to be passionate love poetry is actually properly understood as something else (worship of God, subordination to Empire, entanglement within the structures of language itself). The pattern of such criticism—from the earliest readings of the Song of Songs to contemporary articles written about a carpe diem poem like Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins to Make Much of Time”—is to argue that the surface or exterior of a poem hides the “real” or “deeper” meaning, and that it is the critic’s job to pull back or tear away that surface in order to expose what lies beneath it. Employing a method Paul Ricouer called “les herméneutiques du soupçon” (the hermeneutics of suspicion), such a reading strategy is a matter of cunning (falsification) encountering an even greater cunning (suspicion), as the "lies" and "false consciousness" of a text are systematically "exposed" by the critic. The argument of this course is that there is a long tradition of literary criticism that insists that poems about X (in this case, human love) are actually about Y (whatever the particular concern or commitment of the critic is), and that such criticism is and has been an impediment, not an aid, to understanding.

Each student will do two assignments.

1) A midterm essay of 1500-2000 words (approximately 5-8 pages) focusing on a critical history of one of the works from the Song of Songs through the Italian poets, due at the beginning of class on 11/17. Do not simply skim the surface of JSTOR looking for things published over the last ten years. Go back as far as you can, researching the history of the text and its reception, and look for an interesting story to tell. 

2) A final paper of 3000-4000 words (10-15 pages), topic open (as long as it remains within the parameters of the course), due by 11:59:59 PM Sunday, 12/18. This final paper must be submitted via email.

Weekly Preview

Week 1 (9/1): Introductions. The Hermeneutics of Suspicion; Love Poetry and its Critics.
1) Rita Felski, "Suspicious Minds."
2) Rita Felski, "After Suspicion."
3) Love and its Critics: Introduction

Week 2 (9/8): Origins and Origen (and a Rabbi named Akiba)
1) The Song of Songs: The World's First Great Love Poem, eds. Ariel and Chana Bloch.

2) Criticism: Origen, Zhang Longxi, Gerson Cohen

Week 3 (9/15): Ovid, Love as a Game, and Critics with No Sense of Humor
1) Selections from Ovid: Amores 1.4, 1.5, 1.13, 3.4. Art of Love Book One
2) Critics and their Discontents, part 1

Week 4 (9/22): Virgil, Obedience over Love
Reading: 1) The Aeneid 1.850-2.998, 4.1-876.
Reading: 2) Ovid, Heroides 7
Reading: 3) Critics and their Discontents, part 2

Week 5 (9/29): Love Poetry in the Post-Latin World: Greek Romance and Two Anglo-Saxon Elegies, and Greek Romance
1) Longus, Daphnis and Chloe
2) Two Anglo-Saxon Elegies
3) Criticism: Miriam Muth

Week 6 (10/6): Love Against the World: Abelard and Heloise
1) The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (pp.3-89, Letters 1-5).
2) Critics and their Discontents, part 3

Week 7 (10/13): The Troubadours
1) Troubadour Poems from the South of France, pp. 24-31, 52-57, 70-81, 107-11, 119-20, 155-62.
2) Female Poets and Female Voices, a Different Perspective
3) Critics and their Discontents, part 4

Week 8 (10/20): Love Goes to Heaven: Early Italian Poets
1)) Plato: The Symposium
2) A sample of Italian Poets from Lentino to Dante
3) La Vita Nuova from The Portable Dante

Week 9 (10/27): Love Goes to Heaven, part 2: Petrarch
1) Petrarch, Canzoniere # 3, 11, 12, 13, 36, 90, 106, 121, 133, 183, 364 from Petrarch Canzoniere, ed. Mark Musa.
2) Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, Book Four, 322-345.

Week 10 (11/3): Sixteenth-Century Poetry: Love Slowly Returns to Earth
1) A Sample of non-English poetry of the Sixteenth Century
2) Sidney, Astrophil and Stella from The Major Works.

Week 11 (11/10): Shakespeare
1) Selections from Shakespeare, from The Sonnets. 1-20, 130, 138.

Week 12 (11/17): Donne
1) Selections from Seventeenth-Century British Poetry: "On His Mistress Going to Bed," "The Canonization," "The Extasie," "The Sun Rising," "The Flea."
2) Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800. See pages 178-194 for a description of parentally-arranged and -controlled marriages of the period.
) Criticism: Achsah Guibbory
4) Critics and their Discontents, part 5

Week 13 (11/24): Off for Thanksgiving

Week 14 (12/1): Herrick, Marvell
1) Selections from Seventeenth-Century British Poetry: Herrick, "To the Virgins," "To Daffadills," "Delight in Disorder," "Corinna’s going a Maying," Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress."
2) Criticism: Sarah Gilead

3) Critics and their Discontents, part 6

Week 15 (12/8) Conclusions and Choices: Milton's Adam
1) Paradise Lost 8.530-585, 9.886-959
2) Criticism: C.S. LewisIrene Samuel, Stanley Fish, Dennis Danielson
3) Critics and their Discontents, part 7

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