525: Love and its Critics
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.
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:
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
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
Critics and their Discontents, part 1
Week 4 (9/22):
Virgil, Obedience over Love
Reading: 1) The Aeneid
Reading: 2) Ovid,
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
3) Criticism: Miriam
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):
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
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):
Selections from Seventeenth-Century British Poetry:
"On His Mistress Going to Bed," "The Canonization," "The Extasie,"
"The Sun Rising," "The Flea."
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.
4) Critics and their
Discontents, part 5
Week 13 (11/24):
Off for Thanksgiving
Week 14 (12/1):
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."
3) Critics and their
Discontents, part 6
Week 15 (12/8)
Conclusions and Choices: Milton's Adam
1) Paradise Lost
2) Criticism: C.S.
Lewis, Irene Samuel,
Stanley Fish, Dennis Danielson
3) Critics and their
Discontents, part 7