Department of English UG Module Directory (2020)

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How Are We Feeling?: Affect and/in Contemporary Literature and Culture

Level 6 (15 credits)

On this module, students consider how cultural texts represent the affective experiences and provocations of contemporary life. The module asks how social, psychological, and philosophical understandings of the way we feel -- and represent or evoke feeling -- influence how authors, broadly understood, engage questions of aesthetics, audience, and ethics, in relation to affective states as various as remorse, boredom, nostalgia, fascination, rebellion, and expectation. Considering a selection of fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, life-writing, television, and film, and with reference to visual and performance art, we will explore how the critical language of affect helps us understand relations amongst emotion, subjectivity, and political action. Writers covered might range from J.M. Coetzee to Claudia Rankine, directors from Michael Haneke to Jill Soloway, and visual artists from Anselm Kiefer to Kara Walker.

Preparing for this Module and Approximate Costs

The schedule for the S1 2020-21 module will be advertised to you by email during the summer, and will be confirmed when the QMPlus site is released. I can confirm now, though, that we will be reading the following texts (amongst others tbc). You might make a start on these over the summer...

  • Joan Didion, Blue Nights
  • Garth Greenwell, What Belongs to You
  • Maggie Nelson, Bluets
  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

You could also watch some of the following (to put you in the mood, so to speak):

  • Amour, dir. Michael Haneke
  • Moonlight, dir. Barry Jenkins
  • Beach Rats, dir. Eliza Hittman 

If you want to sample some of our theoretical reading in advance, I recommend you work your way through some of these: the opening chapter of Lauren Berlant's Cruel Optimism (ebook via QMlibrary), the preface to Eugenie Brinkema's The Forms of the Affects (ebook via QMlibrary), the final chapter of Sara Ahmed's The Promise of Happiness, the chapter on 'Affect' in Derek Attridge's The Work of Literature (also ebook via QMlibrary), as well as Susan Sontag's seminal polemical essay 'Against Interpretation' (widely available). Don't be alarmed if you find any of these dense or difficult! They are, but we'll work through them together.

Many of the texts we will read are recently published, and might therefore be relatively expensive (apologies, but authors have to make a living too), though costs can be kept down by borrowing from libraries or buying second-hand copies. Hardcopies are always better than e-copies. Estimated costs for purchase of a majority of the texts through a combination of new and second-hand: £50. (Many of the books -- I predict -- you'll want to keep, but there should also be a resale value for newish books.)

Learning Context Long Seminar
Semester 1

1. In-Class Presentation (10 minutes), 15%
2. Short Writing Assignment (1,000 words), 20%
3. Research Essay (3,000 words), 65%

Mode of reassessment Standard
Contact Andrew van der Vlies