Fiction, the Monstrous, and the Limits of the Human
From classical antiquity's tales of gods and monsters, to Eurocentric medieval romance fantasies of cultural conquest and defeat, to the modern novel’s reflective engagement with its own processes of strange birth and invention, literature has confronted the contentious questions of the self and “the other,” of normative ideology and the “the alien” or “the foreign,” of humanity and its limits. Fiction has celebrated its own exemplification of the human capacity for creation even as it has lamented the concurrent human passion for destruction, often expressing an anxiety about its own possible role in the creation of appealing as well as appalling tales of monstrosity. Part One of the course (Fall 2015) traced the development of these concerns in six canonical works of the English literary tradition: Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The second part (conceived of as both a continuation of the concerns investigated in the Fall, and a freestanding sequence in its own right) offers a selection of six representative novels as a survey of post-World War II inheritors of this literary tradition, writers working in the shadow of the knowledge that humanity had at last created to the capacity to destroy itself entirely, and may well have entered what some are calling The Anthropocene.
John Wyndham: The Day of the Triffids (1951)
William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)
Walter M. Miller Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)
Ursula K. le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go (2005)
Hearing Voices: Modernist Poets in Disguise
“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion,” says the arch Modernist, T. S. Eliot, “but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” While many poets disagree with Eliot’s ideas of impersonality, a surprising number of major poets in the early 20th century did write poems in voices other than their own, inventing characters, putting on masks, deploying various techniques of disguise, all in the name of saying something that couldn’t be expressed otherwise. This course will look closely at some of these poets and their poems, examining their strategies and listening for what they say and for what, perhaps, they don’t say. Poets will include William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, H. D., Marianne Moore, T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. Our approach to these writers will entail what Friedrich Nietzsche calls “slow reading,” taking our time to hear—and even appreciate—the different voices coming through.
About Paul Kane
Paul Kane (Yale BA’73, Ph.D.’90) is a poet, critic and scholar. He has published five collections of poems; two editions of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s work with The Library of America (co-edited with Harold Bloom); three anthologies, including Poetry of the American Renaissance; a critical study of Romanticism and Negativity; two collaborations with the photographer William Clift; and a collection of translations of the Persian poet Hafiz. His essays and poems appeared in many journals, including The Paris Review, The New Republic, The New Criterion, and The Kenyon Review. He is poetry editor of the journal Antipodes and serves as Artistic Director of the Mildura Writers Festival and as General Editor of the Braziller Series of Australian Poets. His awards include grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the Bogliasco Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Fulbright Program. In addition to undergraduate and graduate degrees from Yale, he holds an MA from Melbourne University and an Honorary Doctorate from La Trobe University. He has taught at Yale and Monash University (in Australia) and is currently a Professor at Vassar College, where he teaches in the English Department and in the Environmental Studies Program.