ENGL 553A: Affect Theory, Materialist Criticism

Instructors: Adam Frank
Section: 001

Term: 2
Meets: Thursday 2-5pm

This course aims to do two things: to offer a survey of the turn to affect in the theoretical humanities of the last two decades (with a particular emphasis on Silvan Tomkins’s affect theory), and to locate this turn in relation to the longer history of materialist criticism and theory. The course begins with several of the essays that introduced affect and emotion as critical terms and considers the context for these interventions. We will read subsequent contributions in affect studies as well as critiques and reviews of the affective turn in order to understand the consolidation of the field (if that’s what it is), its tendencies, and its limitations. In the second part of the course we will turn to the history of materialist criticism. Our guiding question will be: where is affect or emotion in the works of the great modern thinkers, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud? We will ask the same question of some of their key interpreters. Our goal will be to locate the relevance or importance of affect to significant early formulations of materialist criticism. Finally, we will survey the most recent work in affect theory to connect these various traditions with contemporary affect theory. Throughout the course we will read a handful of literary texts alongside the theoretical works. These will provide test cases for the theory under consideration; at the same time, we will assume that fictional material also explores affective experience and structures, and is itself theoretical.

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