Professor J. Boone, Department of English >>
Professor W. Handley, Department of English >>
Professor R. Lemon, Department of English >>
Varieties of Love and Literary Form
Many of the major works of literature in Western culture have been dominated by expressions of earthly love and romantic union as the highest goals of human existence. After all, when Tina Turner sings "What's love got to do with it,?," we know she's either being blind or ironic: love's got everything to do "it" in the world-view that's been instilled in us since the cradle.
The goal of this course, then, will be to investigate how these concepts of romantic and sexual love have evolved and changed in the West from Plato to the present day. It undertakes this task by focusing on love's representation in a variety of narrative forms of literature across a spectrum of epochs, arguing that such texts have not only served to reflect the social mores of their times but also helped to create, at significant junctures in our cultural history, new ideals of union and new literary idioms to express those new, sometimes daringly radical, expressions of love. Indeed, one of the ironies of the love tradition in literature is the degree to which this primary goal of the "civilized" life-to feel and seek out true love-is simultaneously viewed as the greatest threat to social harmony and cohesion. The course begins by looking at some of the competing ideals of love fostered in the classical period, including the famous disquisition on love staged in Plato's Symposium, Euripides' tragedy Medea, and Longus's pastoral romance Daphnis and Chloe; we conclude our look at the classical period by turning to a modernist female poet's "take" on Homeric epic by reading H.D.'s verse narrative, Helen in Egypt. Next we investigate the uniquely English ideal of love-in-marriage reflected in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and love-tragedy in Anthony and Cleopatra; then we turn our attention to how and why the novel-a relatively "new" literary genre-becomes the modern era's privileged "home" of the love plot, issuing in the quintessential romance, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. We'll then turn to the twentieth-century and the poetic, political, and sexual reverberations of eros in Tom Stoppard's Invention of Love, Forster's Howards End, Zadie Smith's On Beauty (a contemporary rewriting of Howards End in which race issues replace Forster's class concerns), Hanif Kureishi's screenplay Sammie and Rose Get Laid, and a recent novel by a member of the USC creative writing faculty, Marianne Wiggins' The Shadow-Catcher (nominee for the National Book Critics' Award and the LA Times Best Fiction award).
Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre. New York: Penguin, 2006.
Euripides. The Bacchae and Other Plays. Trans. Philip Vellacott. New York: Penguin, 1954.
Euripides. Medea. Trans. Anthony J. Podlecki. Newburyport: Focus Publishing, 1991.
E.M. Forster. Howards End. New York: Penguin, 2000.
H.D. Helen in Egypt. New York: W. W. Norton, 1974.
Longus. Daphnis and Chloe. Trans. Paul Turner. New York: Penguin, 1989.
Plato. The Symposium. Trans. Christopher Gill. New York: Penguin, 1999.
Shakespeare. Antony and Cleopatra. New York: Penguin, 1981.
---. A Midsummer Night's Dream. New York: Penguin, 1959.
Zadie Smith. On Beauty. New York: Penguin, 2006.
Tom Stoppard. The Invention of Love. New York: Grove/Atlantic, 1998.
Marianne Wiggins. The Shadow Catcher. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.
T.C. Boyle. The Inner Circle. New York: Penguin, 2005.
Authority, Love, and Rebellion
When the God of the Hebrew Bible commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, is God merely exercising his authority and testing Abraham's allegiance? Why does Abraham have to contemplate choosing between God and kin? Sophocles' Antigone has a different dilemma: to choose between obeying a king's edict (a king who also happens to be her uncle) and obeying filial, religious duty-in either case, she must also choose a form of disobedience.
Such ethical dilemmas preoccupy writers in the western world, from the ancients to the present, as they wrestle with the question of what claims us as human beings. What does one owe to others (to family, to religion, to the state, to society), and what does one owe to truth and justice-and are they compatible? (How do we know what is just or unjust, or what constitutes such concepts as love, self-interest, sacrifice, or a good state?) What loyalties are real or unreal, and how do we know the difference? What kind of authority must one answer to, and what kind of authority is it imperative to rebel against?
This course will examine those forms of authority (religious, moral, political, legal) that seek to answer these questions and that make claims on human beings within a given social universe and within-or in spite of-relations of kinship or affinity. We will also explore the desire to rebel against the law, society, or kin as fundamental to the contradictory meanings of what it is to be human-to be a self that both is made by and desires to remake a given world.
Fyodor Dostoevsky. Notes from Underground. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Random House, 2004.
Ralph Waldo Emerson. Self-Reliance and Other Essays. Mineola: Dover, 1993.
Benjamin Franklin. Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Mineola: Dover, 1996.
Sigmund Freud. Civilization and Its Discontents. Introduction by Louis Menand. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.
Seamus Heaney. Burial at Thebes: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005.
Thomas Jefferson. The Jefferson Bible. Intro. Percival Everett. New York: Akashic Books, 2004.
Tony Kushner. Angels in America. New York: Theatre Communications Group, Inc., 2003.
Plato. The Symposium. Trans. Christopher Gill. New York: Viking Penguin, 1999.
Shakespeare. King Lear. London: Arden Shakespeare, 1997.
Henry David Thoreau. Civil Disobedience and Other Essays. Mineola: Dover, 1993.
Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt Trade, 1990.
---. Three Guineas. Introduction by Jane Marcus. San Diego: Harcourt Trade, 2006.
Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
Edison's formula hinges on the interdependence of hard work and surrender. We perspire, but we also are "breathed into," as the Latin root of inspiration tells us-breathed by God, the muse, the landscape, or whatever else might serve as our creative source. Edison suggests the limited availability of inspiration-we need only one percent to make up genius. But what would happen if we had ninety nine percent inspiration and only one percent of perspiration? Would we be on easy street or in the mad house?
This class traces the relationship between perspiration (namely commitment, devotion, or will) and inspiration (surrender, possession, or release) by tracking the creative paths of some of literature's most famous figures. God, Adam, Eve, Orpheus, and others struggle with the balance that Edison invokes. Some characters achieve such balance, exhibiting divine or artistic harmony, a kind of genius. For others, however, when hard work ends in surrender, trouble follows since the source of inspiration proves suspect: damnation, murder, exile and rejection result. What do such opposite paths suggest not only about the artist's view of the human will, devotion, and surrender, but also about the process of writing itself? How do writers such as Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare and Milton depict this axis running from control to abandon, and what do their depictions tell us about their own relationship to artistic creativity?
Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. Malcolm Heath. New York: Penguin, 1997.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Euripides. The Bacchae, in Euripides V. Ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. An Artist of the Floating World. New York: Vintage, 1989.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Third edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.
Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. Walter Hamilton. New York: Penguin, 1977.
Petrarch. Selections from the Canzoniere. Trans. Mark Musa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass. New York: Random House, 2001
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Sonnets to Orpheus. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Shakespeare. Twelfth Night. Folger Shakespeare Series. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
--. Sonnets. Folger Shakespeare Series. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Wordsworth, William and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Lyrical Ballads. Ed. Martin Scofield. Wordsworth Editions, 2002.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. San Diego: Harcourt Trade, 1989.
--. To the Lighthouse. Intro. Eudora Welty. San Diego: Harvest Books, 1989.