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Unit information: Aesthetic Possibilities in 2015/16

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Unit name Aesthetic Possibilities
Unit code ENGLM3037
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Wright
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit is an introduction to writing on aesthetics and ethics and its relation to developments in literary form and style between c.1790 and 1960. It aims to help students to answer the following sorts of questions: How are beauty and artistry explored and represented in literature across this period and in what ways are they related to ethical concerns, such as the health of the mind or the nation? How do texts explore the relation between social realities and imaginative possibilities? How are ideas about hope and expectation explored through the characters and speakers in texts, and how are readers hopes and expectations in turn shaped by text? In what ways have literature and art been seen as culturally beneficial, and how do such views fare in the late nineteenth century with the advance of aestheticism, or in the twentieth century in the face of the atrocities of war? On what range of terms might national, personal, or artistic success or failure be defined, and to what purpose? What, in the broad sense, have authors and critics considered to be the possibilities of literary art and how does literary art explore ideas about possibility?

Intended Learning Outcomes

This unit will introduce students to ideas about the purpose of aesthetic experience, and, in particular, to concerns about possibility, success, and failure explored in literature since about 1790. In relation to a range of literary texts explicitly preoccupied by the limits of representation, students will gain (1) a good knowledge of the styles and methods of individual authors across the period (2) a good knowledge of ideas about beauty, form, and the human will in German writing on aesthetics and in the literary works studied (3) a good knowledge of historical practices of measurement and classification, which may include ideas about class structure, legal enfranchisement, education, the growth of the dictionary and of statistics, and a critical appreciation of the benefits and difficulties of these practices (4) a critical appreciation of ideas about form and value in literature and literary criticism, past and present Students will read a variety of texts (including poems, novels, and plays) and be expected to examine (5) the ways that those texts represent expectation, ambition, possibility, chance, success, and failure, in both their content and their form.

Teaching Information

1 x 2 hour seminar per week, plus use of consultation hours where desired.

Assessment Information

1 summative essay of 4,000 words (100% weighting). Each student will also be required to give a 1000-word presentation in class.

Reading and References

Philosophical Texts:

  • Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters
  • Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (Vol. 1, Books 3 and 4)

Literary Texts may include:

  • Robert Browning, The Ring and the Book
  • George Eliot, Daniel Deronda
  • Henry James, Roderick Hudson
  • Samuel Beckett, The Complete Dramatic Works