ENG 605: Desiring Bodies and Souls in American Literary Life
This course will take up the framing of the embodied lives with which we navigate the world, seeking connection to and nourishment for both the self and others. In 1960, Leslie Fiedler complained in Love and Death in the American Novel that American writers cannot and do not write love stories. The work of this course will be to argue that the American experience is replete with desiring. We will engage a number of texts from the last sixty years that focus on food, flesh, and eros in some combination. We will contextualize eros with Julia Kristeva's master work, Tales of Love (1987) and supplement our historical, cultural, and theoretical framework with segments from Roy Porter's Flesh in the Age of Reason: The Modern Foundations of Body and Soul (2003), Dennis Patrick Slattery's The Wounded Body: Remembering the Markings of Flesh (2000), Ron Hansen's A Stay Against Confusion (2001), and Lorna Piatti-Farnell's Food and Culture in Contemporary American Fiction (2011).
We will read from among a surveyor's feast of canonical American writers. We will study in particular some combination of the following works: Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding (1946), Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in a Castle (1962), Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior (1976), Andre Dubus's Adultery and Other Choices (1977), John Updike's Too Far to Go / The Maples Stories (1977, 2009), Ernest Hemingway's The Garden of Eden (1986), Toni Morrison's Beloved (1988), Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine (rev. 1993), Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies (1999), and / or Don DeLillo's The Body Artist (2001), as well as selected stories of Flannery O'Connor .
Active research, as well as presentations that summarize criticism, will be a part of the preparation for each class meeting. A final examination and a seminar project—both the revised draft of your analysis and an oral report of its highlights—will conclude the course. Short papers throughout the six weeks will augment class discussion. Three personal narratives—"My Embodied Life," "The Best Thing I Have Ever Tasted," and "Crazy 'bout Ya, Baby"—will diversify the work of the course and afford venues apart from the usual academic routes for presenting and publishing your prose.