WiSe 12/13: A Poetics of the Frame? Howells and American Literary Realism
The seminar examines a broad selection of William Dean Howells's writings, including major novels, short stories, travel sketches, plays, as well as essayistic and journalistic writings. While the ... read more
The seminar examines a broad selection of William Dean Howells's writings, including major novels, short stories, travel sketches, plays, as well as essayistic and journalistic writings. While the course offers a survey of scholarship on American literary realism, it also suggests the concept of the frame as a possible alternative for a poetics of realism. Of course, Howells's writings, and his role as editor and "Dean of American literature," will be situated against the backdrop of sociopolitical differential discourses of its time (class, gender, nation, race) and broader intellectual developments (liberalism, pragmatism). Yet discussions will also focus the functions of intermedial, literary, and perceptive frames, which characterize many of his writings and which provide a distinct aesthetics and poetics. These frames negotiate, mediate, and precondition various modes of accessing the idea of realism, understood as an ongoing and unfinished project rather than as a contest of being "realer-than-thou," as Phillip Barrish has it. Consequently, complementary course readings include, among others, contemporaneous as well as contemporary art criticism and theories of photography. In a final step, the seminar asks whether and to what degree Howells's literary fictions, and American literary realism in general, may provide a starting point for developing the contours of a cultural theory of the frame.
Suggested preparatory reading: William Dean Howells, A Modern Instance (1881), The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), and Criticism and Fiction (1891); Phillip Barrish, American Literary Realism, Critical Theory, and Intellectual Prestige, 1880-1995 (Cambridge et al.: Cambridge UP, 2001).