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EN962 Writing and Revolution: Studies in World Literature

(Module not available 2013-14)

Please note: There is no meeting in Week 1. Students should pick up readings for Week 2 (Moretti, Hobsbawm, Damrosch - the Marx and Petôfi are available online, see below) at the English Dept office. Please be prepared to discuss these readings during our first meeting.

Course leader: Nick Lawrence (
Autumn 2009
Monday 3:00-5:00

‘World literature,’ writes Franco Moretti in a seminal essay from the first issue of the twenty-first century New Left Review, ‘is not an object but a problem.’ At its heart, the problem is not one of canonicity (which texts to read) nor even of interpretation (producing ‘readings’). Instead, world literature poses the question of how to read ‘the world’ itself as an uneven and conflictual field of interrelations: as Moretti argues, parsing Georg Lukács, ‘the way we imagine comparative literature is a mirror of how we see the world.’

This module focuses on the theme of revolution as a way of broaching the methodological questions associated with world-literary studies. Political revolutions both obstruct and redirect the flows of modern history. When they spill across the boundaries of several nations – as in 1789-91, 1811-21, 1848, 1917, 1968, etc. – they become ‘world-historical’ in a way that crystallises the issues arising from the new literary comparativism. They also afford the opportunity to study within a relatively close time-frame the various engagements, by writers from different national backgrounds, with the meanings and implications of revolutionary conjunctures. In important ways, revolutions become a privileged subject for the study of the contradictions inherent in capitalist modernity itself.

Depending on the tutor’s interest, the module will focus on a particular revolutionary year (or years) and undertake to study its associated cultural database with an eye to parsing the following questions: If revolution is marked by a sense of ‘the world turned upside down,’ what are its implications for consciousness of the world beyond national determinations? How do literary responses to revolutionary outbreaks connect local with global experience? What are the characteristic forms, strategies, temporalities, modes of address and so on adopted by art in response to revolution? What are the implications for literary study if we follow revolutionary events in terms of, to borrow Moretti’s terminology, (comparative) ‘waves’ rather than (national) ‘trees’?

The first outing of the module will focus on the revolutionary movements of 1848, often nominated as Year One of a newly self-conscious modernity within the capitalist core of the nineteenth-century world system. Because it offers the first example of a transnational revolutionary ‘wave’ dependent on modern systems of communication and reportage, the literatures of 1848 constitute a good test-case for assessment within the rubric of an emerging ‘world literature’ rather than within strictly national contexts. Although necessarily selective, our range of materials will therefore highlight the conceptual and methodological problems involved in thinking revolutionary cultural production in conjunctural terms beyond the boundaries of the nation-state. The heart of the module will involve a reading of four texts: Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, Heine’s Germany: A Winter’s Tale, Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal, and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

The course has a generic subject to allow for a specific focal topic to be taught in any given year. The autumn 2009 syllabus for ‘The Global 1848’ is outlined below.

Week 1: No meeting

Week 2:
World Literature and the ‘Springtime of Peoples’

Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature”; Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto; Sándor Petôfi, “National Song of Hungary”; from Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution 1789-1848; Damrosch, “Goethe Coins a Phrase”

Week 3: The Absolute Bourgeois

Flaubert, Sentimental Education; T. J. Clark, The Absolute Bourgeois; Baudelaire, “The Salon of 1846”

Week 4: Grand Disillusions

Flaubert, Sentimental Education; from Bourdieu, The Rules of Art; from Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity

Week 5: Uneven Development

Heine, Germany: A Winter’s Tale; from Sperber, Rhineland Radicals: The Democratic Movement and the Revolution of 1848-1849; from Skocpol, States and Social Revolution

Week 6: Red Reportage

Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte; Marx and Engels, political writings of 1848-49; Fuller, political dispatches; Herzen, From the Other Shore

Week 7: Modernism as World Literature

Baudelaire, Fleurs du Mal and Paris Spleen; Benjamin, “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire”; Berman, from All That is Solid Melts into Air

Week 8: The American 1848

Whitman, Leaves of Grass; from L. J. Reynolds, European Revolutions and the American Renaissance

Week 9: American Literature as World Literature

Whitman, Leaves of Grass; from Dimock and Buell, eds., Shades of the Planet

Week 10: World-Literary Space and Revolutionary Time

Casanova, The World Republic of Letters; from Arendt, On Revolution

Illustrative Bibliography

Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution. London: Penguin, 2006.

Baudelaire, Charles. Les Fleurs du Mal. Trans. Francis Scarfe. London: Anvil, 1985.

—. The Poems in Prose. Trans. Francis Scarfe. London: Anvil, 1989.

Benjamin, Walter. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. London: Verso, 1991.

—. The Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999.

Berman, Marshall. All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity. New York and London: Penguin, 1982.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. Trans. Susan Emanuel. Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 1996.

Casanova, Pascale. The World Republic of Letters. Trans. M. B. Debevoise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2005.

Clark, T. J. The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France 1848-51. Revised ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1999.

—. Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution. Revised ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1999.

Damrosch, David. What is World Literature? Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003.

Dimock, Wai Chee and Lawrence Buell, eds. Shades of the Planet: American Literature as World Literature. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007.

Flaubert, Gustave. Sentimental Education. Trans. R. Baldick. London: Penguin, 1964.

Fuller, Margaret. “These Sad But Glorious Days”: Dispatches from Europe, 1846-1850. Ed. Larry J. Reynolds and Susan Belasco Smith. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992.

Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity. London: Blackwell, 1989.

Heine, Heinrich. Germany: A Winter’s Tale. Trans. T. J. Reed. London: Angel, 1997.

Herzen, Alexander. From the Other Shore [1850]. Trans. Moura Budberg. Intro. Isaiah Berlin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1979.

Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1975.

—. The Age of Capital, 1848-1875. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1975.

Körner, Axel, ed. 1848: A European Revolution? International Ideas and National Memories of 1848. London: Macmillan, 2000.

Marx, Karl. Dispatches for the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism of Karl Marx. Ed. James Ledbetter. London: Penguin, 2007.

—. Later Political Writings. Ed. Terence Carver. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

Moretti, Franco. ‘Conjectures on World Literature’, New Left Review (2000).

—, ed. The Novel: Vol. I: History, Geography and Culture. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006.

Petôfi, Sándor. “National Song of Hungary” (1848).

Skocpol, Theda. States and Social Revolutions. Cambridge: CUP, 1979.

Sperber, Jonathan. The European Revolutions, 1848-1851. Cambridge: CUP, 1994.

—. Rhineland Radicals: The Democratic Movement and the Revolution of 1848-1849. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Ed. Jerome Loving. Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2008.