Readings in Restoration and 18th C Lit and Culture in England (Pre-1800)

L626 — Spring 2022

Cass Turner
Days and Times
4:45 - 6:00p MW (4 CR.)
Course Description

Topic: The Eighteenth Century - Possessions and Dispossession

This course considers how Enlightenment models of property and personhood shaped and reshaped the conditions of worldbuilding over the course of the long eighteenth century—a period known for the emergence of human rights discourses, on the one hand, and racialized regimes of violence, on the other. Following literary historian and critic Simon Gikandi, this class seeks to demystify this seeming paradox by examining the ways in which literary consumption in England was also entangled with processes of enslavement and colonial dispossession around the globe. Drawing on critical work in Indigenous Studies, Black Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies, we’ll ask how political and economic ideas associated with figures such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and David Hume helped to produce racialized and gendered subject positions that were coded as pathological and subordinate. Through readings of a variety of eighteenth-century texts (including fiction and poetry, political and philosophical treatises, autobiographical narratives, and agricultural literature), we’ll explore how the notion of a “possessive individual” produced conceptions of identity and social relation that were organized around the acquisition of private property. In addition to our readings of eighteenth-century texts, we’ll turn to a number of more recent theorists for accounts of concepts such as enclosure, the commons, indigeneity, race, slavery, abolition, and speculative finance.

Although this course is rooted in eighteenth century texts and ideas, no prior knowledge of the period is expected or required; moreover, our concepts and questions will inevitably take us beyond the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. If, to begin with, our aim will be to demonstrate the historical contingency of racial capitalism, we must also keep in view the ongoing reality of settler colonial histories.

Throughout the course, we will seek to find ways of moving beyond representations of violence and conquest. We will look for examples of worldmaking that emphasize porosity and interconnection, rather than domination and separateness—for examples of freedom that involve communal practices of use and dwelling, rather than individual ownership.