- Richard Nash
- Woodburn Hall 005
- Days and Times
- 2:30P-3:45P TR
- Course Description
Topic: “Beyond Fabulous: Animals Capable of Reason in the 18C"
From philosophy and fable to poetry and performance, both sentimental and satiric; as pets and companions, and as servants and laboring partners; in the early modern era before the industrial revolution, animals played an important -- and long neglected -- role in the ways humans defined themselves and those they marked as alien in literature and culture. If Descartes taught that humans were the only animals capable of reason, Swift reminded us sadly that humans were also animals only capable of reason.
This course will cover that period in England's literary history that marked the transition from absolute monarchy to parliamentary monarchy, and that laid the foundations for modern democracy. And that period -- it so happens -- is also marked by a decisive change in the way human-animal relations are figured. Descartes famously -- or notoriously -- located human exceptionalism in our reason: "I think, therefore I am," setting humans apart from -- and in dominion over -- the rest of the brute creation, which was deemed incapable of suffering. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, not only did the world witness the origins of the modern democratic state, but also the first anti-cruelty legislation that redefined rights and responsibilities in the arena of human-animal relations.
Those two movements are inextricably linked and closely connected to the productions, performances, and practices of literature and cultural history alluded to in the opening paragraph above. Our readings will include major and minor works by both major and minor figures, and will challenge us to think through the ways in which literary expression and political representation engage on another, both in the early modern period and today. Among the authors we will study are John Wilmot, Lord Rochester, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Gay, Mary Wortley Montagu, John Arbuthnot, Stephen Duck, Thomas Gray, and Anna Letitia Barbauld. Students will be asked to write two essays (one short, one longer) and a final exam; a mid-term examination is possible.