The Fate of the Novel

Term: Spring 2011

Subject Code: GPHI

Course Number: 6112

The novel is dead, having sustained mortal wounds in the aftermath of World War II. That, at least, is what some prominent literary critics and theorists would have us believe, despite in some general sense granting the novel an important role in the intellectual and moral formation of individuals. The death sentence is sometimes formulated in purely aesthetic terms, so that it becomes a worry about the exhaustion of the space for formal experimentation demanded by artistic modernism. Alternately, theorists claim that the horrors of the twentieth century oblige us to abandon the image of moral development that the novel was presumed to serve. Thus stated, the point is plausibly connected with the influence of various still widely accepted strains of deconstructivist thought and moral skepticism. Our aim will be to explore the different suggestions about the fate of the novel that are at play here. Course readings will include selections from the writings of philosophers (e.g., Cavell, Derrida, Diamond, Habermas and Nussbaum) as well as literary theorists and critics (e.g., Franzen, Roth, Trilling, Vidal, Wallace and Wood) whose work has been central to these conversations. Philosophical and theoretical readings will be complemented by a small selection of post-World War II novels.

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