English 248 - Fall, 2015

18th Century Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Menely, Tobias
CRN: 73378
Time: T 12:10-3
Location: 308 Voorhies
Breadth: Earlier British
Focus: Genre, Interdiscipline, Theory


    Eighteenth-Century Persons and Things

    “Though the Earth, and all inferior Creatures be common to all Men, yet every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself,” John Locke asserts in his _Second Treatise of Civil Government_. Rights, for Locke, derive from embodied self-possession; it is this ownership of one’s own body that enables us, by our labor, to transform the Earth’s common into private property. In this seminar, we’ll consider the ways in which writers in the long eighteenth century navigated the porous, shifting borders between persons and things, rights and property. While political philosophers, from Hobbes to Bentham, tried to stabilize such categorical distinctions as the foundation of law, writers of imaginative literature grappled with the ontological fluidity of persons and things in Britain’s commercial society and growing transatlantic empire. We’ll ask what it means to own or be owned, to move or be moved, to be animate, articulate, or agential, to be endowed with rights or responsibilities. We’ll think about slavery and abolition, human and animal rights, the persistence of personification and the rise of realist description, novels of circulation, discourses of labor and property, consumer culture and the commodity fetish. We’ll focus on phenomena—pets and wild animals, corporations and collectives, slaves and sylphs, personified abstractions and machines—that vex person/thing dichotomies and unsettle a definition of the modern premised on the distinction between self-possessed human beings and an inanimate object world available to ownership.

    Primary readings: Locke, from the _Second Treatise_; Hobbes, from _Leviathan_; Bentham, from _Principles of Morals and Legislation_; Behn, _Oronooko_; Pope, _The Rape of the Lock_; Gay, _The Beggar’s Opera_; Swift, _Gulliver’s Travels_; Defoe, _Roxana_; Sterne, _A Sentimental Journey_; Equiano, _Interesting Narrative_; poems by Swift, Montagu, Thomson, Philips, Robinson, Yearsley

    Critical/Theoretical readings by Marx, Lukacs, Freud, Latour, Mary Poovey, Barbara Johnson, Jonathan Lamb, Julie Park, Lynn Festa, Heather Keenleyside, Monique Allewart; Wolfram Schmidgen


    Online Forums, Participation, Conference-length paper