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Literature, Laughter, Philosophy: Tristram Shandy
ENGL 307
Spring 2023
Section: 01  

Laurence Sterne's novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67) has been described as a literary masterpiece, a hilarious satire, a sentimental tear-jerker, and an irreligious abomination. It was a favorite of Karl Marx and Friedrich Neitzsche, and it was heralded (in a recent film adaptation) as "a postmodern classic written before there was any modernism to be post about." The book is deeply learned--engaging texts from skeptical philosophy to 18th-century science and from Hamlet to early novels. It is also, indisputably, very odd. Though Tristram is trying to tell the story of his life, he fails to get himself born in the first hundred pages, and the text is full of doodles, blank pages, madcap digressions, and missing chapters.

In this course, we will read Tristram Shandy alongside the many, many texts it references, borrows from, and mocks, as well as the many, many texts it has influenced. Throughout, we will take Tristram Shandy as our rich test case for some fundamental theoretical questions: What is literature, and why do we tell stories anyway? How is literature related to philosophy? How do our minds work? What is the meaning of human life--of laughter, learning, love, and death?

This course is a research seminar that will prepare students to write an English thesis. Students will cultivate their skills in writing and research, in engaging thoughtfully and confidently with theoretical and critical secondary sources. The course will culminate in a major research paper.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA ENGL
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode: Student Option
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (ENGL)
Past Enrollment Probability: 90% or above

Last Updated on FEB-25-2024
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