Reading Thematically: Living with others: literature, intimacy and (dis)closure

English 186S.01

TuTh 1:25PM - 2:40PM
Corina Stan

“How do you live? Are you happy?”

(Jean Rouch, Edgar Morin, Chronicle of a summer)

“Hell is other people.” (Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit)What does living with others involve? Do they set limits to our freedom, become uncomfortable when impinge upon our privacy? Do we perhaps need them, so that our solitude does not become exile? How far, or how close, do we want other people to be, and how would we imagine, in this sense, a science, or maybe an art, of distances? What would the fantasy of an ideal living-together look like? In this course we will read some great contemporary novels, a few influential plays and a couple of poems, and dwell on territories of the intimate, of the private, of reading other people’s minds; of possessions (and self-possession) behind closed doors; on spaces that are inside-out, or at the same time inside and outside, on ways of living, hence ways of being (un)happy; on matters of trying to understand, know, or identify with someone else: to what extent are these even possible, what do we, after all, share with other human beings, especially when they come from afar, and in what ways can we be held responsible for them?

This course will also be an opportunity to reflect on whether literature, although often a solitary experience, affords openings towards other people, or ways of imagining how to live – better – together. Differently put, does coping with otherness in a literary text translate into ethical behavior in real life? Or is literature, as a philosopher would have it, the only successful ‘living-together’?

Possible texts span the whole of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st: Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927); George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933); Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit (1944); Eugene Ionesco, The Bald Soprano (1950); Samuel Beckett, Endgame (1957); Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (1956); William Golding, Free Fall (1959); Philip Larkin, ‘Best Society’ (1951) and ‘Vers de société’ (1971); Harold Pinter, The Homecoming (1965); Martin Amis, Time’s Arrow (1992); Annie Ernaux, Exteriors (1993); Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room (2010); Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005); Elfriede Jelinek, Charges (2017). Along with these (generally short) literary texts, there will be available, for the philosophically-minded, a selection of optional readings in phenomenology, existentialism, and ordinary language philosophy.