Drawing by Josephine Demme

Fiction Seminar

Ben Marcus

Technologies of Heartbreak 

This seminar will examine how emotion is attempted and transmitted in fiction, the various ways readers are captured and made to care about a story.  Emotional effects—rapture, sympathy, desire, empathy, fascination, grief, repulsion—will be considered as techniques of language, enabled or muted by narrative context, acoustics, phrasing, and our own predispositions.  How can a sentence, a phrase, a paragraph cause us to feel things, and is a high degree of feeling akin to “liking” a book?  What is it to care about a character or the progress of a story, and how was that care installed in us?  What are the various kinds and sequences of sentences that, when placed in a narrative, can produce emotional engagement in a reader, affection or distraction, or is it impossible to isolate our reaction to a book in terms of its language?  The focus will be on some rhetorical strategies novelists and story writers have used to impart feeling, among them: concealment, indirection, revelation, confession, flat affect, irony, hyperbole, repetition, sentimentality, elusiveness, and sincerity.  A tentative book list follows. 

2/4 – Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates

2/11 – Mrs. Bridge – Evan S. Connell

2/18 – Everything That Rises Must Converge – Flannery O’Connor

2/25 – A Personal Matter – Kenzabarō Ōe

3/1 – Jernigan – David Gates

3/4  – Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson

3/11 – The Emigrants – W. G. Sebald

3/25 –  Winesburg, Ohio – Sherwood Anderson 

4/1 – Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

4/8 – The Fifth Child – Doris Lessing

4/22 – Two Serious Ladies – Jane Bowles

4/29 – The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles

5/6 – Correction – Thomas Bernhard

See an interview with Ben Marcus about the syllabus.

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