- Course Number: ENGL 232
- Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 232
- Quarter: Spring 2015
Jürgen Habermas has argued that the epistle is the preeminently private genre, a quasi-diary in which “the individual unfolded himself in his subjectivity.” Jacques Derrida, meanwhile, has described the letter as “not a genre but all genres, literature itself.” As these influential accounts show, letters can be hard to define; they appear to be both historically specific and universal, both constraining and versatile. While the letter has a long history in literature, beginning at least with Ovid?s Heroides, it was with the expansion and systematization of state postal systems that this old genre exploded into the print public sphere. Almost as soon as there were newspapers, people began writing to their editors, and the first novels also structured themselves as series of letters between characters. This course focuses on the theme of correspondence – examining both fictional and authentic letters – as it became a key basis of literary production for philosophers, historians, journalists, novelists, biographers, and academics in the modern period. Is the letter public or private? Is it a democratic or exclusive genre? And why have such forms of communication proved central to moments of intellectual and disciplinary change? By reading a variety of epistolary genres as well as adopting the epistolary form for some of our critical responses, we will investigate the impact of the letter on concepts of literature, originality, and the self.