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ENGLISH 250A: Character: Studies in Fictional Being

Of all the components of prose fiction and the novel in particular, the most slippery is character. What kind of personhood is fictional personhood? What is a textual human? Do characters possess individuality or do they form networks or zones? Do these networks and zones extend beyond the boundary between fiction and reality to take in author and readers? If so, how? Are the categories by which we classify character - narrator, protagonist, antagonist, hero/heroine, etc. - adequate as descriptors of their function in a literary text? In this course, we will examine subgenres of the novel that focus on these questions, particularly the bildungsroman, autofiction, and novels in which a central character lacks interiority or self-awareness, and is therefore almost incapable of self-expression. How minimal can a character be? What happens when a first-person narrator¿who is also a character¿represents his or her altered consciousness? In such cases, who narrates? What resources does the n more »
Of all the components of prose fiction and the novel in particular, the most slippery is character. What kind of personhood is fictional personhood? What is a textual human? Do characters possess individuality or do they form networks or zones? Do these networks and zones extend beyond the boundary between fiction and reality to take in author and readers? If so, how? Are the categories by which we classify character - narrator, protagonist, antagonist, hero/heroine, etc. - adequate as descriptors of their function in a literary text? In this course, we will examine subgenres of the novel that focus on these questions, particularly the bildungsroman, autofiction, and novels in which a central character lacks interiority or self-awareness, and is therefore almost incapable of self-expression. How minimal can a character be? What happens when a first-person narrator¿who is also a character¿represents his or her altered consciousness? In such cases, who narrates? What resources does the novelist have to negotiate such formal contradictions? And what do we make of doubles, dybbucks, secret sharers, and other uncanny selves? Is character an infinite regression - fictions of fictions of persons? Authors may include Herman Melville, Gustave Flaubert, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Joseph Conrad, Jane Bowles, Cormac McCarthy, J. M. Coetzee, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Patrick Modiano, Sheila Heti, Rachel Cusk. Theorists may include M. M. Bakhtin, Ian Watt, Erich Auerbach, Dorrit Cohn, Maurice Blanchot, Franco Moretti, Catherine Gallagher, Alex Woloch.
Terms: Spr | Units: 5
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