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ENGLISH 5N: WISE: The Art of Illusion

In his Natural History, Roman scholar Pliny the Elder describes a contest between the artists Zeuxis and Parrhasius. The former unveils a painting of grapes so flawless it attracts hungry birds. Triumphant, he reaches to pull the curtain from his competitor's work only to find that the curtain is itself the painting. Zeuxis fooled the birds, but Parrhasius fooled the man and won the competition. This vision of art as representational image - specifically, one that dupes the viewer - haunts the history of aesthetics. Faced with a gripping text, a vibrant canvas, or a moving sculpture, we enter the 'aesthetic illusion,' an almost hallucinatory state that teeters on the pathological. This course explores such illusions, the texts that generate them, and the readers who experience them. Ranging across time, space, and media, we will draw together an eclectic collection of materials that practice and thematize the art of illusion (possibly pairing novels by Manuel Puig, David Mitchell, and more »
In his Natural History, Roman scholar Pliny the Elder describes a contest between the artists Zeuxis and Parrhasius. The former unveils a painting of grapes so flawless it attracts hungry birds. Triumphant, he reaches to pull the curtain from his competitor's work only to find that the curtain is itself the painting. Zeuxis fooled the birds, but Parrhasius fooled the man and won the competition. This vision of art as representational image - specifically, one that dupes the viewer - haunts the history of aesthetics. Faced with a gripping text, a vibrant canvas, or a moving sculpture, we enter the 'aesthetic illusion,' an almost hallucinatory state that teeters on the pathological. This course explores such illusions, the texts that generate them, and the readers who experience them. Ranging across time, space, and media, we will draw together an eclectic collection of materials that practice and thematize the art of illusion (possibly pairing novels by Manuel Puig, David Mitchell, and Mohsin Hamid with trips to the Cantor Center and Special Collections). Plato's Republic will anchor our secondary readings in literary criticism, art history, and aesthetic philosophy as we attempt to describe just what happens when art 'tricks' or, perhaps more positively, 'enchants' us. (Note: This Writing-Intensive Seminar in English (WISE) course fulfills WIM for English majors. Non-majors are welcome, space permitting. For enrollment permission contact vbeebe@stanford.edu.)
Terms: Spr | Units: 5
Instructors: Koon, M. (PI)
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