Fall 2008

Dreams, Madness, and the Assault on Rationality: Literatures and Theories of the Avant-Garde

Listed in: European Studies, as EUST-25


George P. Katsaros (Section 01)


Starting in the eighteenth century, the European Enlightenment is traditionally characterized as the Age of Reason and the beginning of a radical assault against religious superstition and political obscurantism. This vision of European culture tends to repress the fascination with madness, dreams, the irrational, and the sublime that permeated avant-garde literatures and theories. With the Enlightenment (and not against it), the avant-garde becomes fascinated with the inversion of rationality and begins to explore the implicit claim that rationality cannot account for experience-or, further, that it actively obscures what life really is. We will be looking at the forms of this assault on rationality from a literary, artistic, anthropological, and philosophical point of view, from the era of the Enlightenment philosophers to the twentieth century. Literary readings include selections from: Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew; Hölderlin; Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater; Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights; Nerval; André Breton; Fernando Pessoa; Simone Weil; Antonin Artaud; Thomas Bernhard, Wittgenstein’s Nephew. Theoretical readings include selections from: Rousseau; Sade; Burke; Baudelaire; Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams; Marcel Mauss; Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share; Wittgenstein; Shoshana Felman. We will also be examining art (Goya, Van Gogh, Redon, de Chirico, Balthus, Giacometti) and film (René Clair, Man Ray, Buñuel, Chris Marker, Paradjanov, Tarkovsky). Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer G. Katsaros.