Fachbereich 7

Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft

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U.S.-American Literature and the Question of Property

DozentIn: Prof. Dr. phil. Peter Schneck

Veranstaltungstyp: Seminar

Ort: nicht angegeben

Zeiten: Do. 10:00 - 12:00 (wöchentlich)

Beschreibung: Even though property, as legal historian Stuart Banner has observed, is "at the root of […] political and economic life" of the U.S., "ideas about property have always been contested and in flux." As Banner points out, "property is a human institution that exists to serve a broad set of purposes. These purposes have changed over time, and as they have, so too has the conventional wisdom about what property is really like." (2011: 2, 3) This seminar proposes that literary fiction has always been and still is an important medium and instrument for the negotiation of ideas and concepts of property - and especially so in U.S. culture since property rights played a crucial role in the legal and cultural imagination of the nation since its foundation in the 18th century.
We will read and discuss two novels which are in similar ways concerned with property and property rights – and especially with property as a means of subjection, dominance, but also empowerment and personhood. Even though Charles W. Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900) was written more than century before Toni Morisson’s A Mercy (2008), there are some obvious (and some not so obvious) continuities of shared concerns, motivations and strategies in the way the two texts negotiate and criticize conflicting concepts of ownership, entitlement, and possession, of collective subjection and individual empowerment – and, above all, the legacy of slavery and racism as the most powerful and ‘haunting’ “question of property” in U.S. history and culture until today. In addition, we will read a number of secondary texts from various backgrounds - ranging from legal studies to anthropology and political philosophy - in order to come to an understanding of the significance of notions of property in Western culture and history and how they are expressed and negotiated in fictional narratives, ,both in law and in literature.
Due to the specific conditions of the online format, we will work through the texts and discuss our ideas and findings across a variety of formats – the weekly slot of the seminar offers a fixed appointment which will be used for our general discussions and feedback. Some of our work will be done in smaller settings, group meetings and moderated pop-up sessions.
This is a master seminar best suited for students interested in literary and cultural studies who like to read and discuss texts and are willing to tackle more complex questions and issues of relevance in literary and cultural studies. If you have questions about the seminar, you are very much encouraged to contact me directly. In order to obtain graded credits students are expected to thoroughly engage in class discussions and prepare a final paper. Ungraded credits may be obtained by regular and continuous active participation – pls contact me about any questions you may have.
The Chestnutt novel is available as a Google scan (of the 1900 edition) for free – a copy will be found in the seminar folder on StudIP. Morrison’s novel is available

Primary Texts
Charles W. Chestnutt. The House Behind the Cedars [1900]. New York: Penguin, 1986.
Toni Morrison. A Mercy [2008]. London: Vintage, 2009.

zur Veranstaltung in Stud.IP