Before Literature: Writing the History of Premodern Literary Cultures

2110H [CRN: 24729]

Literature is a modern concept—a Western European 19th-century invention, along with such notions as nation or individuality. Yet, we speak of ancient and medieval literatures and write their histories. This seminar has a double aim. We explore the ways in which modern historiography has treated premodern discursive traditions which defy expectations for what literature should be (creative, original, entertaining). We also survey modern literary theory, from New Criticism to Post-structuralism, in order to identify approaches that could illuminate the reading of pre-modern texts. The focus will be on Mediterranean literatures: Greek and Latin, ancient and medieval; Arabic; Ottoman; Western vernaculars.
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