Five College Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Scott Branson, Five College visiting assistant professor of English and comparative literature, received his B.A. in English and American literature and his M.A. in Humanities and Social Thought from New York University, and his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Emory University.
His research and teaching interests include late 19th- and 20th-century fiction in English and French, aesthetic philosophy, queer and gender theory, psychoanalysis, and literary theory.
Scott’s current book project, “Fictions of Life and Death,” combines analyses of literary and sexual experimentation to illuminate the fascination with death in the novel form from Aestheticism to Modernism. An article drawn from this project, “Gide, Wilde, and the Death of the Novel” is forthcoming in Modern Language Notes. Other projects include an investigation of masculine anxiety in first person narrators of modern and contemporary American fiction as well as a book-length study of Lytton Strachey and his connections to psychoanalysis. In addition to his scholarly work, Scott writes music criticism and fiction.
In this course, we will read novels with protagonists who die young. How does early death shape plot? Why do abbreviated lives make the most fascinating stories? Is there a literary history of dying young? Though we often think literature contains the meaning of life, we don't ask whether it might give us the meaning of death. But what could be more meaningless than the death of someone cut off in the prime of life? Through a survey of European and American literature, this course will explore the pathos and desire that turn so many plots into death sentences for young men and women. We will read novels in conjunction with philosophical and theoretical texts to examine how death makes meaning in literature and how literary death reframes issues of identity such as race, gender, and class.
Is beauty useless, or does art serve a (moral) purpose? The role of art in Western culture has often been under debate, especially with the rise of literacy, accessibility, and democratization that came in the period of industrialization. These questions are particularly pertinent now in the ongoing debate over liberal arts education and the future of the humanities. This course will combine readings in aesthetic philosophy with literary works to investigate the way art figures in a society of consumption. We will ask whether art can serve the role of preservation formerly afforded to religion in a secularized world, or if it disrupts economies of sufficiency. In addition, we will look at the politics of representation in the Western tradition that privileges certain bodies and ignores others. Finally, we will interrogate the process of interpretation itself as it relates to the preservation of cultural products. Our readings will begin with Symbolism and Decadence and move through Modernism and contemporary works. Authors may include Schiller, Ruskin, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Wilde, Mauss, Bataille, Eliot, Genet, Pynchon, Duras, Derrida, and Mbembe.
This course will serve as an introduction to major works in European fiction from the 19th to the early 20th century. We will be reading novels and short fiction from France, Germany, England, and Russia. As this is a comparative literature course, we will be reading works in translation, though students are encouraged to read the texts in the original wherever possible. As we read, we will examine the changing notions of representation and reality that inform the modes of fiction in different traditions at different times. Our aesthetic focus will pay particular attention to style, language, form, and character. We will also look at the way these works of fiction figure the individual in relation to society, asking what kind of world these novels and stories create and how they create and maintain a sense of European literature. Authors may include Goethe, Balzac, Bront, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Zola, James, Mansfield, and Ford.
How do we make sense of a meaningless world? How do we render meaninglessness in fiction without making it meaningful? Are we satisfied with literature that doesn't explain itself? Can we read without trying to explain? This course will examine novelists grappling with these questions as they try to find place for literature in the modern world. In a century marked by drastic technological advances in communication, transportation, and warfare - changes that also characterize our historical moment - modernist and post-modernist novelists experimented with incorporating meaninglessness into their work through innovation of the form of the novel as well as expansion of its content. We will read authors from different national traditions who try to incorporate the failure of meaning into their texts. This course will incorporate literary theories of modernism, post-modernism, and the novel to help us understand how narrative conventions promise meaning and how the 20th-century experimental novel subverts this promise. Authors may include Gide, Beckett, Duras, Burroughs, Reed, Ballard, Abe, Acker, and Delany.
The history of the novel in America has always been intertwined with the production of an image of the American man. From Hawthorne's attempt to best the "mobs of scribbling women" to the idealized loner cowboy, from the hard-boiled journalistic prose of Hemingway to the maximalist and misogynist rantings of Roth, we might say that the epitome of the American self-made man is the novelistic protagonist. In this course, we will combine literary study and gender theory to begin to examine the myth of the American man, considering both how it is constructed and undermined in American literature. We will pay particular attention to the function of sexual and racial difference - and its erasure - in the idealization of the male protagonist (and author). Readings will draw from a range of texts from the 19th-century to the present, including short stories and novels by Melville, Hemingway, Chandler, Wright, O'Connor, Baldwin, Roth, Diaz and Wallace.
Freud remarked that his case histories read like short stories, and it was this intersection of genres that allowed him to arrive at an understanding of the suffering of his patients. The reading and writing of case histories, whether legal, medical, or psychological, give us access to the way narrative forms come to structure and determine our lives. The case history proceeds on two registers-a written text that also includes its own interpretation, its own reading-which gives it a special connection to the study of literature and literary interpretation. In this course, we will start by reading Freud's case histories and proceed to a cross-cultural selection of modern novels and stories alongside psychoanalytic theory. The following questions will guide our reading: How does the case history allow us to imagine the limits of normativity? How does it allow us to rethink the place of character in fiction? Can a literary text be treated as a case history? Can the case history, as a practical attempt to ease the suffering of a patient, teach us something about the relation of the body to writing?
You know those theorists whose names you hear dropped in every lit class you take? It's finally time to read some them. In this course, we will gain a familiarity with some of the key contributors to literary theory in conjunction with a selection of literary texts. Maurice Blanchot writes, "literature begins the moment when literature becomes a question." From the structuralist focus on language beginning with Saussure and the Russian formalists at the start of the century to the politicization of literary studies after 1968 with third-wave feminism, post-colonialism, and Marxism, the role of literature in contemporary society has been questioned and altered. We will ask how literary theory opens the possibilities of what literature can do in the world as well as how it limits its chances. This course will give you a working knowledge of the various specialized discourses associated with different methodologies of 20th- and 21st-century literary theory. No background in literary theory is necessary. Theorists may include Saussure, Shklovsky, Heidegger, Benjamin, Adorno, Barthes, Blanchot, Althusser, Lacan Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Irigiray, Cixous, Spivak, Bhabha, Gates.
What makes a particular place and time conducive to an artistic movement? How do people come together to form a scene? How do subcultures react and respond to the mainstream? What are the political and social forces that create literary, music, painting, film, dance, and other artistic communities? In the course, we will explore the work and history of a selection of artistic movements, which may include Bloomsbury, Dada, Surrealism, Harlem Renaissance, French New Wave, the Black Arts Movement, NY and UK punk, old-school hip-hop, and Dogme 95. We will examine how the avant-garde gains aesthetic and political influence and may eventually become mainstream. Our goal will be to see how different artists and works interact and to assess these movements critically in our writing. Each student will develop an independent project over the semester on a chosen scene that will culminate in a final presentation and paper.
Five College Visiting Professor of English and Comparative Literature
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