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In 1881, the Victorian arbiter of culture and anarchy, Matthew Arnold, declared that Lord Byron’s “hour of irresistible vogue has passed away.” This subject explores how, on the contrary, the enduring hour of Byron’s Don Juan is—still—irresistibly now. A serial text, first published in 1819-1824, Don Juan appeared in a Romantic moment that invented contemporaneity as an historical category, and its vitality lives on in our contemporary moment. Working through the poem’s 17 cantos, the subject offers students an immersive experience of Byron’s mixed-genre masterpiece—the ur-text and primal event of modern literary scandal and experimentation. With much of the experimentation we think of as now, Don Juan was already there: generic hybridity; “truth in masquerade;” spectacularly unreliable narrators; the public intimacies of celebrity culture and its secular recasting of divinity; abyssal reflexivity; surface reading; paranoid reading; superheroic Satanism; queer vicariousness and its play of identifications; preposterous liberalisms; and the performative refusal to observe appropriate boundaries between life and text.
We engage Don Juan not only in context but as context for understanding the emergence of global modernity in the wake of Napoleonic Europe; the revolutionary politics of the Italian Carbonari; libertine sexuality and romantic love; colonial transportation and the criminal subcultures of the “flash.” We examine how Don Juan travels backwards and forwards, from then to now, tracking its Romantic reworking of the Enlightenment rediscovery of classical Epicureanism, Virgil and Homer and Dante’s Inferno; the world-literary intertexts of Tirso de Molina, Calderón, Góngora and Molière, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni; and its endurance in Victorian Gothic heroes, Baudelaire and Belle Epoque Decadence, Oscar Wilde, Dolly Wilde, Jane DeLynn’s Don Juan in the Village and Dorothy Porter; to popular-cultural avatars such as David Bowie, Patti Smith, Morrissey and Marvel superhero Tony Starke/Ironman.
Intended learning outcomes
On successful completion of this subject, students should have:
- an appreciation of the relations between Romantic-period literature and contemporary culture;
- a first-hand acquaintance with a key text of world literature and literary modernity and its changing contexts of production and reception;
- a critical and conceptual understanding of the historical agency of literary texts;
- a familiarity with a range of literary-critical, cultural-historical and theoretical approaches to literary Romanticism;
- an understanding of vital developments in Byron criticism over the past two centuries.
At the completion of this subject, students should gain generic skills in:
- research through competent use of library, and other (including online) information sources. through the successful definition of areas of inquiry and methods of research;
- critical thinking and analysis through use of recommended reading, essay writing and tutorial discussion; through the questioning of accepted wisdom and the ability to shape and strengthen persuasive judgments and arguments; through attention to detail in reading material; and through openness to new ideas and the development of critical self-awareness;
- theoretical thinking through use of recommended reading, essay writing and tutorial discussion; through a productive engagement with relevant methodologies and paradigms in literary studies and the broader humanities;
- creative thinking through essay writing and tutorial discussion; through the innovative conceptualising of problems and an appreciation of the role of creativity in critical analysis;
- social, ethical and cultural understanding through use of recommended reading, essay writing and tutorial discussion. through the social contextualisation of arguments and judgments; through adaptations of knowledge to new situations and openness to new ideas; through the development of critical self-awareness in relation to an understanding of other cultures and practices;
- intelligent and effective communication of knowledge and ideas through essay preparation, planning and writing as well as tutorial discussion; through effective dissemination of ideas from recommended reading and other relevant information sources. through clear definition of areas of inquiry and methods of research; through confidence to express ideas in public forums; and
- time management and planning through the successful organization of workloads; through disciplined self-direction and the ability to meet deadlines.
Last updated: 2 December 2019