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Literature and Generosity

12:30 Seminar

What is the role of generosity and forgiveness in a good society? Is there any such thing as the pure gift-a gift that doesn't need to be repaid? To answer these questions, we will look to literature as a key critical space in which cultural understandings of giving and indebtedness, guilt and for-giveness are negotiated. In particular, we will study literary texts that examine the meaning and ethics of justice and forgiveness, of indebtedness and generosity. To what extent are legal and ethical determinations of justice and for-giveness bound to the social economies of the gift? The stories, novels, poems, and plays we read will serve as critical investigations of the gift in its various forms, from simple acts of giving to more difficult acts of forgiveness in the face of potentially unforgivable crimes. Although legal and ethical considerations will serve as an important focal point for the course, we will also be exploring the centrality of the gift to human relations and social economies more generally. Finally, we will ask whether literature and art can be understood in terms of generosity and the pure gift, that which gives without demanding anything in return. This is a reading and writing intensive class. Reading will consist of novels, poems, and short stories; writing assignments will include weekly 1-2 page short essays, several longer essays, and a final research paper.