What are you teaching? (Neil Fraistat)
Today I turned (virtually) to my co-editor, Neil Fraistat, and asked, “what are you teaching?”
This semester, I’ve been teaching a graduate seminar entitled “Technoromanticism,” which is exploring the extent to which the ideological formations of Romanticism both underlie and resist the way technology is imagined in contemporary culture through poetry, fiction, film, MOOs, and computer gaming. I derived the title of the course from Richard Coyne’s Technoromanticism, which argues that contemporary understandings of the computer, “with its promises of interconnectivity, subversion of hierarchy, restoration of the tribe, revitalism of democracy, and new holism”–all have their historical roots in Enlightenment and Romantic thought.
While I rarely agreed with Coyne, especially in his understanding of Romanticism as such, his bold thesis and provocative title sparked my own thinking on the subject, which was further stimulated by the recent publication of Jay Clayton’s wonderful book, Charles Dickens in Cyberspace.
As I finally conceived it, the course is concerned with Romanticism as a discourse about cultural change; about monstrosity and the body; about art as technology; about the necessity for and the impossibility of making art or technology that isn’t always already co-opted; about abjected, alienated, resistant subjects at the mercy of phallic power structures; about the gendering of technology; about textual and sexual reproduction; about Luddite and eco- resistance to technology; about utopian imaginings and dystopian worlds; and about the world itself as a consensual illusion.
To that end, I decided to structure the course through strategic pairings that would stage readings of Romantic era work through the lens of writing contemporary to us. So, for instance, we’ve used Neo-luddite texts as a way of thinking about the Luddites themselves; used theory about hacking to read Blake’s [First] Book of Urizen; used The Matrix films and Baudrillard to read Godwin’s Caleb Williams; used Harraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” to read Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman; and used Patchwork Girl and several films to think about Frankenstein.
To date, my students have been extremely enthusiastic and engaged. Some of their thinking on the subject can be found on the course blog. I’m very much looking forward to upcoming classes on the “Prosthetics of the Imagination,” in which we’ll read new media theory as a means of considering DeQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Coleridge’s Biographia and Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry.” The course will conclude with a segment on the “Prosthetics of Memory,” which will use the film Memento and Willaim Gibson’s “Agrippa” to read various poems by Wordsworth about inscription and memory.
The syllabus for Technoromanticism can be found at http://www.rc.umd.edu/nfraistat/courses/738/738A_Syllabus.html.