In Love’s Knowledge , the philosopher Martha Nussbaum considers emotions as “social constructs,” transmitted—and potentially dismantled—by the stories we tell. In this interdisciplinary seminar, we will look at the ways in which contemporary art and literature have depicted, disseminated, and disassembled feelings, particularly the sort of complicated, unwieldy, troubling affects one might deem “ugly.” We will begin with Sianne Ngai’s eponymous work on the subject of “ugly feelings,” then go on to consider a variety of such emotions, including anger, fear, shame, humiliation, and happiness (which we will consider as potentially “ugly”). As we investigate how contemporary visual art and literary works tackle negative emotional states, we will pay particular attention to the effects of social and cultural positioning on affect and interrogate the capacity of art to be productive in helping us process our ugly feelings. We will also ask how aesthetic choices impact our understanding of our own ugly feelings and the ugly feelings of others. Readings my include work by Maggie Nelson, Wayne Koestenbaum, David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, Sheila Heti, Elena Ferrante, J.M. Coetzee, Sylvia Plath, Claudia Rankine, and Frederick Seidel. We will also consider works by artists like Tracy Emin, Hannah Wilke, Diane Arbus, Francis Bacon, and Kara Walker.
Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)