English 250: Idols and Ideology

Instructor: Professor Vicki Kahn

The history of Western literary theory is often told in terms of the concept of mimesis. But there is another, equally powerful, anti-mimetic strand to this history, and that is the critique of mimesis as a form of idolatry. In this course, we will explore this critique from the prohibition against images in the Hebrew bible up through modern attacks on mimesis as inherently ideological. Our main literary texts in the first half of the semester will be taken from Reformation England, when there was a fierce debate about the harmful power of images and the necessity of iconoclasm. We will focus on works by Calvin, Luther, Marlowe, Bacon, Shakespeare, and Milton. In the second half of the semester, we will discuss the afterlife of iconoclasm in Marx, Freud, Althusser, Zizek, Adorno, Terry Eagleton, and Isobel Armstrong. Students whose interests lie primarily in national literatures other than English are welcome, and may write their final papers on primary texts and literatures not discussed in class, though they must engage the theoretical texts assigned for the seminar.

  • Elective Requirement: This course fulfills the Intellectual History or elective requirement for the DE in REMS.