Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Reading the Crowd: Nineteenth Century Texts and Images
Baudelaire famously remarked that only gifted artists can efficiently mingle with the crowd [“Il n’est pas donné à chacun de prendre un bain de multitude, jouir de la foule est un art…”]. Yet the inescapable, frenetic mob becomes a quintessential figure in 19th-century literature and painting. It is an object of mass consumption. This course will consider the representation of the crowd in historical documents (police reports, psychological studies, photographs, advertisements), canonical literary works (Poe, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Zola), and paintings (Van Gogh, Klimt, Renoir, Manet) in order to question the readability and predictability of the modern crowd. In our readings, we will consider the ways in which the depiction of the overflowing mob articulates a specific anxiety about the legibility of urban spaces. If it is up to the writer, painter, scientist, or criminologist to provide a clear definition of the masses, how does that particular enterprise succeed and/or fail? Theoretical readings will include selections from Simmel, Le Bon, Michel de Certeau, Foucault, and others. Special emphasis will be placed on the development of reading/observation skills, argumentative writing, and research techniques. As part of the reading and composition series, this course requires students to complete a 10-12 page research paper. Students should expect to submit multiple drafts throughout the semester and participate in a short presentation.