The Novel and the Concept of Culture Dr. Nir Evron
“Culture,” Raymond Williams famously wrote, “is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.” Indeed, having been put to diverse political, theoretical and scientific uses, “culture,” it often seems, has become in the course of its long history a hopelessly convoluted and overdetermined concept. Still, for all its historical ambiguities, it is an idea that we cannot do without. We employ it when we defend our values, when we make sense of our identities and when we try to explain the causes of contemporary social, political and international conflicts. While the roots of this culturalist discourse lead back to 18th-century thinkers Giambattista Vico and Johann Gottfried Herder, it was during the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the discourse of culture began to displace racial and biologistic notions of identity, that the word attained it present-day value-laden status. Our seminar shall trace the ascendence of the modern culturalist discourse, and reflect on the role played of the realist novel in its rise. We shall read theoretical and fictional texts that articulate and interrogate the idea of culture, before proceeding to examine some of the criticisms leveled at modern culture-concept by progressivist and conservative critics alike.
Readings shall include texts by Matthew Arnold, E.B. Taylor, Franz Boas, James Fenimore Cooper, Joseph Conrad, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather , Chinua Achebe, Zora Neale Hurston, Ruth Benedict, Raymond Williams, Clifford Geertz, Michael Elliott, Nancy Bentley, James Buzard and others.