HUMS 199, American Romanticism: Emerson to Ashbery

Meeting Time: 
T 3:30-5:20pm

Course Description:

This seminar examines three great poets and shapers of the American imagination–Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Wallace Stevens–with some attention to their inspirer Ralph Waldo Emerson and inheritor John Ashbery. Through close reading, we address their explorations of mind and world, authentic individuality, the possibility of human connection, the idea of nature, and the quest for meaning and value in modern life. In developing an account of the romantic strain in American art and experience, we also reflect on its continuing viability as an aesthetic mode, form of life, and source of American identity.

Led by:

Professor Benjamin Barasch is a Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer in the Humanities Program at Yale University. Having received his PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in 2019, he is delighted to be returning to Yale and to the Humanities Program, from which he received his BA in 2009.

While his scholarship is rooted in nineteenth-century American literature and European aesthetic and ecological thought, he is also committed to wide-ranging inquiry into questions such as the nature of value and the status of the human in an age of environmental catastrophe. His book project, Living Thought: Form and Vitality in American Literature, argues that authors such as Walt Whitman and Henry James held a paradoxical conception of the imagination as both the mark of human uniqueness and the source of our closest intimacy with the nonhuman world. He proposes the irreducible doubleness of the imagination as a corrective to the academic critique of the human subject.

He has taught classes on American visionary art from Emily Dickinson to David Lynch; on the question of value in humanistic study; and a yearlong survey in political philosophy from Plato to Foucault. His paper “Emerson’s Discovery of Life” was the 2019 winner of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society’s award for the best graduate student paper. A performing pianist and guitarist, he also studies the history and theory of classical and popular music; particular favorites include Gustav Mahler, Charles Ives, and Bob Dylan.