In this course we will examine questions that have rankled human beings for millennia: What constitutes a great work of literature? What ends does it serve, and how does its structure aesthetically achieve these ends? While we will not endeavor to answer these questions definitively, we will explore theories of aesthetics elaborated in two of the world’s great literary traditions, the Chinese and the Greco-Roman. To what extent do these cultures’ answers resemble one another, and where do they diverge? Is poetic value culturally circumscribed, or do both traditions attempt to articulate universal norms, each within its unique context? Through close readings of primary texts, we will examine some of the guidelines ancient theorists established for the production of literature that not only expresses the author’s innermost sentiments but also—in Horace’s words—both pleases and instructs. Primary texts to be examined from the Chinese tradition include the Great Preface to the Book of Poetry, Lu Ji’s Poetic Exposition on Literature, and Liu Xie’s Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons. Texts from the Western tradition include selections from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Poetics, and Horace’s Art of Poetry. (Three college-level literature courses or approval of instructor) 3 hrs. sem.
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