Banner Image

Ph.D. Program in Literature

Statement of Purpose

The philosophic character of literary study within the Institute is reflected in a concentration upon major authors whose works can claim philosophic scope and penetration. The approach to these works is also philosophic.

Students inquire into the issues treated by great writers, considering the literary treatment as one voice in a conversation in which philosophers, theologians, and political thinkers also participate.

The poet seeks to supplant opinion with knowledge by constructing a coherent vision of reality; philosophers seek the same end through dialectic. The aim of study therefore is to share in the poet's wisdom concerning a reality already constituted before imagination sets to work on it, but imperfectly irreducible to other modes of knowledge. The poetic vision of reality cannot easily be translated into other kinds of knowledge, yet is best studied in their company, because it explores the same reality.

Institute students join teachers dedicated to grasping how, and what, verse can teach us about reality.

Students learn to apprehend the form of literary art by attending to the qualities of poetic speech and by studying the kinds of poetry. They investigate such constants of the art as myth, symbol, analogy and figure, image, prosody, and style.

In the process they come to appreciate the notable congruence of particularity with generality that characterizes the poetic mode of being and that has led thinkers to define a poem as a "concrete universal."

Federico Barocci, Aeneas’ Flight from Troy. 1598. Galleria Borghese, Rome.

Federico Barocci, Aeneas' Flight from Troy. 1598. Galleria Borghese, Rome.

The kinds of poetry, the perennial genres, need not be taken as prescriptions arbitrarily imposed, for they can be understood as the natural shapes literature displays when it envisions different human actions.

Neither the constants of poetic speech nor the continuities of genre sufficiently specify the particular purchase upon human issues offered by any great poem. To bring this meaning into sharper resolution requires the final act of literary understanding, interpretation of individual poems, an undertaking in which the comparison of poem with poem has its instructive part.

Critical interpretation entails the most careful and sustained attentiveness to elucidating meaning and culminates in critical judgment of the contribution of that meaning to one's grasp of the truth.

The interpretive dimension of the program is reflected in courses that find their formal object sometimes in a genre (Epic, Lyric, Tragedy/Comedy, Menippean Satire or Russian Novel), sometimes in a literary movement (Renaissance Drama, Romantic/Victorian Literature, Augustan Literature, American Literature, Southern Literature, Twentieth-Century Literature), sometimes in major authors (Dante, Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Shakespeare, Dostoevski, Faulkner, Hawthorne, Melville, or James).

Students confront the claims of classical, Christian, and modern poets. They thereby enter into the issues that cause the Western tradition to be a tradition of controversies.


For information about the image on this page click here.

Sign In
Forgot Password? ×