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Bad Feelings: Negative Affect in Contemporary Literature - ENG00117M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alexandra Kingston-Reese
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

What does it mean to feel envious? To feel panic, to feel afraid, ashamed, or hopeless? To be in the throes of agony? Have you ever felt this way? Has reading ever made you feel this way? Since the “affective turn” at the beginning of the 21st century, cultural studies has turned to more than just the many mutations of positive feelings, like happiness, to consider how collective feelings like shame, panic, envy, fear, anger, disgust, loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness penetrate literary works.

In this module, we will consider the many overlapping biopolitical constellations of negative affect with respect to a range of literary works (poetry, fiction, and memoir) concerned with feeling badly in contemporary society. By reading works by prominent contemporary writers like Paul Beatty, Maggie Nelson, and Hanya Yanigahara, and contemporary affect theorists like Sianne Ngai, Sara Ahmed, Leo Bersani, Lauren Berlant, and Eve Sedgwick, we will examine the structures and unstructures of affect theory by considering how vectors of inequality—gender, race, class, sexuality—demand fictional explication of negative affects and how the invocation of particular affects might open up or foreclose particular kinds of interpretation. Indeed, a core aspect of this module is the recent explosion of affective criticism—imbuing critical works with personal, emotional responses to texts. Together, we will grapple with the question: what are texts’ manifold feelings making you feel as you read?

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

This module aims to introduce you to the social, political, and aesthetic conditions of negative affect in the 21st century, by examining a range of key critical and theoretical writings regarding contemporary developments in the history of emotions. Methodologically, it looks to expose you to the benefits of reading cross-disciplinarily and comparatively, both between literary and non-literary texts, and between the fields of literature and psychology.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with a range of contemporary novelistic, poetic, and non-fictional texts;
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with negative affect theory;
  3. Produce confident and well-argued ideas in class and in writing, in such a way that engages with affective criticism;
  4. Carry out individual research in the fields in question, to present it in seminars, and to discuss it with seminar members;
  5. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your module tutor, the MA Convenor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours 

Indicative reading

Texts by Claudia Rankine, Juliana Spahr, Joshua Clover, Hanya Yanigahara, Teju Cole, Ottessa Moshfegh, Maggie Nelson, Han Kang, Paul Beatty, Sianne Ngai, Sara Ahmed, Leo Bersani, Lauren Berlant, and Eve Sedgwick.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.