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2022/23 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL5833M The Magic of Mimesis

30 creditsClass Size: 10

Module manager: Dr Sam Durrant

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is not approved as an Elective


The module explores a key issue in aesthetic theory, namely the concept of mimesis, variously understood as copy, imitation, identification, affinity, approximation. The goal of the module is to teach students to think creatively and critically about the relationship between art and the world.. Students will be introduced to a range of philosophers and critical theorists, from Plato and Aristotle through to the Frankfurt School and beyond. They will also be exposed to a number of different art forms, including literature, film, animation and music.

Learning outcomes
Students will achieve a workable understanding of the history of mimetic theory and the ways in which this history informs and is informed by diverse fields of enquiry, including aesthetics, psychoanalysis, anthropology, sociology and philosophy. However, the aim of the module is the promotion of a broad, flexible and creative understanding of the ways in which art modifies and critically reflects on our being in the world.

Skills outcomes
- Skills for effective communication, oral and written.
- Capacity to analyse and critically examine diverse forms of discourse.
- Ability to acquire quantities of complex information of diverse kinds in a structured and systematic way.
- Capacity for independent thought and judgement.
- Critical reasoning.
- Research skills, including information retrieval skills, the organisation of material, and the evaluation of its importance.
- IT skills.
- Time management and organisational skills.
- Independent learning.


In a tradition stretching from Plato to Auerbach, mimesis has come to mean the realistic representation of the world. However, in a rich counter-tradition that has its roots in Aristotle’s more dynamic and dramatic sense of art, mimesis describes the complex play of imitation, identification, empathy and desire that structures our relations both to the artwork and to the world. Our module will explore this alternative tradition as it moves between the fields of aesthetics, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and anthropology.

The module is divided into three sections, all organised around richly provocative artworks. In the first section we will look at ancient Greek debates around mimesis (Plato and Aristotle) alongside Zakes Mda’s novel about the shamanistic origins of African art, The Sculptors of Mapungubwe (2013) and the Coen brothers’ pseudo-documentary Fargo (1996). In the second section we will move on to a consideration of mimesis as a mode of identification or becoming-similar, focusing on psychoanalysis, modernism and Frankfurt SchoolMarxism. Here we will look at Kafka’s short story ‘Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk’ (1924) and extracts from Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood (1938). In the third section, we consider mimesis as a mode of sympathetic magic and spirit possession in anthropological accounts of ‘native’ belief systems. Here we will look at Jean Rouch’s documentary on West African spirit possession, The Mad Masters (1955). In our final seminar, we will turn to the animated films of the contemporary South African artist William Kentridge.

Other texts will be drawn into our discussion depending on student interest, and students will be invited to write their essays on whatever artworks most fascinate them.

Priority for places on this module will be given to those students on the MA Creative Writing & Critical Life.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours280.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

Reading, seminar preparation, essay writing.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Unassessed work: Students will be expected to contribute to an online discussion group and to submit a draft proposal in week 8 for their assessed essay.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 4000 word essay100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 10/05/2022 12:59:18


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