Spring 2022 Sections
01. Literature & Social Movements. MW 1.00-2.15
Since the 1960s, the notion that works of art play a part in social struggle has become commonplace among artists, militants, and scholars alike. But what do we mean when we say that art is political? Do poems and novels help shape social movements? Or do they merely amplify, reflect, and critique struggles that take place in the street and on the ballot? What can literature teach us about the dynamics of political contest? This class insists that a poem is no more a riot than a novel is a ballot or protest in order to ask how artists and militants influence one another in the course of social struggle. To do so we will consider novels, poems, and films from the postwar period alongside the words and deeds of militants during the “new social movements” of the 1960s and 70s as well as the Movement of Squares, Movement for Black Lives, #MeToo, and climate struggles of today. We will draw from movement anthologies such as No More Masks: An Anthology of Poems by Women, Black Fire!!! an anthology of Afro-American writing, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, novels such as Mumbo Jumbo, Ceremony, or The Salt Eaters, and recent work by writers such as Sean Bonney, Kay Gabriel, Cheena Marie Lo, Claudia Rankine, Layli Long Soldier, and Wendy Trevino.
02. The Country and the City. TTh 9.00-10.15
The apparent divide between country and city has remained remarkably persistent down to the present moment. In political discourse, for instance, we hear a lot about the urban/rural divide (which corresponds to red states and blue states), and, in the time of COVID, the uneven spread of the virus across regions with different population densities. How might literature help us understand such persistent divisions between rural and urban life?
In this seminar, we will read literary texts (and watch a film or two) about life in the country and/or in the city. Our aim will be to explore the deeper resonances urban and rural life have for us now, and have had in certain places and historical moments (e.g., during the industrial transformations of the 19th century in Britain). We will survey a variety of literary forms from antiquity to the present, including poems, short stories, and a novel, as well as different modes or genres that lend themselves to our theme, like pastoral and naturalism.
Alongside becoming familiar with such literary modes, we’ll keep critical thematic questions in view: What economic, racial, and historical factors contribute to literary imaginings of country and city life? How and why are country or city life romanticized or demonized in literature? What sentimental attachments do each hold? Are country and city always portrayed as opposed to one another, or does some literature imagine a reciprocal relationship?
03. 20th-Century Political Writing. MW 11.35-12.50
What can literature help us understand about the defining political developments of the twentieth century, from World War I and the Russian Revolution to the rise of fascism and the beginnings of decolonization? This question about the historical period sometimes referred to as “the Age of Extremes” was taken up in the nineteen-sixties by Hannah Arendt, one of the most important and insightful intellectuals to survive it. In a seminar entitled “Political Experience in the Twentieth Century,” Arendt used texts by authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Bertolt Brecht, and George Orwell to make sense of an era shaped by wars, revolutions, and the rise of totalitarianism (her theory of which continues to command the attention of scholars worried about the fate of democracy). In this class, we’ll follow her itinerary, exploring literary and political texts that sought to interpret and intervene in a period of seemingly constant crises. But we’ll also supplement that itinerary with some of her own books, articles, and essays, including her controversial report on the trial of the Nazi official Adolf Eichmann. And we’ll read her reflections on power and violence in conjunction with texts by anti-colonial activists, poets, and revolutionaries such as Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, and C.L.R. James, in order to ask whether her ideas were adequate to the politics of anti-imperialism. Throughout the course, students will be encouraged to explore how texts about democracy, fascism, and imperialism speak to the present. Course materials will include essays, poems, pamphlets, novels, and movies.
04. Music and Literature. TTh 4.00-5.15
Why are we captivated by stories about musicians and music aficionados? Why do we so frequently praise authors’ voices as being “lyrical”? And what can we make of the fact that Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature? Drawing on fiction, medieval and modern poetry, musical theater, and more, this course explores the intersections between literature and music, and analyzes the hazy line separating these art forms in the first place. Through an array of case studies—including 1920s jazz poetry, tales of avid vinyl record collectors, and a fantasy novel about the Mozart family—we will consider not just how authors turn to music for stylistic inspiration, but also how literary representations of music can provide insight into social norms, cultural institutions, and the nuances of thought and emotional experience. In addition to various musical recordings, assigned texts may include poetry by Langston Hughes, short stories by Kazuo Ishiguro, novels by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Marie Lu, and a cross-media comparison of The Phantom of the Opera: the original novel versus the Broadway musical. Prior experience with music not required.
05. Asian American Literature on
Campus. MW 2.30-3.45
The category “Asian American” has been closely associated with the college campus since coalitions of student activists coined the term in the 1960s and demanded the formation of Asian American and other ethnic studies programs. At the same time, the presence of Asian America on campus and in university curricula has remained vexed: are Asian Americans under- or over-represented in higher education? Is “Asian American” a useful and coherent category, or does it obscure significant demographic and cultural diversity? Must the association between Asian Americans and higher education feed the model minority stereotype? This course considers the relationship between literature and the political and cultural category “Asian American,” through canonical works of Asian American literature, works about Asian Americans on campus, and literature by college students and teachers. Authors might include Susan Choi, Mohsin Hamid, Cathy Park Hong, R.O. Kwon, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jia Tolentino, Weike Wang, Karen Tei Yamashita, Jenny Zhang, and others.
06. Asian Identities and Sci-Fi. TTh 11.35-12.50
In painting a picture of the future, Western and Hollywood science fiction often utilizes Asian bodies, commodities, language, and food in order to imagine and construct a futuristic, dystopian, and urban aesthetic. For example, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner features a mélange of East Asian influences, from Deckard eating noodles in the glow of Japanese neon signs, to Hannibal Chew picking up replicant eyeballs with chopsticks. If sci-fi is a genre which grapples with our vision of the future by engaging with challenges and issues of the present, what does such a portrayal say about Asian identities today? If science fiction can be thought of as a genre that describes the anxieties and sociopolitical structures of the present, what do these representations of “Asianness” tell us about the political, historical, and cultural issues that inform Asian-American identity construction?
In addition, through the lens of sci-fi and Asian-American literature, we will explore concepts that are central to the Anthropocene such as those of place (natural vs. urban, belonging, the planetary, the local), consumption, degradation, sustainability, and interconnectedness. The course is designed to juxtapose sci-fi with Asian-American literature, and contextualize them within the larger framework of the issues of race, exclusion, citizenship, and marginalized labor which span across time periods. We will watch science fiction films such as Blade Runner and Cloud Atlas, and read works such as The Martian Chronicles, The Windup Girl, Dawn, and Neuromancer, and A Tale for the Time Being.