Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.
For AUTUMN 2007: READING AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM. In introducing students to the study of “American Literature,” this course sets out to do two things: Problematize the category of American literature, and question how “America” is represented in literature in relation to the planet of which it is a part. There is a long tradition in American thought that views U.S. territorial expansion, plantation slavery, class conflict, and racial violence as aberrations in America’s long march toward pure democracy, formal equality, and universal inclusion. Accordingly, the undemocratic means through which the U.S. has governed various populations have often been understood as fundamentally different from those of its European predecessors, necessary to progress, and thus, exceptional to the seemingly arbitrary and despotic nature of European monarchical and imperialist rule. We will read a selection of novels, stories, journalism, and theoretical texts that in some way engage in this problematic. How has the U.S. been represented as exceptional, and towards what ends? What assumptions do these representations rest upon? How has the idea of the U.S. as “exceptional” been problematized, questioned, and engaged differently by various authors? What historical experiences guide these different understandings of the U.S. and its role in the world? Finally, how does this question of American exceptionalism relate to the category of American literature, and how can we re-read American literature and history in order to discuss and critique the problems of “exceptionalism” that persist today?
Literary texts will include: Herman Melville, Bartleby and Benito Cereno; Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; Nella Larsen, Quicksand and Passing; Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X; Toni Morrison, Beloved; Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or Evening Redness in the West.
Other readings may include selections from the following texts: T. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia; WEB Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; Karl Marx, Capital; T. Hietala, Manifest Design; N. Ordover, American Eugenics; Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues; D. Gregory, The Colonial Present; Omi & Winant, Racial Formation; Hardt & Negri, Multitude; Michael Ignatieff, "The Burden"; Susan Sontag, "Regarding the Torture of Others."
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