Literature, Politics, and Activism :: Spring 2015
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. – 12.15 p.m., MLIB 442
Honestly, what’s the use of books and movies when the history happening outside our doors is so troubling and immediate and seems to demand action and activism, not fiction and film? This question, or a version of it, has occasioned much debate ever since Plato decided to banish poets from his ideal Republic as useless liars. Certain historical moments have made this debate even more important, though, and authors of literary works have often sought to alter the political landscape by intervening directly in the pressing issues of the day. From antebellum slavery in the USA to 20th-century apartheid in South Africa, from 19th-century industrial exploitation to the contemporary exploitation of immigrant labor, from the Holocaust to Hiroshima, writers have attempted to highlight injustices and affect society and social policy. In this class, we’ll ask how and why.
Students will read a number of “politically engaged” texts or read seemingly unpolitical texts in political ways in order to:
- understand the political, ethical, and social contexts to which these texts respond;
- suggest possible stances taken by or within the texts, or possible solutions to political problems posed by these texts;
- become familiar with some of the radically different strategies adopted by politically engaged writers, from avant-garde experimentalism to descriptive realism;
- and critically reflect on the role that these texts, and literature or literary intellectuals in general, can play as a force for political or ethical activism.
- Midterm :: 200 points :: 20%
- Final :: 200 points :: 20%
- Annotated bibliography :: 125 points :: 12.5%
- Research paper :: 250 points :: 25%
- Character Persona :: 100 points :: 10%
- Introductory blog :: 25 points :: 2.5%
- Concluding blog :: 100 points :: 10%
All of the course books are available at the campus bookstore, but feel free to buy them used if you can save a few bucks. Please have the edition listed, so that you can fully participate in and follow class lectures and discussion.
Émile Zola, Germinal (Oxford) ISBN: 9780199536894
Samuel Becket, Waiting for Godot (Grove) ISBN: 9780802144423
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (Penguin) ISBN: 9780140185852
Alan Moore et al, V for Vendetta (DC Comics) ISBN: 9781401208417
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Oxford) ISBN: 9780199535569
"The best course that I ever took in college was in my sophomore year, and it was a course in Shakespearean literature. I learned more about political communications in that one semester from a Catholic nun than I learned in any political science course. It made me aware of the power of language, and how telling a story…a political campaign is about big issues, but you have to describe a narrative. You have to create a storyline. You know, what is this all about?" --Karl Rove, on Freakonomics Podcast