American Lit Cold War & After

ENGLISH 373.01

This course takes up American Literature from the recent past.  While the Cold War (1945-1991) will mark a periodic or temporal container for the work we will study, the themes and characteristics emerging out of the Cold War will, however, precede that official historical marker and will linger through the decades into our present.  The U.S. cultural sensibilities from this time period can be marked by a wide and paradoxical range of descriptors: bold, paranoid, triumphal, satiric, extreme, utopic, isolated, and displaced.  We will add to this list as we analyze our objects and invent new ways to read into these not quite old and never quite retired or obsolete subjects and texts.  In that same spirit, we will conceive of this historical event as still in process, as not yet resolved, at every turn, stopping to consider the ways our texts figure into present conceptualizations of the nation and world. 

Each of the authors of novels, poems, songs and memoirs included in the course have produced very particular, even iconoclastic pieces of American literature that, at the same time, seem to be representative of the times and places from which they emerge as well as strange in and of themselves. We will place these texts next to cultural paraphernalia (television commercials, political manifestos, game shows, stand up comedy etc.) in order to reckon with what we see on the page.

Expect to read authors such as: Octavia Butler, Bob Dylan, Nikki Giovanni, Fran Lebowitz, Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal.  Participation will matter a great deal in the course and, in addition to that, students will be expected to complete three short (5-8 page) essays.