Studies in American Literature, Cold War and After

English 373S-01

I am often asked: why spend invaluable Duke time reading Mario Puzo’s pop epic, The Godfather(yes, I mean the book, not the movie), when there is so much more to read?  Why indeed even bother revisiting those golden idols of A.P. English, such as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Hurston’s Their Eyes are Watching God, when there is oh-so-much more to accomplish?

In fact, it’s the same darn question: after letting The Godfather do the job on you and learning how the novel does it, with all of its insidious (and insidiously underrated) intelligence, nothing of the U.S. imperium--its interplay of family and business, its laundering of economic and social crime, its habit of seeking sanctity in sex--will look the same again, beginning with the great American novels.  In this course, we will learn to interrogate the paradoxes of self-determination under capitalism (call it “destiny”), to pursue complicities in violence within and across genders (call it “omerta”), and to honor the intimacy-shaking, collectivity-making power of erotic radiance (call it “the thunderbolt”).  In so doing, we will work to unseat our ever-renewable habits of Puritan interpretation (call that a “trigger warning”), which runs in the blood of teaching and scholarship at all levels in the U.S. of A..  Seeking instead to answer the call of the Italian, we will partake of the hidden Otherness of the American Imagination.        

DISCLOSURES: Seven novels total, with a little help from the visual and musical arts.  After sustained immersion in The Godfather, we will experience the transfiguring force of a half-dozen major novels, present and past.  I will choose from among Joan Chase’s During the Reign of Persia, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy, E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel, Gabriel García-Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, and Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, as well as from The Great Gatsby, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Scarlet Letter, Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady, and Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete.  Your writing will entail three semi-formal essays of medium length (5-7 pages), as well as a couple of initial short exercises, utterly informal, to warm us up.

There are NO prerequisites; all are welcome!  Indeed, the final selection of texts will depend on you—your majors and years and inclinations, what novels you have not read, what novels you have not read with me, what novels you would like to read again.  Just introduce yourself—pronto! since ordering books is fast upon us.