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Home > Academics > Undergraduate > English >
Course Description

ENG 123/223
Topics in 20th C American Poetry: Poetry & the Police

Instructor: Juliana Spahr
Class times: Wednesdays 2:30-5:00 pm

This class is about that complicated relationship between literature and the political (both social movements of resistance and nation-state nationalism). What sorts of literature does the work of the state? What sort resists it? How can we recognize one or the other? Is it even possible to imagine a resistant literature? Would we even want to? And if we did, what would it look like? We will begin with some optimism: the attention that the Paris Commune and various anti-colonial and cultural nationalist movements give to literature. And then we will turn to look at literature’s relation to the state. Looking first at what state Communism has to say about it. And then examine in-depth two US examples: turn of the 20th century modernism and the CIA’s manipulation of it to make it safe for the fight against communism and the FBI’s COINTELPRO-like strategy of both harassment and recuperation of movement literatures of the 60s and 70s. We will read literature too in an attempt to understand what content and aesthetics have to do with all this. The goal is to attempt to get a more nuanced understanding of how the state recuperates literature (rather than just presume that literature is either easily resistant if it says so or always already recuperated). Regular annotations will be required. Plus two archivally driven projects. In one I will ask you to compare an independently edited little magazine to one of the ones founded by CIA in the 50s and 60s. In another, I will ask you to focus on a writer who was monitored by the FBI (and whose files are available online) in order to attempt to understand whether the monitoring was for purposes of harassment or recuperation and the relationship between this monitoring and the work of the writer (if there is any). (And don’t worry the resources here; there are many online archives for this sort of work.)

This course is offered Spring 2016.

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Last Updated: 6/22/17