A variable topics course that may focus on one or more theorist, on a genre or theme, or on debates within the field of cultural studies. Recent topics have included mass culture and film; Marx; Science in Fiction and Film; contemporary ethnic studies; and more. Not limited in period, scope, or geography.
ENGL 387 Cultural Studies: Novels Now
Instructor: Scott Derrick
For the past three hundred years, the novel has been one of western culture’s dominant and irreplaceable forms for the exploration of the complex social realities that surround us. Does this continue to be the case twenty years into this strange new millennium? What can we say of its future amid the myriad of emergent cultural forms and distractions digital culture seems to keep producing? How many of us continue to read challenging new novels, and why, really, should we continue to do so?
In this course, I propose to read a series of highly regarded twenty-first century novels produced both in the US and in other cultures. I don’t propose to organize the course around a specific theme, which often guides and limits what reading can produce. I want to see what comes from a return to literary reading in something like a primal form. I do expect connections to emerge—even too many to follow—because (in my experience) reading and interpretation inevitably produce them, and because of the omnipresent pressure of the cultural emergencies of the present. I must say that I find very little solace in the cliché that “all periods experience themselves as times of crisis.” But how, and to what extent, have novels responded?
The following is a representative list of texts I’m considering, but not a finalized one. I also hope the class itself will sort through available options and make one or two selections.
Jonathan Franzen, Corrections (2001); The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano (2008); Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner (2011); NW, Zadie Smith (2012); White is for Witching, Helen Oyeyemi (2014); The Lost Children Archive, Valerie Luiselli (2019); Exit West, Mohsin Hamid (2017).
Requirements: Two 4-6 page papers and an 8-10 final essay. Reading, attendance, and participation.