L141 | 2156-2162 | Susan Gubar


How do creative artists deal with personal and national catastrophes?
Entitled "Writing Disaster," this course will concentrate on a cluster
of questions about representation and suffering.  In what ways does
the expression of imaginative vision help people survive in times of
private and public pain?  What roles can the arts play to help us
confront, comprehend, and survive inexplicable calamity?  Do novelists
and film-makers, cartoonists and photographers, poets and journalists
approach this problem differently?

We will start with the biblical BOOK OF JOB as a paradigm that sets up
the problem of representing calamity.  Then we will focus most of our
attention on literature composed during the 20th century in the
English language.  Poems, fictional narratives, films, comics, essays,
and photographs will be chosen to illuminate three crucial cataclysms
in Western culture:  African-American slavery, the Holocaust, and the
Viet Nam war.  We will therefore be dealing with diverse forms of
violence associated with the Othering of various groups of human
beings, be they African-Americans, Jews, or Asians.  Given the pain
addressed in the texts with which we will deal, participants need to
be forewarned that the material of trauma can itself traumatize, that
our common discussions may disrupt and disturb us as much as they
record the disruptions and disturbances that have resonated throughout
history.  In the last two weeks of the semester, we will look more
explicitly at a transnational context through a classic novella about
geo-political violence and a movie version of it:  what is the impact
of Western civilization on non-Western cultures and why, despite the
best of intentions, are its consequences so often disastrous.

The course, which meets twice a week in large lecture and twice a week
in smaller discussion sections, requires students to do their reading
BEFORE they attend class.  It is crucial that you bring the
appropriate text (read and annotated) to the lecture hall.  In the
composition component of the course, we will struggle to avoid writing
disasters more pedestrian than those we encounter in the literature
but nevertheless disabling.  Students will be asked to complete four
differently structured writing assignments and to take two exams, one
at midterm and one at the end of the semester.