Joan Pong Linton

1:00p-2:15p TR (15 students) IW.


TOPIC: “The Public Sphere and the Arts of Participation”

In the sixteenth century Sir Philip Sidney argues that poetry does not merely teach and delight, but in doing so moves the audience “to do that which they know and to desire to know.” In the nineteenth century, Percy Bysshe Shelley proclaims that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” In the twentieth century Wallace Stevens says that poetry is “the necessary angel.” What shall the twenty-first century say about the role of poetry, art, music, film, theater in the world? In this seminar we will approach this question by focusing on issues that have found their way into the public sphere, and consider what Roland Barthes calls the “forms of responsibility” that artists (broadly speaking) and citizens have devised in addressing them. Beginning with an overview of public sphere theories, our inquiry will consist of several units, each dealing with a public issue and foregrounding an aspect of public sphere analysis. Through readings, reports, and class discussions, we will attend to each issue within its historical moment, and analyze the texts that give it particular salience in relation to the public(s) they constitute. In this way, we will cultivate historical perspective on issues as part of critical literacy informing our study of how the creative arts participate in public debates. In the final unit, we will have to decide whether there can be a viable public sphere for this century, and what forms of responsibility we can devise in order to participate in it, given the media technology and political culture we have today.

Tentative Units (issues and primary texts): (1) Homelessness and hunger: publicity and representation—who speaks for the poor? (King Lear, Live Aid); (2) Defining the human: how philosophy and biopolitics have framed life-and-death issues for the public (The Tempest, Schindler’s List); 3) When the media play catch-up: is there ethics after tragedy? (Hotel Rwanda, Sometimes in April); (4) Performing gender and sexuality: to counter a dominant discourse (Angels in America, Boys Don’t Cry); (5) The science and civics of terror: does the public sphere have a memory? What can we learn from the past to make a future? (writings on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Omnium Gatherum).

Critical and theoretical readings on the public sphere and on public issues will be available on E-Reserves. These may include writings by some of the following: Giorgio Agamben, Roland Barthes, Deanne Bogdan, Judith Butler, Rosa Eberly, Michel Foucault, Nancy Fraser, Jonathan Goldberg, Jürgen Habermas, Thomas Keenan, Jean-François Lyotard, Eve Sedgwick, and Linda Woodbridge.

Assignments may include: (1) three 5-minute reports on the following: (a) historical context on an issue; (b) engagement with a public sphere theorist, and (c) a response to a public issue (creative writing or update on a community service project accepted); (2) 2-3 page write-ups of two reports, taking into account comments and discussion following; (3) a research paper, 15- 20 pages in length, to be developed through proposal, first and final drafts (topics connecting literary study with community-based research will be considered).