In the stretch between sunset and sunrise, whole worlds come into being. Nightlife has been denounced, celebrated, and romaticized; legislated, protested, and reformed; written, acted, and sung. This course will take the time and space of the night as a way to introduce the concerns of humanistic study and pose questions about the uses and possibilities of literature, film, visual art, and performance. We will examine how writers, artists, and performers have imagined nightlife--its people and places, its sounds and sights, its ethics and values, its comforts and fears. What themes and issues become most clear in the darkness of nightfall? What activities and practices flourish while most people slumber? What are the genres, settings, and characters that make up the literature of nightlife? How does nightlife contribute to the formation of communities and identities? What goes on afterhours, either in the saloons and nightclubs of the city or in the dreamscapes of our minds?
In exploring these questions, we will consider a diverse range of creative forms and genres. We will begin by examining nighttime as a space for ethical reflection and the interrogation of moral ambiguity by reading short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne ("Young Goodman Brown") and James Baldwin ("Sonny's Blues"). We will then consider the historical sounds and movements of nightlife as they developed in institutions like New York City saloons, Harlem Jazz clubs, and Berlin cabarets. We will read a drama by Eugene O'Neill (The Iceman Cometh), poetry by Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, and view two films (Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer and Bob Fosse's Cabaret). After looking at this social landscape of nightlife, we will then turn to nightlife's psychic landscape, reading Freud's study of dream analysis (On Dreams), Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. We will conclude, turning from dreams to nightmares, with F.W. Mernau's film Nosferatu and Richare Matheson's novel I Am Legend.
The course will have two lectures and two discussion sections a week. Students will be responsible for four essays, a mid-term exam, and a final exam, as well as participate actively in the course by reading the assigned materials and contributing to class discussion.