"Work and Play"

This course will examine the ways in which the experiences of work and play are organized within modern societies. We will consider the evolution of work and play in relation to other changes in modern life, debating the different values that have been assigned to these categories and the ways in which they have been used to advance certain political ideals. We will explore work and play in their positive and negative aspects; we will explore how people use these experiences to express themselves, to establish communities, to get rich, to exploit others, and to gain power and prestige. We will also discuss these categories in relation to other, more tangible phenomena, such as technology, corporatism, spectacle, education, class, gender, and race.

The course will be evenly divided between issues of labor and issues of leisure, and our readings will consist of biographies, novels, theoretical works, and sociological studies. After starting with the Book of Genesis as it sets up a western dynamic of labor and leisure, we will consider Marx's nineteenth-century work on the difference between healthy, expressive work and alienated labor. Then, we will consider accounts of work and play as they reflect the experiences of different social groups, such as Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, James Joyce's Dubliners, and Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. Finally, we will consider contemporary accounts of work and play, as they are inflected by a postmodern, corporate order, such as Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. Throughout, our readings will be accompanied by selections from sociological studies such as Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class; Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America; and Susan Faludi's Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man.

The course will meet twice a week in large lecture and twice a week in small discussion sections. Students will be responsible for readings before each class. Since this is also a composition course, we will spend some time considering how to write about the material we analyze. Students will be asked to complete four differently structured writing assignments, to keep a journal of reading responses, and to take two exams, one at midterm and one at the end of the semester. The papers and exams will account for about 60% of the final grade, and class participation will make up the remaining 30%.