Special Topics: Marxism and Literature
Adiga, Arvind: White Tiger; Lanchester, John: Whoops!; Martin, Randy: The Financialization of Daily Life; Ong, Han: Fixer Chao; Ozeki, Ruth: All Over Creation; Park, Ed: Personal Days; Tucker, Robert: The Marx-Engels Reader; Volosinov, Valentin : Marxism and the Philosophy of Language; Whitehead, Colson: Zone One; Williams, Raymond: Marxism and Literature
For the past thirty years, it’s become a cliché that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Yet, ever since the 2008 financial crash, there’s been rising popular consciousness of capitalism’s crisis-bound character and, therefore, its historicity and potential transformability. What part has contemporary literature played in the promotion of this consciousness? It is customary to think of literature as uniquely suited to building empathy, helping us imagine the lives of others. But literature also aspires to representing the abstract social forces that set determinate limits and conditions upon individuals’ exercise of freedom. How does literature’s peculiar means of connecting experience and structure, part and whole, individual and totality offer an actionable theory of capitalism’s lived experience? We’ll read contemporary theories of ecological crisis, financialization, debt, gendered precarity, and structural racism that are some of the central features of 21st century capitalist life (Randy Martin, John Lanchester, Kathy Weeks, Jason Moore, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, etc.). We’ll turn to novels that center on various kinds of precarious characters to consider what a difference fiction makes to the treatment and solution of large economic and political problems (Arvind Adiga, Han Ong, Ruth Ozeki, Ed Park, Colson Whitehead). Along the way, we’ll get acquainted with some classical and more recent Marxist works of literary and aesthetic theory (e.g. Bakhtin, Volosinov, Raymond Williams, Lukacs, Jameson) so as to acquire the necessary analytical tools for making links between literature and political economy. This is a theory-heavy course and best suited to students who are really interested in working with some difficult theory, though no previous background is required. In addition to the books listed above, there will also be a course packet of additional readings. (Do not, however, purchase any books until after the first class meeting when the syllabus will have been finalized).
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