English R1B

Reading and Composition: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in the Long 20th Century

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
15 Spring 2013 Richards, Jill
TTh 8-9:30 225 Wheeler

Book List

Bolaño, Roberto: By Night in Chile; Coetzee, Joseph: Waiting for the Barbarians; Collins, Suzanne: The Hunger Games; Conrad, Joseph: The Secret Agent; Lewis, Wyndham: BLAST 1; Satrapi, Marjane: The Complete Persepolis


Hannah Arendt once claimed that the modern concept of revolution involves a sometimes mistaken sense of history beginning anew. For Arendt, this notion of a new day, of  “an entirely new story, a story never known or told before” is inevitably intertwined with revolutionary action, because revolutionary action must always confront the political problem of beginning anew. Though we will not always take Arendt at her word, this class will take a closer look at the stories of new days and new worlds that emerge amidst moments of political upheaval. Beginning in revolutionary France, we will travel through the long twentieth century, moving across anarchist cabals in turn of the century London, the Spanish Civil War, Pinochet’s counter-revolution in Chile, Iran’s White Revolution, and the Arab Spring. Through close readings of prose poems, detective stories, manifestos, agitprop posters, cinema, and the graphic novel, we will look at the way that literary forms speak through and for the moments of historical rupture that they take as their subject. We will ask: How does the imagination of a new day or new world necessitate new ways of saying and doing? Can a text take a clear stand as for or against? Would we want it to?

This class will focus on analyzing and writing about literary texts. We will think about the formal choices an author makes: Why write a character as flat or round? Why break the poetic line at any given point? Why use a really long sentence or a really short sentence? Why rhyme or not rhyme? What do these choices do?  In class we will ask ourselves this question while moving through literary, cinematic, and historical texts. We will disagree, agree, persuade, and generally wander in and around these materials to better understand how they are put together. These conversations will provide a model for what literary arguments can look like. A portion of the class will be spent working on the writing skills you need to convey such arguments clearly and effectively in a full-length paper.  This section of the course will be geared toward honing your skills to create an original, argumentative thesis, organize a paper, incorporate secondary sources, and avoid common grammatical mistakes. Even if you are not an English major, this course should provide you with the foundational skills you will need in your future studies. 

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