English 165

Special Topics: Genres of Free Speech

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2017 Lavery, Grace
MW 5-6:30 183 Dwinelle Literary Theory
Special Topics

Book List

The Book of Lamentations; Augustine: Confessions; Foucault, Michel: Fearless Speech; Pope, Alexander: The Dunciad; Shakespeare, W: King Lear; Silverman, Sarah: Jesus Is Magic; Simpson, O. J.: If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer; Solanas, Valerie: SCUM Manifesto; Walker, David: Walker's Appeal


We endure a difficult relation to free speech. Most arguments on the topic, whether for or against, focus on the capacity of language to harm others, directly or indirectly, and therefore concern the scope and nature of necessary prohibitions of speech. In this class, we will approach the topic quite differently, and ask how we recognize free speech, whether in ourselves or others; how we differentiate it from “unfree” speech; and how it may variously enable or jam the operations of power. First, we will pursue these questions in philosophical, theoretical, and psychoanalytical registers, and inquire whether free speech is desirable (with Kant), whether it is psychologically possible (with Freud), and whether the public telling of unpopular truths may weaken, rather than regulate, the democratic institutions the practice apparently serves to uphold (with Foucault). We will quickly, however, move on to consider the more practical and more literary-historical matter of genres of free speech, and examine the literary modes most associated with risky truth-telling. These will include: the jeremiad, in which the ruin of a civilization is prophesied, at risk to the prophet’s position and reputation (Lamentations, David Walker); the comedy, in which the privileged figure of the fool is empowered to disclose unspeakable political truths (King Lear, Sarah Silverman); the confession, in which a guilty party discloses the nature of his crimes under condition of aesthetic absolution (O. J. Simpson, Augustine); and the polemic, in which an apparently outrageous discourse articulates the social location of subjects outside the bounds of mainstream opinion (The SCUM Manifesto, A Modest Proposal). The class will therefore assess through historical examples Plato’s famous exclusion of poets from his ideal Republic, and will maintain an occasional focus on the frequent (and, indeed, often jeremiadical, comic, confessional, and/or polemical) evocations of free speech in our contemporary historical and institutional climate.

The texts for this course will be available at University Press Books, on Bancroft Way.

This section of English 165 is open to English majors only.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Fall, 2018
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
165/1 Special Topics: Oscar Wilde and the Nineteenth Century Lavery, Grace
165/2 Special Topics: The English Department Marno, David
165/3 Special Topics: Literature and Media Theory Langan, Celeste
165/4 Special Topics: The Ecology of Utopia Goldstein, Amanda Jo
165/5 Special Topics: Reading Walden With Care Breitwieser, Mitchell
165/6 Special Topics: Hardly Strictly Lyric Poems Hanson, Kristin
165/7 Special Topics: Utopian and (mostly) Dystopian Movies Starr, George A.
Spring, 2018
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
165/1 Special Topics: H.P. Lovecraft in His Tradition Breitwieser, Mitchell
165/2 Special Topics: Handel's Art in Setting English Words to Music Hanson, Kristin
165/3 Special Topics: Is It Useless To Revolt? Goldsmith, Steven
165/4 Special Topics: Neo-Slave Narratives JanMohamed, Abdul R.
165/5 Special Topics: Incarcerations: The Literature of (Physical, Mental, Spiritual) Imprisonment Padilla, Genaro M.
Fall, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
165/2 Special Topics: Art of Writing Benjamin, Daniel
Hejinian, Lyn
Spring, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
165/1 Special Topics: The Graphic Memoir Wong, Hertha D. Sweet
165/2 Special Topics: Incarcerations: The Literatures of Physical Confinement and Spiritual Liberation Padilla, Genaro M.
Fall, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
165/1 Special Topics: Telling Stories: The Power of Narrative in Academic Writing Donegan, Kathleen
Spring, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
165/1 Special Topics: Arthurian Medievalisms No instructor assigned yet.
165/2 Special Topics: 21st-Century U.S. Poetry O'Brien, Geoffrey G.
165/3 Special Topics: Oscar Wilde and the Nineteenth Century Lavery, Grace
165/4 Special Topics: Representing Non-Human Life in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Britain Picciotto, Joanna M
165/5 Special Topics: Is It Useless to Revolt?: Literature of Revolt Goldsmith, Steven
165/6 Special Topics: Queer Lifestyles in Literature and Theory Weiner, Joshua J
165/7 Special Topics: Later 17th-Century Nonfictional Prose Starr, George A.
165/8 Special Topics: Arts of Writing: Academic Writing, Grant Writing, Food Writing Schweik, Susan
Rahimtoola, Samia Shabnam
165/9 Special Topics: Ovid and the English Renaissance Landreth, David

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