English 165

Special Topics: Is It Useless To Revolt?

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2018 Goldsmith, Steven
MW 9:30-11 300 Wheeler

Book List

Blake, W.: Blake's Poetry and Designs; Butler, J.: Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly; Kushner, R.: The Flame Throwers; Melville, H.: Billy Budd and Other Stories; Milton, J.: Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, and the Complete Shorter Poems; Shelley, P.: Shelley's Poetry and Prose


“Is it useless to revolt?”  Our course borrows its title from an essay by Foucault on the Iranian Revolution of 1979.  Foucault urges us to suspend judgment and listen to the voices of revolt, even as they seem entangled in a history of inescapable, recurrent violence.  Attracted and repulsed by revolutionary violence, the authors in this course test Foucault’s proposition that, “While revolts take place in history, they also escape it in a certain manner.” The intersection of religion, art, and politics will loom large in our discussions.  Starting with Milton’s Samson Agonistes, we will consider how religious convictions inform both political aspiration and a willingness to justify acts of violence.  Such questions will lead us back to two foundational representations of revolt in the Bible (Exodus and Revelation), and they will lead us forward to contemporary questions about “terrorism.”  (After 9/11, a much publicized debate on Samson Agonistes asked whether its central character is best described as a terrorist.)  Other readings will range widely across historical periods and national cultures, including works by Blake, Nat Turner, Shelley, and Melville in the nineteenth century, Yeats, Auden, and Darwish in the twentieth, and contemporary authors such as Kenzaburo Oe, Rachel Kushner, and (Berkeley’s own) Geoffrey O’Brien.  On occasion, we will take up theoretical writings on the subject of revolt, liberation, and violence by Kant, Benjamin, Arendt, Zizek, Butler, and—of course—Foucault.

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