English 166

Special Topics: Marxism & Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Spring 2018 Lye, Colleen
TTh 3:30-5 200 Wheeler

Book List

Adiga, Arvind: White Tiger; Delillo, Don: Cosmopolis; Park, Ed: Personal Days; Tucker, Robert: The Marx-Engels reader; Yamashita, Karen Tei: Through the Arc of the Rainforest


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? In what way might we think of this as literature’s means of theorizing class as a social relation rather than an identity? We’ll be concerned with some central features of 21st-century capitalist life, such as structural racism, gendered precarity, and environmental catastrophe. We’ll turn to novels that center on various kinds of marginalized and privileged characters to consider what a difference fiction makes to the treatment and solution of large economic and political problems. 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 in Marxism is required. In addition to the books listed above, there will also be a course packet of readings. Please be sure to have Personal Days and The Marx-Engels Reader in hand in the first week, as we’ll be hitting those texts right away.

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