English 176

Literature and Popular Culture: The 1990s: A Decade About Nothing

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Session Course Areas
1 Summer 2018 Lavery, Grace
TuWTh 9:30-12 Wheeler 300 D

Book List

Fielding, Helen: Bridget Jones' Diary; Kane, Sarah: Plays; Kraus, Chris: I Love Dick; Kusnher, Tony: Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes; Moore, Alan: V for Vendetta; Smith, Zadie: White Teeth; Walcott, Derek: Omeros


The 1990s are sometimes understood as a period between major events: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attacks on the World Trade Center; the initial phase of neoliberal economics (Reagan/Thatcher) and the mature phase (Bush/Blair); the so-called “first” Gulf War and the eventual toppling of Saddam Hussein; the freeing of Nelson Mandela to the end of his Presidency; the first wave of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the political victories of gay civil rights movement in the West. Nineties literature and pop culture sometimes seemed to sense the remoteness of historical change, and produced a range of responses, from triumphalist celebration of the final triumph of capitalism, to a horror at people’s emerging horror at the thought of being irrelevant and interchangeable, from the flat affect banter of Seinfeld, a self-described “show about nothing,” to the grungy, but pretty, suburban nihilism of Nirvana’s Nevermind. This course offers a survey of the period’s British and American culture across a wide range of genres and media: prose fiction, graphic fiction, poetry, drama, memoir, criticism, television, art-house and popular cinema, and news coverage. Moving chronologically, we will explore the definitive aesthetic formulations of the themes of war, gender, political authority, race, dating, desire, trauma, collective history, irrelevance, talking cowboy dolls, suicide, violence, and intellectual labor. We will also maintain an occasional focus on our own time, and investigate the renewed appeal of 1990s fashion and culture to a moment that, after the cataclysms of the last few years, has become newly aware of history’s tenacity and volatility, and all too painfully burdened by the sense that important things are happening all around us.

This course will be taught in Session D, from July 3 to August 9.

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