English 190

Research Seminar: Is It Useless to Revolt?


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Fall 2020 Goldsmith, Steven
TTh 9:30-11 233 Dwinelle

Book List

Alderman, N.: The Power; 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; Sphar, J.: That Winter the Wolf Came

Description

“Is it useless to revolt?”  Our course borrows its title from an essay by Michel 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 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 might best be described as a terrorist.)  Other readings will range widely across historical periods and national cultures, including works by Blake, Nat Turner, Shelley, and Melville, as well as by contemporary authors such as Kenzaburo Oe, Rachel Kushner, Naomi Alderman, and Juliana Spahr.  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.  Students will write a short initial essay on Samson Agonistes and a research paper on a topic of their choice.

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