English 250

Research Seminars: Literature, Communism, Fascism

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2021 Lee, Steven S.
Tues. 3:30-6:30

Book List

Boye, K.: Kallocain; Platonov, A.: The Foundation Pit; Seghers, A.: Transit; Weiss, P.: The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume 1; West, N.: The Day of the Locust; Wright, R.: Native Son


“Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism. Communism replies by politicizing art.”

The starting point for this course is Walter Benjamin's famous distinction from the late 1930s between the aestheticized politics of fascism and the politicized art of communism. The course will begin by exploring how Benjamin, other members of the Frankfurt School and their interlocutors understood this distinction as well as the broader relationship between aesthetics and politics. The course will then turn to a series of keywords--e.g., "Avant-Garde," "Epic," "Machine," "Masses," "Race," "Realism"--that at times will bring into greater focus, and at others will complicate, the opposition of communism and fascism. Throughout the semester we will discuss what lessons the interwar period might have to offer amid the renewed political and aesthetic extremes of the present day.

The course will explore a wide range of texts, most of which will be made available online: for instance, films by Sergei Eisenstein and Leni Riefenstahl, poems by Bertolt Brecht and Ezra Pound, and novels by Karin Boye and Richard Wright. 

Since the reading list may change, please don't purchase texts until after the first meeting.

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