English 203

Graduate Readings: The Sixties

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2022 Goble, Mark
Thursday 2-5 Wheeler 337


This course surveys literature, film, and art of the 1960s with a particular focus on works from the United States that highlighted the period’s many forms of social, political, and ecological crisis, and assess the limits and possibilities of the existing traditions and styles of expression that were available to represent them. We will situate our figures in the broader global contexts that their projects variously embraced or repressed. We will read a mix of writers who were popular and prominent in the moment alongside others who were neglected for the genres or publics they engaged. Since it is impossible to provide a comprehensive overview of such a contentious period--especially one whose histories are so recent and contingent--we will instead work collectively to identify themes, aesthetics, and patterns of both affiliation and resistance that can help us organize different versions of “the Sixties” for future research and teaching of twentieth-century materials.


We will trace how writers, artists, and filmmakers after 1945 pursued their projects in the wake of global modernism and its institutions, and witnessed versions of its decline, persistence, or and radicalization--more often than not at the same time. We will see how different figures attempted to maintain the hierarchies of literary or cultural prestige in the face of generational upheaval, while others laid claim to the power of such iconic struggles as the Civil Rights Movement, the opposition to the Vietnam War and Western imperialism, and the demand for recognition across a broad and contested spectrum of gender, sexual, and racial identities.

Readings will include fiction and prose by such writers as by John Updike, Saul Bellow, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Pynchon, Slyvia Plath, Donald Barthleme, Mary McCarthy, Hannah Arendt, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, and Philip Roth--writers who let us outline the contours of the period’s literary canon as it has been understood. But we will challenge what these writers can tell us about the 1960s by placing them alongside figures such as James Baldwin, J. G. Ballard, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ursula K. LeGuin, Robert Smithson, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, and more. The course will also trace the emergence of various forms of poststructuralist theory in the 1960s (Althusser, Foucault, Derrida, Barthes) in their historical and cultural contexts. Painting, photography, land art, and other visual culture from the period will be included along the way, and we will screen a small selection of films including Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, Michael Snow’s Wavelength, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Back to Semester List