English 133T

African American Literature and Culture: Humor and the Neo-Slave Narrative

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2021 Catchings, Alex
TTh 8-9:30 136 Social Sciences

Book List

Beatty, Paul: The Sellout; Brown, William Wells: The Escape; or, A Leap to Freedom; Jacobs, Harriet: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Johnson, Charles: Oxherding Tale; Reed, Ishmael: Flight to Canada

Other Readings and Media


Excerpts from Frederick Douglass, Glenda Carpio, Mel Watkins, Ashraf Rushdy, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Henri Bergson, and Arthur Schopenhauer




At the turn of the 21st century a common phrase was brought into cultural parlance: “Too soon.” And yet, why does that moment ever arrive of acceptability? In the case of slavery, the moment started knocking on the door in the Sixties and made itself abundantly clear in film and television as soon as the Seventies and into the present. This course will provide students with a rigorous vocabulary for how humor operates according to a range of philosophers and through the lens of African American political culture. The course will investigate the terms of humor, African American tradition, linguistic violence, aesthetic liberation, the carnivalesque, and political correctness, all while solidifying the terms of a uniquely American literary genre in the Slave Narrative. While the course reading will emphasize novels and plays, we will also examine film and television clips to understand how the boundaries of slavery’s representation have been contoured across multimedia.


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