Race and Order in the New Republic
152AC 001 | CCN: 23840
Race and Order in the New Republic
Instructor: Nadesan Permaul
Location: Dwinelle 229
Date / Time: We 2:00pm - 3:59pm
This course meets the public discourse requirement in the Department of Rhetoric. Through the examination of various media, from texts to film to audio media, we will explore how narrative shapes discourse and American culture. We will start with the connection between American popular culture and narratives. Is there also a connection with the issue of race in American history and society that is deeply imbedded into our cultural identity and its narratives?
Jane Smiley in a Harper’s article in 1996 wrote the following regarding the role race plays in American society. She was commenting on what she perceived were the shortcomings of Samuel Clemen’s Huckleberry Finn [which we will read]:
“…Americans always think racism is a feeling, and they reject it or they embrace it. To most Americans, it seems more honorable and nicer to reject it, so they do, but they almost invariably fail to understand that how they feel means very little to black Americans, who understand racism as a way of structuring American culture…”
What does it mean to suggest that race could be viewed as a way to “structure” our culture, and is there evidence to support such a contention? In the attempt to make sense of this question, I will propose a connection between the sociological concept of “cultural trauma” or collective trauma, our popular cultural identity, its formation, and how that connection relates to contemporary culture in America. We will start with readings on culture and the theory of cultural trauma, to provide a context. Then we will move to historical and cultural narratives beginning with James Fennimore Cooper’s The Pioneers; America’s first popular and iconic fictional work. By using this historical romance novel as a guide to interpret issues underlying early American culture and sociology, the class will view the development of American society and culture as a “formal problem.” That is, the novel poses a symbolic and thematic problem involving the three principal racial groups in early North America (i.e., the Native Americans, the European-Americans, and the African-Americans). They are symbolically structured into a social and political order in the new nation that discloses unresolved issues in its founding and in historical period known as Modernity. All subsequent readings in the class will be viewed in the context of that formal problem and Cooper’s solution—the patriarchal American Western. There will be an emphasis on what the symbolism of the American Western allegory reveals about our society and culture. Ante-bellum readings will be matched with more contemporary cultural artifacts and symbolism in film clips and documentary media. This class is focused around the discussion of course materials so preparation for class and reading materials in advance is required. Readings include original texts in American literature and letters (e.g. My Bondage, My Freedom by Frederick Douglass, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Samuel Clemens, Sacred Revolt by Joel Martin, along with readings from D.H. Lawrence, William Carlos Willliams, the New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, the New Yorker, etc.). There will also be historical articles, theoretical material, and criticism collected in a course reader that will assist in analyzing both American history and the source materials we will be using. Film clips (ranging from the “Big Bang Theory” to Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”, James Cameron’s “Avatar” and “Terminator II”, to Sixty Minutes and the PBS “The American Experience”) will supplement formal reading material in each class.
There will be a take-home midterm essay, an essay/project making use of course materials and themes, and a take-home essay final exam. Attendance, participation in discussions, and office hour visits are part of course grading. Early in the semester, there will be a mandatory Friday night pot-luck dinner on Thursday September 16th or 23rd, in a Room TBD. I also provide you with the date in the syllabus.
Classes begin with film clips and may involve student presentation of reading materials before we break into a full discussion. We will be open to all perspectives, no matter how controversial or widely shared. But we will be respectful of one another, and speak in language not aimed at individuals or personalities, but at issues. Required Texts:
James Fennimore Cooper, The Pioneers;
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick;
Frederick Douglas, My Bondage, My Freedom;
Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn;
Joel Martin, Sacred Revolt
A Digital Course Reader is available on line from Copy Central on Telegraph Ave, You can also get a hard copy of the Reader at the store. There are on line versions of The Pioneers, Moby Dick, and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Within the Files Section is a rubric for expectations of expository essays, and the breakdown of assignment values and a grading scale.