ENGL 4039-004: Critical Thinking In English Studies, The Literature of Defiance

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All too often, English majors are told that their studies are impractical. W.H. Auden’s famous line, “Poetry makes nothing happen,” is often misunderstood as admitting the powerlessness of literature in general. In fact, though, literature has a track record of empowering social change. This course will examine the relative effectiveness of strategies of the “literature of defiance” across history. Poetry and fiction can dismantle taboos. Literature can also challenge and reframe what we value as a society: Describing the inspiration for Patrick Bateman, the bloodthirsty stockbroker antihero of his controversial novel American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis said that when he moved to New York City as a young man, he was taken aback by the rampant materialism of Wall Street and the ambitious strivers around him: “I wrote it as an act of defiance to stop myself from slipping into that kind of lifestyle.” His novel led many readers to question this way of life as well.
Topics may include:

-Banned books 
-Literature (including the trial transcript for the case against I Am Curious Yellow) that helped dismantle laws against “obscenity”
-Books and other media questioning censorship and government control of communication (including the screenplay for Snowden, about one of the most polarizing figures in recent American history: a government contractor who surreptitiously gathers and exposes state secrets)
-Boundary-pushing literary depictions of violence, from the severed heads in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus onwards
-Literary defiance of racial barriers (including debates over Mark Twain’s depiction of a black man escaping slavery, on one hand, and his use of what some call racial slurs, on the other)
-Texts that defy traditional conceptions of what deserves to be called literature (including video games)
-Literature defying traditional taboos related to gender (including the condemnation of sex outside of marriage and of depictions of queer love)
-Literary depictions of prohibited and controlled substances (including Brave New World)
-Literature transgressing moral ideas of the sacred (such as the suggestion that the rich eat the superfluous children of poor people in Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal)

This course is restricted to Junior and Senior English majors, and has a pre-requisite of both ENGL 2102 and 2112 with a minimum grade of C- in each.
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