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ENGL 537 A: Topics In American Studies

Sexuality & Citizenship

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
PAR 120
Katherine Cummings

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537 Fall Seminar: Special Topics in American Studies: Sexuality and Citizenship
Kate Cummings

This seminar rests on three premises: first, the reproduction of the nation-state is inextricably bound up with the production and regulation of sexualities; second, historic changes wrought by capitalism extend to and depend upon transformations of sexualities in whose construction the human sciences, law, literature, film and other disciplines participate; third, sexuality is embodied in race, gender, class, age, and other social specificities. These three understandings orient an interdisciplinary investigation of both hegemonic narratives which predicate national belonging on not being (identified as) a “sexual pervert” or “degenerate” and on counter-narratives, which affirm queer desires, imagine queer alliances and work to identify the linkages between normative sexual regimes and regulatory apparatuses of capitialism, imperialism, racism and masculinism in which sexuality is enmeshed.
Three historical moments structure our examination of sexuality and citizenship. The first spans the late-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. The nation is reconstructed at the expense of African Americans; restrictive immigration laws target Asians and Southeastern Europeans; the U.S. becomes an imperial power; capitalism transforms social relations and the landscape; America is “remasculinized”; the homosexual emerges as a pathological being and the heterosexual as his healthy/normal opposite; experts and their populist purveyors warn that the survival of “our race” depends on reproducing a vigorous, native-born Anglo-American stock through scientific selection, on the one hand, and on the other hand eliminating, sterilizing or segregating African Americans, recent immigrants, whites who cannot or will not be integrated into the circuits of capitalism, and homosexuals/inverts, all of whom are classed as “perverts”; critical histories of sexuality, race and nation and modern literary works queer this nationalist narrative. The second historical moment stretches from the cold war into the civil rights era. Baldwin’s Another Country and shorter texts are in dialogue with liberal narratives which (re)identify sexual and political dissent with each other and both with unAmericanism, which locate the source of homosexuality and communism outside the West and masculinity in the Orient and domestic “momism,” which fetishize the African American man and Asian woman, and which offer various solutions to “the Negro problem.” The final moment is our own. The central text is Yamashita’s The Tropic of Orange, in which a coalition of U.S. racial minorities, undocumented immigrants, sexual deviants, and the homeless take on U.S. imperial history.

A background in critical theory is strongly recommended; prior reading of Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Vol. I and Butler’s Gender Trouble is mandatory. All students should be prepared to discuss Foucault on the first day, and in September I will email the class a set of questions to guide our conversation about his genealogy. Eight short critiques of assigned texts, a conference length (7-8 page) final paper, and group presentation on one of the seminar’s topics are required.

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Last updated: 
March 15, 2016 - 3:31pm