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ENGL 200 B: Reading Literary Forms

The Functions of Sex: Race and Gender in American Literature

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 10:50am - 1:00pm
SWS 026
Jason H Morse

Additional Details:

This class will think about the function of sex, primarily in the gendered production of race in America. Sex is had, used, and exchanged for many reasons – for reproduction, for pleasure, for building intimacy, and for securing financial and other forms of well-being. Sex is also used as a source of control and manipulation, of moralizing and shaming, and as a form of violence and a legitimization of other violences. Sex and sexuality have also come to mean many things as part of our socialization, as forms of identity, as ways of evaluating people, and as indicators of normativity and even rationality. Sex and sexuality are also the modalities through which race and gender are (re)produced and lived in America. We will inquire into the sexualization of race and the racialization of sex/uality and the various ways these are gendered.

For these reasons and more, sex has also been the subject, whether explicitly or implicitly, of many (if not most) literary narratives. This class will analyze the representations of sex in many American cultural forms – including fiction, drama, poetry, film, and the graphic novel – over a wide range of time – 1850s to the present. We will investigate what sex does in literature and how it is used, including the way it is deployed to theorize, challenge, and reinforce U.S. racial and gender formation at particular historical moments. We will question what sex does in and to the narratives we read and the ways different cultural forms represent and engage the subject of sex to make claims about the social world and to intervene in the hegemonic and stereotypical definitions that label people. We will sometimes read literary texts against the grain, looking for the ways that the repression of sex in some narratives results in ruptures and contortions of form and content as the unspoken makes itself known and for the assumptions texts make about the functions of sex in relation to the production of race and gender in America.

All of our critical and literary readings will engage the intersection of sex, race, and gender. Our literary and cultural texts will include William Wells Brown’s Clotel, James Baldwin’s Another Country, David Henry Hwang’s play M. Butterfly, and Charles Burns’s graphic novel Black Hole and may include poetry and short fiction by Kate Chopin, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Gwendolyn Brooks, R. Zamora Linmark, Richard Wright, and others. These will be reading alongside critical essays/readings, which may include Michel Foucault, Angela Davis, Judith Butler, Gail Bederman, Roderick Ferguson, Hazel Carby, and literary criticism on select cultural texts. We will think about how the critical essays shape our readings of cultural texts as well as what our cultural texts have to say about the concepts in our critical essays.

There will be a quarter’s worth of reading in these 4 weeks; each week will be centered on one longer text coupled with shorter literary reading and critical texts. Students should be prepared to come to every class not only having done the readings but also ready to discuss and present their thoughts on them. Assessment will be based on engaged class participation, contextualizing presentations, and various writing assignments that engage close readings and application of our course texts.

Catalog Description: 
Covers techniques and practice in reading and enjoying literature in its various forms: poetry, drama, prose fiction, and film. Examines such features of literary meanings as imagery, characterization, narration, and patterning in sound and sense. Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Other Requirements Met: 
Last updated: 
March 24, 2016 - 11:25am