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ENGL 361 A: American Political Culture: After 1865

Work That Body!

Meeting Time: 
Katherine Cummings

Additional Details:

English 361 “Work That Body!”
This study of contemporary American Political Culture enlists an exercise meme in order to flag the physical and interpretive work we perform on ourselves, the monitoring we extend to others, and in so doing reproduce, modify or contest cultural norms. Consider. What does it mean to “work that body”—in the gym, on the job, on the streets, in the sheets, and so on? What sort of bodies are we working to fashion? What imperatives are we responding to? What cultural codes direct the meaning and value we assign to others' bodies? Fiction, film, personal testimonies, (social) science, and cultural critique offer provisional answers to these questions. Our investigation begins with two body technologies whose contours and functions are described by Foucault. The first, discipline, is designed to fabricate “useful”—i.e. well trained and productive—individuals who can be counted on to abide by and enforce societal norms. The second, biopolitics, regulates populations so as to maximize the well being of “the people” by withholding life to the point of death from “others.” We will consult these cultural critiques and incorporate others in examining an array of contemporary U.S. body work. Topics are likely to include: torture, incarceration and racial profiling; assisted reproductive technologies; cosmetic surgery, weight loss programs, pumping iron, and other exercise regimes; hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery and the requirements for accessing them; and new biotechnologies that dissolve the boundaries between human and animal, organism and machine. The following questions are intended to guide your responses to required texts; feel free to rework them and add your own. 1. What longings and fears motivate the development and adoption of these technologies? 2. What are their costs and benefits—to whom? 3. Which of them might be employed to fashion new subjectivities, communities or kinship networks? (Trans identities and queer families are obvious cases in point. Are their others?) 4. What is at stake for you in embracing, opposing, or refurbishing any of these technologies?

Required Texts: Course Packet, Dawn; Geek Love, and one or two other fictions

Catalog Description: 
American literature in its political and cultural context from the Civil War to the present. Emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to American literature, including history, politics, anthropology, and mass media. Includes attention to thinking critically about differences of power and inequality stemming from sociocultural, political, and economic difference.
GE Requirements: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Other Requirements Met: 
Last updated: 
March 16, 2016 - 11:20am