Course Description: “The Evidence of Things Not Seen”
I borrow this title from James Baldwin’s investigation of the “unsolved” murders of black children in Atlanta in order to flag the ongoing tensions and marked disconnections between mass-mediated national narratives and the historical realities they repress. Among other things, these cultural narratives represent America as: “the land of equal opportunity,” the champion of “liberty,” “democracy,” and “civil rights”; a “color blind society,” and “multicultural mosaic”; a nation united in its respect for the “sanctity of all human life”; and an international force for “peace, justice, human freedom, and prosperity.” Virtually all of them exemplify historically specific expressions of U.S. liberalism, ranging from the “cold war liberal consensus” to contemporary “neoliberalism” and its rearticulation under Donald Trump. As a group, they tend to exalt the “self-made individual” and they routinely celebrate the “free market” as the engine of human prosperity. We will track articulations of these ideological narratives and pointed challenges to them from the cold war to the present; in the process we will pay particular attention to experimental texts whose formal strategies are a significant component of the challenges they pose to hegemonic narratives of American exceptionalism, multiculturalism, the “new world order,” the (global) market place, and the policies that purport to “make America Great Again.” A course packet of short fiction and social critiques is required, as are the following texts: Octavia Butler, Dawn; Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World And Me; Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickle and Dimed; Le,The Gangster We Are All Looking; Yamashita, Through the Arc of the Rain Forest and probably another fiction.