How do the forms through which we encounter the world shape who we are, and how we in turn seek to shape reality anew? This quarter we’ll start with Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno to peer into how the form of the novel shaped 19th-century American ideas of who is human, what constitutes freedom and justice, and the why of time. From this discussion will come our exploration of how artists from recent years have pushed the use of genre to give presence and understanding to that which is otherwise unspeakable or inexpressible. We’ll look at various genres of fiction (like graphic novels, novels, short stories), nonfiction (like documentary, creative nonfiction, personal narrative), and performance (like standup comedy) to think through how genre makes possible, as well as disciplines, cultural transformations in emotion that shape perception of race and gender.
Material for the quarter, in whole and in excerpt (to be edited down as needed): Benito Cereno by Herman Melville; Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi; I’m the One that I Want by Margaret Cho; Mind the Gap directed by Bing Liu; Marshawn Lynch: A History directed by David Shields; Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine; “The Book of Martha” by Octavia Butler; On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong; Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong; Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals by Saidiya Hartman; In the Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe; Anis Bawarshi on genre; Sianne Ngai on minor feelings; Toni Morrison on the racialized imagination; and Peter Brooks on plot theory.