Imagine All the People: Communities of the Mind
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What do MySpace, Penthouse Forum, biodiesel car drivers, Republican Party members, Facebook, and readers of The New Yorker have in common? They all are part of what social theorists call "imagined communities," where the bonds of the community members must be imagined because face-to-face interaction is impossible with the other community members. You yourself probably participate actively in a number of "imagined communities" every day: the Trojan Family, for instance, or the Jay-Z Fan Club.
In this class we will read works of literature that examine the assumptions, dangers, and identities that grow out of these allegiances to communities that may be partially or wholly imagined. How imaginary, for example, are the categories of national identity, ethnicity, class, and generation? What aspects of our identity aren't imagined?
We begin with Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, a seminal book that deals with all of the allegiances listed above and the consequences of being at the center of all of them. In Invisible Cities, we try to imagine living in wholly fictional communities, while Austerlitz takes place in a community fractured by a shared trauma. Two Modernist works, A Man Without Qualities and Mrs. Dalloway, offer versions of community based on nationality and class, before and after World War I reshaped the physical and social maps of Europe. Finally, two volumes of poetry, Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady and The Face by David St. John, depict the struggle for community, real or imagined, in a world full of stereotypes and racism.
Italo Calvino. Invisible Cities. San Diego: Harcourt Trade, 1978.
Cornelius Eady. Brutal Imagination. New York: Penguin, 2001.
Robert Musil. The Man Without Qualities. Trans. S. Wilkiins and B. Pike. New York: Random, 1996.
Salman Rushdie. Midnight's Children. New York: Penguin, 1991.
W.G. Sebald. Austerlitz. Trans. Anthea Bell. New York: Random, 2002.
David St. John. The Face. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.
Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt Trade, 1990.
The Village. Dir. M. Night Shyamalan, 2004.
The Truman Show. Dir. Peter Weir, 1998.
In the Flesh: Embodied Subjects
The soul breathes through the body, and suffering, whether it starts
in the skin or in a mental image, happens in the flesh.
Although the "soul" cannot be quantified, the experiences of suffering confirm for Damasio, a neurologist, the presence of something more than mere flesh and blood. The Western philosophical tradition declares this "something more" to be evidence of a mind-body dualism. According to that tradition our bodies are deterministic and entirely physical mechanisms, while our minds exceed the physical and serve as the loci of free will, cultural creativity, and human dignity. The recent work of Damasio and other scientists dismantles the mind-body binary, however, by demonstrating how we only apprehend and engage the world through our flesh; there is no "mind" or "soul" or "spirit" acting separate from the body. To understand the mind as a captive audience of the body does not mean losing its uniqueness. For Damasio, "neither anguish nor the elation that love or art can bring about are devalued by understanding some of the myriad biological processes that make them what they are." This course combines science with pop culture, literature, and film in order to explore how we experience ourselves as embodied subjects.
Dorothy Allison. Bastard Out of Carolina. New York: Penguin, 1993.
William Gibson. Neuromancer. New York: Penguin, 1986.
Mark Haddon. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. New York: Random House, 2004.
Franz Kafka. The Metamorphosis. New York: Random House, 1972.
Suzan-Lori Parks. In the Blood. New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 2000.
Frank Norris. McTeague. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2004.
Richard Powers. Galatea 2.2. New York: Picador, 2004.
Mysterious Skin. Dir. Gregg Araki, TLA Releasing, 2005.
Silverlake Life: The View from Here. Dir. Peter Friedman, Zeitgeist Film, 1993.
Gattaca. Dir. Andrew Niccol, Columbia, 1997.
Wit. Dir. Mike Nichols, HBO, 2001.
Follow the Reader: Mimesis and Multiplying the Pleasures of the Text
For the desire to read, like all the other desires which
distract our unhappy souls, is capable of analysis.
But who shall be the master? The writer or the reader?
This course, dear Reader, is about you: your passionate interest in the written word, your drive to get to "the end," your deep attachment to "people" who don't exist. Turns out you have plenty of company, for numerous others have shown a persistent desire for textual connection: through repetitive contact with the same "like minds"; through online fan groups around particular books or genres; through reading communities like Oprah's; through film adaptations and dramatizations; and through revisions that respond to the original text in revolutionary ways, allowing us to see an old story from a new perspective. Rather "extravagant" responses, all, to the reading experience, and as such they provide us with a means to explore the multiple pleasures of texts in a very immediate and implicated manner. We'll start, therefore, with the books that compelled us to respond extravagantly-with horror, with glee, with anger, with recognition. Perhaps even with texts of our own that "talk back" to the original in provocative ways. Examining readers inside and outside of books, we'll interrogate the ways in which texts are consumed-to what ends, to what means. You'll also get to experience the pleasures (and irritations) of an online reading community, participating as a discussant, then theorizing the interactions you have as a "native informant" for the larger Thematic Option reading community. To aid you in your explorations and expositions, we'll read essays by Jonathan Franzen, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Susan Orleans, Constance Penley, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Capable analysts we'll become, but in the final analysis, it's all about reading with feeling.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Penguin, 1997.
Calvino, Italo. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. San Diego: Harcourt Trade, 1982.
Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2002.
Fielding, Helen. Bridget Jones's Diary. New York: Penguin, 1999.
Fowler, Karen Joy. The Jane Austen Book Club. New York: Plume (Penguin), 2005.
McEwan, Ian. Atonement. New York: Random House, 2003.
Schlink, Bernhard. The Reader. Trans. Carol Brown Janeway. New York: Random House, 1999.
FILMS AND MEDIA
Adaptation. Dir. Spike Jonze, Sony, 2002.
Le Fabuleux Destin d' Amélie Poulin. Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Miramax, 2001.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón, Warner Bros., 2004.
Nurse Betty. Dir. Neil LaBute, USA Films, 2000.