AMS 370 • Postmodern America: Recent Trends in Art, Literature, Culture-W
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
This course considers postmodernity as a way of conceptualizing transformations in American culture since 1945. In that year two previously inconceivable events, the Holocaust and Hiroshima, called into question a traditional American faith in progress and redefined the very ground of existence. Since then, Americans have experienced a barrage of often unprecedented experiences, accelerating during the final decades of the twentieth century: expansion of television and other visual representations of reality; development of a suburban way of life largely focused on mass consumption; disneyfication of everyday environments; formation of multiple subcultures with their own lifestyles; ecological disasters and consciousness of a profound sense of limits; development of multiculturalism and new gender identities with accompanying backlashes; AIDS and the continuing prospect of new pandemics; computerization and information implosion; globalization and balkanization; shift from production to consumption and from spirituality to therapy; shift to a postindustrial service economy; and the rise of global terrorism and preemptive war. Perceptions of and responses to these developments have reshaped the arts and stimulated new modes of popular culture, creating a cultural landscape cutting across art, architecture, literature, political thought, journalism, photography, film, philosophy, criticism, music, dance, performance art, etc. We will examine this new cultural landscape using traditional historical analysis and new critical theories. Assigned reading will yield both a historical overview of this period and a series of themes for discussion. The instructor will serve as moderator and will encourage students to act as cultural observers and critics. The goal is to promote active responses to contemporary culture, to navigate through the vortex without being unconsciously swept along. We will also assess the usefulness of the concepts of postmodernity and postmodernism.
Because a successful seminar depends on lively informed discussions, students are expected to attend regularly, to complete assigned readings, and to participate actively in class. Written work includes four 2-page essays (10% of final grade each), a final project of at least 10 pages (30%), and a take-home final exam (15%). If necessary, reading will be checked by means of occasional unannounced quizzes. Each student will also be responsible for a short oral report, a brief oral artifact analysis, and frequent class participation (15%, including quizzes if given). Four unexcused absences reduce the final course grade by one letter; six unexcused absences constitute a final grade of F (failure). Evaluation will be based on originality and clarity of thought and expression, both written and oral. This course contains much required reading. If that worries you, then it is probably not for you.
Possible Texts large course pack with essays, articles, and chapters Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine John Barth, The End of the Road Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo Paul Auster, City of Glass Michael Sorkin, Variations on a Theme Park Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear