AMS 390 • Hedonism and Narcissism in America
7:00 PM-10:00 PM
(Ideas and Mentalities: Oh Wild Ecstasy!: The Carnivalization of Recent America "At one of my parents' parties I saw my father disappear into the bushes, right in front of my mother, with his arm around a woman. . .my mother never turned a hair." --- Saucie Sedgwick This is a thematic interdisciplinary research course dealing mostly with ideas, values and emotions in the twentieth century. The American gospel of individualism and the habit of constant self-analysis joined with the demise of Victorian religious ethics (Gertrude Stein set out to "kill the nineteenth century") and William James' loose pragmatic philosophy have unleashed immense new vistas for the study of the dark side of individualism. Europeans, for example, jealous of America's high standard of living, label the United States a society consumed with consumerism, selfishness, arrogance, dissipation, and greed. Others hail America as the new, free avant garde Sodom and Gomorra of, say, Andy Warhol, Studio 54,the Playboy philosophy, the "patriot" values of Larry Flint, Edie Sedgewick as the "Girl of the Year," Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, Janis Joplin, the "Piss Christ," and above all, John F. Kennedy's "Camelot" -- "Happy Birthday Mr. President. M.M.X.X." Veteran readers of Self magazine are also welcome, as are avid fans of commercials for deodorants, hair spray, and the models who demonstrate them. These models are often seen at pseudo events on the arms of producers, unwashed rock musicians, and gay used car dealers dabbling in strip clubs and home steam baths. The course will begin with selected readings and student reports covering the abundance of literature on this subject. However, the primary task of the course will be the writing of a 20-page or article-length term paper, hopefully of publishable quality and of distinct relevance to the course whether it deals with the twentieth century, Generation X, or even the nineteenth century. Benjamin Franklin' s Autobiography, Walt Whitman's Song of Myself, or Henry Adams' The Education of Henry Adams are fair game but hardly original topics from the past. Sin is the real focus! Hawthorne would love this class! After the initial reading and orientation sessions, the class will suspend for several weeks while students write their research papers. The classes will resume. Two copies of each paper will be placed on reserve at the Undergraduate Library and one delivered to the instructor at 224 Geography Building, hopefully on the Friday before the Monday class. Everyone will read everyone else's papers and, taking brief notes, be ready to comment on them in class. The final grade will depend primarily on the research paper, but class participation will also be taken into consideration.