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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2008

T C 357 • Myths of War and Violence

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
43735 TTh
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
CRD 007A

Course Description

How would you talk about, explain, remember or forget violence or killing that you had witnessed, experienced, or done? How did ancient Greek culture and late-19th and 20th-21st-century British and American cultures deal with the concepts and realities of violence and warfare? How do we now approach the realities of war?

How is violence used, controlled, encouraged, punished, experienced, remembered and explained by different societies and by individuals within those societies? What effects, short-term and long-term, does the experience of violence have on people and how do they use what we call 'myths' (a shorthand for different forms of 'story-teling') to deal with those effects? How does language fail us when we try to make sense of violence.

We shall consider these questions while reading, viewing and discussing a range of mythic forms: for the 19th-20th and now 21st century: poetry and prose: fiction (historical and parable-form novels) and non-fiction (including biography, memoir, oral history, journalistic essays, and critical/analytical studies) and film (including documentary and the filming of a Greek play in production).

We shall begin in two ways: (1) by looking at contemporary accounts of war and atrocity and serious discussions of what these accounts mean; (2) by looking at the earliest literate western culture and how it dealt with these same phenomena: ancient Greek culture and Homer, Thucydides and Euripides.

We shall then consider how myths are constructed in reaction to war and violence and how they deal with important social concepts: good and evil, truth, law, justice and injustice, idealism and pragmatism.

In this version of the course we shall concentrate on how individuals use 'myths' to come to terms (psychological, ethical, emotional, philosophical, personal) with violence that they have experience, witnessed, done or know about, and also with social inequality (itself a form of social violence) and how social inequality makes one segment of society bear the burden of social violence.

We shall also spend some time discussing how recent incidents of violence get reported. And why that how is what it is.


James Dawe, That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity
Homer, The Iliad (Lombardo translation)
Euripides, Medea
T. O'Brien, The Things They Carried
Tobias Wolff, In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War.

And a course booklet of selections from some of the following: S. Freud, "Disillusionment in Time of War"; J. Shay, Achilles in Vietnam; Thucydides, On Justice Power and Human Nature; S. Sassoon and W. Owen, selected poems; P. Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory; The Boys' Crusade; K. Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five; M. Herr, Dispatches; B. Edelman, ed., Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam; Wallace Terry, Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans; Michael Lesy, Wisconsin Death Trip and The Forbidden Zone; S. Terkel, The Good War; J. Schaefer, Shane; Chris Hedges, Gaza Diary; M.B. Cosmopoulos ed., Experiencing War: Trauma and Society in Ancient Greece and Today; Bill Katovsky and Tim Carlson, Embedded; the journalism of Gordon Dillow and Rinker Buck; additional selected war poetry.
Films: Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam; A Dream of Passion; Little Dieter Needs to Fly. [FILMS SUBJECT TO CHANGE]


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