"Why is this century worse?"--this is the question the poet Anna Akhmatova famously posed in 1919 after the devastation of the First World War. Her question became all the more pressing as the 20th century progressed. Within the span of just a few decades, a seemingly apocalyptic cycle of crises emerged as liberal democracies collapsed, industrialization enabled total war, and a new form of tyrannical state apparatus emerged: the totalitarian state. Facing threats of censorship, surveillance, and incarceration, many writers of these decades were forced to confront their relationship to political power. This course will explore how writers responded to these political conditions, and, in doing so, reflected on the act of writing itself. As we interrogate a range of styles and forms, from the absurdist theater of Samuel Beckett to the journalistic ideals of honesty in W.H. Auden's poetry, this course will examine what it means to create art in the face of tyranny. Among the authors we will read are Albert Camus, Marguerite Duras, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, Peter Weiss, and Anna Akhmatova. Alongside these works, we will also be considering critical and theoretical perspectives from the works of Hannah Arendt, Erich Fromm, Jean Paul Sartre, and Simone Weil. Each unit of the course will center around questions and conflicts these writers faced, asking what the place of beauty is in times of upheaval, what the purpose of resistance is in conditions of futility, and what obligations writers have to represent the political realities of their time. In the final unit of this course, we will see how contemporary authors hearken back to the literature of the 20th century to make sense of our current political landscape, surveying writers' responses to events such as the 2016 American election and the war in Ukraine.
Course Attributes: EN H; FYS; BU Hum; AS HUM; FA HUM; AR HUM