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Topics in English Literature

English Literature 4621 - Spring 2020

Thanks to the global resurgence of rightwing populism, the term "fascist" has reentered serious discussions of the American present--intelligently and otherwise. This seminar will sidestep the charged debate over whether fascism and related forms of authoritarianism might take root in American soil to examine the robust but often forgotten tradition of American anti-authoritarianism. Instead of asking "Will it happen here?," in other words, we will ask how intellectuals with an eye on the U.S. wrote and acted to keep it from happening. We'll take up three main lines of thought along the way: historical narratives from Richard Hofstadter's classic essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" (1964) to Nancy Isenberg's prize-winning "White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America" (2016); theoretical accounts from "The Origins of Totalitarianism" (1951), Hannah Arendt's commanding first American publication, to Vaughn Rasberry's "Race and the Totalitarian Century" (2016); and creative dystopian fictions from Sinclair Lewis's more-cited-than-read "It Can't Happen Here" (1935) to Margaret Atwood's enduring feminist novel "The Handmaid's Tale" (1985). These readings will help us tackle a number of pressing questions about responsible literary study, not to mention informed citizenship, circa 2020. What will become of canons of American exceptionalism amid an international wave of reactionary neo-nationalisms? What does the unexpected emergence of an influential, explicitly anti-intellectual alt-right in the U.S. mean for the future of feminist criticism, disability studies, critical race studies, and queer theory? Should "paranoid reading" now mount a principled comeback? Satisfies the Twentieth Century and later requirement.

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Topics in English Literature
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