Tu/W/Th/10:00-12:30 81 Evans
81 Evans Hall
America has a special romance with what’s underground: from the Gold Rush to the oil fields to fracking, we’ve long imagined a secret store of wealth and resources beneath the soil, even as we also fear enough won’t ever be found there. In California especially, a legacy of worrying and warring over the groundwater stretches from the “water wars” of the early 20th century to our most recent ballot Proposition 1, which sought to manage the care and movement of water to various parts of the state.
There is, of course, another American underground: the sites and networks of cultural innovation, political radicalism, and social protest. In the 19th century, ex-slaves escaped the southern United States along an Underground Railroad of sympathetic abolitionists. In the 20th century various groups continued to borrow on this figurative notion of being “underground”: the dissident Weather Underground, an avant-garde movement of “underground film,” even Lou Reed and John Cale’s Velvet Underground; feminist, queer, and socialist activists have often gathered “underground.” And sometimes underground is nothing more than an idea of retreat, refuge, or the grave.
This summer we’ll go on a tour of subcultures and subterranean byways, asking after the relationship between what’s literally stored or moving beneath the earth and what is figured as “underground” thought, action, music, or art. Is there an intimate connection between what’s taboo (or even criminal) and new forms of cultural production? From the dark streets of Los Angeles, to the oil fields of New Mexico, along the snaking subway, and into the basement, we’ll draw on a diverse collection of texts—films, poetry, music, fictional and nonfictional narrative, protest literature, and critical essays. We’ll be particularly attune to how and why the “underground” seems like such an important metaphor for acts of resistance and experimental forms of representation. And we’ll ask what happens when what lies beneath emerges suddenly (sometimes in a gush or a flood) on the surface.
Films and Photography and Music:
Roman Polanski, Chinatown
John Cassavettes, Shadows
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Tony Silver, Style Wars
Emile de Antonio, Underground
Walker Evans, “Subway Portraits”
Bob Dylan, “Basement Tapes”
Poetry and Fiction:
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (selections)
Ralph Ellison Invisible Man (selections)
Edgar Allen Poe, “The Premature Burial” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”
Poetry by Hart Crane, Alice Notley, Muriel Rukeyser, William Carlos Williams
Selected critical work by Wendell Berry, Judith Butler, Rachel Carson, Manny Farber, Frederick Jameson, Greil Marcus, Walter Ong.
Course Catalog Number: 28225