What is the relationship between literature and revolution? Can works of art and literature address political reality in a way that journalism or nonfiction can’t? Can political art be more than mere propaganda? What does it mean to call an idea, a work of art, or a scientific theory “revolutionary”? What is the connection between revolutionary aesthetics and revolutionary politics?
In this course we’ll explore various manifestations of the artistic avant-garde and the desire to transform life through art. We’ll read a number of experimental poets and examine how their play with language opens up different political possibilities. We’ll also study the political fear and hope expressed by art and literature inspired by the historical revolutions in Haiti, Russia, and elsewhere. And, in order to think about the crucial link between the humanities and sciences, we will read Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, a science-fiction novel about an extraordinary scientist and an anarchist revolution, alongside Thomas Kuhn’s theoretical work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
A central premise of this class is that thinking about complex questions like these is best accomplished through extensive writing and rewriting. This course will imagine the practice of writing as means of exploring new ideas and clarifying thinking. It will focus on the process of writing and consider the many choices, both simple and sophisticated, that go into communicating interpretations of a literary text to a reader.
Texts will be drawn from the following:
Fuenteovejuna by Lope de Vega
Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke
Battleship Potemkin directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (Cahier d’un retour au pays natal) by Aimé Césaire
Explosion in a Cathedral (El siglo de las luces) by Alejo Carpentier
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn
Poetry by William Blake, Walt Whitman, William Butler Yeats, César Vallejo, Bertolt Brecht, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Gabriela Mistral, Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda, Louis Zukofsky, Lorine Niedecker, George Oppen, Adrienne Rich, Robert Duncan, and Audre Lorde