Tu/Th 11-12:30 101 Morgan Instructor: Dora Zhang

Joy, grief, anxiety, shame, desire, jealousy, fear, hope: emotions are a familiar part of ordinary life, even if it’s sometimes hard to say exactly what they are and where they come from. We tend to talk about feelings in terms of individual experience, but emotions are also public, social, and political, at the same time that publics and politics are very much emotional. Emotions like fear, anxiety, joy, and hope play a role in galvanizing activist movements and political campaigns, they cause economic markets to fluctuate, and they serve to create collectives as well as to determine who is excluded.

Nor are emotions neutrally assigned to subjects in the cultural imagination. From “black anger” to “white guilt,” from the “fiery” Latina to the “impassive” Asian, who is understood to be emotional and what emotions they are associated with is frequently organized along lines of race, gender, class, and sexuality, each of which has its own histories in the U.S. At the same time, the experiences of being racialized, gendered, and sexed subjects have psychic implications that accompany the more obvious economic and structural effects of discrimination.

In this class, we will examine the cultural politics of emotion in American life by looking at a range of aesthetic texts from the 20th century to the present (novels, memoirs, poems, plays, essays, documentaries, and narrative films). Critical readings from a range of theorists and scholars (from literary studies, cultural studies, sociology, political theory, and philosophy) will aid us in looking at the relations between lived experience and social structures. From Aristotle’s famous formulation of “catharsis” as the aim of tragedy, art has long been understood in relation to the emotions, both those it provokes and those it registers. We will ask what emotions do, what their histories are, how they circulate, or conversely how they “stick” to certain people or certain experiences. At the same time we will also pay attention to the variety of aesthetic strategies that have been used to record, process, express, and critique emotions.

Required Texts

Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Films (made available at Media Resources or online)

David France, How to Survive a Plague

Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing

Matthieu Kassovitz, La Haine

Douglas Sirk, Imitation of Life

Critical essays will be made available on bCourses and as a course reader.

Grading Breakdown

 Attendance and participation in discussion section (15%)

 Three 2-page critical reading responses to course texts (10% each, total 20%)

 Final paper (30%) 5-7pp

 Final take-home exam (25%)