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Problems in American Cultural History

Class at Faculty of Arts |

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1. (4 sessions)

Professor David Robbins


Lectures: February 19 and March 4

Seminars: February 26 and March 11

There will be two principal themes in this Core Course segment:

A) There will be a preliminary consideration (to be developed in a seminar that I will offer during the 2008 summer term) of the topic of "Emerson the Pragmatist," examining how Emerson´s antiauthoritarian, antifoundational, antinomian, and "performative" attitudes and postures evolved and coalesced gradually into a set of positions seminal to the Pragmatism that came in the generation after Emerson to be articulated and recognized as "the American philosophy."

B) There will also be an preliminary exploration (likewise to be developed in another seminar that I will offer during the 2008 summer term) of the topic of "Vagueness as American Cultural Paradigm": An examination of the Emersonian origins, later manifestations, and global implications of American culture's paradigmatic valorization of personal, intellectual, spiritual, ethical, and cultural antiauthoritarianism, openness, mobility, antinomianism, and subjective authenticity-tending, some would argue, toward restlessness, instability, the explosion of boundaries, the subversion of cultural authority, moral polyvalence/drift, flirtation with a nihilism, and an embracing of "power" facilitated by uncritical acceptance, Gnostic inclusiveness, and an habitual lack of discrimination.

LITERATURE: t.b.a. 2. (2 sessions)

Pavla Veselá, Ph.D.


The events of 11th September 2001 have generated numerous responses from artists, ranging from such wide-known documentaries as Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) and Alain Brigand's 11´9"01 September 11 (2002), to science-fiction novels and thrillers as William Gibson's Pattern Recognition (2003) and Jeffrey Archer's False Impression (2006). This session, deriving its title from an anthology composed during the three months following the attacks, will discuss reactions of several most distinguished contemporary American writers. Among those included will be Ai, Amiri Baraka, Lucille Clifton, Joy Harjo, Maxine Hong Kingston, James Longenbach, Fred Moramarco, W. S. Merwin, Toni Morrison, Alicia Ostriker, Robert Pinsky, Ishmael Reed, Elizabeth Spires, and John Updike. Besides focusing on concrete issues related to September 11, we may address the potentials-as well as the limits-of literature to accept, comprehend, and transform historical events in general.


Heyen, William, ed. September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond. Silver Springs, MD: Etruscan Press, 2002. t.b.a.


With a few exceptions, American utopias and dystopias had until recently been written predominantly by white men and women. Only in the second half of the twentieth century, as a result of the social movements in the 1960s, was the genre challenged by non-whites, especially African-Americans. This session will look at two representatives: Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler. We will discuss their works in relation to those of their predecessors as well as contemporaries, such as Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888), Charlotte P. Gilman's Herland (1915), B. F. Skinner's Walden Two (1948), and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974), to which Delany responded in his 1976 novel Triton.


Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Sower. New York: Warner Books, 1993.

Delany, Samuel. Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia. New York : Bantam Books, 1976. t.b.a. 3. (2 sessions)

Erik S. Roraback, D.Phil.


These two lectures will address the cultural phenomenon of the decade and a half stay (1938-53) in the USA (first in New York City and then in southern California) of the Frankfurt School luminary and one of the major figures of twentieth-century intellectual culture, Theodor W. Adorno (1903-69), and of a select band of the work he produced (one jointly with Max Horkheimer) while in the U.S., including his under-read masterwork, Mimima Moralia.


Selections from the following texts will be available in a course-reader:

Adorno, Theodor W. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. Trans. E.F.N. Jephcott. London: Verso, 1978.

. The Stars Down to Earth and other Essays on the irrational in culture. Ed. with an intro. Stephen Cook. London: Verso, 1994.

Adorno, Theodor W. and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2002.

Jenemann, David. Adorno in America. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Roraback, Erik S. "Adorno, Baroque Modernity, & U.S. Culture". (handout, 2008). 4. (2 sessions)

Prof. PhDr. Martin Procházka, CSc.


Two lectures will discuss social, historical and aesthetic "meanings of deindustrialisation" in the U.S. and especially in the West. The anecdotes on which most "histories" of ghost towns are based will be analyzed with respect to the conventions of the characteristic genre of folk narratives, the "tall tale," vital for the development of modern American literature. Two aesthetic and historical paradigms (aesthetics of decay / global history of economy and technology vs. aesthetics of humor / local anecdotal histories) will be confronted and questions concerning the nature of history and literature in the West will be raised.

LITERATURE (selection):

Gray Brechin, Imperial San Francisco (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999)

W.A. Chalfant, Gold, Guns, and Ghost Towns (Stanford: Stanford U.P., 1947)

Jefferson Cowie and Joseph Heathcott (eds.), Beyond the Ruins: The Meanings of Deindustrialization (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2003)

Mike Davis, Dead Cities and Other Tales (New York: The New Press 2002)

Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, ed. Constantin V. Boundas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).

Perry Eberhart, Guide to the Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps (Denver, Co: Sage Books, 1959)

Tim Edensor Industrial Ruins: Spaces, Aesthetics and Materiality (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2005)

Stephen Greenblatt, "Introduction," in Marvelous Possessions (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991), 1-25.

Gary J. Hausladen (ed.), Western Places, American Myths: How We Think about the West (Reno and Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 2003)

Charles C. Jones, Jr., The Dead Towns of Georgia, Collections of Georgia Historical Society, vol. 4 (Savannah: Morning News Steam Priniting House, 1878), rpt. The Reprint Company, Spartanburg, S.C., 1974.

Michael Kowalewski (ed.), Gold Rush: A Literary Exploration (Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1997)

Living Ghost Towns (New York: Crescent Books, 1986)

Rose Macaulay, The Pleasure of Ruins (1953), rpt. (New York: Walker and Company, 1966)

John McClintock, Pioneer Days in the Black Hills, ed. Edward L. Senn (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000, 1st ed. 1939)

John Albert Milbauer, The Historical Geography of the Silver City Mining Region in New Mexico, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California Riverside, 1983

Donald C. Miller, Ghost Towns of California (Boulder, Col.: Pruett Publishing Co., 1978)

Eugene Moehring, Urbanism and Empire in the Far West (Reno and Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 2004)

Liza Nicholas, Elaine M. Bapis, Thomas J. Harvey (eds.), Imagining the Big Open: Nature, Identity and Play in the New West (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2003)

Stonewall Mine and Cuyamaca City. A Historical and Archeological Investigation of Southern California´s largest gold mine (Sacramento: The State of California, 1986)

Mark Twain, Roughing It (1872)

Muriel Sibell Wolle, The Bonanza Trail (New York: Bonanza Books, 1953)

Henry B. Wonham, Mark Twain and the Art of the Tall Tale (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993)

Tony and Eva Worobiec, Ghosts in the Wilderness (Great Britain, Germany, Canada: AAPPL, Artist´s and Photographer´s Press, Ltd., 2003

This text is not available in the current language. Showing version "cs".Annotation

Na tomto přednáškovém cyklu se podílejí všichni pracovníci Semináře americké literatury a kulturních studií. Základním cílem je seznámit studenty přednáškovou a seminární formou s problematikou vlastního výzkumu a pěstovat v nich kritickou schopnost hodnocení zkoumaného materiálu i použitých teorií a metod.