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Problems in American Cultural History

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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



Single subject students will submit an essay (15 pp. minimum) whose theme they will consult with one of the lecturers. They will also sit for a final exam concerning all lecture topics and examined by a board including of some or all lecturers in the course. The examination consists of two questions covering two course topics selected by the board. Students are expected to sum up relevant aspects of the selected topics and discuss them critically using their knowledge of primary texts as well as available secondary literature.

Two-subject students may enroll in this course as in any special programme seminar. Regular attendance is required. To obtain credits, students will submit an essay (15 pp. minimum) whose theme they will consult with one of the lecturers in the course. The essay will be evaluated by the same lecturer with whom they have discussed their topic.

DESCRIPTIONS OF INDIVIDUAL LECTURES 1. February 21-March 13 (4 sessions)

Professor David Robbins 1. EMERSON´S MATURE ESSAYS (February 21, 28)

Emerson´s mature essays, The Conduct of Life (1860), Society and Solitude (1870), and Letters and Social Aims (1876). How Emerson´s thinking matured after 1850, with personal development and changing conditions. The lecture/seminar will examine developments and divergences from, comparisons and contrasts with, Emerson´s thinking and writing prior to 1850--namely Nature (1836), Essays First Series (1841), and Essays Second Series (1844). 2. AMERICAN ROMANCERS AFTER HAWTHORNE (March 6, 13)

An examination of the practitioners of the American romance tradition who built upon the distinction, made by Nathaniel Hawthorne, between "romances" and "fictions" (novels). Examined will be Henry James´s The Europeans, Mark Twain´s Huckleberry Finn, Kate Chopin´s The Awakening, Scott Fitzgerald´s The Great Gatsby, Ralph Ellison´s Invisible Man, Thomas Pynchon´s The Crying of Lot 49, and Tom Robbins´s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. 2. March 20-April 3 (3 sessions)

Pavla Veselá, Ph.D. 1. AMERICAN FEMINISM (March 20 and March 27)

In this lecture and a follow-up seminar, we will study the phenomenon of American feminism. We will start with some essential historical writings from the first wave of feminism at the end of the 19th century, including the letters of Sarah Grimke, the ?Declaration of Sentiments? issued at the first women?s rights convention in 1848 at Seneca Falls, and extracts from Sojourner Truth?s ?Ain?t I a Woman??

While the first wave of feminism was primarily concerned with women?s suffrage and their legal equality, the second wave extended its scope to women?s full social and economic equality. Therefore, discussions included women?s reproductive rights (contraception and abortion), sexual behavior, language, literature, religion, history, etc. We will again study several texts from the period, including extracts from Betty Friedan?s The Feminine Mystique, Elaine Showalter?s A Literature of Their Own, and Dale Spender?s Man Made Language.

Finally, even though many critics disagree, the third wave of American feminism emerged in the late 1980s as a response to the anti-feminist backlash during the Reagan era. In the light of such critiques of second-wave feminism as Mohanty?s ?Under Western Eyes,? the third wave is more aware of race, ethnicity, and nationality (but remains less concerned with class, for example). Generally, it is post-structuralist, believing in micropolitics and largely located in the academy. Major figures include Judith Butler, Wendy Brown, Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, Maxine Hong Kingston, or Cherrie Moraga.


Daly, Mary. ?The Spiritual Dimension of Women?s Liberation.? A Reader in Feminist Knowledge, ed. Sneja Gunew. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Faludi, Susan. ?Introduction: Blame It on Feminism.? Backlash. New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Friedan, Betty. ?The Problem That Has No Name.? The Feminine Mystique. New York: Bantam, 1963.

Kinser, Amber. ?Negotiating Spaces For/Through Third-Wave Feminism.? NWSA Journal 16.3 (Fall 2004).

MacKinnon. ?The Oppression of Women, a Social Disease.? Le Figaro July 19, 2005.

Mohanty, Chandra. ?Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.? Feminist Review 30 (Autumn 1988).

Schneir, Miriam, ed. Feminisms: The Essential Historical Writings. New York: Vintage, 1972. (Grimke, Sarah, ?Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women;? ?Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions;? Truth, Sojourner, ?Ain?t I a Woman;? Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, ?Address to the New York State Legislature 1854 and 1860;? and Anthony, Susan B, ?Woman Wants Bread Not the Ballot!?)

Showalter, Ellaine. ?The Female Tradition.? A Literature of Their Own. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1977. 2. THE GHOST STORIES OF HENRY JAMES AND EDITH WHARTON

In the introduction to an anthology Shapes That Haunt the Dusk (1907), William Dean Howells mentioned American love of the supernatural, ?the borderland between experience and illusion.? He himself ventured beyond the limits of contemporary realism into the ambiguous realm of the fantastic (to echo the definition of Tzvetan Todorov), along with a number of writers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including Jack London or Mark Twain.

In this seminar, we will discuss three outcomes of such ventures into the fantastic: Henry James?s The Turn of the Screw and two short stories by Edith Wharton: ?The Eyes? and ?All Souls.? We will observe how?in the scientific, secular, and individualistic age when these stories originated?re-emerged preoccupations with God, death, human psyche, communication, gender and racial difference, nature, and dark closets. Secondly, we will propose how these works departed from or developed the Gothic strand of American literature, primarily defined by the writings of Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.


James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw (A Norton Critical Edition). New York: Norton, 1999.

Wharton, Edith. ?The Eyes? and ?All Souls.? The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. New York: Scribner, 1997.


Felman, Shoshana. ?Henry James: Madness and the Risks of Practice (Turning the Screw of Interpretation).? In The Turn of the Screw (A Norton Critical Edition).

Balestra, Gianfranca. ??For the Use of the Magazine Morons?: Edith Wharton Rewrites the Tale of the Fantastic.? Studies in Short Fiction 33.1 (Winter 1996).

Todorov, Tzvetan. Extracts from The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. In The Turn of the Screw (A Norton Critical Edition). 3. April 10-April 24 (3 sessions)

Erik S. Roraback, D.Phil.


This single lecture and accompanying two screening sessions with post-film and post-clip discussions will show clips from the American director Buster Keaton?s Seven Chances (1925), Neighbors (dir. with Eddie Cline, 1920), The Balloonatic (dir. with Eddie Cline, 1923), Our Hospitality (1923), The General (1926), The Playhouse (1921) and Cops (1922). There will also be a screening of his major film, Sherlock, Jr. (1924).

Keaton (1895-1966) stands today as a comet director and actor who?s stock on the exchange of cinema capital could scarcely be over-valued; his distinguishing trait of excellent comic aesthetic effects in his images that are dotted through and through with a certain quality of comic brilliance are, arguably, unrivalled in any other director of his era or of any other. In this way Keaton?s images elicit a certain kind of light touch yet also bedazzled response that may even invoke dizziness that enables the individual viewer to escape from her or his raging interpretive ego and by extension identity reducible to a reductively defined self. In this way, Keatonian dizziness reminds one of the French thinker Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe?s (1940-) comment that

Dizziness can come upon one; it does not simply occur. Or rather, in it, nothing occurs. It is the pure suspension of occurrence: a caesura or a syncope. This is what ?drawing a blank? means. What is suspended, arrested, tipping suddenly into strangeness, is the present of the present (the being-present of the present). And what then occurs without occurring (for it is by definition what cannot occur) is?without being?nothingness, the ?nothing of being? (ne-ens). Dizziness is an experience of nothingness, of what is, as Heidegger says, ?properly? non-occurrence, nothingness. Nothing in it is ?lived,? as in all experience, because all experience is the experience of nothingness: the experience of dizziness here, as much as the anguish Heidegger describes, or as much as laughter in Bataille.

There is, conversely, in a more public tack a kind of negative understanding of the concept of dizziness by the awesome power of the Hollywood system that helped to destroy Keaton by encouraging and so igniting his own proclivity to drink himself out of existence on the big screen; or as the film scholar David A. Cook tells us,

Keaton simply could not adapt himself to working within the restrictive environment of the studio system, and his unhappiness manifested itself in heavy drinking [?] his career as a filmmaker effectively ended in 1929.

Ostensibly, Keaton as a kind of shooting star of American cinematic culture refused to allow his own extreme ?variability? (the German social theorist Niklas Luhmann?s term) as an artist to be over-determined, over-ideologized and over-subjectivized by the controlling and dominating apparatus of a studio environment that caused the wings of his own exceptional facility and talent to be tied down to treacherous effect. Cook continues by broadcasting,

It seems clear today that of the two great silent clowns, [Charlie] Chaplin and Keaton, Keaton had the stronger sense of narrative structure and mise-en-scene. His films as a director were often mo