ENGL 675-01: Class Fictions in the Contemporary US
“Economic inequality” has become a familiar term adopted by media pundits, academics, politicians, and activists to encompass the devastating consequences of the most recent U.S. economic recession as well as unions’ loss of power, crumbling public school systems, and the proliferation of hungry, homeless families (to name but a few). We rarely hear directly from those with the least power; more typically, we encounter a kaleidoscope of images, voices, stories—and ideologies to match—circulated by a wide variety of popular cultural as well as ‘elite’ texts hoping to make that population visible. This interdisciplinary course provides critical/ theoretical tools for navigating such representations but also expands the terrain by featuring writers/musical artists/filmmakers who claim membership in “low” classes and cultures: working-class/poverty class/’underclass.’ It provides a recent historical context—from the 1990s to the present—to demonstrate how class differences and conflicts have helped shape our current U.S. economic, legal, and social structures as well as to emphasize that “class” itself is a complex and shifting identity category experienced in tandem with other identity markers and positionalities such as race, gender, and sexuality. We’ll focus on exploring how particular cultural forms and genres, such as fiction, cinema, popular music, and memoir, may limit or expand an audience’s grasp of, engagement with, and resistance to, class categories. We’ll also take up a broad spectrum of issues, including theories of working-class identity, social/cultural resistance, and the notion of representation itself.