This course will study the iconic works of America’s two greatest dramatists of the midtwentieth century, examining their plays of the post-war period (1947-1960). In 1957 Arthur Miller was unjustly found guilty of contempt of Congress. He would not give the House Committee on Un-American Activities the names of ‘Communists’ who attended meetings with him in the 1930s. Behind the conviction was Senator Joseph McCarthy who had been witch-hunting communists and telling the country how ‘normal’ Americans behaved. (He even tried to identify being gay with communism.) Nearly complicit with the McCarthyism at this time were the television and movie industries. They were, according to eminent critic and Williams authority, John Lahr, trying to “reinvent America as Superbia—a God-fearing, family-oriented land of blessing, where right and wrong were clear, progress was certain, and goodness prevailed.” Meanwhile Miller and Williams were writing their masterpieces, asking Americans to challenge these clichéd illusions about this perfect America. The great plays of these two authors made this challenge in sharply different ways. While Miller, attacked social values and broad ideas, such as an unqualified devotion to the American Dream, Williams looked deep into the souls of his characters, studying the tragedy of the individual; the struggling person who is seeking the consolidation of self and trying to reconcile their own world view while facing hostile adversaries. Adversaries who pose as speakers for the ‘normal’ in American society. The content of this course will include All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, and The Crucible by Miller and A Streetcar Named Desire and The Night of the Iguana by Williams. The classroom activities will include lecture, discussion, and video watching. If a Chicago company is performing a play related to our course, we will attend it. This, of course, would be an optional extra-credit opportunity.
Everything that we take for granted about ourselves and the world originated in the eighteenth century. Radical individualism? Historical conceptions of social development? Mass media? Secularism? The human imagination? Modern urban culture? Postmodernism? All of these concepts, and many more, were first articulated (in ways recognizable to us) in eighteenth-century British writing. One key difference between then and now, however, is that literary art had the power to affect the terms of social, political, philosophical, and religious debate on a mass scale. We’ll explore this power by reading most of the major literary genres of the period: lyric poetry, blank-verse georgic, prose fiction, and popular essays. Eighteenth-century literature is strange, funny, intellectually invigorating, sometimes shocking – and, as you’ll discover, often still two steps ahead of us.
In a time when much is appalling yet somehow still fails to surprise us, how do writers wrestle with productively representing the explicit, the lewd, and the crude bits of the world in their work? In this course, we’ll delve into writing the “nasty bits,” as Anthony Bourdain would say, of the every day. We’ll (re)discover the mess of morality in folktales and fables, the deviance of writing about divinity, and, overall, the indecency of imagination. If, as it’s been said, obscenity can’t be defined but we can know it when we see it, we’ll look hard for a definition of our own while seeking how such material can be utilized artfully rather than to manipulate—never mind simply shock—our audience. Authors studied alongside participant’s own work in this multigenre workshop will include Mary Gaitskill, Roland Barthes, Alissa Nutting, and Susan Sontag.