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Countercultures

ENGL717

Countercultures

If the poet begins to speak only of narrow things, of things that we can effortlessly digest and recognise, of things that do not disturb, frighten, stir, or annoy us, or make us want to set sail and explore inklings murdered in our youths, if the poet sings only in restricted terms and exclusively with restricted language, then what hope is there for any of us in this world?

Ben Okri

 Description

This module is theoretically sited at the intersection of gender studies, postmodernism, postcolonialism and queer theory. It investigates the social and political circumstances of the 1960s counterculture, and its achievements in transforming mainstream society, for instance in terms of the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, youth culture, feminism, changing attitudes to sexuality and spirituality, and ecological awareness. This countercultural moment is used as a typical example of the matrix of political and artistic innovation in opposition to major trends in a nation’s culture and ideology. Insights derived from this initial discussion will be applied to texts with settings including the USA, post-socialist China and South Africa.

The module analyses ways in which a number of cultural forms in a variety of settings articulate an oppositional stance to accepted mainstream ideology. The texts will mainly be novels (see below) and films, including The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Shallow Grave, Transamerica and District 9. A major focus will be the conflict between the needs of society for stability and order, and the individual’s needs for autonomy and fulfilment. Issues such as alienation, marginalisation, corporeality, pathology, sexuality and gender identity will be explored. Critical analyses will be provided as a basis for seminar-style discussions.


Prescribed Texts (in the order in which they will be discussed):
  • Kesey, Ken:  One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Penguin Modern Classics)
  • Morrison, Toni:  Sula (any edition)
  • Chen, Ran:  A Private Life (Columbia University Press)
  • Cunningham, Michael:  Specimen Days (Harper Perennial)
  • Abani, Chris:  The Virgin of Flames (Vintage)
  • Beukes, Lauren: Zoo City (Jacana)

Assessment:

The class record will count for 50% of the final mark. It will be made up of two essays of 2500 words, and a class presentation based on original research. There will be one three-hour examination, constituting the other 50%.


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