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'Not Being a Man'?: Representations of Masculinity in 20th-Century Black American Literature, Film, and Popular Music

ENGL 770.401
instructor(s):
M 12-3:00

In her introduction to Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory, Judith Kegan Gardiner argues that, as a contemporary social phenomenon, "masculinity is a nostalgic formation, always missing, lost, or about to be lost, its ideal form located in a past that advances with each generation in order to recede just beyond its grasp. Its myth is that effacing new forms can restore a natural, original male grouding" (11). This course will investigate 20th century Afro-American artistic representations of efforts to "restore" black masculinity in a national setting where social scripts (and, according to many, social realities) have historically militated against the assertion of -- to use a vexed and highly contested phrase -- black manhood. If transformed social conditions -- including feminism's victorious emergence as a significant structuring force -- have placed both hegemonic and nonhegemonic masculinities in the same rocky boat, as it were, in search of the solid ground of stable meanings and gendered performances, how do we read "black manhood" at a point when mainstream feminisms have begun to take seriously the problems of "retaining masculinity as a coherent entity" (1)? In addition to exploring a broad sampling of contemporary critical formulations, we will investigate literary narratives (including Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and Sula), plays (including Dutchman and Fences), films, discourses surrounding professional sports, and some strategically chosen examples of black popular music. 

Course requirements: one oral report, an annotated bibliography, and a 15 page essay. 

Fulfills 4 & 6 requirements.