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Violence, Mourning, Memory

ENGL 799.301
instructor(s):
T 9-12

The responses to the events of September 11, 2001 have reminded us how public trauma, personal grief, and cultural memory can be mobilized for powerful and often conflicting political ends. This course explores representations of violence and the violence of representation to ask how catastrophic events and violent practices are mourned and remembered at the intersection of private expressions of loss and public occasions of memorialization. We will ask how subjectivites and collectivities coalesce and break down in response to violence, and how commemorating the dead may both create a sense of communal belonging and enact forms of exclusion and alienation. We will raise ethical questions about why some losses are mourned while others remain invisible to particular public views, and how these questions raise fundamental issues of who counts as human. We will explore the centrality of nationalism and cultural memory to this process, how representations of loss involve wrestling with, reconstructing, and forgetting competing version of the past. Our inquiry will investigate key concepts, such as melancholia, the uncanny, sacrifice, trauma, nostalgia, civic death, guided by theorists and critics such as Georgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Cathy Caruth, Anne Cheng, Jennifer Cole, Douglas Crimp, David Eng, Sigmund Freud, Toni Morrison, Pierre Nora, Rene Girard, Sharon Holland, Renato Rosaldo, Elaine Scarry, Susan Sontag, Jean Starobinkski, Marita Sturken.

One of our goals will be to explore how these theories might help us understand the imperial present in the light of the U.S. history. Topics may include the cultural etymology of key words, such as empire, homeland, alien; "reading" the Abu Ghraib photographs in relation to the spectacle of lynching (Without Sanctuary) ; the torture memos in relation to practices of slavery and colonial notions of native savagery; detention in Guant·namo in relation to the literature of Japanese American Internment of WWII (John Okada and Mitsuye Yamada); representations of the war in Iraq in relation to literature of earlier imperial wars in Vietnam (Bobby Ann Mason, Tim O'Brien) and the Philippines (Mark Twain), and Algeria (Battle of Algiers) ; the evangelical "Left Behind" series in the light of 19th century revival rhetoric; changes in immigrations laws in relation to immigrant narratives; debates over memorializing 9/11 in the light of other memorials. Our purpose is not to trace a continuum from past to present, but to analyze the metaphors and methodologies used for understanding their dynamic relation, such as haunting, repetition, genealogy, analogy, legacy, amnesia, correspondence, so that we can imagine how it might be possible today, in the words of Walter Benjamin, "to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger." One class presentation and one seminar paper.