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War and Memory in American Culture

ENGL 799.301
instructor(s):
R 12-3
FISHER-BENNETT 30

The course has several aims: 1. to acquaint ourselves with a diverse body of theory on trauma, memory and mourning and the relation of these psychic phenomenon to history and language;  2. to explore how theories of trauma--which evolved medically in response to WWI (shell shock), coalesced in the aftermath of the American War in Vietnam (PSTD), and developed academically as a theory of representation primarily in studies of the Holocaust--can speak to and be challenged by the representation of earlier violent conflicts; 3. to explore how cultural memories and public memorializations of war change over time and are central to contests over U.S. national identity. The reading sets in dialogue theoretical works with historically based American studies scholarship.

The first unit (3 weeks) will focus primarily on theory: on the Violence of War and Language: readings by Elaine Scarry, James Dawes, Foucault; on Trauma and Mourning: Freud, Cathy Caruth, Judith Butler, Primo Levi; on Memory and History: Walter Benjamin, Nietzsche, Svetlana Boym, Benedict Anderson. 

The second unit (3 weeks) will focus on Colonial Wars in North America: primary texts by Mary Rowlandson,  William Apess, the Cherokee Memorials, James Fenimore Cooper; American Studies texts by Jill Lepore, In the Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origin of American Identity; Richard Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence, The Mythology of the American Frontier; theory by Matthew Breitwesier (Puritan mourning); Dominique La Capra (testimony), Giorgio Agamben (witnessing); Renato Rosaldo, (imperialist nostalgia).

The third unit (3 weeks) will focus on the Civil War: primary texts by Whitman, Lincoln, Alcott, Melville, Douglass, war photography by Gardner and Brady; The Birth of a Nation (1915 film), and Ida B.Wells, Red Record, on lynching; American studies: David Blight, Race and Reunion: Civil War in American Memory;  theories of photography and memory by Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag, on mourning and the nation by Peter Coviello and Max Cavitch.

 The fourth unit (3 weeks) will focus on the American/Vietnam War:  We’ll study the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial through Marita Sturken’s Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, The Aids Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering and the novel, In Country by Bob Ann Mason; Tim O’Brien (Things they Carried or Lake in the Woods) and the My Lai Massacre;  Bao Ninh, The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam with selections from The Country of Memory: Remaking the Past in Late Socialist Vietnam by Hue-Tam Ho Tai, and selections from Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, and  Susan Jeffords, Remasculinizaiton of America.