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The American 1950s

ENGL 285.401
instructor(s):
TR 1:30-3

This course presents a literary history of the first decade of Cold War, 1947-1957, with an emphasis of what is best called American anticommunist culture.  Major readings are likely to include works by Arthur Miller, John Cheever, Mary McCarthy, Ralph Ellison, Lillian Hellman, Saul Bellow, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg, and selections from the writings of Betty Friedan, Lionel Trilling, Daniel Bell, William Whyte, C. Wright Mills, Elder Olson, Cleanth Brooks, James Wechsler, and Howard Fast.  Beginning with a close look at the 1949 Supreme Court ruling that subversive language not protected by the First Amendment may be determined by interpreting the "intent and content" of the text in question, and the House Un-American Activities Committee's "narrow reading" of political poetry, we will read, for instance, the transcript of hearings with the friendly witness Professor A. Possony (then teaching at Penn) whose testimony HUAC gave the title "Language as a Communist Weapon."  Using photocopied excerpts from critical journals of the period along with our readings of the major figures, we will also try to understand these issues: the politics of cold war sci fi; the fifties' willful (mis-)reading of Freud as anticommunist; the equation of feminism and communism; the relations between writers and the state; the "juvenile delinquency" myth; and radical readings suggesting the American New Criticism as having been derived by the fifties to endorse the end of ideology.  We will view films of the period, as needed, to support our inquiries, probably Twelve Angry Men, The Caine Mutiny, and Rebel without a Cause, and Executive Suite.  The books will be available at House of Our Own Bookstore well before the semester begins.  Pre-registered students should get in touch with Al Filreis at afilreis@english.

You should also begin reading on-line materials for the course: in the English Gopher (under #8 on he main menu, then find English 285--hit space bar if necessary), or, better, the English 285 world wide web page: "http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/home.html".