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Topics in Contemporary American Literature

ENGL 285.302
W 2-5:00

This advanced seminar will explore the intersection of literature and First Amendment theory in the creation of modern obscenity law in the 1950s and 1960s. We'll read a selection of books that had been banned or controversial in the United States, thinking about what made these books seem dangerous and examining the cultural changes that supposedly rendered them harmless. We'll also read various the legal defenses and decisions around these texts, exploring how the law tends to think about the regulation of literature. And we'll spend some time considering "pornography studies" (the scholarly attempt to define the importance of obscenity as a part of American culture on the whole), asking whether such approaches can still lead to productive or interesting ways to think about obscenity and censorship within a culture focused on visual images.

Readings may include works by Ginsberg, Nabokov, Lawrence, Miller, Burroughs, and Sade, with theoretical frameworks supplied by Michel Foucault, Susan Sontag, and Laura Kipnis. Requirements will include weekly responses submitted and distributed to the whole class via email, two longer and more formal essays, at least one in-class presentation, and frequent participation, both during the class period and online throughout the week.