Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Living in the Now:

ENGL 570.401
W 9-12

This course will explore the issue of periodization by examining contemporary Afro-American expressive culture. If many have come to see literary or historical periods more generally as constructs, we continue to operate as though they were -- and are -- real, as though they constitute sufficiently persuasive codifications of intellectual, national, and international coalescence of a given spot of time's meaning and characteristics. By examining contemporary Afro-American expressive culture -- and by contemporary, I mean (to impose my own temporal parameters -- the period between Martin Luther King's assassination in April of 1968 and Bill Clinton's lukewarm support of legislation to end welfare as we know it by ending guarantees of financial support and medical attention for the impoverished) -- we will attempt to engage in a self-conscious group act of meaning making. In determining the constitutive moments and issues of this era -- of our era -- what range of criteria do we employ to include and exclude? How do we justify those choices? How do the moments and issues and texts we privilege reflect our individual and group notions of the meaning(s) of the contemporary more adequately that those which we place on the marginals of our discourse about the period. By looking at, over the first two thirds of the semester, music, film, scholarship, and literature that many have termed important, influential, or definitive, we will seek to assess its definitiveness and fit it into the story or stories we believe should be told to adequately reflect Afro-American cultural creation and life during this time. The last third of the course will be taken up with the students' projects, explanations, and explorations of the meanings of the contemporary in black life derived from the research they will be engaged in during the course of the semester. Possible texts: Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and "Let's Get It On," the rise of black women's writing in 1970, blaxploitation movies, the demise of Motown and the rise of Philadelphia International Records, black literary critics' debates about theory, etc. Course requirements: a brief (5-6 page) essay at mid term, an 6-9 page "conference" version of your final essay, a final, 20-25 paper exploring one aspect of the contemporary, and two reports.

fulfills requirements