Public controversies over books, paintings, and films can reveal a great deal about both the nature of art and its value within a great society. We are used to deploring censorship and the persecution of artists in totalitarian countries, but the West has had its own intractable troubles with culture, and understanding where representation fits in a picture of reality is never easy. Often we do not even realize that limits exist until an artist steps over them, forcing us to reconsider our firmest assumptions about freedom of expression, the meaning of “fiction,” or the rights of groups and individuals.
This course focuses on such instructive scandals in the arts as Manet’s Olympia, Duchamp’s Fountain, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Joyce’s Ulysses, the Nazis’ “degenerate art,” Nabokov’s Lolita, Mapplethorpe’s photographs, Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Pamuk’s Snow, and recent Oprah-fanned controversies concerning plagiarism and nonfiction lies. Assignments will include a class presentation, a ten-page paper, and a “case book” summarizing the issues and opinions in particular cultural controversy.