“The American Dream” names a fiction that works through and attempts to synthesize the surprising recognition that the United States is not alone on the American continent. There are other techniques; likewise, there are other Americans. It’s a powerful dream, though, and in attempt to preserve and absorb some of its dynamism, this class will search for the traces of the animating origins of that dream (Freud might call it the “navel”) and to connect them with the edges, the surfaces and margins of the dream—the places where it begins to fade or wear away.
Across four thematic, and historically progressive sections—captivity, borders, work and boredom, this class will identify and interpret the various challenges faced by individuals and communities in pursuit of that elusively sweet dream state. This condensed survey of American literature will feature some exemplary writers (Rowlandson, Melville, Dickinson, Herrera, Bolaño, Aira, to name a few), and a diverse selection of literary modes and genres (prose narrative, moving pictures, etymological extracts and maybe a grocery list or two), to get a sense of the complex and diverse standpoints on national belonging and—just before it, as with the colonial Puritans; outside of it, as with the deteritorriralized Californios; or representing it abroad, as on a whale boat in the Pacific or filming a mockumentary about McDonalds in Taipei. By the end of the term, you’ll have a stronger sense of the methods, the means and the motives of Americans who continue, as indeed we must, to dream.