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Kerouac & Postwar Counterculture

ENGL 016.301
MW 2-3:30
fulfills requirements:
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

This course will take an in depth look into the life and career of one of the most influential 20th-century writers (and the original hipster!), Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), as a means of exploring the countercultural forces that emerged in the wake of the Second World War in the United States. Even though the “King of the Beats” was in many ways a misunderstood outsider in America, Kerouac influenced generations of writers, musicians, artists, and a global reading public. The seminar will cover a selection of Kerouac’s works alongside key texts from a slew of other postwar rebels in order to investigate the radical energies that arose during the Cold War: the battles against containment, surveillance, warfare, capitalism, materialism, racism, and prescribed sexual norms. Tracing Kerouac’s journey on the American continent will further lead us through the Great Depression, the atom bomb, the interstate highway system, the rise of the suburbs, the birth of cool, bebop, & rock n’ roll, the emergence of the hipster, of Playboy, of hippie and drug culture, the fight for gay rights, along with the desegregation of schools in the wake of Brown vs Board of Education, and so much more. Course readings will also include those of Kerouac’s immediate counterparts & collaborators like Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Amiri Baraka, Diane DiPrima, Herbert Huncke, and others. Assignments will consist of brief responses to the readings, a “spontaneous prose” exercise, a short essay on a related topic of your choosing, and will culminate in a research paper tracing an aspect of Kerouac’s legacy on a contemporary phenomenon, group, text, or individual.