ENGL 308
Disposable Subjects Fall 2019
Division I Difference, Power, and Equity

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According to the critical theorist Achille Mbembe, a defining characteristic of political power in the globalizing world of the 21st century is “the capacity to define who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not.” For Mbembe, globalization is not only defined by a heightened awareness of an integrated and interdependent world, but also by the production of “death-worlds…in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead.” This course turns to a body of fiction and film from across the world that addresses these “death-worlds” and the disposable subjects who inhabit them. During the semester we will approach human disposability through a variety of critical lenses: neoliberal capitalism, late colonial occupation and counterinsurgency, as well as the policing of global difference in its many forms, including ethnicity, gender, and caste. We will also consider the ways that necropolitics reproduce and globalize forms of sovereignty that have been historically exercised with impunity and without limits over indigenous peoples, the enslaved, and the colonized. All in all, our primary focus in this course will be on the ways that the texts we read unsettle and frustrate normative responses — ethical, political, humanitarian — to scenes of global suffering, protracted dispossession, and incessant violence. Readings will explore, among other topics, forced migrant labor in Saudi Arabia (Benyamin’s goat days), the blurred lines between being and non-being in contemporary Palestinian life (Ibitsam Azem’s The Book of Disappearance), and the global refugee “crisis” (Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West).
The Class: Type: seminar
Limit: 25
Expected: 25
Class#: 2035
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: weekly reading responses on GLOW, active class participation, a close reading (2-3 pp.) to be revised into a formal essay (5-6 pp.), a final research project (8-10 pp.)
Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam
Enrollment Preferences: English majors
Distributions: Division I Difference, Power, and Equity
DPE Notes: In readings, seminar discussions, and written assignments students will examine the ethical and political implications that attend the representation of political violence in a body of 21st century fiction and film from across the world. Students will consider human disposability in the era of globalization through a variety of critical lenses: colonialism, capitalism, war and terror, as well as the policing of difference in its many forms including ethnicity, gender, and caste.

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