ENGL 326
Race and Abstraction Spring 2015 Division I;
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Minority artists–writers and visual artists mainly and, to a lesser degree, musicians–face a difficult “double bind” when creating works of art: the expectation is that they, like their racially marked bodies, will exhibit their difference by means of concrete signifiers (details, tropes, narratives, themes) of racial difference. Thus, the work is judged primarily in terms of its embodied sociological content (material, empirical) and not by “abstract” standards of aesthetic subtlety, philosophical sophistication, and so on. At the same time, in the popular and academic imaginary, minority subjects and artists poets occupy a single abstract signifying category–homogeneous, undifferentiated, “other,” marginalized, non-universal–while racially “unmarked” (white) artists occupy the position of being universal and individual at once. The irony, of course, is that, say, an African American poet’s being read as an abstract signifier does not mean that the black subject or writer is seen as capable of engaging in abstract ideas. This course will ask questions about the problem of race and abstraction by looking at the work of various African American and Asian American writers, visual artists and musicians–including Will Alexander, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, David Hammons, Yayoi Kusama, Tan Lin, Nathaniel Mackey, and Cecil Taylor–as well as critics. We will pay particular attention to formally experimental works. This course will ask questions about the problem of race and abstraction by looking at the work of various African American and Asian American writers, visual artists and musicians–including Will Alexander, John Keene, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Yau, Cecil Taylor, David Hammons, and Yoko Ono–as well as critics. We will pay particular attention to formally experimental works.
The Class: Type: seminar
Limit: 13
Expected: 13
Class#: 3054
Requirements/Evaluation: two papers (one 6-8 pages and the other 10-12 pages), in-class presentation, brief response papers, and class participation
Prerequisites: none if registering under AMST, AFR, or COMP, though a previous lit, art or music class would be helpful; if registering under ENGL, 100-level ENGL course, or 5 on AP English Lit exam or 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam required
Distribution Notes: meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under ENGL or COMP; meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under AFR or AMST
Distributions: Division I;

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