ENGL 381
Who's Afraid of Failure? Spring 2015 Division I; Exploring Diversity Initiative;
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Success is demanding, as any Williams student knows, and all that discipline-hard work, sacrifice, perseverance-can come to seem an end in itself. But as the great theorist of children’s animation and stoner movies Jack Halberstam has noted, sometimes failure turns out to be a better bet than success: it can reveal the blindspots of dominant ideologies, while opening up alternative ways of living in the world. This course will take a long detour through meditations on failure emerging from queer theory, Asian American studies, and black studies, with a particular interest in what failure can reveal about higher education and related disciplinary institutions, such as prisons or the so-called “internment camps” for Japanese Americans during World War II. This course fulfills the Exploring Diversity requirement by considering how the stigmatization of difference and justification of social inequality are inscribed in supposedly neutral rubrics of success and failure. Readings may include Halberstam’s Queer Art of Failure, Junot Diaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and works by Fred Moten, Roderick Ferguson, Angela Davis, Hisaye Yamamoto, Toshio Mori, Nella Larsen, Victor Lavalle, and others. Students will also have the opportunity to bring these concepts to bear on other social concerns and/or cultural objects (music, film, etc.) of their choice, as we attempt to figure out just what a course in cultural criticism might be good for in a society infatuated with success. What are you planning to do with that liberal-arts degree, anyway?
The Class: Type: seminar
Limit: 25
Expected: 10
Class#: 3682
Requirements/Evaluation: class participation, frequent short writing assignments, a midterm take-home exam, and a final project
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, or permission of instructor
Enrollment Preference: English majors and Africana Studies concentrators
Distribution Notes: meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under ENGL and COMP; meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under AFR, AMST or WGSS
Distributions: Division I; Exploring Diversity Initiative;

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