Cultural Criticism: 1850 to the Present
This course will offer a study of a dozen cultural critics who confront the idea of modernity and think in a sustained way about the death of traditional discourses and ideas. The course will focus on a variety of issues--from authority and order to one-dimensionality and the therapeutic, from authenticity and pornography to identity politics and the culture of narcissism. It will also promote discussion about the so-called 'death of cultural criticism', inviting participants to consider what understanding of culture is required to engage in a form of inquiry not always appreciated (or understood) by contemporary intellectuals. Beginning with discussion of the leading Victorian cultural critic, Matthew Arnold, who was acutely sensitive to the closing of 'the traditional mind', the course will move on to a variety of twentieth-century critics who had arresting things to say about the crisis -- real and imagined -- of contemporary culture. It is a feature -- and surely a virtue -- of the course that it studies a variety of figures, many of whom are not, in the main, invoked by current academic theorists. Readings include: Matthew Arnold, Culture & Anarchy; T.S. Eliot, Christianity & Culture; Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own; Jean Paul Sartre, What Is Literature?; James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name, Notes of a Native Son; Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man; Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic; Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism; George Steiner, Language and Silence; Susan Sontag, Under The Sign of Saturn; V.S. Naipaul, The Return of Eva Peron; and Edward Said, The World, The Text & The Critic.