Prose Literature Seminar: Old Weird America

Term: Fall 2012

Subject Code: NWRG

Course Number: 5500

This seminar, limited to 16 students, will discuss issues raised in the lecture course of the same name – students are required to attend the lecture course (4-5.20 PM), as well as the graduate seminar that follows (6-7.30). Through critical essays, novels, films, and music, this course examines commonplace, authorless songs—symbolist tunes ("I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground"), real-life allegories ("Stagger Lee"), and ballads that exist in a half-world between the two ("Barbara Allen,)—as elemental, founding documents of American identity. Owned by no one, these songs can be heard as common coin: as a form of exchange in which, over two hundred years or more, one varying performance or recording always elicits another. Commonplace songs will be examined as a form of speech that anyone can learn and anyone can use—as a tradition, comprised of eccentric individuals, that is always in flux—especially in the work of Bob Dylan across the last fifty years. Works discussed will include Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, originally issued in 1952; Bob Dylan's albums Good As I Been to You (1992) and World Gone Wrong and his memoir Chronicles, Volume 1 (2004); recent music by the Handsome Family, Crooked Still, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and the Mekons; such novels as Colson Whithead's John Henry Days (2001), Percival Everertt's Erasure (2001), and Lee Smith's The Devil's Dream (1992); Michael Lesy's study Wisconsin Death Trip (1973); the films Highway 61 Revisited (1993) and Christian Marclay's Guitar Drag(2000). There will be two short papers, and a longer, final paper. Attendance is also mandatory at Marcus's lecture the same day from 4 – 5:20, location TBD

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