Fall 2021 Undergraduate English Courses

358:361 Twentieth Century Literature and Inequality

01  MW 7:00-8:120 PM   14763  IBIRONKE   ONLINE

20th Century Literature and Inequality

From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately [to accomplish] that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy, and disease could be eliminated within a few generations… But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction—indeed, in some sense was the destruction—of a hierarchical society. Even today, in a period of decline, the average human being is physically better off than he was a few centuries ago. But no advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimeter nearer. From the point of view of the [lower classes], no historic change has ever meant much more than a change in the name of their masters.
(George Orwell, 1984)

George Orwell’s fictional treatise on the elusive dream of equality at the beginning of the 20th century illustrates a central concern in 20th century literature dealing with inequality and serves as a template for this course in its genealogical inquiry into how “the emancipation of humanity,” as Lyotard puts it, became a validation for the very project of modernity itself. We will seek to interrogate the ideologies of inequality and the institutions and rituals that reproduce inequality as a cyclical process and history. We will study literatures and movements for socio-economic equality from the 20th century up to Occupy Wall Street. We will deploy theories of bare life by Agamben; hunger, especially from Gavin Jones’s American Hungers; and narrative empathy as tools for examining and questioning naturalist and normative notions of inequality as “the unalterable law of human life” or “the price of civilization.”

Texts and films by themes (tentative):

Ideologies of Inequality
Danton, Director: Andrzej Wajda.
Borom Sarret, Director: Sembene Ousmane
Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell.
The Kingdom of This World, Alejo Carpentier.

Rituals of Inequality
Beloved, Toni Morrison.
Death and the King’s Horseman, Wole Soyinka.

Structures of Inequality
Life and Debt, Director: Stephanie Black.
The Harder They Come, Director: Jimmy Cliff.
Behind the Beautiful Forever by Katherine Boo.

Gender and Inequality
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. / or, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue.
Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta.

Economic Inequality and Occupy Wall Street.
99%—The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film