We should begin the course by defining the terms in its title, Popular and Culture. Raymond Williams’s excellent book Keywords gives the etymology and development of these concepts, available on-line here. Your assignment for Thursday is to print out and read these two short articles AND search for an alternate definition of Culture. To make the latter part of the assignment more interesting, you may not use a standard dictionary or wikipedia.
For now, we might adopt a functionalist perspective on popular culture and think about what role it fulfills in society. We can think of pop as a means of escape, as dope, as a space for working out social contradictions such as class conflict, as a kind of dreaming, as pleasure, as a platform for the enunciation of ideas. We should think about what we do when we consume popular culture and how those activities relate to the concepts of leisure and free time. Is pop an autonomous space, an experience which gives us a sense of freedom or of equality (with other consumers of pop)? Or is pop a kind of cul-de-sac, a range of products and practices which effectively contain deeper desires for liberation from the routines of everyday life? These sorts of questions will lead us inevitably to another key concept for the study of popular culture, ideology.
The term “autobiography” is an invention of the Age of Revolution– the late 18th and early 19th centuries– when Europe saw the advent of a cultural movement named Romanticism which was a response to the rationalist imperatives of the Enlightenment. In its broadest sense Romanticism sought to reach beyond Reason into a realm of spiritual and aesthetic transcendence, a program exemplified by many Romantic poets’ concern with heightened states of consciousness and artistic spontaneity. Romanticism was fascinated by the idea of the subjective perception of universal truth, and writers such as Wordsworth and Shelley taxed their own powers of observation and introspection in order to better represent the world in which they lived. That autobiography as a literary form would come into prominence at this time, then, seems logical enough. And the project the genre of autobiography claimed for itself was nothing less than the construction of what we, the legatees of the Age of Revolution, consider more a matter of Nature than Culture: the autonomous self, or what some scholars have called the Bourgeois Subject. This notion, Linda Anderson has written, was “generated at the end of the 18th century but still powerfully present in the middle of the 20th” and held that “each individual posses a unified, unique selfhood which is also the expression of a universal human nature.”
Above: Gustavus Vassa AKA Olaudah Equiano
Here it is, for those of you may have missed it:
1. legal name
2. preferred name
3. place/date of birth
4. are you a military veteran?
if so, what was your job/ period of enlistment?
5. are you fluent in more than one language/ did you grow up speaking more than one language? which ones?
6. what is your primary area of study?
7. what was the best non-required book you read in the last year?
8. what was the last film you saw in a theater?
9. name three musical artists, groups and/or genres you enjoy.
pick one. what about his/her/their music do you like?