Four images by Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Strap them kids in, give ’em a little bit of vodka
In a cherry coke, we’re goin’ to Oklahoma
To the family reunion for the first time in years
It’s up at uncle Slaton’s ’cause he’s getting’ on in years.
No longer travels but he’s still pretty spry
Not much on talk and he’s too mean to die
And they’ll be comin’ down from Kansas and from west Arkansas
It’ll be one big old party like you’ve never saw.
Uncle Slaton’s got his texan pride
Back in the thickets with his asian bride
He’s got an airstream trailer and a Holstein cow
Still makes whiskey ’cause he still knows how.
Plays that Chocktaw bingo every Friday night
You know he had to leave Texas but he won’t say why
He owns a quarter section up by Lake Eufala
Caught a great big old bluecat on a driftin’ jugline.
Sells his hardwood timber to the chippin’ mill
Cooks that crystal meth because his shine don’t sell
He cooks that crystal meth because his shine don’t sell
You know he likes that money, he don’t mind the smell.
Focusing on the lurid, the coarse — even the monstrous— Arts in American Culture (HUM485/AMST310) explores three facets of US culture and society— the South, Manifest Destiny, and capitalism– in literature, film, visual art, and music.
Unit One, the Dark Romance of Manifest Destiny, examines dime novel renderings of the earliest phase of US Empire, the Mexican-American War, including Ned Buntline’s wildly successful Magdalena, a cross-border love story set against that epic conflict. We’ll analyze two movies as a means of learning about US imperialism and film form: Antonia Bird’s Wendigo myth-inspired slasher Ravenous and Rod Lurie’s Afghan war actioner The Outpost. Finally, we’ll listen to music from and about the era such as “The Ballad of Joaquin Murrieta” and “El Paso.”
Unit Two, Weird South, begins with Harry Crews’s outré account of Bible Belt degeneracy, A Feast of Snakes, an over the top examplar of the Southern Gothic genre. From there we’ll dip into the haunted soundscape of Murder Ballads and Delta Blues, the surrealist photography of Clarence John Laughlin, and grindhouse flicks such as Two Thousand Maniacs! and Mandingo. Examining American Culture War‘s continuing caricaturization of underclass White Southerners as buffoonish, Confederate battle flag-waving rednecks we’ll attempt to come to terms with the ways the popular imagination stories national history and fights contemporary partisan politics.
Unit Three, Vampire Capital, takes William Attaway’s unjustly neglected late-Naturalist novel Blood on the Forge as an occasion to consider an old Lefty conceit, that capitalism feeds on the living. That socio-economic system/logic also unavoidably puts people in motion, a fact dramatized by Attaway’s pulp-proletarian depiction of three brothers from an impoverished rural community swept into the steel mills. Pairing this text with Jacob Lawrence’s painting series The Great Migration will afford us the chance to discuss the cultural movement of Modernism and industrial capitalism‘s racial character. Linking this prior moment of economic development to the present, we’ll think about the cultural consequences of the Uberization of work and chronic precarity.
Alemán and Streeby, eds. Empire and The Literature of Sensation: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Popular Fiction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2007.
Note: online edition available through SFSU Library.
Crews, Harry. A Feast of Snakes. 1st ed. New York: Atheneum, 1976.
Attaway, William. Blood on the Forge. New York: NYRB, 2005. Originally published: Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1941.
I hope you’re doing well.
I’ve been thinking a lot about our situation and I’ve decided to give everyone an A for this course.
Starting today, I am no longer requiring you to do any assignments. You do not have to take KW2 or take the final exam or write the essay.
If, however, you would like to complete some or all of the remaining work for this course then please email me. I would be delighted to evaluate anything you submit.
Again: no one has to do any more work and everyone gets an A.
Take care of the people around you.
I hope to see you all again in the Fall.
Supper with the Sieppes:
Here’s some accurate, easily understood information about COVID-19.
Bill Duke directed this adaptation of Chester Himes’s 1958 crime novel A Rage in Harlem.
It’s interesting to compare the two marriage-related conversations between Lily Bart and Sim Rosedale. Note that Rosedale is Jewish, which in this period means he’s not really “white.”
(Who IS white? Take the test and find out: https://www.understandingrace.org/WhoisWhite ).
Lily’s distaste for Sim is certainly a product of the generalized anti-Semitism of her circle (and broader society). But there’s more to it than that. Consider the language employed by Wharton to characterize their marriage-related interactions. What metaphors and images does she use? Are there themes in play at these two moments that are reproduced elsewhere– for example when Lily frequents the Gormer circle or in the passages concerning her conflict with Bertha Dorset?
On Wednesday afternoon I’ll give you a prompt to consider relating to this topic.
Denotation: it’s a hawk!
Connotation: we are in a vast wilderness