Body Matters in the Contact Zone: Constructions of Bodies and Transnational Space in Contemporay Cultural Productions
(Topics in Spaces, Regions, Spheres, EAS-M3)
This seminar is concerned with the body as a key site for the interrogation of power relations and main vehicle of the generation of social meanings in the context of what Mary L. Pratt has called “contact zones.” Through cultural practices, performances, and cultural productions, we will explore how these contested sites of intercultural encounters inform social constructions of bodies (including social behavior, social actions, and cultural norms), their representation, and social perception.
To better understand the body in the intersection of discursive construction, materialization, and representation from different angles, we will engage theories of the body by Michel Foucault (the disciplined body), Judith Butler (gendered bodies) and Eve Sedgwick (queer bodies), Sara Ahmed and Frantz Fanon (race and racialized bodies), Baudrillard (the body as consuming/consumed object), and Donna Haraway (the posthuman body) and turn to selected case studies to explore constructions of bodies, power relations, and socio-political agency in the context of the Black Atlantic, the Caribbean, the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, the urban space of New Orleans, and the internet.
From Jim Crow to the ‘New Jim Crow’: Representations of Race and Racial Violence in African American Literary and Visual Culture
Against the backdrop of public debates about racism and racial violence, the currency of the BLM movement, and explorations of the role of art and activism in that context, this seminar starts off with a reading of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ seminal book Between the World and Me (2015). Written as a letter from father to son, the text addresses the question of what it means to be live in a Black body in the 21st-century US and takes issue with the country’s history of anti-black violence from the times of slavery until the present. The intertextual reference to Richard Wright’s poem “Between the World and Me” (1935) in the book’s title points to historical continuities as regards the systematic discrimination of and racist violence directed against African Americans.
In this vein, this seminar explores how African American authors and visual artists from the ‘Jim Crow era’ to the era of the “New Jim Crow” (Alexander, 2010) have tackled the criminalization of Blackness, white mob violence, and police brutality. We will not only look at specific strategies of representation that literature, film, theater, and painting employ, but also pay particular attention to the forms and functions of intertextuality and intermediality in selected examples.
This course will provide an overview of American Literature from the beginnings to the present. We will look at the three main literary genres (poetry, drama, and narrative literature) and analyze those texts that exemplarily represent main literary and cultural movements, aesthetic forms, and literary styles. The course concludes with an oral presentation, incl. handout.
The course explores representative 20th-and 21st-century American fiction, poems, and plays. Taught as a blended-learning seminar, it studies literary texts in their respective historical and cultural contexts as well as from the perspective of current scholarly debates in the field. Exploring movements and concepts such as realism, modernism, postmodernism, and cultural pluralism and reformatory impulses, the course deepens students’ knowledge and research skills with regard to American literary history, cultural and literary concepts. Students are expected to read and actively prepare the assigned texts. Credit requirement: an 8-to 10-page (3,500-4,500 words) research paper in English.
In this seminar we will examine the decisive influence that black artists and intellectuals around the Atlantic had on modernist cultural practice. Building on existing scholarship that has highlighted the cross-cultural flows informing modernist art across time and space, we will shift the focus towards more recent scholarly concerns with the interactions and collaborations between black practitioners in Europe, America, and the Caribbean and their significance for the development of what has been labelled the modernist avantgarde in the first half of the twentieth century.
The course examines selected examples of American literature from pre-Columbian Native American documents through nineteenth-century literary writing. Taught in seminar format and based on reading, discussion, and active participation, the course places literary texts in their historical and cultural contexts. Readings include early exploration narratives and selected texts from colonial America, samples of nineteenth-century short fiction, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and selected poems by prominent authors, such as Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.
Course requirements: oral presentation. Credit requirement: a 3,500 to 4,500-word research paper in English. Required Texts: Baym, Nina et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th ed. Vols. A, B, and C. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.
This seminar looks at cultural performance in the US from the Jim Crow Era to the present with a special focus on the mobilization of bodies for political purposes, ranging from protest marches over sit-ins and die-ins, strikes, and occupations to examples of performance art, guerilla theater, and stage(d) performance. Drawing on influential scholarship in the field of Performance Studies (Schechner, Taylor, Goffman, and others), we familiarize ourselves with different notions, concepts, and forms of performance and explore their potential for social intervention. Using central ideas from the field of Body Studies, we will attend to the tactics and strategies that bodies employ in order to enact resistance and raise public awareness for pressing social concerns. This includes social movements for equal civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights as well as debates about environmental politics, immigrant rights, or economics, which manifest in strikes (e.g. “FFF”), social media campaigns, such as #metoo or #BLM, or provocative art pieces and performance practices. As part of their in-class presentations, students need to bring in examples of their choice to illustrate the mobilization of bodies in the fight against social issues, such as sexism, racism, classism, agism etc. We will discuss the effects and affects that selected examples of embodied performance and cultural resistance generate and explore their contribution to the construction of transnational and crosscultural solidarities as well as their role for foregrounding tensions and conflicts.