Saturday, January 22, 2011

Introduction to ENGL:2890, Violence and Art

This blog will act as the class blog for ENGL: 2890.103, "Violence and Art: Barbaric Poetries and Brutal Force," at Cornell University in Spring 2011, though hopefully it will live beyond the semester. The goal of the class is to identify moments of aestheticized violence in various media and analyze how and why these moments affect us individually and collectively. The course will cover a variety of materials, including Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, 2pac, Eminem, Professional Wrestling, Gurlesque Poetry, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I will make the syllabus available for readers to play along at home.

If you are a student enrolled in my course, I welcome you to this experiment in writing, and hope that you find it fruitful. Students will be expected to update the blog regularly, and I will hold a weekly submission period for featured blog posts (to be held through Blackboard) to honor the best writing about violence done each week throughout the semester.

Here's the course description and rationale from my syllabus:

This course is not for the weak of heart. You will encounter maiming in florid, archaic diction. You will see stylized and gory combat. You listen to jeremiad and battle cry alike. You will witness dissolution and rape. You will be suplexed, ddt’d, and piledriven. But through it all, you will partake in one of the 20th and 21st centuries most contested debates: the role of violence in popular culture. Pundits rave about the effects of violent video games, violent music, and violent television on the mental and social health of children. Year after year, directors and producers pump millions of dollars into increasingly violent movies, movies that make those millions back while collecting trophies. This April nearly a hundred thousand people will flock to an arena to see men beat each other up, as tens of thousands see this spectacle at arenas across the country night after night. It goes without question that our society is one obsessed with violence. Besides the routine news reports of wars, inner-city violence, and bizarre tabloid articles, we willingly pay for the chance to be entertained by violent art, a form of art as old as the Bible and the Iliad. You’d think that our survival instincts—the ones that protect us against bodily harm—would have steered us clear of depictions of our fellow humans in all sorts of agony, but that’s obviously not the case.

In this course, we will try to figure out how and why violence simultaneously appeals to us and revolts us. We’ll write essays that analyze violent works from a variety of critical perspectives. And in the end, we’ll hopefully learn more about who we are, what our relationship to violence is, and how to articulate our insights to others.

If you are not in this course, please feel free to read and comment as much as you'd like. This blog is not only for the students to display their writings, but also to interact with the larger community of Internet-users.

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