How has big business succeeded in making us speak its language? How have corporations won the campaign to make us “think…the way they think,” as novelist, David Foster Wallace puts it — to convince us to act politically in their interest and not our own? Since the economic implosion of 2008, the mantras of American exceptionalism, opportunity, meritocracy, hard work, personal responsibility, and the preeminence of American capitalism have been thrust to the fore of the national conversation — in some cases with unprecedented skepticism, in others with renewed vigor. In this class, we will read the work of authors and social critics who have responded to the cultural conditions ushered in by capitalism — both in its early and late stages. We will track the themes of alienation, domination, bureaucracy, boredom, public vs. private, and social vs. individual as we examine works of literary art and political-economic doctrine.
The course will involve three major writing assignments, buoyed by smaller weekly blog writing. By the end of the term, you should feel more empowered and better equipped to intervene with confidence in existing scholarly conversations and to do so with nuance, intelligence, imagination, and charity. We will learn the basics of argumentative form, how to identify fallacious arguments, what counts as strong evidence and how to incorporate that evidence into your writing, the importance of addressing counterarguments, how to carefully consider audience(s), how to sequence for clarity and cogency, and a good deal more. Perhaps even more importantly, we will address the writing process itself and discuss ways for you to manage writing time and creative energy as well the causes of writing anxiety and strategies or getting past it.
We will draw on a range of interdisciplinary texts with the intent of accounting for the variety of your possible interests, while hopefully sparking some new ones. Our discussions will span areas of inquiry as wide as political economy, sociology, economic history, political anthropology, radical social theory, and of course literary art. Individual class formats will vary, but the core of the class will be group discussion and the writing workshop.
This is a class about politics and culture that focuses on the political essay. As such, we’ll be reading work written by authors and scholars with a variety of political backgrounds. Whatever your political positions are upon entering the class, you are a welcome and vital part of the conversation! You may disagree with some of the authors we’ll read; no problem — I do too. The point of the class, and of critical thinking and argumentation in general, is to derive a position from available evidence, to sort out good evidence from bad, and to understand how points of evidence are connected or not connected to each other.
With permission of instructor.