ENGLISH 313 - Topics in Literary Studies
Winter 2022, Section 003 - The Literature and Theory of Political Despair
Instruction Mode: Section 003 is   Hybrid (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May be repeated for a maximum of 8 credit(s). May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:
Start/End Date:
Full Term 1/5/22 - 4/19/22 (see other Sections below)
NOTE: Drop/Add deadlines are dependent on the class meeting dates and will differ for full term versus partial term offerings.
For information on drop/add deadlines, see the Office of the Registrar and search Registration Deadlines.


In times of tyranny and political turmoil, we often command ourselves not to give in to despair. The reasons for this directive would seem obvious: hope is a necessary condition for action and change, whereas despair leads to resignation and more of the same—or so the logic goes. But is this logic really that self-evident? How exactly did we come to believe that “action is impossible without hope” (as Rebecca Solnit has it)? Why is despair “not an option” (as the Bernie Sanders slogan says)? And what possibilities emerge when despair is seen as a reasonable orientation toward the political order, rather than a temptation to avoid at all costs?

This course explores the literature and theory of political despair. Through studying a variety of texts—ranging from Romantic-era poems to recent Afropessimist theories—we’ll examine how hope and despair became political concepts, interrogate their role in sustaining different forms of violence and oppression, and consider what relevance they hold in our own historical moment. Students will be asked to make connections between different readings, to identify additional cultural texts that speak to our topic, and to make regular entries in a reading journal.

Possible authors include W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, Walter Benjamin, Lauren Berlant, Dionne Brand, Bertolt Brecht, Anne Anlin Cheng, W. E. B. Du Bois, Lee Edelman, Saidiya Hartman, Cathy Park Hong, Karl Marx, Toni Morrison, Fred Moten, Claudia Rankine, Adrienne Rich, Christina Sharpe, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Charlotte Smith, Calvin Warren, Frank Wilderson, and William Wordsworth.


ENGLISH 313 - Topics in Literary Studies
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
 In Person
1/5/22 - 4/19/22
002 (LEC)
 In Person
TuTh 8:30AM - 10:00AM
1/5/22 - 4/19/22
003 (LEC)
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM
1/5/22 - 4/19/22

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