Fall 2022

21L.310 Bestsellers: American Icons Stephen Tapscott T 7:00-10:00p 4-146

Prereq: none
2-0-4 Can be repeated for credit; first half of term

(Ends Oct 21) In this 6-week Samplings subject, we read texts – chiefly poems and visual images — that have come to seem “iconic” in American culture. We consider what that designation means [what is a icon for? what work does a canon do? what does it permit? what does it inhibit or prevent?], and we look at how certain texts become iconic or formative. Often, we collectively acknowledge an historical moment, and a journalist or writer documents the moment; eventually the documentation seems to represent [or to embody] the moment, so that we interpret the text formally in order to understand the historical or Ideological or psychological nuances of the original moment. Some texts directly aspire to that representative status; some artists manipulate the reality they portray; some deliberately alter or play on the received dominant narrative or on a text/image that is already recognizable.

Texts by Walt Whitman, Emma Lazarus, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Robert Frost, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Edgar Allan Poe, AI [Florence Anthony], Marilyn Chin, James Weldon Johnson, others. Pictures and images by Eadward Muybridge, Lewis Hine, Alfred Stieglitz, Diane Arbus,* Margaret Bourke-White, Gordon Parks, Joe Rosenthal, Sally Mann, Carrie Mae Weems, Edward S. Curtis, and others. Film by Charlie Chaplin.

*Here’s a useful fact: The character and appearance of Bart Simpson were based on Diane Arbus’ picture “Boy with toy hand grenade in Central Park, NYC, 1962”.. consult the course poster to see if you recognize him.