Fall 2024

Studies in Poetry: Pretending

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature
Units: 3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

For the purposes of this course, we will explore what it means to pretend—borrowing in part from J.L. Austin’s sense of the term, i.e., to “disguise reality”—with a special emphasis on poems within the black expressive tradition. In conversation with writers like Toni Morrison, Herman Melville, Gwendolyn Brooks, Harriet Jacobs, Paul Laurence Dunbar and others, we will engage this issue as it appears in both literary works and the historical record via a discrete set of social and political practices: the use of invisible protagonists; a 19th-century school taking place in a hole in the ground; the fugitive enslaved on the run, re-working the written word to become someone else, or else teleport themselves many miles away. Together, we will engage with a range of approaches to thinking about the uses of opacity in everyday life, the value of sincerity vs. authenticity, and the relationship between the masks we wear and the desire to preserve what we believe to be most valuable, vulnerable, and true.