Marc Bousquet
223 St. Jos. Hall, 554-7088
office hours: M 4-6 pm and by appt.

English 188: Literature of the American Left in International Context
Fall 2006 MW 2:15-4:00 pm
Senior Seminar

This course surveys the literature associated with political radicalism in the U.S. in the context of world literatures and transnational political movements, especially Marxism, feminism, and anti-colonial struggle. We’ll begin our first unit by surveying the relationship between rhetorical (or “political”) intentions and literary form in six transnational genres: melodrama, naturalism, modernism, proletarian fiction, reportage and historiographic metafiction. A second unit explores key texts and issues associated with international revolutionary movements before the Great Depression, including slave rebellion, anarchism, syndicalism and communist internationalism including, notably, key figures in the Harlem Renaissance. The third unit looks at key moments of the 1930s: the crisis of the left precipitated by Stalinism, the Spanish Civil War, the emergence of proletarian voices exploring race, ethnicity, and gender in close relation to the concept of “class war from above.”  A final unit studies postmodernism, postcolonialism, and the legacy of the New Left.


Italicized texts have been ordered into the bookstore; a list of ISBNs is attached at the end if you’d like to pursue an alternate provider (such as Powell’s--a unionized alternative to Amazon or Borders--or ABE, a consortium of used book purveyors).

(A)=download from Angel
(O)=download from online source other than Angel



1. Political Intentions and Literary Form.

“The strike is not just a strike; it is many, many things, and since most of these things are quite unalike, they cannot all be the truth.  Only one can be the truth; only one can serve the writer who desires realism as his product. How does he decide?

“To the plant owner, the strike is an unlawful attempt on his property and his profit; to the worker, the strike may be a life-and-death matter, a matter for survival for himself and his family; to the local newspaper the strike may be considered a public nuisance; to some consumers the strike may be an inconvenience—and so forth and so on. Obviously, the truth is not an apple that anyone can pick. The truth is one side or another, and before the writer can ascertain the nature of the truth, he must choose sides. The truth is partisan, not neutral.”—Howard Fast, Literature and Reality (1950)

W 9/20      Melodrama and Public Culture. J.S. Jones, “The People’s Lawyer” (1839) Dion Boucicault, “The Poor of New York” (1857; ad. Pauvres De Paris); Daniel Gerould, “The Americanization of Melodrama” (all H)

M 9/25       Realism vs. Naturalism. Emile Zola, “The Experimental Novel” (H); Jack London, “Revolution” and “The Somnambulists” (O); In Portable American Realism Reader: Hamlin Garland, "Under the Lion's Paw;" Theodore Dreiser, "The Curious Shifts of the Poor;" Jack London, "The Law of Life;" Frank Norris, "A Deal in Wheat;” Paul Laurence Dunbar, "The Lynching of Jube Benson"Mary Wilkins Freeman, "A Church Mouse"

W 9/27      Modernism. Sandburg, Chicago Poems (1-32, plus “Handfuls,” 33-36, and the poems on pp 74-80)   Vladimir Mayakovsky, “150,000,000;” “Left March;” “My Soviet Passport,” Alexei Gastev, “We Grow Out of Iron;” Vladimir Kirillov, “We;” Alexander Bezymenski, “The Great October;” Kenneth Fearing, “Dear Beatrice Fairfax,” “$2.50;”  Leon Trotsky, “Proletarian Culture and Proletarian Art” and “Communist Policy Toward Art” (1924: pp 184-227) (A)

M 10/2       Proletarian Possibilities.  Meyer Levin, “Citizens” (1-89) (A); Tess Slesinger, “The Mousetrap” (A) Richard Wright, Uncle Tom’s Children “Fire and Cloud,” “Bright and Morning Star;”  optional: V. Shishkov, “A Theatrical Performance in the Hamlet of Ogryzovo”(A)

W 10/4      Truth Without Objectivity: Reportage. IN CLASS VIDEO: scenes from contemporary European “Precarity” activism, P2P Fightsharing III. Reading: Tillie Olsen, “The Strike” Meridel LeSueur, “The Fetish of Being Outside;”  Agnes Smedley, “The Dedicated,” “The Living Dead,” “The Martyr’s Widow;” “A White Episode” (A)

M 10/9      --class cancelled --schedule changed; see below

W 10/11     Historiographic Metafiction: Green Grass Running Water

M 10/16 Green Grass Running Water

W 10/18 Green Grass Running Water

2. Anarchism, Syndicalism, the Communist Internationals

“If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.”—Emma Goldman

M  10/23  Slave Rebellion. Guy Endore, Babouk, (any 150 pages will do; but be sure to read Chapter 16).

W 10/25   The Project of World Revolution. Communist Manifesto, Robert Weil, "Conditions of the Working Classes in China"(0); CLR James, “Revolution and the Negro”(O)

M 10/30 The Red Harlem Renaissance: Selections from the Messenger and poetry by Langston Hughes: “Good Morning, Revolution,” “White Man,” “Our Spring,” “Song of the Revolution,” “Revolution,” “The Same” (GMR 5-11); “Johannesburg Mines,” “Black Workers,” “Cubes” (GMR 13-15) “Poet to Patron,” “Advertisement for the Waldorf Astoria” (GMR 22-26), “Air Raid over Harlem: Scenario for a Black Movie” (GMR 37-40); “Goodbye, Christ” (GMR 49-50)  (A)

W  11/1 Anarchism. Dark Star Collective: Quiet Rumors, 11-68; 81-115; Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Suffrage and the Class Struggle (O)

M    11/6  
The IWW. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn; “The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography” chapter 2 (61-126) (A); Images, poetry, theater, and speeches by the International Workers of the World (IWW): (A)

3. The Thirties

"Only the working class, through its own activity, can make the word flesh."
--Rosa Luxemburg

W 11/8     Essays, Reportage and fiction by Meridel LeSueur: “Women are Hungry” (R 144-157), “I Was Marching” (R 158-165), “Women Know A Lot of Things They Don’t Read in the Papers, And They’re Acting on What They Know” (R 171-174), “The Girl” (R 202-204), “The Dark of the Time” (R 231-239); Sequel to Love and They Follow Us Girls; (A--the last two stories are in the selection titled Short Fiction From “The Anvil” and “New Masses”)

M 11/13     Carolyn Slade, Sterile Sun, 15-117; John Scott, “A Day in Magnitogorsk” (9-51); (A)

W 11/15   1:30-3 pm Myra Page, Moscow Yankee  OR (choose one; come to one class only)   

OR 3-4:30 pm, Philip Bonosky, Burning Valley

4. Postcolonialism, the Legacy of the New Left, Postmodernism

“Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of "justice", but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If "freedom" becomes a "privilege", the workings of political freedom are broken.”—Rosa Luxemburg

M  11/27    Ousmene, God’s Bits of Wood (first 2/3)

W 11/29    Ousmene, God’s Bits of Wood (last 1/3); Raya Dunayevskaya, “New Passions and New Forces."


Grades, Policies, Final Project.

My preference is to weight grading as follows:  2/3 engagement with assigned reading, 1/3 final project. How you engage the reading, and how you share that engagement with me, is up to you. If you prefer to demonstrate that engagement by taking copious notes, fine. If you’d like to set up a weblog or discussion list (say, “Left Book Talk”) where you  and others stream your thoughts on the reading, I can help you do that. If you prefer to come prepared to talk in class--perhaps with a list of thoughtful questions or scenes that raise interesting issues for you--that’s fine too. If you have a different idea about the weighting of grading, please come see me to make other arrangements.

For a final project, I’m open to all kinds of ideas that involve the course materials.

You may want to research radical periodicals, theater, poetry, or fiction, in the public domain and create a web-delivered edition, with your own commentary. (I can arrange for you to get private tutorial in the software: it takes about an hour to learn.)

You may want to engage in the creation of contemporary melodrama, an item of reportage or proletarian writing, employing a variety of media, and possibly the web for publication.

Or you can do a research paper of, say, fifteen pages, using 5-6 primary and 10-12 secondary sources.  A research paper or website might treat such topics as:

a) the consequences for thinking about race and gender in the context of class war from above; 

b) the degree to which literary practices associated with political radicalism remain viable today (on the web, in indymedia, etc)

c) the historiographic turn in contemporary fiction (eg, the re-appearance of radical socialist Upton Sinclair in Chris Bachelder’s “US!”

d) the ways in which China, the former Soviet Union, or post-colonial societies in Africa, Asia, or South America might occupy the attention of the Western political left today.

Texts ordered:

Babouk  by Guy Endore Paperback
Publisher: Monthly Review Pr  ISBN: 085345745X

The Communist Manifesto (Paperback)
Publisher: Signet Classics  ISBN: 0451527100

God's Bits of Wood (African Writers Series) (Paperback)  by Sembene Ousmane
Publisher: Heinemann ISBN: 0435909592

The Case of Comrade Tulayev  (Paperback) By Victor Serge
Publisher: NYRB Classics; ISBN: 1590170644

Chicago Poems (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)  by Carl Sandburg
 Publisher: Dover Publications  ISBN: 0486280578

The Portable American Realism Reader (Viking Portable Library) (Paperback)
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) ISBN: 0140268308

Green Grass, Running Water (Paperback) By Thomas King
ISBN: 0553373684

Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader (Paperback)
Publisher: AK Press; 2Rev Ed edition ISBN: 1902593405

Uncle Tom's Children (Perennial Classics) (Paperback) By Richard Wright
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Revised edition  ISBN: 0060587148

Burning Valley (Radical Novel Reconsidered) (Paperback)  by Phillip BonoskyPublisher: University of Illinois Press;  ISBN: 0252066847
Moscow Yankee (Radical Novel Reconsidered) (Paperback) by Myra Page
Publisher: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition ISBN: 0252064992

Attendance, academic integrity, and disability accomodation statement.  Because of the participatory and hands-on nature of the learning you'll do in this class, I suggest that you miss or arrive late to not more than three classes. Unexcused attendence problems affecting a fifth or sixth class will be reflected by a reduction in your final grade; attendance issues in seven classes will usually result in a failing grade. SCU maintains a detailed policy on academic integrity that applies to this course and which you may consult in the University Bulletin. Students who experience a circumstance or condition that may affect their ability to complete assignments or otherwise satisfy course criteria are encouraged to meet with me to identify, discuss, and document any feasible intructional modifications or accommodations. You may contact the Disabilities Resource Center in 214 Benson (extension 4111, TTY ext 5445). Any other issues? Please email or drop in.




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