Art & Politics: Intersections and Isolations

a syllabus

Fall 2000
GNST 1200.16
© Bill Barrett 2000

Feedback (general opinions, problems, suggestions, etc.) on this hypersyllabus is encouraged!

The general idea: Although one of the first poems written in a vernacular European language had a veiled political agenda, many artists pretend that any purpose other than "pure art" is somehow unclean. We read, hear, and look at work whose political context is sometimes distinct, sometimes disguised, sometimes denied. Both visual and verbal works are fair game, and our explorations will cross many borders as we look at films, music, novels, painting, poetry, and more.

The way it works: Class attendance and participation is at the heart of this course. Sometimes we will see films, or listen to music, or look at visual art in class. (There will not always be another opportunity possible outside class.) We will hear (and read) information about the works we are considering. We will critique them together in class, and individually in your written projects. Your participation and attendance are a large part of your grade — make sure both are exceptional. (If you miss four class sessions, you may fail the course.) Written assignments and class presentations must be completed on schedule. This course is part of Webster University's "Languages Across the Curriculum" project. An additional credit in Foreign Languages may be earned by students with proficiency in a language; see the instructor for more information.
(By the way: As cell phones become more common, it may be necessary to note that there are some places where their ring is inappropriate. Turn your phone off before class, just as you would at a performance or at an important ceremony. If there really is an emergency reason why your phone must be on, tell me before that class.)

Buy these books:
Daniel Berrigan, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.
Diana Hacker, A Writer's Reference (3rd ed.).
Joseph Heller, Catch-22.
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.
All are in paperback, and are available at the Webster University Bookstore.

How you’re graded: Your final grade is based on your performance throughout the semester. Your attendance and active participation count for 30%; five brief (4 page) essays count for 8% each; a class presentation that you will give counts for 15%. There will be a final exam with critical essay questions in the last class, worth 15%. Doing more than required can earn you extra credit; talk to me outside class if you’re interested. This is what the grades mean...

What we’re doing and when: (Official disclaimer: Because this class is an organic process,there may be modifications based on directions the class discussions take. You will be told about any changes as soon as they can be determined. Nevertheless, because the books we’re reading take some time to absorb, it's a very good idea to try to stay ahead of schedule in the reading!) Central America map

Week 1 (8/23). Introductions; using Motet to communicate with each other; the conference for this class is called "ArtPolt00." Examples of hidden, open, and subverted political agendas in poetry and song. Music and poetry during the wars in Central America, 1978-1992.

Week 2 (8/30). NB: Class will meet in the Eden/Webster Library at 1:30; signs will be posted at the entrance telling you where we are meeting. (Your library assignment must be completed and turned in to the Librarian according to the directions you will be given. Although the assignment is not graded separately, if you do not complete it, the grade on your first paper will be lowered by one letter.)
Film, Last Plane Out.

Week 3 (9/6). Film, Last Plane Out.

Week 4 (9/13).Film, Under Fire.
Reaction paper due 9/20: What pictures of Nicaraguan politics are presented by these two films? How can they disagree so much about the same events? Who do you believe, and why? (Be sure to include your critique of the quality of the films from a technical and/or æsthetic viewpoint. Remember to include reference to the library book you checked out, and any other sources you use.)
Trial of the Catonsville Nine

Week 5 (9/20). Film, The Green Berets.
Reaction paper due 9/27: How do you know what you know about Vietnam? Does your answer to that question color your reactions to the play and the film?

Week 6 (9/27). Student presentations: Should the government support the arts? You can get some background on the National Endowment for the Arts, and freedom of expression at the NEA, and you can search the Congressional Record to read all sorts of things that have been said about the NEA on the floors of the House and Senate. (Search for the phrase "National Endowment for the Arts.") The American Symphony Orchestra League has updates. Painting and drawing in Revolutionary China, before, during and after the Cultural Revolution. An American response to diplomatic contact with China: Nixon in China.

Week 7 (10/4). NB: Today is Webster's community service day, "Webster Works Worldwide". No class so you can participate.

Week 8 (10/11). The Bomb and the arts. Film, Dr. Strangelove.
Reaction paper due 11/3: Topic: The "Cold War" ended as this decade began, but is the culture of that era over? Dr. Strangelove presents a picture of the world hovering on the brink of nuclear holocaust; do you feel safer today?

Fall Break

Week 9 (10/25). Catch-22; First student presentations.

Week 10 (11/1). Film: Triumph des Willens. (Leni Riefenstahl herself cannot be left out of the discussion.) As we talk about the sanity and insanity of those people and those times, be sure to read "All There Is To Know About Adolf Eichmann" by Leonard Cohen and "A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann" by Thomas Merton. (The former is a class handout, the latter is on reserve in the Library. It's a short essay reprinted in three different books, all on reserve: Raids on the Unspeakable, Thomas Merton on Peace, and The Nonviolent Alternative.)

Week 11 (11/8). Student presentations.

Week 12 (11/15). Film: The Great Dictator.
Reaction paper due 11/22: Critique the "realities" of Catch-22, Triumph of the Will, and The Great Dictator. Who's crazy here?

Week 13 (11/22). Student presentations.
(Thanksgiving is tomorrow, but classes are not canceled!)

Week 14 (11/29). Things Fall Apart.
Reaction paper due 12/8: Topic TBA.

Week 15 (12/6). Student presentations.

Week 16. Final exam (exact time & day will be announced).

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