English 189 - Winter, 2017

Seminar in Literary Studies

    Topic: British Culture of the 1970's

Class Information

Instructor: Dobbins, Gregory
CRN: 22914
Time: MW 10:00-11:20
Location: 248 Voorhies


    This class will focus on British culture in the 1970s, a moment of crisis for that particular nation. In the introduction to a book entitled 'The Break-up of Britain' written in 1976 which suggested that the historical geographical entity "Great Britain" was literally falling apart into very different fragments, Tom Nairn argued "there is no doubt that the old British state is going down. But, so far at least, it has been a slow foundering rather than the Titanic-type disaster so often predicted. But in the 1970s it has begun to assume a form which practically no one foresaw...everything conspired to cause an inexorable spiral of decline. The slide would end in break-down sooner rather than later." That same year, violence in Northern Ireland reached devastating levels; the riots at that summer's Notting Hill Carnival (in which Black British youth fought back against an increasingly repressive police force) symbolized a particularly tense moment in British race relations; and the nihilism of the punks, the new subculture of choice for disaffected British youth, suggested the very real sense that there was no viable positive future.
    British culture in the 1970s has long had a bad reputation; the historian Arthur Marwick, writing not long after the close of that decade, recalled that "by the end of the 1970s books and articles were being published on different variations of the 'Is Britain Dying?' theme. In addition to the problems of the economy, race, and civil violence, some writers also pointed to Britain's poor performance, after the excitements of the 1960s, in the realms of intellect, arts, and entertainment." Yet I have to disagree with that statement, as a number of interesting works emerged in that decade in all three of those areas. This course will seek to recover a sense of the literary and cultural diversity of Britain in the 1970s. Ultimately, a distinctively British version of modernism is evident within the literature and popular culture of the time, and we will attempt to track this belated modernism in novels, poetry, rock music and film. In addition to the writers named below, we will be listening to a lot of music (hard rock, prog rock, Davis Bowie and Glam, Reggae, Punk, and Post-Punk) and watching both films ('Get Carter', 'The Wicker Man', 'The Long Good Friday') and old TV shows ('Monty Python's Flying Circus' and 'The Sweeney' among others).


    Either two 5-6 page essays or a 10-12 page seminar paper-- the choice is yours-- assorted short writing assignments about the popular culture of the time, active and engaged participation.


    Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry, B.S. Johnson
    High Rise, J.G. Ballard
    The Memoirs of a Survivor, Doris Lessing
    The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter
    The Comfort of Strangers, Ian McEwan