English 188A - Winter, 2022

Topics in Literary & Critical Theory

Topic: Violence & Representation

Class Information

Instructor: Gray, Erin
CRN: 23475
Time: MW 2:10-3:30
Location: 308 Voorhies


In this upper-division seminar, we study the relationship between violence and representation in the production of modern, racialized subjectivity. We begin by placing both terms (violence and representation) under scrutiny, engaging theories of economic, racial, and gender domination that turn on the relationship between physical force and psychological, spiritual, and epistemic harm; theories of aesthetic judgment and cultural mediation that pressure popular understandings of representational accuracy and the production of cultural stereotypes; and theories of political representation endemic in liberal political thought and actualized in capitalist democracies such as the United States. Throughout the course, we read and interpret literary, visual, and musical explorations of the systems of violence (transatlantic slavery, settler colonialism, postcolonialism, and the seeming permanence of civil and imperial war) that shape modern life. What is the relationship between force and form? Does the consumption of violent media render viewers numb to atrocity? How do cultural texts treat forms of harm that are typically unseen and unthought? In what ways might representation and recognition be forms of violence?


Weekly reading responses and discussion questions: 30%
Discussion Facilitation: 30%
Final paper: 30%
Participation: 10%


Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs
Cane, Jean Toomer
Look, Solmaz Sharif
Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag
Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, Saidiya Hartman
Trouble in Mind, Alice Childress
Felon, Reginald Dwayne Betts
Guantanamo Diary , Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Zong!, M. NourbeSe Philip