ENGL E-248 Contemporary American Literature and Popular Music
This course examines the relationship among popular music, American literature, and the power structures that organize life in the United States. Attending to a range of music and literature from the past 50 years, we study pop music's engagement with distinctions of race, gender, class, sexuality, region, and citizenship. Some of the central questions we ask include: what capacity does popular music hold for communicating social protest and/or enacting social change? What role does the commercial market play in determining the musical forms and social significance of popular music? How do lyrics interact with music's sonic qualities to tell compelling stories in sound? And how do literature, television, and film employ popular music to serve their narrative ends? Using these questions as our guide, we explore how music plays a critical role in producing the terms through which we experience and understand social difference. Musicians we study may include Madonna, David Bowie, Frank Ocean, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, Janelle Monáe, the Dixie Chicks, and Aretha Franklin. As the semester progresses, we put a selection of contemporary literature into conversation with the work of these musicians. Some of the literature depicts musical performance and the act of listening; in these cases, music punctuates and frames the literary narrative. Other pieces of fiction and poetry raise similar thematic concerns to the songs and albums we are studying, without directly representing music on the page. Throughout the semester, we enrich our discussions with cutting edge and field-defining scholarly work in the fields of African American studies, gender studies, popular music studies, and American literary studies; by the end of the semester, students are familiar with the some of the major debates and research happening in these fields today.