Mark Danner

Power, Violence and Make Believe: Revealing Politics in Fiction

LIT 3215
Power, Violence and Make Believe: Revealing Politics in Fiction
Mark Danner
Tuesday 1:30-3:50pm
OLIN 304
Cross-listed:  Human Rights
Power and politics we learn not at first hand but by following their elaboration in fictional forms. Though both epic and drama focused on violence, power and political struggle – beginning with The Illiad, the “poem of force,” if not before – it is in the modern novel that we find an ongoing, centuries-long narrative investigation into the workings of power. In this seminar, through the works of Stendhal, Trollope,  Adams, James, Conrad, Chesterton, Malaparte, Asturias, Carpentier, Garcia Marquez, Penn Warren, Camus, Just, DeLillo, and McCarrey, among others, we will undertake a close study of the development of the political novel, with special attention to the analysis of violence, force and power.


Requirements. This is a discussion course about literature and violence. Its method is simple: read a book a week, sometimes two; come to class prepared to talk about them. Or, in schematic form:1. Attend class
2. Come Prepared
3. Take Part

Apart from this, a final paper taking up some of the themes and works discussed in the class will be due on December 8. A short paragraph setting out the theme or subject of the final paper will be due on November 24.

Course Grading. Grades awarded for the course will be based on attendance, class participation and the quality of the written work.

Required Reading and Editions.
 Please use the editions specified in the list below. I would strongly urge you to purchase the required texts, from the Bard Bookstore or elsewhere; but in any event do make sure you read the required texts in the particular editions indicated.


Sketch of a Syllabus

September 8 Introduction to the course. Discussion of poems: Carolyn Forché, “The Colonel” [1978], Wislawa Szymborska, “Tortures”. Recommended films: Battle of Algiers, Burn, Seven Days in May.

September 15 Richard Lourie, The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin: A Novel (Da Capo, 2000 [1999]). Leon Trotsky, “Their Morals and Ours.” John Dewey, “On ‘Their Moral and Ours.'” Discussion mostly based on The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin: A Novel. Discussion of poems by Chris Albani, “Kalakuta Republic”, specifically the first poem, “Casual Banter”. Recommended further reading: Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, Robert C. Tucker’s biography of Joseph Stalin, Arthur Kessler’s Darkness at Noon. Recommended film: The Assassination of Leon Trotsky (with Richard Burton).

September 22 Homer, The Illiad, translated by Stanley Lombardo (Hackett, 1997 [800 BC]); Simone Weil, “The Illiad, or the Poem of Force” (1940), in Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff, War and the Illiad (New York Review Books, 2005). Discussion based mainly on The Illiad and Simone Weil’s work. Two handouts for further reading/understanding/contextualizing: ‘The Books’ and ‘Basic Chronology of the Homeric Epics’. Recommended to look at other translations of The Illiad. Recommended further reading: War Music, part of an adaptation The Illiad, and Logue, All Day Permanent Red: An Account of the First Battle Scenes of Homer’s Illiad (Farrar Straus, 2003).

September 29 Aeschylus, The Oresteia, translated by Alan J. Shapiro (Oxford, 2004 [459 BC]). Recommended further reading: The Fagel translation of The Oresteia, which has a very good introduction.

October 6 William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar” in Julius Caesar: The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford, 2009 [1599]); Hannah Arendt, “On Violence,” [1970] in Crises of the Republic (Harvest, 1972).

October 20 Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma, translated by Margaret Mauldon (Oxford, 1999 [1839]).

October 27 Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage, 1999 [1872]). André Glucksmann, Dostoyevsky in Manhattan (excerpts).

November 3
 G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (Annotated Edition: Ignatius Press, 2004 [1908]).

November 10 Joseph Conrad, Nostromo (Penguin, 2007 [1904]).

November 17 Curzio Malaparte, Kaputt (New York Review Books, 2005 [1944]).

November 24 William Golding, Lord of the Flies (Casebook Edition: Perigree, 1987 [1954]).

December 1 Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridien (Picador, 1994).

December 8 V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River (Vintage, 1989).

December 15 James Ellroy, American Tabloid (Vintage, 2001).

December 22
 Don DeLillo, Mao II (Penguin, 1992).


Recommended Books

René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (Johns Hopkins, 1979)

Irving Howe, Politics and the Novel (John Dee, 2002 [])

Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor (Vintage, 1989)

Edward Luttwak, Coup D’Etat: A Practical Handbook (Harvard, 1979)

Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (Picador, 2003)