Department of English

University of Toronto


ENG365H1S    L5101     TR6-9
Contemporary American Literature
Julia Cooper
Office Phone: TBA
Office Location: Jackman Humanities Building

Brief Description of Course: On the night of his 2012 re-election, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a victory speech that drew a clear connection between the Declaration of Independence, written by the country’s founding fathers, and the current task of uniting America across its diverse political, racial, and class lines. More than “200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny,” declared Obama, “the task of perfecting our union moves forward.” The aim of this course is to consider: what does it mean to make a more perfect union? We will examine the loaded word “union” and seek to extrapolate its various political, familial, personal, and sexual connotations. In addition to questions of nation-building, we will also consider barriers to union: psychological obstacles like historical trauma, the fears (real and imagined) that obstruct attempts to unite, and the divisions of class, race, and bodily ability that separate Americans. Union is a word in which we can see the intersections between political and private spheres as well as the moments of their divergence. Considering the American Supreme Court’s recent legalization of gay marriage, we may want to ask when union is considered sacred and unassailable, and for whom?

Required Reading: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (2014); Trace Peterson, selected poetry. Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers (2013); Eileen Myles, selected poetry. George Saunders, The Tenth of December (2013); Teju Cole, Open City (2012); Shalom Auslander, Hope: A Tragedy (2012); Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story (2011);  Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin (2010); David Vann, Legend of a Suicide (2009); Yiyun Li, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2006); David Foster Wallace, “Good Old Neon” (2004).

Link to ARTSCI Calendar Course Description.

Link to ARTSCI Summer Timetable with Room Allocations.

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