English 363b
Christina Zwarg
T 7:30 -10

Topics in American Literature: John Brown's Body:
Violence, National Fantasy, and Bodies that Matter

Martyr, fanatic, hero, revolutionary, terrorist, sage? Who was John Brown and what did he come to represent for our culture? When Harriet Jacobs informed Lydia Maria Child that she wished to close her slave narrative with a discussion of John Brown's famous raid on Harper's Ferry, Child strongly advised her against it. Fearful that he would be accused of assisting Brown, Frederick Douglass fled to Canada. So did the husband of Julia Ward Howe, Sam Gridley Howe, one of the "secret six" who backed Brown's cause. Despite their previous belief in the efficacy of civil disobedience, Emerson and Thoreau both gave lectures on Brown's behalf, and upon hearing of his execution, Victor Hugo wrote a long tribute to Brown as a martyr to the cause of freedom.
Douglass, William Wells Brown and Martin Delany praised Brown when the occasion allowed, sometimes connecting and comparing his actions to Nat Turner's slave rebellion. For others, the association with Turner and the violent course adopted by Brown elicited fears of anarchy and social disorder. And indeed, the path to a violent Civil War seemed to get shorter with each new expression of sympathy for a man some took to be a dangerous fanatic. This course will use the spectacular life and death of John Brown to examine a common set of interests in a diverse set of texts produced across two centuries. These interests include terrorism and the place of violence in the cause of liberty, the relationship of aesthetic value to changing social and political claims, the role of race and gender in the construction of emancipatory rhetoric, the role of that same rhetoric in the creation (or conservation) of a cultural and national sense of history, including the primary forgotten history of Haiti, as well as the terrorizing activity of lynching. We will look at the transformation of this story through a number of forms, including the essay, the short story, the novel, the public letter or lecture, the poem, and the song.

Additional Reading Materials:
Jean Baudrillard The Spirit of Terrorism
Don DeLillo Mau II
W.E.B. Du Bois John Brown
William Faulkner Light in August
Herman Melville Bartleby and Benito Cereno
Harriet Beecher Stowe Dred
Henry David Thoreau Civil Disobedience and Other Essays
Michel-Rolph Trouillot Silencing the Past

Pre-requisites: Two 200-level English courses or consent of the instructor.

Cross -listed with African and Africana studies and Gender and Sexuality studies

*Class enrollment is limited to 15