Concentrated study of a topic in literary studies. Prerequisite: two 300- or 400-level courses in literature. Required of majors in English with emphasis on literature. May be repeated once for credit.
|Two 300- or 400-level courses in literature. Required of majors in English with emphasis on literature.||1 course|
Current Semester InformationHarry Brown
451A: Sem:Paranoid Style
The Paranoid Style: History, Fiction, and Conspiracy
History and fiction seem incongruent. One relates factual events, the other imaginary ones. Blending the two can reconfigure and reinterpret historical events in imaginative ways. In historical fiction and alternate history, writers and readers mutually recognize and submit to the delusion, experiencing one of the fundamental pleasures of literature in their suspension of disbelief. In literary hoaxes and conspiracy theories, writers or readers, or both, do not recognize the delusion as such, become unmoored from fact, and come to inhabit paranoia, or "a separate mind." The implications reach beyond ranting talk radio hosts. As historical, political, and scientific discourse drifts from a consensus reality in which contested questions of fact may be reasonably resolved, conspiracy theory fills the void of meaning with an alternative historical narrative of a world governed by hidden design. The whole world becomes a "separate" and continuously evolving work of fiction. In this context, the seminar will consider questions about the relation between storytelling, historical knowledge, and social identity, exploring conspiracism in relation to other types of communal narratives deriving from folklore, myth, and religion. How do stories shape our knowledge and assumptions about the past? How do they shape our values, our fears, our sense of identity, and our political behavior? What imaginative possibilities open when storytellers adopt a paranoid frame of mind? Our reading will survey conspiracy theories, literary hoaxes, alternate histories, and novels depicting conspiracies or reflecting on the nature of conspiracism.