Imagining the Present in the Late 20th Century

Autumn 2016-2017


Jean-Thomas Tremblay

What makes the present historical? Where does the present stand in relation to history? Anxieties about when the present began, and about whether or not it had a future, make the end of the second millennium a fruitful locus for looking at ideas of history as they were refracted by theory, criticism, journalism, and art. In this course, students will familiarize themselves with the forces at play in shaping representations of history and the present at the end of the 20th century, including mythology, spirituality, theology, as well as nationality and transnationality. They will also pay attention to the rhetorical and stylistic conventions of writing and making art about historical change and stasis. In their writing assignments, students will explore both scholarly and non-scholarly (e.g. journalistic) styles. Focusing primarily on the U.S., the course will zoom in on three important nexuses for historical imagining: the afterlives of the social movements loosely associated with the 1960s (e.g. Civil Rights, feminism, the New Left, anti-war activism); the end of the Cold War and the intensification of globalization discourses; and the AIDS crisis. Case studies will derive from the novels, plays, films, or journalistic essays of figures like Renata Adler, Toni Cade Bambara, Michael Cunningham, Joan Didion, Jamaica Kincaid, Tony Kushner, John Cameron Mitchell, Peter Watkins, and David Wojnarowicz. The course will also survey key arguments by critics and theorists, such as George B.N. Ayittey, Wendy Brown, Jacques Derrida, Francis Fukuyama, Fredric Jameson, and Alondra Nelson. (B, H)