Shirl Yang is a Humanities Teaching Fellow at the University of Chicago. She received her Ph.D in English from the University of Chicago in 2021. Her book project, Not Feeling It: Aesthetics of Withdrawal in the Long Downturn, uncovers a rich archive of shirking, avoiding, and withholding in postwar American literature and film to argue for the latent centrality of non-participation to contemporary economic life and citizenship. While notions of “engaged withdrawal” feature in feminist anti-work, autonomist, and anarchist traditions, there remains to be a sustained study of these forms of withdrawal from a literary and aesthetic perspective. Turning to marginalized economic subjects like slackers in the office novel, perpetual renters in public housing films, and do-it-yourself artists in “New Sincerity” writing, she shows how, far from being a terminal mode of disassociation in response to state and corporate disinvestment, withdrawing involves the ongoing management of disaffection and hope, reticence and resistance, disengagement and relationality. Not Feeling It foregrounds both the seething discontent and minor pleasures of opting out precisely when one is expected to buy in.
American Hustle: On Conning, Scamming, and Hoaxing
If the prevalence of conning and scamming in novels and onscreen is any indication, cheating people—out of money, resources, or power—is a time-honored American tradition. Our course follows this cultural fascination with cheats, tricksters, frauds, and scammers as it pervades 20th and 21st century American culture. It asks what we can learn about social ties—how these ties are defined, formalized and legitimized—from the very people and institutions that take advantage of them. Under capitalist and neoliberal models of relation, what kinds of trust can exist between buyer and seller, employer and employee, state and citizen, parent and child, friends? We will think about several genres of fraudulent activity—the con, the scam, and the hoax — with particular focus on how these activities are narrativized and how they structure social relations. We will also think about the politics of suspicion—the privilege of assumed trustworthiness that allows swindlers to operate in the first place, the uneven distribution of susceptibility and exposure across racialized and socioeconomic positions. Finally, we will explore the possibility that gaming the system might offer a critique from within.2021-2022 Fall (Fiction, Theory)
CRES/ENGL/GNSE 27551 The Emotional Life of Work This course explores the cultures of work by focusing on its affective dimensions. How do we feel at work, after work, and about work? What does it mean for emotional states to become a means for generating profit? What does it feel like to have one’s labor not count? Most importantly, what happens when we consider that processes of extracting labor are inextricable from structures of racialized and gendered violence? Our objects of analysis will include various forms of compensated, under-compensated and uncompensated labor, forced labor, as well as practices of slacking, laziness, and refusal. Alongside thinkers like Karl Marx, Paul Lafargue, Angela Davis, Silvia Federici, W.E.B Du Bois and Arlie Hochschild, and texts such as Sorry to Bother You and The Handmaid's Tale, we track the myriad ways in which feelings on and about the job—exhaustion, anxiety, but also playfulness, relief—can be conceptualized. Readings for this course will primarily be theoretical texts, though we will also read fictional and aesthetic forms for their theoretical interventions.
2021-2022 Spring (Fiction, Theory)
Letdown Aesthetics: Economic Withdrawal in the Long Downturn, 1970 to the Present