English 9124A

Ugly Feelings, Bad Behaviour: Notable American Women

Instructor: Professor Steven Bruhm
Fall Half Course.

American women’s fiction since the 1950s is most often read as an analysis of gender, sexuality, race, and class, and women’s responses to these concerns. Such reading practices usually assume a coherent set of diagnoses and possible political strategies for redress. But there is another thread of women’s writing in America, one whose take on moral clarity and political agency is at best opaque. Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, Lorrie Moore, Mary Gaitskill, and Lionel Shriver: all of these women present us with a palette of “negative affects” that gesture to social conditions in the contemporary US but that refuse the redemptive or reparative impulses of feminist intervention. We will read these women alongside contemporary affect theorists to consider such insalubrious emotions as schadenfreude, irritation, cruel optimism (after Berlant), zaniness (after Ngai), cynicism, and misanthropy.  Be prepared, then, to commune with some very mean people.

View the course syllabus here: English 9124A. PDF download