English 9200B

The Aesthetics and Politics of Everyday Life

Instructor: Professor K. Stanley
Winter Half Course.

Do cultural objects from the past provide meaningful guidance for facing the exigencies of the present or the uncertainties of the future? What resources can the humanities offer when confronting the long shadow of colonialism, systemic inequality, structural violence, and the climate crisis? This course will anchor these questions in the work of Henry David Thoreau, who devoted his life and writing to fostering transformative exchanges between individuals and collectivities, between the past and the present, between what is and isn’t human, between practices of everyday life and political structures. In our reading of Thoreau’s journals, Walden, "Walking," The Maine Woods, and "Civil Disobedience," we will track his commitment to an "ecology of practices": to an ethic of material engagement, to thinking with the body, to animating the more-than-human-world, to "becoming indigenous to a place," and to nonviolent resistance. We will examine how he developed these ideas in exchanges with his contemporaries (Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller), before tracing them through the work of an eclectic array of artists, authors, activists, and scholars, including Leo Tolstoy, Emma Goldman, B. F. Skinner, John Muir, Annie Dillard, Hannah Arendt, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, John Cage, Bill McKibben, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Jenny Odell, Susan Howe, Tommy Pico, Jeff VanderMeer, Jane Bennett, and Jedediah Purdy. All of these writers and thinkers have put Thoreau’s methods to work over the past century and a half, while also offering crucial critiques of what has been described as Thoreau’s "everyday life project": his attempts to reframe problems of political economy as ethical questions regarding our conduct of daily living.