Senior English at Another Course to College, with Mr. Comeau

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A sketch of history, in the premodern, modern, and postmodern eras

(Remember, this is just a tentative and broad sketch, which you should take not as the final word,

but as the beginning of a debate about big historical trends)



Society The Self & Identity Government Family Knowledge Work Religion Gender Race Literature







Relatively stable, static, traditional society.


The future is imagined through mythic narratives, traditional folk wisdom built on experience, and soothsaying mystics. (Giddens)

Increasing pace of change, threat to tradition, and increasing nostalgia.


The future is calculated through technical experts after the scientific revolution. (Giddens)

Extreme pace of change, a "runaway world" whose change is not only faster, but wider and deeper.  (Giddens)


The traditional is inaccessible, and its absence is heightened through attempts at reaching back, through simulacra, kitsch, and re-creation for tourists.


The future is theorized by increasingly expert specialists, leading to more and more fragmented knowledge and field jargon that decreases access to others. (Giddens)

Fixed, feudal class system of lords over peasants. Generational stability in professions through inherited nobility, guild systems of training for artisans, and ownership of serfs by local lords. Most work is agricultural, on small farms.

Rise of middle class, where the newly rich businessmen take power from the old nobility. More class fluidity with spread of public education and the specialization of work after the scientific and industrial revolutions. Middle class grows as labor and management form long term ties and mutual loyalties in the mid 20th century. Most work is industrial manufacturing. Agriculture is on increasingly large industrialized farms.

While middle class is diversifying in terms of gender and race, it is shrinking as wealth concentrates among the rich. Management and labor have fewer loyalties and long term ties, as manufacturing globalizes, union membership shrinks, and young workers switch jobs, careers and cities more often. Extreme specialization of work at the high end, with broadly unskilled labor at the low end. More work is service and technology based, with manufacturing outsourced to third world.

Obedience and allegiance to hierarchy, based on age old traditions.

Faith in, and myths of, social and cultural unity, hierarchies of social-class and ethnic/national values, seemingly clear bases for unity. (Irvine)

Social and cultural pluralism, disunity, unclear bases for social/national/ ethnic unity. (Irvine)

Local culture, artisanal production and consumption, with few or no goods available from abroad.

Mass culture, mass consumption, mass marketing. (Irvine)

Demassified culture; niche products and marketing, smaller group identities. (Irvine)

Design and architecture of the Medieval castle, the Catholic Cathedral, the Byzantine Church.

Design and architecture of New York. (Irvine)

Design and architecture of LA and Las Vegas. (Irvine)

Faithfulness to duty and obligations. Obedience to social order.

Seriousness of intention and purpose, middle-class earnestness. (Irvine)

Play, irony, challenge to official seriousness, subversion of earnestness. (Irvine)




The Self and Identity




Externally, socially directed self. Feeling of unity in fulfilling traditional social roles. Social settings are closely connected with one another, with fluid unions between work, leisure and family. (Giddens)





Increasingly internal-directed self. Augmentation of interiority, a turn inward, along with feelings of isolation. (Bloom)


Self division arises from individual's conflict with traditional social expectations.


Social life becomes more diverse and segmented, with the space between public and private domains becoming more distinct and separate. The "personal life" is born, along with a range of lifestyle. (Giddens)


Reflexive self, constantly under construction, intensively self-aware, and aware of one's own self-awareness. Identity is the story one tells about oneself -- an ongoing and evolving narrative. (Giddens)


The segmentation of public and private domains increases radically, with niche marketing and the increasing specialization of work making for a more narrow public and private sphere for each individual, and making the crossing of spheres less frequent, and more uncomfortable.

Often fatalistic view of life, where the gods control the destinies of humans.

Self-determination, individualism, and social progress form a humanistic view of life.

Fluid, complex and nuanced view of the self and society, where identities are constructed in webs of power/knowledge. (Foucault 1995)

External focus of the epic mode, with the irrational inspirations and violent passions of the epic hero in dramatic contest with the gods/God of a chaotic and capricious universe . (Taylor)


Internal focus of contemplative mode, championing rational self-mastery. Dawn of interiority, peculiar to modern notion of Western self. Man aligns himself with an orderly and elegant universe. (Taylor)

Deconstruction of inside/outside dichotomy, where there's nothing "in there," and "there is nothing outside of the text,." Self-identity is seen as having contingent, local, and conflicting narratives. Antiessentialism rejects fixed, "true" and "real" notion of self.

Time and space connected through slow paced existence with little travel, and with local notions of space and time. Within local confines, produces a unified world view. (Giddens)

Time and space separated through innovations like the mechanical clock, global maps, increasing travel, and telecommunications. As localized world views come into conflict with one another through globalization, world views are fractured and fragmented. (Giddens)

Time and space disconnected through hyperreal simulation , virtual reality and social networking, globalization of goods and work, "McDonaldization" that homogenizes local culture into a commercial sameness, and saturation of personal communications.


On the other hand, increasing connections and sameness create a greater sense of common humanity, a truly unified world view on the global level. (Giddens)

Sense of fulfillment through traditionally set roles. Collective, fixed, social identity.

Sense of unified, centered self; "individualism," unified identity. (Irvine)

Sense of fragmentation and de-centered self; multiple, conflicting identities. (Irvine)











Autocratic government, by king or dictator.



Elected government, by constitutional democracy controlled by party/money politics.



Popular government, by constitutional democracy, with increasing challenges to party/money politics from divergent interest groups and grassroots organizations.

Power is in the model of royal super-power in a weak state, for the most part leaving alone its anonymous subjects, but punishing the body of the challenger of its power: where the crime is recreated in the torture, where the omnipotence of the power is re-established in the same moment that the "truth" of the crime is "published" in the body of the criminal. Grave force with few pressure points. (Foucault 1995)


Power works to render docile subjects created and caught in webs of diffuse power, woven of the very ways we come to know ourselves, and to be known by the state, science, schools, medicine -- the extensive "carceral" system. Modest force with a thousand pressure points. (Foucault 1995)

Power continues to increase its omnipresent influence over its docile subjects through an increasingly "panoptic society," under spreading surveillance through video, internet tracking and computerized record keeping. However, the same technology the state uses for control is being used to resist, and the theory that describes the modern use of power is being used to inform local and global resistance, in alternative ways of knowing, and participating in democratic power. Subtle force with a million pressure points.

Hierarchy, but loose order, with efforts at centralized control. However, most of life falls under traditional local rules, with infrequent controls by a weak state.

Hierarchy, order, centralized control. (Irvine)

Subverted order, loss of centralized control, fragmentation. (Irvine)

Faith in traditional local hierarchies, with no political power for the vast majority of the people.

Faith and personal investment in big politics (Nation-State, party). (Irvine)

Trust and investment in micropolitics, identity politics, local politics, institutional power struggles. (Irvine)

Rights are based on class, with the nobles enjoying great security and power assured by tradition, wealth, superior force, religious dogma, and the need of the poor for protection against invaders. The peasantry had few protections or guarantees against those more powerful, except those granted by their local lords.

Theory of natural rights argues that everyone is born with a universal, inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At first, these rights are enjoyed only by white males in Western society, but as modernity proceeds, more and more groups are recognized as possessing natural rights.

Pointing out hypocrisies of modernity's treatment of so many disenfranchised, even in liberal democracies where natural rights are so celebrated. Focus on the concrete political realities in local and global situations, for resistance to oppression and exploitation here, and in our ways of knowing ourselves and the 'other.'








A family usually ate, worked, and played together, and typically slept in the same bedroom , where children and parents often shared the same bed. Very little privacy, and no sense of privacy as a right, or a personal life as a concept.

A family usually eats at least one meal together, but works in separate locations, and sleeps in different rooms and beds. Notion of private space and personal life emerges.


Many families eat no meals together, work in separate locations, retreat frequently into individual spaces, and through the internet and cell phones, spend more and more time in their own narrow social spaces. Ironically, notions of privacy are being abandoned on-line, with young people posting intimate content from their lives.

Friends, lovers, and marriage partners were largely prescribed by one's social position, with little leeway for one's personal choices or spontaneous feelings. Most marriages were arranged. External anchors of tradition solidify relationships. (Giddens)

Friends, lovers, and marriage partners are matters of personal choice, reflecting, in marriage, notions of individual "soul mates" and unique and binding romantic love, through personal intimacy. Personal commitment solidifies relationships, or, it doesn't, as the traditional life long marriage gives way to more and more divorce and single parent families. (Giddens)

Friends, lovers, and marriage partners are more and more matters of personal choice, which can defy traditional boundaries of friends/lovers and heterosexual norms. Many people shed traditional social networking for computerized connections. (Giddens)


The divorce rate for marriages in the US is estimated at about 40%. About 40% of all children born in the US are born outside of marriage.

Multi-generational family and clan as central unit of social order.


While opposite-gender sexuality is the norm, this period predates the invention of the category of homosexuality by psychology in the late 19th century. Same gender sex is seen as temporary aberrations from this norm, and not part of any permanent identity. (Foucault 1990)

Idea of "the family" as central unit of social order: model of the middle-class, nuclear family. Heterosexual norms. (Irvine)


Same sex relations go from a temporary aberration to the mark of a separate identity, an "interior androgyny," in the categories of "homosexuality" invented by medicine as it seeks to know and control "aberrant" behavior. Its effort to categorize and control are not simply repressive, but productive of a new kind of identity. (Foucault 1990)

Alternative family units, alternatives to middle-class marriage model, multiple identities for couplings and child raising. Polysexuality, exposure of repressed homosexual and homosocial realities in cultures. (Irvine)

Patriarchy rules political and social order, while the domestic space is the female territory.

Rise of women's movements, as they get right to vote, increasingly work out of the home, and gain political and economic power.

While patriarchy still often rules, gender roles are more fluid and dynamic, with stay at home dads, female leaders in government and business, and more self-conscious blends of tradition and non-traditional roles.

Patriarchy, but with often looser borders of sexualities and displays of the human body.

Phallic ordering of sexual difference, unified sexualities, exclusion/bracketing of pornography. (Irvine)

Androgyny, queer sexual identities, polymorphous sexuality, mass marketing of pornography, porn style mixing with mainstream images. (Irvine)




Epistemology (the nature of knowledge)




The certainty of faith.

Questioning through reason.

Doubt, contingency, reflexivity.




Monism, a singular, dogmatic meaning.

Dualism, binary and hierarchical categorizations.

Multiplicity, many competing and conflicting meanings.

Truth is with the gods/God, accessible imperfectly through mystical, mythic revelation.

Truth is in the physical world, accessible more and more perfectly through reason, science, and philosophy.

"Truth" is a matter of perspective, is fluid, multiple, contingent and conflicting.

Faith in religious authority's dogmatic and mythic explanations.

Faith in "Grand Theory" (totalizing explanations in history, science and culture) to represent all knowledge and explain everything. (Irvine)

Rejection of totalizing theories; pursuit of localizing and contingent theories. (Irvine)

Local narratives of history, culture, and identity, tied to local religious authority, local city-state, local fiefdom. Origin myths are of religious nature.

Master Narratives and metanarratives of history, culture and national identity as accepted before WWII (American-European myths of progress). Myths of cultural and ethnic origin accepted as received. (Irvine)

Suspicion and rejection of Master Narratives for history and culture; local narratives, ironic deconstruction of master narratives: counter-myths of origin. (Irvine)

Disconnected, local knowledge, except for mythic knowledge of central religious authority.

Centering/centeredness, centralized knowledge. (Irvine)

Dispersal, dissemination, networked, distributed knowledge (Irvine)

Height/Spirit tropes.

Faith in otherworldly knowledge sourced to gods/God, over the fallible earthly knowledge of man.

Root/Depth tropes.
Faith in "Depth" (meaning, value, content, the signified) over "Surface" (appearances, the superficial, the signifier). (Irvine)

Rhizome/surface tropes. 
Attention to play of surfaces, images, signifiers without concern for "Depth". Relational and horizontal differences, differentiations. (Irvine)

Faith in the real beyond the ordinary perceptions of the world, in mystical communion with the divine.

Faith in the "real" beyond media, language, symbols, and representations; authenticity of "originals." (Irvine)

Hyper-reality, image saturation, simulacra seem more powerful than the "real"; images and texts with no prior "original". 
"As seen on TV" and "as seen on MTV" are more powerful than unmediated experience. (Irvine)

Religion attempts to align man's vision toward ultimate truths beyond this world, and prepare for the next life.

The Bible.

Knowledge mastery, attempts to embrace a totality. Quest for interdisciplinary harmony.
The encyclopedia. (Irvine)

Navigation through information overload, information management; fragmented, partial knowledge; just-in-time knowledge. 
The Web. (Irvine)




Work and the Economy




Pre-Industrial: Agrarian economies where manufactured goods were artisan crafted, scarce, and expensive.

Fordism: After the industrial revolution, an era of mass production and mass consumption, cheap and widely available consumer goods, fed by a growing middle class that worked in Western factories. Workers were paid relatively well, and formed a consumer class that grew the world economy.

Post-Fordism: Shift to "just in time" manufacturing and niche marketing, rather than mass production, and to information technology in the West, as manufacturing jobs are outsourced to "developing nations." Middle class shrinks as many former factory workers are squeezed into low skilled service sector employment.

Relative scarcity: With a largely agrarian economy with little technology for preservation and transportation of food, and only artisanal production of goods, many things are scare, and expensive. Famine threatens the population when crops fail.

Relative plenty: Industrialization produces cheap food and goods. With technology for preservation and distribution across the globe, the threat of famine is dramatically decreased.

Relative excess: Suspicion of and resistance to mass consumption economy, with growing movements toward simplicity, locally grown produce, hand made goods, and fair trade produce. Niche marketing and on demand production trends against mass production/consumption.

Technology requires collective work of the family, in farming and home.


Technology requires more and more individualized work through the division of labor after the industrial revolution.

Technology continues to specialize labor into more and more individual work, and provides more and more individualized consumption of entertainment via the internet and video games.

Local monetary systems and relatively limited trade across distances.

International monetary systems with increasingly distant trade.

Extreme interdependence of economies through globalization.

Local, controlled economies, with labor restricted by guild and class systems, goods and people taxed at the whim of the gentry, and a system of serfdom that discouraged the poor from improving land and producing surpluses they couldn't keep.

Free market capitalism, with fewer and fewer restrictions on trade, with property rights for more and more citizens, who could keep more of what they made and so were incentivized to produce more. Fewer restrictions on trade meant rise of middle class of independent business people. Entrepreneurship drives economy.

Critique on free market capitalism run amok, with its "freedoms" as more subtle forms of slavery, and its blind hunger for profits as widening the gap between rich and poor, destroying the middle class. More and more, massive corporations control business, with small entrepreneurs squeezed out of competition. An emphasis on fair trade, sustainability, the green economy, and social responsibility.

Economies adapt to the natural world, and are often threatened by its forces.

Economies begin to master natural world, damming rivers, splitting the atom, clear cutting forests, and industrializing farming.

Economies work to re-align themselves with nature, after the environmental degradation of the modern age. Now pollution control, environmental sustainability and green house gas regulation have become significant concerns of government and business.








Virtually unanimous belief in God, and a mostly homogeneous faith in that God across each culture.

Virtually unanimous belief in God, but after the Reformation, divisions and debates within cultures on the approach to the divine and the meaning of faith.

While the belief in God is still typical, there's more atheism and agnosticism, more personal interpretations, more splintering of churches, less dogmatic following of religious leaders, and less churchgoing in contemporary society.

In art, static, rigid poses, stiff and severe expressions, uniformity in depiction by anonymous artisans, as in this medieval icon of Jesus above.

In art, more humanistic, individualized portraits, with more emotional expressions depicted by celebrated artists, as in the figure of Jesus by Da Vinci above.

In art, more iconoclastic, irreverent, ironic and politicized representations, as in the pop-art depiction of Jesus as a Che Guavara t-shirt above.

God is generally seen as controlling many of the affairs of human life, and natural disasters are often interpreted as divine vengeance.

While God is seen to have set the wheels in motion, a mechanistic view of the universe ascribes the workings of the world to natural laws that we can discover through science.

Rejection of fatalistic and mechanistic world views, in favor of more personal, local and political interpretations of faith acted out in the lives of believers.

(fill in your analysis as we proceed)























Let's trace ideas about gender together as they emerge and transform in our readings.


























New World Encounters

Let's trace ideas about race together as they emerge and transform in our readings.

























In literature, often anonymous/collective sense of authorship.

In literature, defined and individual sense of authorship. Rise of autobiography.

In literature, "death of the author" and the birth of the reader, as readings and meanings play against and between the text and its interpretations. (Barthes)

Primarily oral culture, received tradition passed on from religious authority to illiterate masses.



The book as sufficient bearer of the word.
The library as complete and total system for printed knowledge. (Irvine)

Hypermedia as transcendence of the physical limits of print media. The Web as infinitely expandable, centerless, inter-connected information system. (Irvine)

Art as folk craft, a product of anonymous artisans, expressive of traditional, often religious values/motifs.

Art as unique object and finished work authenticated by artist and validated by agreed upon standards. (Irvine)

Art as process, performance, production, intertextuality. Art as recycling of culture authenticated by audience and validated in subcultures sharing identity with the artist. (Irvine)

(fill in your analysis as we proceed)



















Central theme


Day 1: Critical Consciousness


Unit 1: Religion and Theories of Liberation


Unit 2b: Ancient Greece: Pre-Socratics


Unit 3: Ancient Greece:  Plato


Analysis: Do and Don't


Unit 4: Ancient China: Poetry and Philosophy


Unit 5: Ancient Rome: The Aeneid


A Sketch of History


Unit 6: The Arabian Nights


Unit 7: High Medieval  Italy: Inferno

Unit 8a: High Renaissance Spain: Don Quixote


Unit 8b: High Renaissance England: Hamlet


Unit 9: European Enlightenment


Unit 10: Modern Economics: Smith v. Marx


Unit 11: English Romantic Poets


Unit 12: English Modernism


Unit 13: Existentialism


Unit 14: Magical Realism and McOndo


Unit 15: Postmodern Theory


Unit 16: Postcolonial Literature & Theory



Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality An Introduction. New York: Vintage, 1990.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Giddens, Anthony. Modernity and self-identity self and society in the late modern age. Stanford, Calif: Stanford UP, 1991.

Irvine, Martin. "The Po-Mo Page: Postmodern, Postmodernism, Postmodernity." Georgetown University. 17 June 2009 <>.

Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self. Cambridge: Harvard, 1989.



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