Topics in Literature and Society: Nonconformity
GARDNER, DAVID C
In his essay, “Self-Reliance” (1841), Ralph Waldo Emerson urged his readers to trust themselves, to refuse to conform to societal expectations, and to avoid “a foolish consistency,” which he famously scorned as “the hobgoblin of little minds.” He’s not alone. Throughout the Western tradition, philosophers, poets, politicians, playwrights, and fiction writers have urged us to resist established norms from a variety of political, social, and artistic standpoints. In this course we will survey the concept of nonconformity across a wide range of literary genres, political persuasions, and philosophical traditions, situating each manifestation of nonconformity within its particular historical context. We will then ask questions and draw conclusions about why nonconformity becomes such a focal point for particular groups of thinkers and writers (Ancient Greeks, British Romantics, American Transcendentalists, the Beat Generation). Topics include: religious dissent, social rebellion, romantic idealism, political insurgency, formal innovation, subversion of generic conventions, declarations of aesthetic independence, ethical dilemmas, and failed attempts at nonconformity. Above all, students will build the critical skills to read closely, think analytically, and write persuasively about the ongoing debates concerning the often-uneasy relationship between the individual and society.