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Monday, February 23, 2015

Homo Economicus: Staging the Contradictions of Modern Political Economy in the English Comedy of Manners

Looks like I'll be teaching a new course at the San Francisco Art Institute next Fall. This is material I have loved most of my life and which I did a lot of research on in grad school, and it is rather thrilling to return to it. Here is an early version of the course description:
Capitalism is so funny we forgot to laugh. In this course we will be reading plays drawn from over three hundred years of mannered comedy, at once the most coarse, witty, perverse, lively, and stylish works in English literature. From Early Modern Restoration comedies modeling the libertine rebel Rochester like The Man of Mode, The Rover, The Way of the World, and the Beggar's Opera, to High Modern high camp fascinated by the figure of Oscar Wilde from Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience to The Importance of Being Earnest to Noel Coward, up to Late Modern work from Joe Orton and Jennifer Saunders resonating with the space oddities of David Bowie: we will not only be reading these hilarious and hellraising plays, but staging their key scenes in class for one another in an effort to inhabit them more viscerally. The premise of the course is that these plays stage efforts to satirize and cope with definitive contradictions of modern capitalism but also with paradoxes of corporate-militarist societies and cultures more generally, especially what I will call the plutocratic paradox (a meritocratic rationalization and enactment of aristocracy), the patriarchal paradox (a sexist, heterosexist, cissexist homosocial order that must disavow its inevitable homosexual possibilities), and the planetary paradox (a nationalist project impossibly comprehending ramifying multicultures in "the cultural" while embedded in a global nation-state system in which it impossibly competes via the racist war-machine of "the social"). Readings from political economy and cultural theory from Hobbes, Marx, and Mill to Raymond Williams, Gayle Rubin, Eve Sedgwick, Gayatri Spivak and Paul Gilroy will help us grapple with the plays and the spectacle they make of themselves. Consider the course a contribution to Urbane Studies.

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