Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Just Feelings

ENGLISH 84N

Most of us read for the pure pleasure of it— just feelings. And yet, just as often, we believe that literature has a particular purpose: that it can affect justice, something we imagine it does through the production of certain emotions that prompt us to good action: just feelings. What role might feelings – from anger, to empathy, to pleasure – have in producing a better world, and how might literature prompt us toward those feelings, that world? What dangers lurk in linking up literature, feelings and justice?

To find out, we’ll dig into books that stage conversations about injustice and how to address it. Certain books that “write with” each other, such as Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde and Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s A View of Dawn in the Tropics, both of which draw on Francisco Goya’s illustrations of state violence; or Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, which writes in conversation with E. M. Forster about literature, love, and friendship. At other times novelists “write against” each other, such as Sergei Davlotov’s The Zone, a response to Alexander Solzhenitsy's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich on the matter of Soviet prison camps; Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court (2014), a polemic with films about the justice system like Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957); or Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime, which takes a very different approach from canonical apartheid writing like Zeke Mda’s Madonna of Excelsior or Nadine Gordimer’s “City Lovers” and “Country Lovers.” Which approaches work for you? What feelings do they engage? And how can you be sure that other readers feel as you do, and will change in the ways you might change?

Meet the Instructor(s)

Roanne Kantor

"Hi! I’m an assistant professor of 'Global' English literature. My first book looks at the way that writers from India and Pakistan responded to Latin American literature—I’m always interested in the ways that readers take hold of books and make use of them in unexpected ways. I teach in a range of fields that relate to social justice in some way: from postcolonial studies, to disability, to border literatures. So I was prompted to ask, what makes a book 'useful' for those fields, those topics? Is it just subject matter, or does tone and affect make a difference, too? And if so, how? I’m excited to try to puzzle out these questions along with you.”