Sophomore Seminars

It's the Freakiest Show: David Bowie's Intertextual Imagination

ENGLISH 14Q
Prerequisites: 
Completion of PWR 1 or other WR 1 course.

David Bowie’s career began in the early 60s with a mix of folk, rock, and psychedelia; he then helped define an era with his performance of a gender bending, glam rock alien prior to engaging with German expressionism and minimalist electronic music; in the ‘80s, he brought a generation to the dance floor with chart topping hits before turning to drum ‘n bass and industrial music for inspiration; he finished his life as an enigmatic but engaged artist releasing poignant albums until his death. Through these many transitions, Bowie had a constant – he was a voracious reader – a practice that informed his work throughout his life. 

In this class students will explore the place of literature in the work of musician, actor, and visual artist David Bowie. They will consider how Bowie's work embodies, questions, critiques, and engages with “the literary.” This course will focus on the relationship between Bowie's artistic output and work by other artists, both canonical and Avant Garde such as Andy Warhol, Iggy Pop, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Elliot, and William Burroughs. It will involve close readings of song lyrics and comparative reading of albums with literary forms such as the novel, poetry, and critical essay. We will also consider how Bowie's music was fueled by and in turn inspires new relationships between music, literature, cinema, and theater.

Bowie’s work easily adapts from text to other media including film, painting, and theater. Thus, the story of your research will be no exception: in communicating your findings, you will consider how different modes—writing about your work and presenting it orally—give you varied opportunities and means to persuade.

Throughout, students will engage with and apply theories of writing, reading, and authorship and will explore questions of time, place, style, gender, and mortality.  In addition to written analytical work, students will produce their own creative projects (poem, short story, song, album cover, etc.) in relation to something they find interesting or inspiring in Bowie’s ouvre. Students will compose in varied modes (speaking, writing, video), in varied situations, and for varied audiences. Doing so, will enable you to explore the interplay between written, oral, and visual forms of communication, learn skills and strategies of oral delivery, and craft messages for both academic and public audiences.

This course fulfills the second-level Writing and Rhetoric Requirement (Write-2) and emphasizes oral and multimedia presentation.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Tiffany Naiman

"I am a lecturer in The Stanford Storytelling Project (SSP) and the managing editor and a producer for The Storytelling Project's podcast, State of the Human. I am an interdisciplinary scholar of temporality, music, critical theory, and gender. I am the co-chair of the American Musicological Society's LGBTQ study group. My academic research is that of an interdisciplinary scholar of temporality, music, critical theory, and gender. I have also built a recognized specialization in the work of David Bowie; my research on him has been published in four edited collections and outlets such as The Washington Post and Oxford University Press have sought my expertise. I am currently working on a book in collaboration with University of California Press, titled David Bowie in America

"Along with my academic endeavors, I am a DJ, film festival programmer, and an award winning documentary film producer. My film projects have screened worldwide in festivals, art museums, and theaters, and have been released digitally. These include: Bight of the Twin (2016), The Glamour & The Squalor (2015), Exile Nation: The Plastic People (2014), Viva Cuba Libre: Rap Is War (2013), and The Mechanical Bride (2012). I curate films and performances for Outfest Los Angeles’ experimental section, Platinum. I spend most of my free time at concerts and other music infused events."