Special Topics in Film – The Film Essay: James Baldwin, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag
140-001 | English 173 | CCN: 25123
Damon Young and Stephen Best
T/Th 3:30-5:00pm; Th 5:00-8:00pm, Dwinelle 142
This course offers an in-depth study of three of the most influential public intellectuals of the twentieth century: James Baldwin, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag. Working in the postwar period between France and the United States, and grappling in different ways with their own minority experience, each of these writers was passionately engaged with the cinema, which provided the occasion for some of their most provocative reflections on race, sex, art, and culture. As well as offering brilliant insights into cinema as art form and medium, their writing provides a map of the intellectual, political, and cultural history of the past fifty years, posing questions that are more relevant than ever today. We will analyze the way these (and some other) authors make their arguments, how they think and write about film and art, and, especially, how they bring to light the relation between film aesthetics and the politics of race, class, gender, sexuality, and national identity. We will follow their lead in watching and responding to provocative films that challenge our taken-for-granted assumptions. We will also approach the essay as an art in its own right, exploring how great cultural criticism not only comments on but also creates the world. Students will work through a series of writing exercises to produce innovative cultural criticism of their own, or a longer research paper.