Literature and Public Life

L240 — Fall 2018

Christine R. Farris
Ballantine Hall 105
Days and Times
1:00P-2:15P TR
Course Description

Topic: "Confession Culture"

America has become a confessing culture, as individuals use social media to disclose information, and celebrities and politicians are increasingly compelled to publicly apologize for their behavior. In this course, through fiction, autobiography, speeches, and real-life cases, we will examine how public performances of confession function narratively and rhetorically - in particular, how they are marked by contradictory intentions in their efforts to admit wrongdoing, express the self, seek forgiveness, and renegotiate social values. We will examine some historical examples, tracing how confession has evolved into private and public rhetorical and literary performances that accomplish things other than the revelation of truth. We will consider how confessants -- public figures, ordinary people, and authors of fiction -- inform, persuade, and entertain, and why we respond as we do to their truths and deceptions. Assignments will include a comparative analysis paper, quizzes, a midterm, and a final exam.

Texts include Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter; Ian McEwan's Atonement; J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace; and O.J. Simpson/ Goldman Family's (If) I Did It: Confessions of a Killer. We will also read excerpts from the confessions of Saint Augustine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Bill Clinton, and former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, as well as some contemporary analyses of confession, including sections of Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality; Susan Bauer's The Art of the Public Grovel; and Alec Wilkinson's Mr. Apology and Other Essays. Films include The Contender, directed by Rod Lurie and Fall to Grace, directed by Alexandra Pelosi.

Interested in this course?

The full details of this course are available on the Office of the Registrar website.

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