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ENGLISH 5K: WISE: The Cult of Jack Kerouac (And Other Stories of Literary Celebrity)

This course explores the rise, stakes, and ironies of literary stardom by focusing on one of the Bay Area's most notorious band of celebrity authors: the Beats. To some, Beat politics, styles, and philosophies have seemed dated for decades; and yet Beat writers maintain a weirdly broad staying power. Even now, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg remain pop-cultural touchstones, outsider-intellectual icons, and essential reading for teens and the highly educated. To get to the root of this phenomenon, we will consider what fame meant to literature and vice versa in the post-World War II era - a time when a rapidly changing media ecology, rising consumerism, and intensifying Cold War nationalism made for curious marriages: between avant-garde art and pop culture, between countercultural ambitions and commercial appropriation. Why did the Beats get famous? How did their fame affect the life and work of contemporaries (like the acclaimed but understudied poet Bernadette Mayer) who wrote in the more »
This course explores the rise, stakes, and ironies of literary stardom by focusing on one of the Bay Area's most notorious band of celebrity authors: the Beats. To some, Beat politics, styles, and philosophies have seemed dated for decades; and yet Beat writers maintain a weirdly broad staying power. Even now, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg remain pop-cultural touchstones, outsider-intellectual icons, and essential reading for teens and the highly educated. To get to the root of this phenomenon, we will consider what fame meant to literature and vice versa in the post-World War II era - a time when a rapidly changing media ecology, rising consumerism, and intensifying Cold War nationalism made for curious marriages: between avant-garde art and pop culture, between countercultural ambitions and commercial appropriation. Why did the Beats get famous? How did their fame affect the life and work of contemporaries (like the acclaimed but understudied poet Bernadette Mayer) who wrote in their long shadow? What can these dynamics teach us about celebrity and technology today? In answering these questions, we will examine Beat writers in print, on film and TV, in photographs and advertisements, and in the archive. Students will learn to work with a range of genres and forms¿including some criticism and theory¿by authors both inside and outside of the literary 'star system.' (Note: This Writing-Intensive Seminar in English (WISE) course fulfills WIM for English majors. Non-majors are welcome, space permitting. For enrollment permission contact vbeebe@stanford.edu.)
Terms: Win | Units: 5
Instructors: Winner, K. (PI)
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