Consider Yourselves–Warned!

(Soundtrack: Public Enemy — It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back)

The Rubicon is crossed! The books have been ordered! Next semester, my intro to American radical thought course will have a much more contemporary flavour! Inspired by the readings and research I’ve been doing for my own graduate courses, I’ll be zeroing in on questions of power & responsibility–particularly “radical”, “liberal” and “reactionary” approaches to the use of violence as a political tool. Is there any doubt that superhero comics deal more directly with these issues than any works of mass culture ever have? The texts I’ve chosen are Animal Man, vols 1 to 3, The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Kingdom Come, and Squadron Supreme. I’m nowhere near done the syllabus, but I know I’m throwing Emerson into the mix, plus viewings of I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, Meet John Doe, Moby Dick, Fight Club, and, quite possibly, Pola X!

Now, I ask you, what more could any freshman want?

Good Night Friends!



  1. “Now, I ask you, what more could any freshman want?”

    You really don’t want the answer to that question. Please put the syllabus online when you’re done.


  2. I’m sure we’d never come eye-to-eye on it, David, but I’d say you’re giving students a large part of what they want: not particularly challenging subject matter to read. Perhaps the challenging part is in the interpretation, but that suggests more of a problem with the course than a defense of the value in teaching stuff like THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS in college. People can get that shit on their own — there’s plenty of equally substantial/superficial works in pop culture, so why give into this consumeristic saturation in the one place where some resistance, however feeble, might still exist? People discover superhero comics just fine without the help of academia, and it certainly doesn’t make for a worse life if they never do, so I’d avoid such a course like the plague. That’s not an insult to you personally (you seem a decent and intelligent fellow), but a strong patooey towards such things being taught in college. — Charles

  3. your point requires addressing Charles–I’m sure it’s an opinion shared by a good many people who read this blog:

    why use these texts? well, as you say, they are, perhaps, somewhat more “accessible” to 18-year old Americans than Hawthorne or Melville (am I trying to displace the great works in “the canon”? If you read this blog regularly, you know that isn’t so–you’d have to kill me to loosen my grip on Hawthorne!)–and that’s all to the good, as far as I’m concerned!–when you assign readings for a freshman course, what you want to make sure of, more than anything, is that your students will meet you half way and dive into ’em!

    but here’s where we don’t see eye to eye Charles–the “challenging part” is always in the interpretation (is there just one way to read DKR? yeah, right! how about Animal Man or The Filth? for any interpretation you might come up with, I could, given time, come up with ten that contradict it, and support each of them with textual evidence… and pretty much every member of the blogosphere could do the same!)

    But if that’s too “postmodern” for you, then consider this: if nothing else, 25 people will emerge from my course unable to think of the texts I’ve assigned as mere “consumer pap” (as if such a thing ever existed!–the only limitations on a text are the ones put there by readers)–because, whether they agree with me or not, they will have been forced to deal with my ideas concerning them (and Emerson’s too! I hope you aren’t suggesting that Emerson’s too “accessible” to be read in the hallowed halls!), and they’ll have been forced to do a lot of thinking about what it means to be a citizen of a “superpowered” nation too! Like most of our maligned spandex types, your average American kid never asked for the power to affect the world in decisive ways, but s/he’s got it anyway, and it’s time each and every one of them accepted the responsiblity and started thinking about their position in those terms, don’t you think?


  4. It’s irrelevant whether there’s an infinite amount of possible interpretations. There’s not an infinite amount of existing ones that apply equally well for evaluating all particular readings. Otherwise, you’ve no grounds to say some readings are less valid than others. You’ve already eliminated the text (“the only limitations on a text are the ones put there by readers”), so there must be some extratextual basis for rejecting some interpretations as being inferior to others. Why must there be? Well, why would anyone give 2 squats about taking a course from you? Hell, why would you even care to teach a course where every student is just as right as you are or has every ounce of value in his initial interpretation that you do on your seventh reading. Maybe, you teach to expose them to even more interpretations (“they will have been forced to deal with my ideas concerning them”), but that’s not a justification, only some impulse existing in you. And why these texts? When all texts apply no limitations of there own, any is as good as any other for proving whatever ideological point you’re forcing your students to encounter. Hell, why not just tell them your ideological stance, write a public essay on it without the nuisance of references? It’ll save a lot of time that way. But, then again, no one would be able to determine what point you were trying to delimit with the essay, so scratch that. Ah well, you catch my drift.

    But really, David, assuming some moral analogue between an individual who gets god-like power from red light and a kid from Urban Detroit, who just happens to be impoverished in the confines of the last remaining superpower is fatuous at best. You might have something of a valid point if you were teaching the Bush twins or the Hilton sisters, but I doubt it.

  5. Dave,

    my only concern would be that, near as I can tell, you’re not reading any of the intellectual source material for radical etc. thought, which I assume means that you’ll be describing those schools to your students as you traipse through the comics; in other words, you’re students will have to rely on you for the analytical tools.

    I’d be much more in favor of splitting the semester up and spending the first part reading Foucalt, or whatever, making them try and figure it out, then give them the comics and what not; this way they can look at the books through the lens of THEIR own reading of the source texts, not yours; I’d suggest you’d get a much richer discussion of the material this way.

    But then again, I haven’t been in school in a long time, so what do I know.


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