Get on the Syllabus!

Get on the Syllabus!

UPDATE: Just in case anyone’s interested–I’ve finalized the course “soundtrack” and there’s an itemized list of the songs down there in the “texts” section…Good night all!

Here it is! Now I just have to get cracking on that course-blog I’m pinning my hopes on for this semester! And if any of this wets your appetite for the combination of comics, politics, and academia, hie thee to Comic Book Politics, which is already in full swing!

WRAC 130: American Radical Thought

Section 11: Tuesdays & Thursdays 12:40pm to 2:30pm

Room: Bessey-312        

Instructor: David Fiore

Office Number: Bessey-301

Office Hours: Tuesdays 3pm to 5pm (or by appointment)

Course Description:

The thespian’s mantra, “acting is reacting”, holds just as true in the political and philosophical arenas as it does upon the literal stage. This is an indispensable insight for students of American radicals to keep in mind–i.e. what are these individuals reacting to? Is it the “power structure” (often referred to as the “military industrial complex”)? The complacency of an electorate which votes for the status quo every 4 years, regardless of which party they support? Or some combination of the two? Are these things even separable? At the heart of this question lies a radical chiasmus that marks the thinking of any proponent of a better world: in order to change the social structure, it is necessary to change the people; and yet, it isn’t possible to change the people without changing the social structure.

In this course, we will examine a number of figures, in a variety of texts, dealing with precisely this problem, in its most extreme form–and take up their cross ourselves. There is very little likelihood that we will emerge from the ordeal with any definite answers. However, it is my hope that our gain in mutual understanding will make up, at least in part, for this almost certain disappointment. You will be responsible for generating a great deal of our reading material, and, in a very real sense, your most important research this semester will be the investigation of each others’ thought. This is ideal, because our primary objective in this course will be to develop your writing skills–and writing is reacting.


Ralph Waldo Emerson — Complete Writings

Mark Waid & Alex Ross — Kingdom Come

Mark Gruenwald, Bob Hall, Paul Ryan, John Buscema, et al.Squadron Supreme

Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons — Watchmen

Frank Miller — The Dark Knight Returns

Jaime Hernandez — Locas

Grant Morrison, Chas Truog, Tom Grumett, Paris Cullins, et al. Animal Man

An assortment of on-line readings (including your own writings!)– see

Our course soundtrack (which I will distribute on the first day of class):

1. “Rebel Girl” — Bikini Kill & Joan Jett

2. “Terror Mad Visionary” — New Kingdom

3. “Freakathon” — Red Aunts

4. “Pure Massacre” — Silverchair

5. “Hate the Christian Right” — Team Dresch

6. “Killing in the Name” — Rage Against the Machine

7. “Call the Doctor” — Sleater-Kinney

8. “Have You Ever” — Offspring

9. “The Masses Are Asses” — L7

10. “By the Time I Get to Arizona” — Public Enemy

11. “DemiRep” — Bikini Kill & Joan Jett

12. “Shut ’em Down” — Public Enemy

13. “Co Pilot” — New Kingdom

14. “Spawn Again” — Silverchair

15. “Screwing Yer Courage” — Team Dresch

16. “I Like Fucking” — Bikini Kill

17. “LAPD” — Offspring

18. “Down Rodeo” — Rage Against the Machin e

19. “TGIF” — Le Tigre

20. “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” — Public Enemy

21. “Paradise Don’t Come Cheap” — New Kingdom

22. “Fight the Power” — Public Enemy


Spike Lee — Bamboozled

Frank Capra — Meet John Doe

Frank Borzage — Strange Cargo

Kimberly Peirce — Boys Don’t Cry

David Lynch — Mulholland Dr.

David Fincher — Fight Club

Plagiarism Disclaimer:

If I discover that you have used another person’s material without citing it, I will give you a zero for the assignment. No explanations will be accepted.


(I will hand out more specific instructions regarding each of these assignments in class as the semester progresses.)

1. A short introductory piece–what is your definition of “radicalism”? What does a radical commitment entail? (5% of grade)

2. “Policing the World”: discuss the ways in which Kingdom Come, Squadron Supreme and Watchmen address the connected problems of radical change/maintenance of order, with reference to Emerson, Von Clausewitz, Thomas Hobbes, and the opinions of your peers–1500 words (15% of grade)

3. Music Critique: discuss one or more of the songs/bands on the sountrack, with reference to the opinions of your peers and the links I will provide — 1000 words (10% of grade)

4. Film Critique: discuss one of our films, with reference to the opinions of your peers and the links I will provide-1000 words (10% of grade)

5. Long paper on one of our texts. Must include references to peer discussions and at least three outside sources. The choice of focus is up to you (to be decided upon in consultation with me) -2000 words (30% of grade)

6. Written Participation (20% of grade)–This course will not function unless you contribute your opinions to our discussion forum! The grade will be assessed on the following basis: a maximum of 13 points for each “letter” posted to our weekly letters page (of course you are welcome to post more than once a week!), 4 points for posts to film discussion lists (4 different films–although, again, follow-up posts are welcome and encouraged!), 3 points for posts to three separate song discussion lists. Posts must be at least 100 words in length and demonstrate some evidence of thought in action, in order to receive credit.

7. Class Participation (10% of grade)–to be assessed based upon your participation in general class discussions.

“Typical Class”:

(excepting the first 4 sessions and classes devoted to film screenings)

12:40-1:05 Small group discussions, based upon the comments submitted to class forum–which I will print up and distribute (Tues); or progress on upcoming assignments–i.e. peer editing (Thurs)

1:05-1:30 I will deliver an interpretation of the day’s assigned reading, based upon references to specific moments in the text and insights gleaned from the larger philosophical, political, and aesthetic context.

1:30-1:40 Break

1:40-2:30 Class discussion, which will grow, initially, out of your comments upon/quarrels with my interpretation/choice of contextual frame, and hopefully spread into a more general, non-Fiore-centric debate!

Due Dates:

I will not accept any papers after the specified due dates.

Attendance Policy:

I will be taking attendance. You have a right to miss 3 classes-any additional absences will result in the loss of 0.25 per absence off of your final grade. (i.e.: a student who earns a 3.5, but misses 5 classes, will receive a 3.0).

Course Schedule:

Jan 11th: Introductory lecture; formation of groups

Jan 13th: Emerson, Nature

Jan 18th: peer-edit assignment #1; Emerson “Self-Reliance”, “History”

Jan 20th: Emerson “Circles”, “Experience”; Assignment #1 due

(weekly discussion forum postings begin–due before 11am, each Tuesday)

Jan 25th: Kingdom Come and the Myth of the Hero

Jan 27th: movie screening: Meet John Doe

Feb 1st: Squadron Supreme #1-3

Feb 3rd: movie screening: Strange Cargo

Feb 8th: Squadron Supreme #4-9

Feb 10th: Squadron Supreme #10-12; discuss assignment #2 in groups

Feb 15th: Watchmen #1-3

Feb 17th: movie screening: Bamboozled

Feb 22nd: Watchmen # 4-6

Feb 24th: Watchmen # 7-9; discuss assignment #2 in groups

March 1st: Watchmen #10-12

March 3rd: movie screening: Fight Club; assignment #2 due

****Spring Break*****

March 15th: Dark Knight Returns #1-2

March 17th: Dark Knight Returns #3-4; discuss assignment #3 in groups

March 22nd: Locas pages 7-245; assignment #3 due

March 24th: movie screening: Boys Don’t Cry

March 29th: Locas pages 246-542

March 31st: movie screening: Mulholland Dr.

April 5th: Locas pages 543-704

April 7th: Animal Man #1-4; discuss assignment #4

April 12th: Animal Man #5

April 14th: Animal Man #6-11, including Secret Origins #39; assignment #4 due

April 19th: Animal Man #12-17

April 21st: Animal Man #18-22; discuss assignment #5 in groups

April 26th: Animal Man #23-26

April 28th: full class peer-editing and general discussion of assignment #5

May 5th :  class evaluations; assignment #5 due (this is our exam period)

Bon Weekend les amis!




  1. I don’t get the Mulholland Drive thing. I liked the film a good deal. I just don’t get what it has to do with radical thought or social change.


  2. ah, well, I can understand your confusion Brian… I’m definitely
    taking an unorthodox approach to this material… but what I want to
    focus on, in this course, is the “radicalism behind the radicalism”…
    the drive toward the “improbably human” necessitates an understanding
    of “reality” as a malleable substance, reimaginable in any number of
    ways, and, therefore, at least potentially free of the crushing weight
    of human history, which is basically all bad (although, of course,
    there is much to love in the past!)… I can’t really think of a
    better cinematic exploration of this idea than Mulholland Drive (as I interpret it), so into the
    syllabus it went… Lynch is a great Emersonian!


  3. Dude, no Thoreau? None of the American socialists? I appreciate the comics being on there, but you at least need Thomas Paine on there as an example of American radicalism before Emerson.

    – Matt Rossi

  4. ah Matt–there’s only so much you can do in one semester! I went
    whole-hog colonial/revolutionary/antebellum thought last
    time! I’m trying something different this time…it’s completely
    ahistorical (but that’s not always a bad thing!)

    there will be a
    lot of links to the people you mention (and many others!) on the course
    website, and they’ll wind up in some papers, never fear!


  5. p.s. don’t forget–this is actually just a freshman writing course! (I wouldn’t organize a seminar this way!)


  6. Dave – great, great class! Just FYI, my experience so far is that after one week (Dark Knight Returns and Kingdom Come) class discussions have been incredible – intense, thoughtful, and productive. Students are reading carefully, making connections.. it’s been great. But students haven’t really taken to the blog. All the action has been in the seminar room. The blog has gotten a lot more traffic and comments from the outside, which is fine with me… but it does reduce its value as a teaching tool or as a component of the course. I’ll be interested to see how you integrate the classroom/blog components…

    CBP Moderator

  7. WOW .. what a great intro class .. although am hoping your students are more on the lines of the few I have seen rather than the majority ….
    Interesting to rethink much of the films cited as radical thought …something to ponder

  8. Silverchair? Silverchair? Wow.

    I always liked the message of “By the Time I Get to Arizona”: “Celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., man of peace, or I’m coming to kill you.”

  9. Marc!

    I’m convinced that the inside of a superhero’s head sounds like “Pure Massacre”–all of that urgency with no possible outlet…you know…and Spawn Again is one of the few animal liberation anthems we’ve got! it had to go in there…I guess a lot of people aren’t too keen on these guys, but I think they fit perfectly into the context of this course! (or were you objecting to their inclusion because they’re from Australia? probably not right?)

    On PE and MLK–it’s true, that song is suffering from an unusually severe case of consubstantial irony, but that’s probably true of everything on my list of texts–it’s the hallmark of radicalism!


  10. Charles, I had exactly the same thoughts (where’s the jazz?) when seeing Dave’s list, although most of it isn’t pop music in the usual sense. I see punk, post-punk and hiphip (and quite estimable examples of said genres) on D’s course which *are* pop music but not the “rotting-the-brain” variety. To be honest I don’t think that music can have such an effect on its listeners. You may not know more after you listened to top 40 hits but at least you don’t know less…After these introductory remarks I ask then: What about adding more demanding music like Cecil Taylor’s or (he’s my all-time hero) Anthony Braxton’s? (“For Alto” is a radical statement!)

    Best regards


  11. FrF, you’re alright in my book. If punk is needed, why not Gang of Four or Wire? Too much radio junk is my main problem, not really pop music, I guess. Dave’s classes sound more like they should take place in his living room while drinking beer (not that I could drink comfortably while listening to Silverchair and Rage Against the Machine).


  12. Scratch the punk recommendations since the class is about American radical thought, but there’s plenty of New York post-punk to fit the bill.

    now I’m really gone.

  13. And who can remember (Once-) Popular Band X when we’ve heard (Former) Hipster Band Y? I mean, really, Dave. Next you’ll be telling us you teach superheroes.–M.

  14. my goodness!

    guys–I can’t teach everything in one semester!!! Nor was I particularly interested in maximum esotericism… (well, I guess the Red Aunts are my one nod in that direction–at one point I had “Detroit Valentine” on there too…) Really, the soundtrack is there to amplify the sense of moral urgency that I’ll be emphasizing in the comics and films–and these songs fit that bill perfectly, as far as I’m concerned (both aurally & lyrically)

    I have nothing against Jazz, but I just don’t see how Coltrane can be seen as “radical”, except within the context of the genre…which is not to dismiss Coltrane or aesthetic revolutionaries of any stripe–but this course if definitely going to be a little more content-based than that…hey, if we were gonna do formal radicalism I’d just teach the whole class on the Marvel metatext! Right?


  15. Well, I’m just giving you some shit, Dave, but I wouldn’t make such a radical separation between the radical politics of black power and the formal expression it took in the free jazz of that period. With a little bit of investigation, I think you’d be able to open up quite a bit of discussion of form and radical politics. Also, if you’re so going for a more content-based and literal/direct approach, then why not pick some of the more explicitly politically radical comics and movies? If you’re going to have to go through some interpretive contortions, then I can’t see a reason for dismissing politically-informed formal radicalism.


  16. I know you’re right Charles–there is a double-standard here…Most of the narratives weren’t chosen for their explicit political content–the simple truth is that I just don’t have the scholarly/critical chops to do anything as subtle with music right now…but believe me, this is the kind of shit I want, so keep piling it on! (who knows, I might be ready to tackle free jazz by next fall! I’m not hostile to your suggestions at all)


  17. A quick follow-up to Dave’s comment on/defense of Pure Massacre: it might also be worthwhile to take into account that this song was written by 14-year-olds, in both the larger sense of getting that real youth perspective and in thinking about how they were not only influenced by what they try to explicitly describe in the song but also the fact that they were little kids with a big record deal who were probably expected to emulate the late-grunge MTV business-looking-left current-events slant of the day*. Especially while looking at Rage, who are a difficult band because, well, one could easily argue that, regardless of any reason/excuse they might put forth, they’re a part of what they are against. I can’t help but smile now and then when listening, for example, to the extremely witty slap-in-the-face off the Godzilla soundtrack “No Shelter,” because it’s also them slapping themselves in the face. Then again, I listen to Rage mostly for the music (and that smile); I have friends, though, who could say the same thing but replace “smile” with “sigh.”

    And, more obviously (maybe?), in regards to Dave’s comment, a young teenager writing a song that Dave calls “the inside of a superhero’s head,” at a time when superhero comics (arguably a genre of comics written for/to be sold to this demographic) were huge with young teenagers…

    I haven’t heard much of anything else on the soundtrack list, but there might be some interesting comparisons/contrasts to be drawn between these and the songs of a more-mainstream band written by a really young man (not even 20 when Neon Ballroom came out, right?). Seems intersting to me, but, the again, I like Silverchair 🙂

    *I don’t really know what I’m talking about; I hope this note effectively covers my ass. But for a reference point, if you can do the following without puking, maybe think about Real World: San Fransico and compare that to what’s spun out of it since, and clearly see trash deteriorate. Or whatever.

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