ELCS4018 - Writing Shame
Value: 0.5 course units
Tutor: Dr Claire Lindsay
Assessment: 2 assessed essays of 3000 words each
Shame is one of the most common and complex emotions. It presents on the body as a blush, in a lowering of the eyes or in a covering of the face. For those who are shamed, it may be accompanied by intense pain and suffering, while for those who shame, there are issues of power and domination at stake. The shameless, meanwhile, apparently have no values to transgress. Shame, which is related to but distinct from other emotions such as guilt, humiliation, embarrassment and disgrace, is both personal and social: it has to do with ideas about the self and its relationship to a moral and ethical community. As such, for some shame is narcissistic, potentially reactive and can only have negative repercussions, while for others it can be productive and redemptive, as much for the individual as for society.
Shame is of obvious interest in the fields of anthropology, human rights, law, philosophy, psychology and sociology, disciplines which have all thought about this emotion in different ways. So what can literature tell us about shame and how does it speak of it? Indeed, what can literature have to do with emotion at all, given the evident discrepancy between the considered, intellectual process of writing and the unpredictable, assaultive quality of this, unwanted, sometimes even unwarranted affect? This module seeks to address such questions, among others, through an examination of a corpus of contemporary ‘shame writing’ in the Americas. Following an exploration of different concepts, definitions and theories of shame, and taking into account important paradigms developed in the European context (for example, in relation to the Holocaust), the module will consider a number of literary and philosophical works which speak to experiences of historical and personal shame in North and South America: from the foundational humiliation of the Conquest to the protracted period of post-revolutionary disillusionment in Mexico; the debacles of the Vietnam and Malvinas wars; and the experience of ‘disappearance’ and torture under military dictatorship in the Southern Cone.
- Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill, Los pichiciegos /Malvinas Requiem, trans. by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2007)
- Carlos Fuentes, La muerte de Artemio Cruz (Mexico: Fondo de cultura económica, 1962)/The Death of Artemio Cruz, trans. by Alfred MacAdam (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991)
- Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried (London: Flamingo, 1990)
- Octavio Paz, El laberinto de la soledad (Mexico: Fondo de cultura económica, 1950)/The Labyrinth of Solitude: The other Mexico; Return to the labyrinth of solitude; Mexico and the United States; The Philanthropic Ogre, trans. by Lysander Kemp et al (London: Penguin, 2005)
- Alicia Partnoy, The Little School: Tales of Disappearance and Survival (San Francisco: Midnight Editions, 1986)
- Philip Roth, American Pastoral (London: Vintage, 1998)
- Marta Traba, Conversación al sur (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1981) /Mothers and Shadows, trans. by Jo Labanyi (London: Readers International, 1989)
Initial Secondary Bibliography:
- Gilles Deleuze, ‘The Shame and the Glory: T.E. Lawrence’, in Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. 115-125.
- Thomas Keenan, ‘Mobilizing Shame’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 103: 2/3 (2004), 435-449
- Primo Levi, ‘Shame’, in The Drowned and the Saved, trans. by Raymond Rosenthal (London: Michael Bailey, 1988), pp. 52-67
- John Limon, ‘The Shame of Abu Ghraib’, Critical Inquiry, 33:3 (2007), 543-572
- Michael L. Morgan, On Shame (New York: Routledge, 2008)
- Elspeth Probyn, ‘Writing Shame’, in The Affect Theory Reader, ed. by Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010), pp. 71-90
- Silvan Tomkins, Shame and its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader; ed. by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank, with a biographical sketch by Irving E. Alexander (London: Duke University Press, 1995)