The course will explore relationships between literature, culture and political power in Central Europe between 1950s and 2000s. We will look at the dynamics of political repression, including dissent, protest, and alternative subcultures. The focus of the course will be on literary works questioning or co-creating Central European identity. However, we will see that music and political writings of the period became an important literary force as well. Such force is performative (i.e., it “does something” significant both to Czech identity and history). The course will give students an opportunity to expand their knowledge of Central European culture and to foot their interpretations in relevant social and political contexts.
The course will concern major cultural and literary tendencies during and after communism in Europe with examples from the Czech provenience (i.e. the Czech president and writer Václav Havel, Charter 77 and human rights, underground vs. mainstream music, surrealism and other art forms vs. normalization, literature in the communist and post-communist period). Although the course will be focused on European cultural context and Czech specificities in the 20th century, various phenomena such as the Enlightenment, totalitarianism, rationalism, idealism, originating from the previous centuries will be explained as well. The readings encompass both literary and socio-anhropological texts, which should enable students to understand the discussed phenomena in a wider context. What will be discussed is the role of the Czech underground during communism, gender and race issues between 1960s and 2014, rock and folk musicians as political and “semi-religious” agents, Czech identity or a lack thereof as reflected in architecture, and others. The literary readings will involve significant writers such as Milan Kundera, Václav Havel, Bohumil Hrabal, Jiřina Šiklová, Egon Bondy, Michal Ajvaz, and Franz Kafka.
The course will include field trips and guest speakers.