Texts of Paranoia

BA Seminar / English Department University of Zurich / Fridays 14:00-15:45 ///

Something is out there, haunting American culture – it’s the feeling of being haunted. Paranoia!

In this seminar we will examine paranoia both as a theme as well as a specific stylistic device that is pertinent if not prevalent for US literature and culture since the mid-20th century. We will analyze how in reaction to cold war anxieties and harrowing events like the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King jr., the Manson murders or the Watergate affair US artists experiment with fractured narratives, unreliable narrators, and obscure textual strategies that speak directly to this atmosphere of paranoia. 

By looking at a diverse corpus of different texts and media, ranging from Adrienne Rich’s poems to Richard Nixon’s secret tape recordings, from the essays of Joan Didion to the novels of Don DeLillo and Paul Auster, and from films like „The Conversation“ and „The Parallax View“ to graphic novels like „Sabrina“ we will outline how different forms of paranoid writings destabilize and revolutionize American literature and culture to this day.

Furthermore, by picking up on Jacques Lacan’s argument that paranoia is first and foremost concerned with the question of readability one of the main concerns of this seminar is to show how paranoia with its search anxious search for hidden meaning in everyday occurrences is intimately linked to our own practices of interpreting literature. There is probably something potentially paranoid about our own field of study – an aspect we will also explore in our multimedia exercises for this seminar.

Finally, by working through these texts of paranoia we also hope to be better equipped to understand also our current times in which anxieties and conspiracy theories once more abound (particularly in light of this fall’s United States presidential election). As Philip K. Dick wrote: „Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.“

Syllabus

(Please note that the syllabus may be subject to change.)