ENG 413: Advanced Studies in Literature and Ideas. The Frontier in Literature and Film


Dr. Rebhorn 3 credits

          The “frontier” is one of the most important tropes that Americans have used to help define and codify American national identity: the frontier has become, in many ways, synonymous with being “American.” This course aims to explode this assumption by suggesting that the frontier has always existed not as a historically or geographically defined entity, but rather as a set of performative practices conditioned by history and geography. By attending to these performative practices, this course opens up the numerous modes of cultural production which have “performed” the American frontier, from early nineteenth-century frontier melodramas to the origins of the “western” in Owen Wister and Buffalo Bill, from antiwesterns by Sam Shepard and Cormac McCarthy to revisionist westerns like Brokeback Mountain and There Will Be Blood. By blending together a range of modes, this course constructs an interdisciplinary space for exploring the ways these various performances got traction from their interactions with other performances, both within and outside of their respective genres. This course ultimately reveals how the performance of the frontier has played a crucial role not only in retrenching the notion of American identity but also in interrogating and subverting those very same claims.

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