Cringe, Crunch, Coil: Although the words form no sentence, their proximity to each other (as well as the distinctive quality of their alliteration) might produce that elusive feeling of the awkward-embarrassed-slightly/very-uncomfortable “cringe.” In her recent Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, Melissa Dahl argues that feeling cringy is related but not equal to feeling embarrassed or anxious; cringy is an experience of "self-consciousness with this undercurrent of uncertainty." Dahl's concern is with awkwardness as it emerges in interpersonal relations, but, in this class, we will focus our attention on literary and cinematic explorations of this minor form of shame. What does it mean to create aesthetic objects that are purposefully designed to make the reader or viewer cringe? In her book Ugly Feelings, Sianne Ngai looked to uncover the "critical productivity" of "negative emotions." Taking Ngai's focus on "ugly feelings" as its starting point, this course will seek to explore, through a study of literary and cinematic works, the particular "critical productivity" of "cringy" in capitalist societies. What happens when creators of aesthetic objects move away from effecting outright shock, awe, and crippling shame and instead look to making “cringy” literature, film, and art? Under what circumstances do consumers of these objects feel cringy? What processes of interpretation, critique, and action are triggered by this emotion that is more uncomfortable than it is ugly? In order to answer these questions (and many more), we will study the techniques, styles, and narrative modes that enable "cringy art."
1) To read and understand literary and cinematic works that produce reactions of awkwardness, anxiety, embarrassment, and shame.
2) To grasp theoretical and philosophical engagements with awkwardness, anxiety, embarrassment, and shame.
3) To analyze various iterations of and investigations into “the aesthetics of discomfort.”
4) To develop literary analysis skills, critical reading, thinking, and writing skills, as well as research and oral presentation skills.
3 hours a week. Class meetings will consist of class discussion, mini-lectures, writing workshops, student-led presentations, and impromptu writing exercises. Reading guides and questions will be provided in class to facilitate class discussions. Students will be reading novels, theoretical pieces, extracts from philosophical works, and watching films (film screenings will be organized outside of the class meeting). Because we meet only once a week, attendance is mandatory. Students should organize their reading schedules carefully as high-quality class discussions depend upon completing the readings assigned each week.
100% by coursework
Participation (includes attendance, class and group discussion, student-led presentations) 25%
A short, close-reading paper 25%
An annotated bibliography 20%
A research paper 30%
- Nella Larson, Passing (1929)
- Tod Browning, Freaks (1932)
- Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (1958)
- Douglas Sirk, Imitation of Life (1959)
- Sally Rooney, Normal People (2018)
- Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This (2021)
*A selection of theoretical and philosophical readings will be uploaded to Moodle.