Class name: “Art Against Fascism”
Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of English Gabriel Sessions
Here’s what he had to say about his class:
“Art Against Fascism” poses a fundamental question—how aesthetic objects have the potential to affect people’s choices and change lives—through the vehicle of a specific time and place: the British literary 1930s. It was a fascinating, if deeply troubling, time to be alive. The prospect of a second world war loomed over everything, populist movements were cropping up across Europe in which citizens seemed ready to cede their liberty and personal freedoms to amoral authority figures, and the British Empire’s reach into colonies like India and the West Indies was being denounced more and more loudly in London and abroad. The world seemed poised to change, and the writers we study, consequently, wanted their art to intercede in politics and play for these highest of stakes: to speak for the rights of vulnerable and displaced persons, and to celebrate the aspects of human existence that aren’t easy to militarize. They wanted to write poems, for instance, that would preserve their readers’ inner sense of peace during wartime, and help them to behave with rationality and compassion.
1930s’ texts draw conclusions about many social issues we’d recognize as pressing and contemporary, especially in proximity to a city like Philadelphia: urban poverty, the distribution of wealth, the visibility of labor, access to education, the worth and utility of the humanities; the list really goes on. I try to teach so students can see that and put the lessons of the ’30s to work as they speak to their own projects. We try, in the course, to pay minute attention to the surface of works of literature and reflect on the way we consume them, teasing artworks apart, to practice methods that make literary studies unique as a discipline and, I hope, reward a slower-paced and longer timescale of engagement with language than our busy lives usually permit. Understanding the culture of the ’30s also lends itself to an interdisciplinary approach that combines readings from political science, sociology, and philosophy with literature, which is how I like to teach.
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Photo of Sessions’ class by Cole Sansom ’19.