Fall 2010

Passing in Literature and Film

Listed in: Black Studies, as BLST-17  |  English, as ENGL-69  |  Film and Media Studies, as FAMS-57


Marisa Parham (Section 01)


(Offered as ENGL 69, BLST 17 [US], and FAMS 57.)  Is identity natural or cultural?  This question has persisted through centuries of American writing, and many of the most interesting meditations on this question arise from books and films that deal with passing.  Texts about passing, about people who can successfully pass themselves off as something different from what they were “born as,” form an important subgenre of American culture because they force us to question some strangely consistent inconsistencies in how we define identity.  If race, for example, signifies a real and material difference, how could there be such a thing as racial passing?  But, at the same time, if race is “only” a social construction, then why is racial passing so often characterized as a crime against nature?  Stories about passing often illustrate a fundamental ambivalence on the personal meaningfulness of biopower in America, and also reveal the nascent virtuality of worldly experiences more generally.  That in mind, this course explores a broad range of literary and cultural texts, including novels by Charles Chesnutt, Percival Everett, and Danzy Senna, and film and televisual texts like Gattaca, Avatar, Sirk’s Imitation of Life, and Eddie Murphy’s “White Like Me.”

Not open to first-year students.  Limited to 30 students.  Fall semester.  Professor Parham.

If Overenrolled: First priority to English majors, followed by Black Studies majors, followed by class year, in descending order.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010