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EN344 Representing Depression: Aesthetics, Insight and Activism


tutor: Stephen Shapiro (


1. Apologies for confusion, but both semianrs are on Thursday, either 12-2 or 4-6.

2. There is NO meditation session in week 1. Come to seminars, though!

The module meets twice on Thursdays: meditation session @ 10:30-12 and seminar sections at Thursday 12-2 or Thursdays 4-6. Both the Thursday meditation session and Thursday seminars parts are mandatory, so please ensure that you don't have any clashes with either time. If you can't attend both, then you can't enroll in the seminar, sorry.

There is no exam. There will be two essays, a group video project on Foucault, and attendance at the meditation sessions.

The 2014-15 syllabus is below!

For the readings below, I encourage you to get used copies when possible to reduce costs; Falk's Hello To All That is not in print so please buy a used copy either from or marketplace before the term begins. In fact, I encourage you get to save costs by buying used books whenever possible.
How to Read Marx's Capital can be purchased for 5 pounds from me directly (a 66% discount!).

This is a Pathway Approved Option for the North American Pathway. It is also an option for the other pathways.

Contradicting the notion that “mental illness is some sort of disease entity, like an infection or a malignancy,” clinician Thomas Szasz argues that, “what people now call mental illnesses are, for the most part, communications expressing unacceptable ideas, often framed in an unusual idiom.” Szasz claims that the concept of “mental illness is a myth, whose function it is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations,” the problems in living under regimes of economic, political, or socio-psychological oppression. This module will use a combination of cultural studies, memoirs of depression, and practices of stress reduction to investigate the claim that depression is not a personal fault, biological malady requiring pharmaceutical intervention, or disability (as current EU law claims), but a proto-politicized language of resistance that expresses an individual’s often paraconscious response to dominant forms of social injustice and (patriarchal, racial, and bourgeois) power.

The module is a critical study of the means of representing and analyzing the cultural effects of depression.
It should in no way be considered as a substitute for personal therapy.
The module studies arguments and expressions; it is not a replacement for treatment.

This module has four components. It is a truism that unlike obsession, which is by definition granted a narrative, depression has no language to describe or analyze its effects on the individual. Looking at a set of personal accounts, we will study the ways in which the “black sun” of depression is represented in writing and performance. The second aspect of the module will read cultural studies accounts that link the rise in depression to the effects of modern society and its tendency to isolate people into soulless competitors. Thirdly, we will read and watch accounts of social activism and community building as a response to individual alienation and lack of interpersonal communication. Lastly, we will also practice a common stress-reduction technique, a secularized form of Buddhist-inspired meditation brought to the West by Vietnam-era counterculture intellectuals. This will be taught through recorded instructions, not by the tutor, and is considered a "text", understood through its own forms, like all others on the module.

This module requires a good-will commitment to engaging in a set of new requirements. 20% of assessment will involve regular attendance at the practice-based meditation sessions, as well as a creative argument (rather than creative writing) multimedia project that will involve collective, not individual, marking; we will meet twice-weekly to allow time to develop an active sense of community and group-learning; it will involve (at least) 50 minute weekly sessions of mandatory secular practice-based meditation instruction in addition to the two-hour seminars. Fully assessed. Open to all second and third years in English department associated degrees.

term 1

Please purchase and read this book on writing essays BEFORE week 4
Gerald Graff and Kathy Birkenstein, "They say/I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing"

1. Introduction

2. William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

3. Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in American—A Memoir

4. Thomas Szasz, "The Myth of Mental Illness" from Ideology and Insanity and "Language and Protolanguage" and "Hysteria and Communication" from The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct (handout)

5. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: Birth of the Prison - Read pages until 170 "The means of correct training"
Anne Schwan and Stephen Shapiro, How to Read Foucault's Discipline and Punish

6. Reading Week

7. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish continue to end and conclude Schwan and Shapiro

8. John Falk, Hello to All That: A Memoir of Zoloft, War, and Peace - Get used copy!

9. David Karp, Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness

10. Spalding Gray, Monster in a Box (in-class viewing and discussion)
script (you don't need to purchase this, unless it interests you):

term 2
1. Emile Durkheim, selections from Suicide (handout )
Alexis Tocqueville, selections from Democracy in America (handout)

2. Oliver James, The Selfish Capitalist: Origins of Affluenza (Vermillion, 2008)
Barry Schwartz, selections from The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (handout)

3. Stephen Shapiro, How to Read Marx's Capital (or buy from tutor for £5).

4. In-class viewing My Dinner with Andre (dir. Louis Malle, 1981). No need to purchase, but if interested.
discussion of meditation practice.

5. Mark Fisher, selections from Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative (handout)
Ivor Southwood, selections from Non-Stop Inertia (handout)
in-class viewing, Adam Curtis on neoliberalism and depression.

6. Reading Week

7.Enlightened (Laura Dern and Mike White, HBO, 2012-13) in-class viewing, but if interested in owning it, season 1 is

8.David Graeber, The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, a Movement (Penguin, 2014)
Videos from Occupy Wall Street (2011) (in-class viewing)

9. Watch Before Class: Myles Horton: Radical Hillbilly
Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change

10. End Discussion. A look backwards and forwards.