The Rhetoric and Literature of Rebellion

HNRS 345 A  Fall 2006

MW 2-3:15 pm


Professor Chidsey Dickson

Office: Carnegie 222




Required Materials


Duncombe, Stephen. Cultural Resistance Reader

Stephanie ( Suburban Blight (zine)

Salinger, JD. Catcher in the Rye

Lupton, Ellen. Design It Yourself

Anderson, Walter. The Truth About Truth

Ames, Mark. Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion

Course Packet


Course Description


This course will examine different texts and contexts of political and cultural dissent in order to explore when/where/how writers, artists and activists have used rebellion as leverage against some threat to their autonomy, or as a response to injustice. Whether or not these rebels have successfully disrupted law and order, beauty and common sense, to negotiate more agency for themselves or their group—or to analyze (and speak “the truth” about) injustice—is a complex historical and philosophical question. Whether or not they’ve “changed the world” is relatively easy question to answer: most violent political rebellions end up being squashed; most cultural rebellions end up grist for the Mall (witness “punk fashions” at Urban Outfitters).


So, what exactly is a “successful” rebellion? And what significance does rebellion—successful or unsuccessful—have for the bourgeoisie—calm, rational, mostly well-adjusted, mostly materialistic, mostly complacent about our identity and aspirations?


In answering this and many other scintillating questions, we will try to avoid romanticizing rebellion as some kind of GOOD vs. EVIL affair and we will be careful not to be led by any authority into dismissing rebellion as a predictable (and treatable) dysfunction of a person or polity (i.e., as “mere” adolescent disaffection, bohemian ennui, or reactionary disgust).


For more on the central questions of this course, see this handout.


Adult Content and Ideological Bias


There are readings and materials in this course which express adult and/or controversial and/or offensive themes, as well as strong language. The majority of the rebels whose work we’ll examine belong to the ideological “left.” As a result, our inquiry into the rhetoric and literature of rebellion will take us through quite a few negative critiques of values and practices that many of us (myself included) consider commonsensical, normal, if not the very essence of human goodness. Reading what someone says is f*#ed up about the world can be refreshing (when we agree!). Down with the pornographers! (…or Down with the censors of pornography!). But what happens when you don’t agree? You’ll need to think about this before you commit to taking this class.


Our primary purpose is to think about a pluralistic world; specifically, to consider why certain people have found the status quo intolerable and how they have expressed, wrestled with, and enacted their desire for an alternative. “Thinking about” and “considering” does not mean “accepting as gospel.” This is a discussion-based class. We will not take anyone’s noise or analysis at face value. But the course will not be orchestrated in such a way as to sidestep difficult issues about identity, value, desire, and history. You’ll need to think about this before you commit to taking this class.


If you feel that you cannot consider with open hearts and discerning minds what various rebels have said or done in response to what they perceive as repression, oppression or corruption, then you’ll need to see me immediately to address your concerns and assess your chances for success in the course. It may be that, at this time, this is not the course for you.


Course Work


Study    We’ll read and discus a whole spectrum of rebellious behaviors and texts. The usual suspects include: anarchists/libertarians, punk rockers, suffragists, hippies, terrorists, hermits, queers, Native Americans, b-boys, riot grrls, bohemians, beats, primitivists, Christian fundamentalists, graffiti artists/criminals, political activists (ACT UP, Guerilla Girls, ABC No Rio) and cultists. Due to time constraints, we’ll have to pass up a number rebels well worth attending to, like: human rights activists (MLK, Che, Gandhi), carnies, religious prophets (Jesus, Mohammed), occultists, hoaxsters, Satan (in Milton’s Paradise Lost), prisoners, Dadaists, Cain (of Old Testament infamy), The Situationists International, abolitionists and anti-segregationists, conspiracy theorists, your Aunt Ruth, Lenny Bruce, Redd Fox and the list goes on. 


Make   Design, Ellen Lupton says, is “art that people use.” In my experience, people who can design their own small-scale media—make a zine, T-shirt, scarf, bumpersticker, music CD, theater performance, documentary, website, etc—are more critical of the large-scale media they encounter. As Do-It-Yourself-ers and creators of networks, they typically have more satisfaction in life than people who plop down on their couches and consume, consume, consume. So, this semester, you’ll identify and research two audiences (or, my preferred term, “publics”) and then, using Lupton’s book, DIY: Design It Yourself, create some provocative media on their behalf.


Move  To help get you in touch with your creative side (and to facilitate your ensemble thinking ability), we’ll do some improvisational theater games from time to time. Basically, this will involve you in getting up, moving around through space, sometimes crafting images through gesture and rhythm and ‘colliding’ them with other images (that your peers make). You can read more about the games we’ll do (and why they’re significant) in the excerpts I’ve included in your course pack from Michael Rohd and Augusto Boal. I request that you wear clothing to class that you will feel comfortable moving around in.


Reflect   You will keep a journal in which you’ll make one-two entries per week. You can choose among various prompts, but by the semester’s end you’ll have 20 entries, including a minimum of


  • 3 reflections on readings that challenged your ideas
  • 3 reflections on readings whose implicit or explicit arguments you felt compelled to challenge
  • 3 reflections on classroom activities that you found satisfying (and how this relates to your development as a leaner)
  • 2 reflections on rebels you wish we could have included in our study (and how you would have presented them to the group)


Thus, you can choose what you want to write about for 9 entries. I will take up the journals at mid-term and in December. You will be graded on how well you:


*summarize/describe the thing you’re talking about

*develop your commentary on the thing in a satisfying way

*tie your summary and analysis to another reading


You’ll have to figure out for yourselves how long your entries should be. They must be typed, though you can also include hand-written annotations and drawings/doodles/photoshopped images. In this class, creativity is a good thing.


Present  You’ll draft and revise one formal argument about one of the questions/themes we’ve discussed. It can be a traditional research paper (5-6 pages); it can be an audio essay or video documentary; it can be an interesting PPT presentation. You will need to incorporate (and provide a Works Cited page for) 4-5 sources drawn from our two anthologies: Cultural Resistance Reader and The Truth About Truth. Whatever format you choose, you will graded on how well you:


*describe (or present) the problem/question that interests you

*develop your analysis of the central idea or text by referring to specific ideas and passages from our readings

*hone your presentation for the specific audience (your peers, me)




Active Reading Journal 20%

Class Engagement* 20%

Design Projects 40%

  {DP1 5%; DP2  5%; DP3  15%; DP4  15%}

Formal Presentation 20%


*I will evaluate your engagement in the class based upon your attendance, participation in class discussion and activities, and the average of your reading quizzes. The better prepared and more energetic you are, the more likely you’ll do well in this aspect of the course.


Honor Code


The Honor Code at Lynchburg College is based on the expectation that students will not lie, cheat, or steal in academic and non-academic matters. It has a dual function of protecting both academic and personal integrity.  Because the Honor Code is of central importance in the College community, every student is placed on his/her honor and is expected to sign the following pledge before attending classes:  I understand the importance of honor in any community. Only by maintaining a strict standard of honor can we expect to achieve any measure of academic or social excellence. I, therefore, pledge that during my tenure as a student at Lynchburg College, I will not lie, cheat, or steal either in College affairs or in the environs of the College, nor tolerate such actions by fellow students.  


Learning Disabilities


The College will make reasonable accommodations for persons with appropriately documented disabilities.  Students should notify the Support Services Coordinator (extension 8419), located in the Academic Advising Office on the first floor of Hall Campus Center and provide documentation of their disability in order to be considered eligible for accommodation.  Students are encouraged to do this as soon as possible prior to or at the beginning of each semester so their needs can be arranged in a timely fashion.  Accommodations are effective as of the date of the Accommodations Memos students receive to distribute to their instructors.  Accommodations are not retroactive.




Students are expected to attend class and to arrive on time.  Arriving on time is a courtesy that you owe your fellow students and your instructor.  Do not disrupt the class by coming in late.  Any student who enters class five minutes after class time will be considered tardy.  The instructor is aware of lateness and will note the attendance sign in sheet for those who are late.  Two “tardies” constitutes one absence.  Chronic lateness will also affect your attitude/participation points at the end of the semester.  I am aware that stuff happens--you are allowed to miss 2 classes over the course of the semester.  These absences cover excused and unexcused absences such as illness, extracurricular activities, and sporting events.  You do not need to notify me of your absences in advance, nor do you need to provide an excuse.  More than two unexcused absences will adversely affect your final course grade, lowering it one-third a letter grade for each absence over three.  More than a total of 4 absences, for whatever reason, will result in failure of the class.  No student can pass the course--no matter what quality of the work--if that student exceeds eight absences.  If you are absent from any class, it is your responsibility to contact classmates for missed materials and information. You are still responsible for the work that you miss. 




Note on Assigned Readings:

I’ve given you many short readings to do (excerpts mostly, or short chapters). Most, but not all, of this reading is required, so pay attention to conditionals like “If you want to know more about X….” Some you’ll find online and others in the course packet or in one of the anthologies (Cultural Resistance Reader  & The Truth About Truth). I assume that for every three hours of class time, you will devote 6 hours of prep time outside of class. This is a standard used in most colleges and universities. If you find yourself doing more than 6 hours of reading a week for this course, please let me know and I’ll see about scaling back the assignments.



Week One: Aug 28-Sept 1   Delineating Rebellion


M: Introduction to course policies; in class we will watch excerpts End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones & Noam Chomsky: Rebel Without A Pause


W: “Huge Mob Tortures Negro” CRR, pgs 131-134; read about “accountability software” here and read about the “Porn Patrol” mission by clicking on the “PORN PATROL” link here; Excerpt from SCUM Manifesto, Valerie Solanas and, if you want, browse the Biography:; excerpts from Thoreau, “On Civil Disobedience,” (read all of Part One; and numbers 3, 5 and 9 of Part Two); Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence ; read the Unabomber’s letter to the NY Times here: 

If you wish, you can browse the Unabomber manifesto here


(Note: the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, is serving life in jail for sending letter bombs to various people over 17 years. In journals “seized from his crude cabin in Montana, he said that he committed the bombings in the name of revenge. He targeted airline executives, computer experts, medical scientists and advertising executives, who he said represented industries and fields that help isolate people from one another and from nature, and manipulate people's minds and attitudes”).


Week Two: Sept 4-8 Delineating Rebellion (Some More)


M: Excerpts from On Walden, Henry David Thoreau These sections: “Economy: Part A,” “Where I Lived, & What I Lived for,” “Solitude,” “Conclusion”; Curtis White, “The Spirit of Disobedience”; Excerpts from the Port Huron Statement, Students For A Democratic Society


W: Two reading sections for today:


A. Truth About Truth, pgs 1-25; Read Burroughs, “The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin” here: . Also: do a “cut-up” online here:


B. Truth About Truth: pages 31-45. Also see: any of the Steve Colbert reports or shows (cf. RebelliousArt # 3). Get Your War On, David Rees


(Note: “The cutup is a way of exposing word and image controls and thus freeing oneself from them, an alteration of consciousness that occurs in both the writer and the reader of the text. For Burroughs as an artist, the cutup is an impersonal method of inspiration, invention, and an arrangement that redefines the work of art as a process that occurs in collaboration with others and is not the sole property of artists. Thus Burroughs's cutup texts are comparable to similar contemporary experiments in other arts, such as action painting, happenings, and aleatory music. His theory of the cutup also parallels avant-garde literary theory, such as structuralism and deconstruction.”* Burroughs is famous for saying: “You cannot will spontaneity. But you can introduce the unpredictable spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.” For excerpts of Burroughs works, go here: For more on the cut-up, go here:



Week Three: Sept 11-15 Violence and Rebellion




W: Going Postal; see also some information on Nat Turner’s Rebellion:


Week Four: Sept 18-21 Queers


M: Truth About Truth, pgs 137-160. Read Lisa Carver, “An Iron Fist in a Polyester Glove: Lawrence Welk” (from Dancing Queen); CRR, pgs 178-180; Read Shannon Bell, “Kate Bornstein: A Transgender Transsexual Postmodern Tiresias” . Read these two short journalistic pieces on queers in the news:,zappia,73586,15.html & .


W: Truth About Truth, pgs 224-244; 46-65; Read the Parable of the Madman (from Nietzsche’s Gay Science) here: and some commentary on it, “God is Dead,” here



·        Ann Powers, excerpt from Weird Like Us pgs 102-112

·        Don Savage, Savage Love (advice column for Village Voice)

·        Truth About Truth, pgs 46-52; 215-244;

·        Parable of the Madman (from Nietzsche’s Gay Science) here:

·        Emily Carter, “Glory Goes And Gets Some”


Week Five: Sept  25-29 Cultural Politics



  • CRR, pgs 1-15, 49-58, 82-100 
  • Kincaid’s “The Tourist”
  • David Nicholson-Lord, “The Politics of Travel”
  • Heidi Garcia, “Poetics and Aesthetics of Tattoos”
  • John Leland, “Art Born of Outrage”



  • CRR, pgs 149-178
  • Ariel Levy, “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture”
  • Neil Nehring, “Introduction” (Anger is an Energy), ix-xxi; “The Riot Grrls and Carnival” pgs 150-166.
  • DUE: DP#2 (Proposal)


Week Six: Oct 2-6 Youth Rebellion



  • Catcher in The Rye
  • Finders, “Note-passing”



  • CRR, 113-131; 166-174 (Hebdige on the “Mod”)
  • Stuart Walton, excerpt from Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication



Week Seven: Oct 9-13 Metaphors of Rebellion

M: Read Excerpt from

  • Steven Hamelman, excerpt from But is it garbage? The theme of trash in rock and roll criticism
  • Dostoyevsky, excerpts from “Notes From the Underground,” Read Sections I-IV and the very last paragraph, beginning “Even now, so many years later, all this is somehow a very evil memory.”
  • Henry Rollins, “Pissing in the Gene Pool,” “Get In The Van (Travel Diary of Black Flag Tour)”
  • Charles Bukowski, “A .45 To Pay The Rent,” “An Evil Town”(from Tales of Ordinary Madness);
  • Joyce Brothers, “What ‘Dirty Words” Really Mean”



  • CCR, pgs 312-315, 240-259
  • Duncombe, excerpts Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture pgs 1-25; 32-36; 40-43; 86-93; 146-153; 174-185


Week Eight: Oct 18-20  Culture Wars


M: No Class


W:  CCR, 204-214 (and re-read 215-223).

       Listen to the interview with Sam Harris on NPR, “Keeping Religion out of Public Policy”


DON’T MISS IT!!!!! à Thursday Night film: The Edukators


Week Nine: 23-27 Activism





  • CRR, 369-395


Week Ten: Oct 30-Nov 3 Bohemians and Beats



·         Ann Powers, “Introduction: New Day Rising” (Weird Like Us; my bohemian America)

·         Carr, “The Bohemian Diaspora”,50thcarr,69274,31.html




(Note: if you’re really interested in the Beats, you’ll want to browse their precursors: William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, and Walt Whitman)




Blake: “Blake engraved and published most of his major works himself. Famous among his "Prophetic Books" are The Book of Thel (1789) The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,(1790) The Book of Urizen,(1794) America(1793), Milton(1804-8)and Jerusalem.(1804-20).In the "Prophetic Books", Blake expressed his lifelong concern with the struggle of the soul to free its natural energies from reason and organized religion”*. Read about what was radical in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell here:


*  )




Excerpt from a Season in Hell:

Excerpt from Illuminations: (notice the list)


Celine: Celine was a French writer and doctor whose novels Journey to the End of the Night (1932; Eng. trans., 1943) and Death on the Installment Plan (1936; Eng. trans., 1938) are innovative, chaotic, and antiheroic visions of human suffering. Pessimism pervades Céline's fiction as his characters sense failure, anxiety, nihilism, and inertia.



DON’T MISS IT!!!! à Thursday Night film: High Hopes (Director: Mike Leigh)


Week Eleven: Nov 6-10 The Rebellious “Other” (Race, Gender and Rebellion)



  • Cheryl Glenn, “Commanding Silence” pgs 113-135
  • CRR, 215-231 (“Slave Songs”)
  • Jeff Ferrell, excerpts Crimes of Style: Urban Graffiti



  • CCR pgs 193-205
  • Excerpt from The Book of The City of Ladies, Christine de Pizan ;


Week Twelve: Nov 13-17 Consumption and Production: Rebellion in Everyday Life



  • Excerpt from Revolution for the Hell of It, Abbie Hoffman
  • DUE: Research Paper (4 pages, double-spaced; w/ MLA bibliography)



  • What Is Primitivism? John Filiss

  • The Primitivist Critique of Civilization, Richard Heinberg;
  • Powers, “Soul Trash”
  • Emira Mears, “Bloodless Battles: Why Do Doctors Want to Take Us Off The Rag?” (from Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture)
  • Crimethink, “Reproduction,” “Death” and “Hygiene”


Week Thirteen: Nov 20-21  Slackers and Socialists in the US



  • Bob Black, “The Abolition of Work” here:
  • Ann Powers, excerpt on “scamming” and “loafing” (= the anti-work ethic) from Weird Like Us
  • Read “What is capitalism?”


W:  Holiday


Week Fourteen: Nov 27- Dec 1 Anarchists





  • Presentations Begin (You will sign up to present your media projects and manifesto; you will need to Xerox and distribute or email to everyone your manifesto AND ersatz preface at least one day before the day you are presenting)


Week Fifteen: Dec 4-8



  • Presentations Continue


  • Presentations Continue