History and Literature 90: The Postwar American Road Narrative [undergraduate seminar]





Road trips can be exhilarating adventures, soporific slogs, and treacherous travails. They can excite the passions and inspire the mind, and they can dull the senses and ruin the body. They can be pilgrimages to a specific place or journeys into the self, communal endeavors or exercises in solitude. They can prompt a new awareness of others, even as they can produce isolation, alienation, and antipathy. They can synthesize human and machine in elegant ways, or they can be disasters of malfunction and helplessness.

These are just some of the many contradictions that animate the postwar American road narrative. In this course, we will examine a wide range of such narratives, written in the United States during the decades following World War II. Our class discussions will address a variety of topics: the anxieties and aspirations of transcontinental travel; the significance of the car in the counterculture; race, class, and gender on the road; driving as drug and therapy; and the social tensions of American automobility. Many of these discussions will be mediated by literary texts and historical documents, although we will also devote some time to visual art, particularly in the final weeks.