Studies: Lit&Popular Culture (Unbearable Lightness)

ENG 481: Studies in Literature and Popular Culture: The Unbearable Lightness of Popular Culture

Instructor: Nandini Chandra (

Format: Asynchronous

Course Description

The word “popular” has many different and contradictory articulations ranging from references to the actual behavior and activities of ordinary people (folk literature) to their desires and fantasies which sustain the market and shape the political unconscious of capitalist modernity (the culture industry). This course will cover the most exciting sense of ‘the popular’ as it emerges from a history of rebellion and resistance rooted in a distinctly French ethos of radicalism–the Paris Commune–as well as the backlash against the ideals of republicanism enshrined in the colonial occupation of Algeria.  We will study the rich legacy of protest and revolt from the peasant rebellions in the Mother Goose tales to the street protests and riots waged against neoliberal austerity measures and price rise as anticipated in political manifestoes such as The Coming Insurrection. This framework of popular rebellion and backlash will be interspersed with quieter tales of feel good and fun such as an episode of the Great British Bake Off series as well as pages from Linda Goodman’s Love Signs among others. What role is performed by this “feel good” factor of pop culture in reconciling us to the unbearable in our everyday lives? What contrary meanings can we find in this complex array of popular literature and culture?

Key texts 

John Antonelli (2015), Roots of ‘Ulu, 35 mins.

Raymond Williams (1976), “Popular” from Keywords

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (2016), The Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Walt Disney (1931), Mickey Mouse: Traffic Troubles (7.14 mins)

Charlie Chaplin (1936), Modern Times

Robert Darnton (1999), “Peasants Tell Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose”, from The Great Cat Massacre

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (1848, 1997), The Communist Manifesto

Kristin Ross (2015), “Communal Luxury” from Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune, ebook

Ken Burns (2001), Jazz, a Film, Part I, 104 mins. Streaming at

Linda Goodman (1980), Linda Goodman’s Love Signs

Banana Yoshimoto (1988), Kitchen

Gillo Pontecorvo (1966), The Battle of Algiers

Agnes Varda (2000), The Gleaners and I, 82 mins, vhs

The Invisible Committee (2007), The Coming Insurrection

The Great British Bake Off (2020),  Chocolate Week. Season 11 – Episode 4 – Aired Oct 13, 2020


You will gain an appreciation of contemporary theories of popular culture and critiques of everyday life.

You will learn to historicize the terms “popular”, “culture”, and “literature” through dialogue, discussion, and feedback on your writings; this involves learning to distinguish between a literary interpretation and a cultural analysis.

You will gain experience leading and delivering focused and thought-provoking oral presentations.

You will gain experience crafting historically- and theoretically-informed essays and reviews.

You will learn to write an argument-based research paper.

Course Requirements

Weekly quizzes

Oral Presentations

Peer Reflections via Google doc

Keyword Assignment (1000 words)

Abstract Proposal (300 words)

Argument Based Research Paper (1500 words)