ENGL 681 A1: The Surveillance Society: Security and Spectacle in Contemporary Fiction

T. Tomsky

The attacks on September 11, 2001 ushered in an extraordinary range of anti-terror legislation to apprehend and preventatively arrest terrorists without charge-including the Patriot Act in the US and the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act in Canada. These still-controversial pieces of legislation highlight how surveillance and security have become defining features of our information-obsessed society. From increasingly ubiquitous close-circuit-television (CCTV) and biometric verification, to Google Earth searches and data retention on our digital devices, the many experiences of our private and public lives are often mediated, monitored, mined, and managed through technology. As British writer Jonathan Raban notes, "most of us… have become practised in the dark art of surveillance. When I'm going to meet a stranger at dinner, I'll routinely feed her name to Google and LexisNexis to find out who she is and what she's been up to lately." The extent of both governmental and individual access to information raises important questions about the attenuated divide between public and private lives, as well as the power and violence-such as cyberstalking-implicit at the heart of surveillance systems. This course explores representations of the so-called "surveillance society" in literature, popular culture, film, and critical theory. We will explore the themes of privacy, control, in/security, and citizenship as they intersect with subjectivity, gender, race, and sexuality. Our guiding questions are these: what can literature and visual culture tell us about the surveillance state? How do literary mediations of surveillance culture represent public anxiety about technology? What kind of resistance or agency is made possible for the individual subject of surveillance? Why is the literary corpus on surveillance overwhelmingly dystopic and in what ways might dystopic representations of surveillance societies be considered productive and strategic?

Tentative Texts

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (1985)

Dionne Brand, Inventory (2006)

Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (1967)

Dave Eggers, The Circle (2014)

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975)

Alan Moore and David Lloyd, V for Vendetta (1990)

George Orwell, 1984 (Penguin, 1948)

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014)

Andrew Ridker, ed., Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics (2014)