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ENGLISH 4AR3 Rhetoric,Culture,Catastrophe

Academic Year: Winter 2017

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: E

Instructor: Dr. David Clark


Office: Chester New Hall 321

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23737


Office Hours: CNH 210, Monday 12:00-1:00 pm

Course Objectives:

Students completing this course will have a good working knowledge of 1) how HIV/AIDS was represented and experienced in the early years of the AIDS epidemic in North America and 2) an understanding of a range of dissenting films and novels that emerged from and speak to complexities of that historical moment.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Texts and Films

*Brown, Rebecca.  The Gifts of the Body.  New York:  Harper Perennial, 1995.

*Jarman, Derek.  Dir.  Blue.  Zeitgeist Films, 1993.[Film will be screened in class.]

*Jarman, Derek.  Blue:  Text of a Film by Derek Jarman.

*Demme, Jonathan.  Dir.  Philadelphia.  TriStar Pictures, 1993. [Film will be screened in class.]

*Tom Joslin, Mark Massi, and Peter Friedman. Directors.  Silverlake Life: The View from Here.  Zeitgeist Films, 1993. [Film will be screened in class.]

*Kincaid, Jamaica.  My Brother.  New York:  Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1998.

*France, David. How to Survive a Plague. Public Square Films, 2012 [Film will be screened in class.]

Supplemental reading materials will be periodically posted on the Avenue coursepage.

Method of Assessment:

Work and Mark Distribution

Class Participation:     20% 

Discussion Papers:      30% (2 Discussion Papers, each worth 15% [3-4 pages each])

Essay:                        50% (10-15 pages)


Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Essay Due Date and Late Submission Policy

Essays are due in class, at start of class, Wednesday 20 March 2017.  Essays submitted at this point will receive a full marking commentary.  Essays handed in after 20 March 2017 will be graded exactly the same way but without comment.  Essays may be submitted up to 2 April 2017, the last day of the course.  No essays will be accepted after that class. A grade of zero/F will therefore be assigned to essays not submitted by class on 2 April 2017.  No essays can be accepted as e-mail attachments. 

Keep a copy of your essay.

If you are a smoker, please ensure that you print your essay in a smoke-free environment.

Discussion Papers Due Date and Late Submission Policy

For discussion paper due dates see above. Late penalties:  Discussion papers due at the start of tutorial on the due dates indicated. Papers will be docked one grade per day late up to 7 days, i.e., a B+ paper turned in two days late would be lowered to B-. Saturday and Sunday are included in the calculation of days late. After 7 days the grade is zero.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Provisional Class Schedule

Jan       9          Prefatory remarks

            16        Visualize This:  Introduction and Discussion

            23        How to Survive A Plague (screening)

            30        How to Survive A Plague (discussion)

Feb      6          Rebecca Brown, Gifts of the Body

            13        Jamaica Kincaid, My Brother

            20        No class / Reading Week

            27        Silverlake Life (screening)

Mar      5          Silverlake Life Discussion

            13        Philadelphia (screening)

            20        Philadelphia Discussion

            27        Blue (screening)

Apr      2          Blue Discussion


Other Course Information:

Course description   

        Critical theorist and AIDS activist Douglas Crimp argues that "AIDS does not exist apart from the practices that conceptualize it, represent it, and respond to it." Taking Crimp's counter-intuitive position as a provisional starting point, this course i) explores some of the problematical ways (i.e. practices and rhetorics) by which HIV/AIDS is represented, experienced, and understood, and ii) examines a selection of often wrenching autobiographical reflections, memoirs, and films by AIDS activists, care-workers, and people living with HIV and AIDS that explore dissenting representations and understandings of the epidemic. Our focus will be almost entirely on the epidemic as it first unfolded in North America, when many different communities were affected but the community of gay men especially.  Keeping that particular focus in mind, we explore a range of texts from the tumultuous and consequential decade of the early 1990's, when the epidemic reached its peak in this part of the world, and when AIDS activism and queer theory came into its own. HIV/AIDS constitutes a crisis in every sense of the term:  crisis of the body, crisis of sexuality, crisis of identity, crisis of the community, crisis of the nation-state, and crisis of representation.  In what ways do we continue to live in the wake of those crises?  This course begins with a consideration of some important theoretical discussions of HIV/AIDS as a catastrophic juncture that uniquely summons our critical powers as responsible students, teachers, and citizens. The underlying premise of the course is that the first step towards understanding HIV/AIDS in North America today is to explore the different ways it was engaged, worried, and represented during the first decade of the epidemic.  In other words, this course explores a particular archive in the history of the representation of HIV/AIDS, a history whose problems and possibilities we have yet to supersede.