More! American Poetics of Excess

MA Seminar, Englisches Seminar, Universität Zürich, FS 2017 jeweils Do 16:00-18:00 ///

foto“The pursuit of happiness” is, according to the Declaration of Independence, one of the promises the United States of America has to offer. However, since this promise consists only in the pursuit but not in the fulfilment of happiness, enough will never be enough. Thus, one could argue that the promise of the American dream cannot but be excessive, and while puritanism with its valorization of moderation and self-restriction has laid the foundation for the American project, it seems to have also brought about the very opposite of temperance: the insatiable drive for more.
In this seminar we will find out how this drive for more leaves its mark on US literature and culture, and how films and texts can be seen as literally invested in an American poetics of excess. As will be shown via theoretical texts by Marx, Bataille, Lyotard or Baudrillard, such a poetics of excess include the economic as well as the political, the medial as well as the psychological. Transgressive by definition, excess both traverses and connects the abstract capital and the concrete human body and merges successful business with disastrous personal expenditure. Thus, the texts and films we will look at, ranging from sprawling novels such as William S. Burroughs „Naked Lunch“ or Bret Easton Ellis „American Psycho“ to grandiose films like Martin Scorseses „Casino“ or Bob Fosses „All That Jazz“, shall be analyzed as not only discussing, but also as enacting excess, both in regard to their content as well as their form.


  • 23.02. Introduction

I The Capital of Excess

  • 02.03.Karl Marx: „The Transformation of Money into Capital“*
  • 09.03.There Will Be Blood (USA 2011) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
    + Jean Baudrillard: America (Excerpt)*
  • 16.03.Casino (USA 1995) Dir. Martin Scorsese
    + Robert Venturi, e.a.: Learning from Las Vegas (Excerpt)*
  • 23.03.Hermann Melville: „Bartleby the Scrivener“*
    + Gilles Deleuze: „Bartleby; or, The Formula“*

II Personal Expenses

  • 30.03. William S. Burroughs: Naked Lunch
  • 06.04. William S. Burroughs: Naked Lunch
    + Georges Bataille: The Accursed Share (Excerpt)*
  • 27.04. Bret Easton Ellis: American Psycho
  • 04.05. Bret Easton Ellis: American Psycho
    + Jean-François Lyotard: Libidinal Economy (Excerpt)*

III Entertaining Excess

  • 11.05. Footlight Parade (USA 1933) Dir. Busby Berkeley, Lloyd Bacon
    [+ J. Binotto: „Choreographie als Schizophrenie“]*
  • 18.05. All That Jazz (USA 1979) Dir. Bob Fosse
  • 01.06. All That Jazz (USA 1979) Dir. Bob Fosse
    + Frederic Jameson: „Postmodernism and Consumer Society“*

All texts marked with * will be on: OLAT