AMS-30038 - High Culture: Drink, Drugs, and the American Dream
Coordinator: Oliver Harris Room: CBB1.053 Tel: +44 1782 7 33016
Lecture Time: See Timetable...
Level: Level 6
Credits: 15
Study Hours: 150
School Office: 01782 733147

Programme/Approved Electives for 2023/24


Available as a Free Standing Elective






Barred Combinations


Description for 2023/24

The module aims to study literature dealing with a range of intoxicants - e.g., alcohol, heroin, LSD, and peyote - in order to consider the relationship between American literature and the issues - e.g. social, cultural, political psychological, medical, philosophical, aesthetic - raised through the focus on drug experience.
Rather than taking a biographical approach (which might, for example, focus on the role of drink in the writing of Lost Generation authors like Hemingway and Fitzgerald), the module focuses on representations of individuals or groups involved in sub- and counter-cultural use of mind-altering and/or addictive substances. The first half of the module focuses on addiction, the second half on the visionary potentials of psychedelic substances. Assessments are likewise divided into a short paper focusing on addiction and a long essay focusing on the relation between literary form and visionary drugs.
The emphasis on studying formal features of texts may also include comparative analysis of Hollywood adaptations. The module is suitable for those who have already studied literature, and experience of studying film would be an advantage.
Students will be expected to buy their own copies of all the set books - in the required editions - and to read widely for the research-based long essay.
Likely texts include: The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson; Junky by William Burroughs; The Yage Letters by Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg; Breaking Open the Head by Daniel Pinchbeck; The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda.

To study the social, cultural, psychological, medical, philosophical, and aesthetic dimensions of works dealing with three decades of American history that are concerned with a range of intoxicants - alcohol, heroin, LSD, and peyote.
To develop advanced level analysis of literary texts in relation to American wartime and postwar culture, including film.

Talis Aspire Reading List
Any reading lists will be provided by the start of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes

situate sub- and counter-cultural groups to broader social, psychological, medical, philosophical, and cultural issues in wartime and postwar American culture: 1,2
critically analyse the aesthetic dimensions of a range of textual representations to an advanced level: 1,2
relate literary and filmic representations to wartime and postwar American culture to an advanced level: 1,2

Study hours

36 hours teaching, comprising: 12 x 2-hour seminars + 4 x 1 hour lectures + 4 x 2 hour workshops (lectures/workshops may be online and/or in person). 114 hours independent study, comprising: 34 hour seminar preparation; 30 hours Short Paper preparation; 50 hours long essay preparation.

School Rules


Description of Module Assessment

1: Short Paper weighted 30%
1,200-word analysis of the representation of a sub- or counter-cultural use of an intoxicant in one text
Following a preparatory workshop, students focus on one text (novel or film) in order to analyse the social, cultural, and political significance of the representation of a particular sub-or counter-cultural group's use of an intoxicant in relation to addiction, in 1,200 words, including references and bibliography

2: Essay weighted 70%
2,500 word essay based on second half of the module
2,500 word essay, including references, based on broader research into texts studied in the second half of the module