Skip to main content

Unit information: Beats & Crazies in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Beats & Crazies
Unit code ENGL20034
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Karlin
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


On this unit we will examine a selection of 20th-century American texts in different media and genres focused on extreme experiences and mental states, and exploring both the artistic opportunities offered by such phenomena, and the ways in which their representation might constitute a criticism of established social and political norms. The unit begins with the poetry and fiction of the ‘Beat Generation’, and takes in the work of poets and songwriters such as Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Bob Dylan, together with films such as Monte Hellman’s ‘Two-Lane Blacktop’. The unit will have a strong element of historical context, including McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the social history of drugs, and the history of psychiatric medicine. Students will also be made aware of the broader literary-historical context (the opposition between individual and community in constructions of the American hero, for example, or the versions of pastoral represented by the West, or by Mexico).

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have (1) developed a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of a significant type of American literature in the second half of the 20th century; (2) in-depth knowledge of some of the literary and historical contexts in which this literature was produced; (3) demonstrated the ability to analyse and evaluate differing critical accounts of the primary literature; (4) demonstrated the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument; (5) strengthened their skills in argumentation and academic writing.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour seminar per week.

Assessment Details

  • 1 essay of 2000 words (40%)
  • 1 essay of 3000 words (60%)

Both summative essays assess ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

Allen Ginsberg, Howl

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Robert Lowell, Life Studies

Sylvia Plath, Ariel and The Bell Jar

Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde

Monte Helman (dir.), Two-Lane Blacktop