Fall 2016

The Confession:  Theory and Practice


Pooja G. Rangan (Section 01)


In our daily lives, we are constantly confessing or witnessing the confessions of others in TV talk shows, YouTube coming-out videos, Yelp testimonials, or Facebook updates.  Everywhere we turn, we are confronted by institutions whose currency is confession:  juries rely on confessions to arrive at their verdict, and doctors require them to make a diagnosis.  In turn, we too demand confessions from public figures and our intimate companions alike.  But such demands are not always met–sometimes they are met with apologies, excuses, and on occasion, simple refusal.  At other times, admissions of guilt are forcibly, pre-emptively extorted.

This course will use the theme of confession as a rich and varied entry point into the study of identity, speech, and power.  It will also introduce you to some of the central critical figures associated with the confession, such as Michel Foucault and Sigmund Freud. We will begin by tracing confession’s pre-history in the Christian confessional, and then consider its historical role in torture, psychoanalysis, and self-writing.  Subsequently, we will consider its proliferation in media genres from autobiographical video to the trial film, reality television, and cinematic melodrama.  Finally, we will contemplate what rhetorical tactics are available to us to defuse and intervene in the power dynamics of confession.

This is an intimate discussion-oriented first-year seminar that places a heavy emphasis on speaking in class, and on regular writing assignments.

Fall semester.  Professor Rangan.


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Speaking, Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016