American Literature in the World (Freshman Seminar)

English 033/ Am Studies 033
American Literature in the World
Prof. Wai Chee Dimock
Spring 2015

American Literature as a gateway to the world, with texts from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first, read together as clusters, ranging from Paris as a “moveable feast,” to more literal accounts of food and hunger, to still grimmer tales of secular and religious violence.

Texts:

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
Monique Truong. The Book of Salt
Ruth Ozeki, My Year of Meats
Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
Olaudah Equiano, Interesting Narrative
Dave Eggers, What is the What
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Agha Shahid Ali, The Half-Inch Himalayas
Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban
Junot Diaz, Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

8/29   INTRODUCTION

PARIS
1/13     Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
1/15     Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
1/20    Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
1/22    Stein, Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
1/27    Monique Truong, The Book of Salt
1/29    Monique Truong, The Book of Salt

TRANSNATIONAL FOOD
2/3   Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
2/5   Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
2/10    Ruth Ozeki, My Year of Meats
2/12    Ruth Ozeki, My Year of Meats

RELIGION IN A GLOBAL CONTEXT

2/17  Olaudah Equinao, Interesting Narrative
2/19  Olaudah Equiano, Interesting Narrative
2/24   Valentino Achak Deng and Dave Eggers, What is the What
2/26   Valentino Achak Deng and Dave Eggers, What is the What
3/3    Valentino Achak Deng and Dave Eggers, What is the What
3/5    Valentino Achak Deng and Dave Eggers, What is the What
3/24    Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
3/26       Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
3/31       Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
4/7    Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
4/9     Agha Shahid Ali, The Half-Inch Himalayas

REVOLUTIONS AND DICTATORSHIPS
4/14    Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban
4/16    Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban
4/21     Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
4/23     Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

COURSE REQUIREMENTS:
* Class presentation, 5-10 minutes
* Short essay, 5 pp
(Outline due: Feb 5;  Paper due: Feb 12)
* Long essay, 10-15 pp
(Outline due:  April 7.   Paper due: April 23)

* Students taking the seminar to fulfill a pre-1900 requirement must write the long essay      on pre-1900 authors. Please work out the details with Prof. Dimock

Prompts for first paper:

You are asked to write a paper exploring the relations either between two geographical locations or between two particularly salient concepts.   It might be helpful to use more than one text to address these phenomena:

— America as seen from Paris
— Germany as seen from Paris
— Vietnam as seen from Paris
— “Geniuses” and “wives,” as seen by Gertrude Stein, and by others
— Inside and outside of human beings, and of social environments
— Food and hunger

***

Prompts for long paper:

Once again, I’d encourage you to design your own paper topics, but here are some suggestions in case you’re stuck:

—  Dreamers: Olaudah Equiano and Valentino Achak Deng both report having recurring dreams that are somehow predictive of the future.    What is the status of these dreams within the overall realistic fabric of these narratives?   Are they superstitions?   How do they intersect with more orthodox religious faiths?   Do they suggest psychological truths about these characters?

—  Food and Hunger in Cross-cultural Contexts: from Binh’s lyrical description of food in The Book of Salt, to the less than lyrical description of the beef industry in My Year of Meats, food seems to be one of the key players in the globalization of everyday life, even as hunger emerges as another aspect of the same micro-register of globalization.   Comment on these interlocking developments.

—  Permutations of the human and nonhuman: the cattle in What is the What, the ants in the Poisonwood Bible, the mongoose in the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao all seem to point to continually renegotiated boundaries between human and nonhuman species.   Discuss this phenomenon using at least two texts.

—  Christianity and Islam as World Religions: discuss Equiano, Valentino Achak Deng and Dave Eggers, and Barbara Kingsolver in this context.

—  Human rights and economic rationality: is there a possible tension between these two?   You might want to think about Junot Diaz as well as Equiano in addressing this question.

—  Shadows of other continents: Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters live constantly under this spell, and the “lost boys” do as well.    Discuss these lingering shadows in any of of the texts we read this semester, from Hemingway on.

—  Generational sagas: these are most conspicuously present in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but perhaps also in other texts.   You might want to pair Junot Diaz with one other author in exploring this question.

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