Instructor: Monika Kaup
ENGL 317 / C LIT 321
Do the Americas Have a Common Literature?
Is there such a thing as a “literature of the Americas”? This class examines exemplary North and South American works that, for one reason or another, just don’t fit nation-based rubrics such as “American,” “Mexican,” “Canadian” “Cuban,” “Argentine,” etc. Many of these works (Francisco Goldman, The Ordinary Seaman; Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Border Brujo; Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding the End of the World) might be classified as “border literature,” a unique, trans-national type of writing that de-centers nation-based imaginaries, identities, geographies, and histories. In the 20th and 21st-centuries, the age or mass migrations and intensified globalization, such narratives have been proliferating. In depicting the condition of living between two or more nations/languages/worlds, contemporary border literature also remind us of older works that similarly trouble modern national divides, such as European chronicles of exploration and colonization (Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, The Account: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación), as well as literature by indigenous writers (Thomas King, Leslie Marmon Silko), whose histories and cultures cannot adequately be understood in terms of national categories. Such considerations further remind us of the ambivalence of the term “America” as a signifier for the U.S. as well as of a continent (the Americas). Part of what has been repressed is that that the U.S. is located on a continent also known as “America,” whose name it has appropriated for itself. This course re-situates American literature within the Am(é)ricas, undoing the symbolic erasure of Latin America from Americanness. Some of the works considered embed an intrinsic hemispheric American dimension (Herman Melville, Benito Cereno), others are linked by documented influence and/or contact (blues poetry by Langston Hughes and poesía negra by Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén; postmodern metafiction by John Barth and Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges).
Non-anglophone works will be read in English translation.
This course will be conducted by lecture and discussion. I will present central material and will gently keep the discussion focused; and the students will need to be prepared (i.e., read the assignments and think) and participate actively in discussion.
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, The Account: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación (Arte Público Press); Francisco Goldman, The Ordinary Seaman (Grove); Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding the End of the World (& Other Stories)
All texts are available at the UW Bookstore. I encourage you to buy the editions I’ve ordered because it will make exam preparations easier for you since we will be referring to these editions in class. (If you are reading digital editions on your smart phone you are making it more difficult for yourself to follow lectures and discussion.)
- A Course Reader with required readings, primary and secondary texts, is available from Rams Copy Center, 4144 University Way NE, (206) 632 6630, RamsCopy@gmail.com. In the schedule, readings from the Course Reader are marked (R).