This seminar will focus on three -- and three quite different -- “eminent writers” who have redefined the canon of contemporary American fiction. If a canon in almost any art form is, by definition, an archeology of work that has condensed into a time-tested substrate, Ha Jin, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Richard Powers are adding a top layer to this ever-building formation. (Think T.S. Eliot's essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent.") While it may be too early to predict whether their work will be seen as "classics" in the Age of the Jetsons (on the assumption that the human species will then still be reading old-fashioned narratives, in and on whatever medium), and hence be considered "eminent" in this more diachronic sense, their current contributions certainly make them eminent men and women of letters in the current literary landscape of the United States.
Our readings will, naturally, focus on the thematic and formal idiosyncrasies each of these writers has cultivated over time. Each has a specific set of preoccupations and concerns that recur with some regularity in their work, and makes them unique, in that sense. At the same time, they also share some overarching interests that have, in fact, begun to identify a sizable portion of contemporary American literature. Among these are:
- A strong awareness of the world's transnational and global complexity, including mass displacement and migration, and the flow of capital, consumer goods, and information (as the ultimate bit/coin of the realm);
- An investment in formal innovation and the viability of good stories, and print culture, more generally, esp. in relation to the contemporary media ecology;
- A commitment toward reconsidering the term "American literature" to the point of dissolving nation-based literary (and other) boundaries;
- A deep interest in presenting Planet Earth as one ecological entity facing environmental challenges and pressures.
Much in keeping with the political and global flavor of our authors, the class will encourage various reading strategies and expect of students to reach into their theoretical tool boxes, if appropriate. Class sessions will typically alternate between class discussion, student presentations, and occasional short lectures. Thanks for choosing to take this class. Welcome and enjoy!
- Please check CAL PAL regularly for useful links to contemporary American literature sites, as you prepare for class and research your interests. Many of these sites contain numerous other links. You might also find the (rather skeletal) Theory PAL useful on occasion. — As you find additional sites we should all know about, please let us know!