How do we define identity in today’s global world, which has become increasingly hybrid and dynamic? Can we still talk about stable identities, safely placed under the banner of some given category such as ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion a.s.o., or are identities in perpetual change, always a matter of becoming, under the impact of contextual determinations, but also personal choice? What is happening to cultural canons in the process and how are they reshaped by the current mobility and constant relocation of masses of people? How, in the global English speaking world, does the written cultural text still (if at all) relate to the cultural and political legacy of the British Empire?
This seminar sets out to explore possible answers to these questions through text-applied (while also context- and theory-informed) comparative approaches to some thematic aspects of identity formation. The primary corpus consists of a set of chosen fictional texts belonging to literatures in English. We will focus on a number of recurrent topics through comparing texts produced across the global English space, but often by authors coming from non-English-speaking backgrounds, for whom writing in English is, in some way or another, a matter of choice. Our main task will be to point out various ways in which the textuality of written fictional texts reflects on issues related to migration, nomadism and diasporic identity from a variety of theoretical perspectives, but situated mainly in a postcolonial, transnational and global light.
Students are encouraged to bring in their own theoretical perspectives, while maintaining a connection to the class’s required readings. In order to encourage comparison (mainly between texts produced in the British space and the American one), every class will feature two or three primary texts, of which students are required to choose one and read it in the light of the secondary source assigned for the respective week. This will lead to class group discussions around each reading and a joint conclusion, allowing for an inductive approach to theorizing on the contemporary global world, with literary texts as spaces of reflection about their contexts.
Course instructor: Dr Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru
Week 1. Introduction: Defining diasporas and diasporic writing
Follow-up reading: Christian Karner, “Identity, Diaspora, Hybridity”, part 1, in Ethnicity and Everyday Life, London and New York: Routldge, 2007. 69-82.
Week 2. After the Buddha’s suburbia: Hybridity and recent diasporic London
Primary readings: Zadie Smith. White Teeth (2000). London: Penguin, 2001. (see also film); Monica Ali, Brick Lane. London: Doubleday, 2003 (see also film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTPhdUJS3SQ&t=446s); Monica Ali, “Sundowners”, The New Yorker, 2006.
Secondary reading: Christian Karner, “Identity, Diaspora, Hybridity”, part 2, in Ethnicity and Everyday Life, London and New York: Routldge, 2007. 82-99.
Week 3. Refocusing on the self: Individual psychology and Fredric Jameson’s “national allegory”
Primary readings: Hanif Kureishi, from Something to Tell You. London: Faber and Faber, 2008; Hanif Kureishi, “Long Ago Yesterday”, The New Yorker, 2004; Chang-rae Lee, “My Father’s Face”, The New Yorker, 2018 (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/06/04/my-fathers-face)
Secondary reading: Fredric Jameson, “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism”. Social Text, No. 15 (Autumn, 1986). 65-88.
Week 4. Stories of belonging/unbelonging 1: Redefining home
Primary readings: Yiyun Li, “A Man Like Him”, 2008; Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, “The Teacher”, 2008; Yiyun Li, “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers” (story)
Secondary reading: Avtar Brah, “Diaspora and minority” and “The Homing of Diaspora, the Diasporising of Home”, in Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities, London and New York: Routledge, 1996. 186-195.
Week 5. Stories of belonging/unbelonging 2: The impact of form (short story vs. novel) in writing relocation narratives)
Primary readings: Jhumpa Lahiri, “Year’s End” (from Unaccustomed Earth, 2008) and The Namesake (2003; see also film); Hari Kunzru, “Raj, Bohemian”, 2008
Secondary reading: Maggie Awadalla and Paul March-Russell, “Introduction: The Short Story and the Post-Colonial”, in The Postcolonial Short Story: Contemporary Essays, Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 1-14.
Week 6. Disguised memories: Fluidity and indirectness in global writing in English
Primary readings: Yiyun Li, “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers” (2005; film adaptation)
Michael Ondaatje, from The English Patient. London: Vintage, 1993 (see also film); Vikram Seth, from An Equal Music, 1999.
Secondary reading: Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les lieux de mémoire”, Representations No. 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory (Spring, 1989). 7-24
Week 7. Archaeologies of the self: Fictionalising the Other
Primary readings: Salman Rushdie, from Joseph Anton, 2012; Aleksandar Hemon, “The Noble Truths of Suffering”, 2008; “Stairway to Heaven”, 2006; Edwige Danticat, “Ghosts”, The New Yorker, 2008.
Secondary reading: Edward Hills: “Archaeologies of the Self: The Autobiographical Child”, Journal of Australian Studies 22:59, 1998. 173-179.
Week 8. New East-European diasporas: Questioning return
Primary readings: Domnica Radulescu, Black Sea Twilight, 2010; Kapka Kassabova, from Street without a Name, 2008
Secondary reading: Domnica Radulescu, “How I lost my memory and never got it back”, The European Journal of Life Writing, vol. III (2014), C55-C59.
Week 9. Gender, diaspora and memoir 1: Lifewriting as history
Primary readings: Jhumpa Lahiri, “A Temporary Matter” (from Interpreter of Maladies, 1999); Vesna Goldsworthy, from Chernobyl Strawberries, London: Atlantic, 2005; Ha Jin, “The House Behind a Weeping Cherry”, The New Yorker, 2008
Secondary reading: Ioana Luca, “Post-Communist Life-Writing and the Discourses of History: Vesna Goldsworthy’s Chernobyl Strawberries”, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice, 13:1, 2009. 79-93.
Week 10. Gender, Diaspora and Memoir 2: The proliferation of difference
Primary readings: Lara Vapnyar, “Luda and Milena”, The New Yorker, 2007; Marina Lewycka, from A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, London: Penguin, 2005; Yiyun Li, “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl”, The New Yorker, 2008.
Secondary reading: Mark Currie, “Cultural Difference”, in Difference, London and New York: Routledge, 2004. 85-103.
Week 11.Globalising the “exotic” Other:
Primary readings: Salman Rushdie, “The Shelter of the World”, The New Yorker, 2008; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Headstrong Historian”, The New Yorker, 2008; Aravind Adiga, “The Elephant”, The New Yorker, 2009.
Secondary reading: Graham Huggan, “Exoticism in the margins”, in The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins, London and New York: Routledge, 2001. 13-27.
Week 12. Utopia/Dystopia and Diasporic Identities
Primary readings: J.M. Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus, 2013; Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea, New York: Riverhead, 2014; David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, 2004 (see also Tykwer and Wachowski film, 2012)
Secondary reading: “Utopia anniversary symposium”, Science Fiction Film and Television, 9, 1, 2016, 73-124 (in particular Raffaella Baccolini, “Utopia in Dystopia: Cloud Atlas”, 73-76).
Week 13. From Diasporic Identity to Global Nomadism
Primary readings: Vikram Chandra, “Eternal Don”, 1997; from Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games, 2007; Zadie Smith, “Hanwell Senior”, 2007.
Secondary reading: Rosi Braidotti, “Prologue”, in Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming, Cambridge: Polity, 2002. 1-10.
Week 14: Round-up and discussion of essay topics
REQUIREMENTS AND EVALUATION
- A minimum of 50% attendance
- Participation in class discussions and groupwork (25% of the final mark)
- An end-of-term written essay or a short story written around an experience of dislocation, with a half-page self-critical comment on how the topic was treated; a take-home exam consisting of three short personalized questions relating the student’s story or essay to general course material (75% of the final mark).