Lab Affiliated Courses: Spring 2019

English 374-01: Contemporary American Authors | Treasure(d) Maps: Writing the American South
Instructor: Sasha Panaram
Time: WF 8:30 AM to 9:45 AM, Social Sciences 311

Most twentieth-century U.S. Southern literary novels do not begin or end with words but rather with maps. Included as pictorial representations depicting setting or supplemental tools meant to further situate novels within a broader geographic context, oftentimes, maps offer a preview, even a purview, of the literary narratives they supplement. But if we read maps that accompany U.S. Southern literature – read not skim or skip or sidestep – it becomes clear that the very tools that purport to orientation and direction complicate how we understand setting and provide counter-narratives to the stories they accompany. In this course, we will investigate to what ends canonical and non-canonical American authors alike incorporate invented, rewritten, or unfinished maps into their literary works. By considering how these authors-turned-cartographers engage in practices of demarcation, decide which areas are deemed representable, and create legends to assess land, sky, and sea, we will ask whether or not these maps legitimize narratives, engender divergent stories, and/or constrain readerly possibilities.

Attention to writers and the maps they claim describe the U.S. South raises its own set of questions about what constitutes regional identity. Together we will ask what happens if we consider the South as the northern rim of the Caribbean as it is in Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones? What if we look south of the South to encounter new places like the unnamed Central American city in Cristina Garcia’s The Lady Matador’s Hotel? What if the South is not a place at all but an undesired and inescapable fantasy as in Octavia Butler’s Kindred? Broadening our definition of what comprises the South will inevitably demand that we rethink what we mean by the term “American.” As such, this course will include people you might already expect insofar as reading from William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, and Flannery O’Connor. But we will also attend to material including Native American fiction and Caribbean-American transatlantic novels like that of Michelle Cliff. In addition to participation, students will write three papers (6-8 pp), contribute to a class blog, and complete a creative final project where they create their own digital map for one of the texts we read in the course.

English 390S-7-01: Remembering the Middle Passage
Professor: Charlotte Sussman
Time WF 1:25 PM to 2:40 PM

“Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs? Where is your tribal memory? Sirs, in that grey vault. The sea. The sea has locked them up. The sea is History.”

–Derek Walcott

The Middle Passage, the route by which most enslaved persons were brought across the Atlantic to North America, is a crucial element of modern history.  Yet it has been notoriously difficult to document or memorialize.  For a long time, as Derek Walcott demonstrates, the best access to this history was through the illuminating imagination of a poet or fiction writer.  Recently, however, new strategies in history writing, as well as new digital methods of aggregating data, have rendered aspects of the passage newly intelligible.  This course will juxtapose multiple disciplinary approaches to remembering the Middle Passage—literary, historical, theoretical, archival, and digital—with the goal of asking how their intersections can help us understand its foundational role in the modern world.  In addition, the course will investigate the project of remembering itself, reading theories of memorialization, and researching the possibility of a deep sea memorial to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Possible texts for the course include Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater Slavery; Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother; Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano; Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger; Nourbese Philip, Zong!; Clipping, “The Deep”; Steven Spielberg, Amistad.

Students will be evaluated on short analytical papers, position papers, a collaborative research project, and a related individual research project.

This course is affiliated with the Representing Migration Humanities Lab and the Data Expeditions program ( ).  A Data Expeditions representative will teach students to work with a data set of shipping routes drawn from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database ( ).  NO PRIOR EXPERIENCE IN DATA AGGREGATION OR DIGITAL MAPPING IS REQUIRED, though a willingness to learn these methods would be helpful.  Students will work on a collaborative project with this data set, then develop individual research projects by placing their findings in the context of imaginative literature and theories of memorialization to propose new ways of remembering the Middle Passage

English 590S-3 Culture, Civilization, World (Literature)
Cross-listing: Romance Studies, German, Literature
Instructor: Dr. Corina Stan
Time: Wednesday from 3:05 pm to 5:35 pm.

Two important novels were published in 2015: Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission (Submission) and Jenny Erpenbeck’s Gehen, ging, gegangen (Go, Went, Gone)—the first about the “end of the West”, ushered in by the electoral victory of a Muslim president in France in 2022; the second about the irrelevance of the cultural foundations of European identity (Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Judeo-Christian morality) exposed in the mismanagement of the refugee crisis. Although set in the near future, Houellebecq’s novel paradoxically remains attached to the past: “Eurabia” restores France its lost imperial greatness at the expense of its core liberal values, of its own cultural identity; France, and with it Europe, submits to Islam, in a soft “clash of civilizations” from which only one can emerge victorious. Erpenbeck’s novel, by contrast, carefully cultivates an “ethics of now”: it revisits the past of colonialism in order to anchor itself firmly in the present, through an attunement of worlds—not the submission of a civilization to another, but a surrender to the realization of a shared vulnerability generated by global migration. The publication of Submission on 7 January 2015 coincided with the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, a sinister preface to the refugee crisis that followed, dramatized in Go, Went, Gone. These novels’ cultural diagnoses, their remedial scenarios, and the nexus of terrorism and immigration highlight an important question: how does global migration affect cultural pessimism in the West?

Using these two novels as points of departure, this course examines the history of the uses of “culture” and “civilization”, and, in relation to this history, the emergence of “world literature” (Weltliteratur). Our approach to the distinction established by Kant between “Kultur” and “Zivilisation” will be interdisciplinary and cross-cultural, with readings including Petronius’s Satyricon, Schiller, Diderot, Herder, Nietzsche, Arnold, Freud, Elias, Spengler, Marcurse, Hall, Said, Fukuyama and Huntington. Possible topics include: the uses of “culture” in the discourse of “Bildung”; the relationship between Romanticism, decadence and modernism; the anthropological critique of modernist elitism; the discourse on culture by British Left intellectuals; the so-called “cultural turn” in debates on multiculturalism; the emergence of postcolonial studies, Orientalism vs. Occidentalism. These debates will provide a broad context for considering the history of “world literature”, a discipline that, in the past two decades, has tended to replace “comparative literature.” Possible readings include Goethe, Auerbach, Casanova, Beecroft, Appiah, Apter, Damrosch, Stanford Friedman, Cheah, Siraj Ahmed, and others. Along the way, we’ll watch films like Fellini’s adaptation of Satyricon, Sokurov’s The Russian Ark, Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, and read some fictional texts (Mircea Eliade’s Youth without Youth, and possibly Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being).

Over the course of the semester, students will work on producing a conference paper, including an abstract, an annotated bibliography, and the paper itself.