American Literature: Cross-Cultural Contact and Exchange

Course title: American Literature: Cross-Cultural Contact and Exchange (A, 20)
Instructor: Dr. Catherine M. Eagan (Fulbright guest professor)
ECTS credits: 6
Language of instruction: English
Semester: Summer 2017
Tue 11:00 – 12:30, A 105
Thu 11:45 – 12:30, A 105

Status: elective
Form of instruction: lecture (1 hour) + seminar (2 hours)
Enrollment requirements: Introduction to the Study of English Literature; enrollment in the 2nd or 3rd year.

Course description: This course will analyze American literature of the late 20th and early 21st century that engages with the idea of cross-cultural contact and exchange. Cultures can meet in productive and destructive ways, but rarely is the division so clear; meetings across cultures are always complex. As a class, we will read literature that reflects on these meetings critically, discussing how authors around the turn of this millennium are reexamining paradigms for cultural connection and conflict that are as old as America itself. The instructor will lecture on and share samples of literature from earlier centuries to review in class, but the readings will be concentrated in contemporary literature. We will spend the first part of the class exploring the questions of how culture will be/should be/could be defined for this course: we will have to think about how culture relates to race, ethnicity, class, and religion, how it is shaped by nation and immigration, and how it is often defined by hybridity instead of purity or authenticity. The concepts that will frame our study of cross-racial relationships in American contexts are listed in the week-by-week schedule below: as we move forward, we will be treating each new text with attention to the current and previous framing concepts. In addition, my hope is that we will complete the course with an ability to apply these concepts to current “culture wars” in American, transnational, and perhaps even personal contexts.

Course requirements: Regular attendance; participation in class discussions; in-class and home assignments; continuous evaluation (a mid-term and final, mandatory for all students); seminar paper (5-7 double-spaced pages in 8th edition MLA style). It is essential to observe the deadlines set down for your readings and for particular assignments; if not, this can adversely affect your grade. Grade breakdown: tests (midterm and final)—30%; journal responses—20%; seminar paper—40%; class participation—10%.

Syllabus (subject to change):

Week 1: Introductions, First Contact

Weeks 2-3: Struggles to Assimilate and Acculturate

Weeks 4-6: Cross-Racial Solidarity—Barriers and Possibilities

Weeks 7-9: Interracial Love Relationships

Weeks 10-11: Mixed-Race and Hybrid Identities

Weeks 12-14: White Guilt, Ally-ship, and Multicultural Utopias and Dystopias

Sherman Alexie, Reservation Blues (1995)

Wesley Brown, Darktown Strutters, excerpts (1994)

Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker (1995)

Adam Mansbach, Angry Black White Boy (2005)

Mat Johnson, Loving Day (2015)

Short Stories:
Junot Diaz, “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” (1996)

Louise Erdrich, “The Flower” (2015)

MeiMei Evans, “Gussuk,” (1989)

Gish Jen, “In the American Society” (1986)

Marjan Kamali, “The Gift” (2013)

Thomas King, “Borders” (1996)

Reginald McKnight, “Quitting Smoking” (1991)

Bharti Mukherjee, “A Wife’s Story” (1988)

Z.Z. Packer, “Brownies” (2003)


Crash. Dir. Paul Haggis. Starring Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock (2005)

Ethnic Notions. Dir. Marlon Riggs. California Newsreel (1987)

Secondary Readings:
Gloria Anzaldua, “La Conciencia de la mestiza/Towards a New Consciousness” (1987)

George Frederickson, “Models of American Ethnic Relations”

Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone” (1991)

Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (1988)