Content of the course will vary from quarter to quarter and these courses may be repeated for credit with consent of the chair of the departmental graduate committee.
In a 2011 issue of New Literary History devoted to character, Rita Felski asks: “What is there left to say about character?” We will take this recent return to character as our point of departure. This course aims to bring together scholars working in different historical and cultural fields to consider a shared theoretical problem. We will read theories of character and the politics of characterization drawn from work by some of the following: Sara Ahmed, Tina Chen, Hélène Cixous, Frantz Fanon, Elizabeth Fowler, John Frow, Fredric Jameson, Jinqi Ling, Deidre Lynch, Kenneth Mostern, Julian Murphet, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Alan Palmer, Crystal Parikh, James Phelan, Gayatri Spivak, Blakey Vermeule, Raymond Williams, and Alex Woloch. Our discussions will be focused through characters that pose problems for the study of twentieth-century U.S. ethnic literature: Abraham Rihbany’s self-portrait in A Far Journey; Jake Brown, the protagonist of Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem; Richard Rubio as imagined in Pocho by José Antonio Villarreal; as well as Dalip Singh Saund’s self-representation in Congressman from India. Your final paper need not be based on these readings. Instead, I encourage you to bring to the table a literary character that is at the center of your own research and to use the theoretical apparatus of this course to work through your own problems with and questions about character. How do fictive and autobiographical characterizations differ from one another? What gaps emerge between author and figuration, between the individual life and the imagined life? How do problem characters engage and thwart readerly expectations? Is it possible to enlist characters for particular hermeneutic or political ends?