In the past decade, there has been renewed interest in formalism within literary studies. Scholars are increasingly adapting cultural materialism and new historicism in order to bridge social formations of race and their aesthetic forms. This work spans a range of periods and archives, from realism to modernism, and from ethnic nationalism to avant-garde poetics. As Raymond Williams writes, “form is inevitably a relationship.” How this inevitability structures our readings and informs our method is an open question and one that this seminar will explore. We will devote ourselves to works of theory and literary criticism at the nexus of race and new formalism. While “racial form,” to use Colleen Lye’s phrase, will serve as a central object of investigation, we will explore other articulations of aesthetic and social difference in terms of class, coloniality, gender, nationalism, and sexuality.
Readings will be organized around the following topics: new and old formalisms, Marxism and form, aesthetics of blackness, Asiatic racial forms, poetics of race, forms of brownness, and reading as praxis. We will likely read work by Houston Baker, Stephen Best, John Frow, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Marcial González, Fredric Jameson, Joseph Jeon, Christopher Lee, Marjorie Levinson, Colleen Lye, Curtis Marez, Sharon Marcus, Toni Morrison, Fred Moten, Ellen Rooney, Ramón Saldívar, Stephen Hong Sohn, Elda Tsou, and Raymond Williams.
Students are encouraged to bring their own research interests to the class, and will be expected to produce a final paper based on primary texts of their choosing using the methods discussed and developed in the seminar.