ENGL748D - Seminar in American Literature; Reparative Reading in Multiethnic U.S. Literature and Criticism

Why read narrative literature? In this course, we will address this question by reading a wide body of multiethnic U.S. and transnational literature with a focus on two issues: “reparative reading” and reparations. These two timely and highly elastic terms share complex and overlapping fields of concerns, though there are significant tensions between them as well. Since Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick first opened the conversation about “reparative reading” in the late 1990’s, the term has inspired and prompted numerous approaches for both supplementing and moving beyond earlier techniques of poststructuralist critique grounded in a “hermeneutics of suspicion” alone. We will explore different models of reading articulated in some relation to the idea of “repair” that have emerged during the past two decades in different ethnic minority and diasporic discourses, queer and feminist studies, affect and embodiment studies, studies emphasizing memory, history, the historical novel, and different forms of re-purposed historical genre, actor-network theory and reception studies, democratic theory, and the proliferation of new models of “reading” and “weak theory.” At the same time, the heart of our course will be considering these concerns in relation to issues of reparations, a matter we will explore through narrative literature in many different U.S. contexts (among them, African American, Native American, Latinx, Asian American, undocumented workers, global refugees), alongside the many complex questions concerning the purposes, instruments, remedies, comparative international contexts, and dynamics of responsibility and so-called “practical politics” involved in thinking through the many elaborations of the concept. Our guiding aim will be to consider these different elaborations of the “reparative” and “reparations” in all their complexity and interrelations, and to come up with our own understandings of them, as these concerns find themselves find themselves imagined, facilitated, prompted and contested through various texts of multi-ethnic U.S. and world literature. One last thing to say: there is a subtle thread of prison literature and prison studies woven through our texts and engagements with the above concerns, to allow us to pursue the question of how current and historical mass incarceration in the U.S. is foundationally related to questions of the “reparative” and reparations.


Novels and other literary narratives may include (I welcome suggestions, and there will be room in the course for us to discuss together substitutions): : Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad; Maria Ruiz de Burton, The Squatter and the Don; Maxine Hong Kingston, China Men; Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood; Louise Erdrich, Tracks; W. E. B. Du Bois, Dark Princess; Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express; Richard Wright, Native Son; Mine Okubo, Citizen 13660; James Baldwin, Another Country; Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead; Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things; Ana Castillo, The Guardians; Kim Thuy, Ru; Francisco Goldman, The Ordinary Seaman; Joyce Carol Oates, ed., Prison Noir.


I will post a list of some of the theoretical and historical/contextual texts we will be reading soon.

Meets the MA Lit Modern and Contemporary Course Requirement