ENGL748E - Seminar In American Literatures: Writing The Apocalypse In Hemispheric American Literatures, 1500-2000

From the late fifteenth century onward, the encounters between Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans in the New World have brought into contact radically different religions, cosmologies, concepts of time, and writing systems.  In the literatures about these encounters—from Christopher Columbus’s Book of Prophecies (1500) to Garbriel García Márquez One Hundred Years for Solitude (1967) and Leslie Marmon Silko’s The Almanac of the Dead (1992)—writers have often imbued these cataclysmic cultural encounters with apocalyptic significance, associating the European arrival in the New World with the arrival of the end of time (or of an era). How such an apocalypse was imagined and prophesied, however, greatly varied across cultural boundaries and historical periods. Thus, early modern Europeans such as Columbus or the Puritan missionary John Eliot saw themselves as harbingers (and even agents) of the Millennium (the thousand-year reign of Christ, according to some Christian eschatologies); sixteenth-century conquerors such as Hernando Cortés appropriated the alleged Mexica myth of the return of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent; while Andeans rose up against the Spanish conquerors in Taki Unquy (‘sickness of the chant’), an apocalyptic spiritual movement promising the end of Spanish/Christian rule in Peru. Later writers working in the apocalyptic tradition of the Western hemisphere include Herman Melville, José Maria Arguedas, and Alejo Carpentier (as well as García Márquez and Silko). In this course, we explore the role that the conflict between diverse forms of apocalyptic “writing” (i.e. textuality) played in Hemispheric American literatures by reading texts from the sixteenth to the twentieth century—by Columbus, Franciscan and Puritan missionaries, and Popul Vuh (the Maya Council Book), as well as nineteenth- and twentieth-century US and Latin American novelists—in the context of European colonialism, neo-colonialism, and creole nationalism in the New World. (Students not yet familiar with some of the better known ‘long’ novels that we will discuss in this course—namely, Melville’s Moby Dick, García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Silko’s Almanac of the Dead—should get a head-start on reading these before the semester begins).  The detailed reading schedule will be available in November at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ev2ctT3mpF--iPe8nafVDQfTk2KTOdZCBdF2DnCu70E/