English 190

Research Seminar: Contemporary Ethnic Surrealist Poetry and Poetics


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
10 Fall 2011 Chen, Christopher
Chen, Christopher
TTh 12:30-2 203 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Cha, T: Dictee; Dinh, L: All Around What Empties Out; Foster, S: Atomik Aztex; Kaufman, B: The Ancient Rain: 1956-1978; Kelley (ed.), R: Black, Brown, & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora (The Surrealist Revolution); Mullen, H: Recyclopedia; Mullen, H: Sleeping With The Dictionary; Richardson (trans.), M: Refusal of the Shadow

Description

Inspired by an eclectic mixture of influences ranging from Negritude to Sun-Ra, and from Yellow Peril pulp novels and films to counterfactual histories, a number of contemporary African American and Asian American poets have attempted to articulate what could be called a raced or ethnicized surrealist poetic practice in the United States. This seminar will focus on a number of important historical precursors to this poetic tradition, namely translations of the work of Aimé Césaire and other Negritude poets like Leopold Senghor. We will also conduct a broad survey of a range of highly influential poets like Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Lawson Fusao Inada, Janice Mirikitani, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha—all authors who have been central to the construction and revision of contemporary ethnic literary canons which have historically privileged realist, autobiographical narratives or the first person, confessional lyric voice. Throughout this seminar, we will investigate how margins and mainstreams are created and revised within ethnic literary traditions.

We will then focus upon a group of contemporary poets who have historically been marginalized within these emergent canons—poets like Elouise Loftin, Bob Kaufman, Jayne Cortez, Sonia Sanchez, Li-Young Lee, Linh Dinh, John Yau, Will Alexander, Harryette Mullen, Koon Woon, and Sesshu Foster. Considered together, these poets explore a satirical mode often obsessively focused on the structure and character of racial stereotypes and plumb the depths of what could be called postmodern popular culture’s vast racial unconscious—circulating through films, music, and advertising. Finally, we will attempt to identify shared thematic and formal features of contemporary ethnic surrealist writing and read this body of work against an older tradition of European surrealist literature and art committed to an anticolonial politics yet whose vision of non-Western art remained primitivizing.

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