English 190

Research Seminar: Literature of Racial Passing


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
7 Spring 2012 Giscombe, Cecil S.
Giscombe, Cecil
TTh 11-12:30 51 Evans

Description

A passing narrative is an account—fiction or nonfiction—of a person (or group) claiming a racial or ethnic identity that she does not (or they do not) “possess.”  Such narratives speak—directly, indirectly, and very uneasily—to the authenticity, the ambiguity, and the performance of personal identity; they also speak to issues of official and traditional categorization.  The passing 
narrative—the narrative that accounts for making the “different” claim—necessarily unsettles notions of belonging and ownership and underscores that race can be viewed as a construction or a series of conventions.

The course will investigate the public nature of race by examining narratives—published and unpublished stories, novels, memoirs, and films—that call the absoluteness of its boundaries into question.  We’ll look as well at texts that treat racial and sexual imitation—minstrelsy, “yellow-face,” drag, etc.  All said, we’ll be looking rather closely at books and movies that reveal, document, question, and celebrate ambiguous spaces in an imposing structure, one often assumed to be “natural.”

We’ll likely read Karen Brodkin’s How Jews Became White Folks, James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, Nella Larsen’s Passing, Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, Gene Yang’s American-Born Chinese, Kenji Yoshino’s Covering, essays by Gloria Anzaldua, Noel Ignatiev, Henry Louis Gates, etc.  Films will probably include Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection, Louis King’s Charlie Chan in Egypt, Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer, etc.

Position papers, discussions led by class members, possible midterm, final 12-15 page writing project involving research.  Hybrid projects are welcome and encouraged.

The book list is tentative.  Students should come to class before buying books.

English 190 replaced English 100 and 150 as of Fall '09. English majors may fulfill the seminar requirement for the major by taking one section of English 190 (or by having taken either English 100 or English 150 before Fall '09). Please read the paragraph on page 2 of the Announcement of Classes for more details about enrolling in or wait-listing for this course.

Please click here for more information about enrollment in English 190.

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