English 250

Research Seminar: Critical and Peripheral Realisms

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2013 Lye, Colleen
Tues. 3:30-6:30 note new room: 104 GPB

Book List

Adiga, Aravind: White Tiger; Bloch, Ernst: Aesthetics and Politics; Jameson, Fredric: The Political Unconscious; Lukacs, Georg: The Historical Novel; Morrison, Toni: Home; Park, Ed: Personal Days; Schwarz, Roberto: A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism

Other Readings and Media

We will also read essays and book chapter selections from Eric Auerbach, Theodor Adorno, Raymond Williams, Roland Barthes, Edward Said, Franco Moretti, T.J. Clark, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Gayatri Spivak, Hal Foster, Marjorie Levinson, David Palumbo-Liu, Bruce Robbins, Alex Woloch, Madhu Dubey, Ulka Anjaria, Sanjay Krishnan, Stephen Best, Yoon Sun Lee, Marcial Gonzalez, and others.


To what extent has our tendency to measure aesthetic achievement within the terms set by the historical modernisms of 1890-1920 blocked our perception of twentieth century peripheral literatures? This course will entertain historical diagnoses of this tendency and an accounting of some of its costs. As a result of the institutionalization of postcolonial and ethnic studies in the 1980s under a regime of reading for modernism, the magical realism of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García-Márquez has been celebrated for its subversive antimimeticism; likewise, ethnic studies have tended to value minority literatures by vesting in a melancholic critique of History’s myths, as exemplified by dominant approaches to Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston. More recently, however, a realist turn in both literature and criticism suggests that we may now be inhabiting a different moment, one that approaches the capitalist world system as partially, potentially describable in its concrete reality rather than one that stylizes. or even heroicizes, the impossibility of mapping it.

We will look at some recent literary trends exemplified by: Morrison’s radical departure from her signature style; the forgetting of Salman Rushdie in the era of Aravind Adiga’s adaptation of Native Son to contemporary India; and Ed Park’s experimentation with an Asian American novel without Asian American characters. The class will then move to familiarize students with foundational theoretical works in a Marxist tradition of critical realism, including: the aesthetics and politics debates within the Frankfurt School; the British cultural studies tradition represented by Raymond Williams; and the submerged presence of critical realism even within French (semiotic) theory. What are the portable legacies of European Marxism for postcolonial and ethnic projects given that both attempt to grapple with the representation of non-bourgeois European subjects (whether mass proletarian, subaltern, racialized or minoritized)? The last third of the course will examine literary criticism and theory relating to race, historical transition in the postcolony, and combined and uneven development in the world system. For their final papers, students will be asked to select a novel of their choice to research and analyze, using the tools gained from the course. This course should be useful for students wishing to gain a background in Marxist criticism and world-systems theory; in postcolonial and ethnic studies; and in novel theory as it bears upon the political questions central to the former.

Note: Those interested in attending this class should email the instructor a week in advance of the start of the semester for the reading assignment required of the first meeting.

This course satisfies the Group 5 (20th century) or Group 6 (non-historical) requirement.

This course is cross-listed as Critical Theory 240, in fulfillment of the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory.

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