English 190

Research Seminar: Dialect Literature


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
8 Fall 2014 Best, Stephen M.
TTh 12:30-2 note new location: 175 Dwinelle

Book List

Chesnutt, Charles: The Conjure Woman; Hurston, Zora Neale: Their Eyes Were Watching God; Iweala, U.: Beasts of No Nation; James, Marlon: The Book of Night Women; Saro-Wiwa, Ken: Sozaboy

Description

In this seminar we will read works written in what the novelist and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa termed “rotten English,” primarily the work of authors from the African diaspora, though not exclusively.  Our conversations will be focused on developing an account of how black writers turned a badge of dishonor into an occasion for literary experimentation, specifically the technical challenge of figuring character consciousness and illicit community.  (When characters speak in English vernaculars -- whether slangs, cants, dialects, pidgins, or creoles -- their deviant speech is likely to give off a whiff of inferiority even as it provides the illusion of heightened interiority.)  We will address the formal challenges of the works in question, specifically their narratological and linguistic aspects: free indirect discourse and the return of omniscient narration in contemporary literature; grammar and ethics; grammar as thought; dialect as a representation of the secrecy of thought (and of linguistic communities).  Must characters think in the same linguistic register in which they speak?  What makes dialect seem simultaneously like a foreign tongue and the language of the people?  Is there experience that Standard English prose cannot capture?  Does dialect's deformation of words and sentences present a more subtle means of registering shifts in the ethical landscape of a world out of joint (e.g., the topsy-turvy world in which some people can own others, postcolonial African states torn apart by civil war)?

List of authors to include: Junot Diaz, Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Gertrude Stein, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Marlon James, Sapphire, and Uzodinma Iweala.

Please read the paragraph on page 2 of the instructions area of this Announcement of Classes for more details about enrolling in or wait-listing for this course.

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