Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Diaspora Cultures

ENGL 293.403
instructor(s):
TR 1:30-3

The word "diaspora" comes from the Greek for "scattering" as in the dispersal of seed. Traditionally this term has been used to describe Jewish populations outside of Israel, but today "diaspora" is used to refer to any scattered or spatially dispersed community whose identity is partially shaped by cultural/linguistic/religious links to a place on the map that may have been left generations ago. Diasporic travel predates the establishment of modern nations and such movement continues unabated in our transnational times. Such global movement of people, in some cases over the course of several centuries, has resulted in the production of hybrid cultural artifacts that bear the traces of several locations. In this course we will examine some of these cultural texts in the context of the critical attention paid to "diaspora cultures" in contemporary literary and cultural studies. The texts (novels, poetry, music, film) selected for study in this seminar will enhance our understanding of some specific and disparate diasporas--African, Indian, Cuban, Chinese, Caribbean, Palestinian, and Iranian. We will consider three major issues that are central to literary discussions on diaspora, In the first section of the course we will work on theorizing the connections between the diasporic and national affiliations that are present in the cultural texts such as Daughters of the Dust (dir. Julie Dash), short stories by Samuel Selvon, The Gunny Sack by M.G. Vassanji, Bhaji on the Beach (dir. Gurinder Chadha), Dreaming in Cuban by Christina Garcia, the music of Apache Indian and Gloria Estefan. The critical work of Paul Gilroy, Farah J Griffins, Stuart Hall, bell hooks, and David Palumbo-Liu will help us understand the scope and importance of diaspora cultures. In the second section of the seminar we will study the historical movement of populations as labor (slave labor, indentured labor, migrant and immigrant labor) and the material consequences of crossing national and other boundaries. In this section we will work with Men in the Sun by Ghassan Khanafani, Bone by Fay M. Ng, Mississippi Masala (dir. Mira Nair), the critical writing of Edward Said, Mary Layoun, Coco Fusco and others. In the final section of this course we will examine the concept of "return" which is one of the most powerful fictions of the diasporic situation. In this section we will view A Great Wall (dir. Peter Wang), read poems by Lillian Allen and Agha Shahid Ali, short stories by Ginu Kamani and Hanif Kureshi, Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn, No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff and critical essays by Laura Kang, Rey Chow, R. Radhakrishnan, Hamid Naficy and Gay Wilentz. Requirements: Keeping up with the assigned reading, attendance in class and film screenings, two 5-7 page papers and other informal written assignments.