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Topics in Literature & Society

ENGL 393.401
TR 1:30-3

When we think about the political meanings of a literary work, we most often approach them in terms of the manifest content, that is, explicit statements made by either the narrator or characters in the text. Literature, however, is not just about what is said, but how it is said. Does the way in which a text say something therefore have its own kind of meaning and can that meaning be a political one? How can literary forms have a political content and what kind of content is that? Such questions are especially important in the case of ethnic or minority literature, since the very category of "minority" produces an expectation that a text will address certain kinds of political issues, whether explicitly or implicitly. Minority writers thus inevitably face the burden of political representation insofar as their works are taken to be representative of the group as a whole, and in this context, to refuse such a burden is itself a political gesture. These issues are the basis of ongoing debates regarding the right or most effective way for Asian American writers to represent the community. In this class, we will read works by Asian American writers spanning the 20th century and look closely at the formal and stylistic strategies of the texts, as well as what they say. Texts for the class may include works by such writers as Sui Sin Far, Monica Sone, Carlos Bulosan, John Okada, Maxine Hong Kingston, Frank Chin, Leonard Chang, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jessica Hagedorn, R. Zamora Linmark and Lois-Ann Yamanaka. Requirements include a class presentation and short writing assignments leading to a final paper.