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World Literature

ENGL 277.401
crosslisted as: COML 191, CLST 191
MW 3:30-5

How do we think ‘the world’ as such? Globalizing economic paradigms encourage one model that, while it connects distant regions with the ease of a finger-tap, also homogenizes the world, manufacturing patterns of sameness behind simulations of diversity. Our current world-political situation encourages another model, in which fundamental differences are held to warrant the consolidation of borders between Us and Them, “our world” and “theirs”. This course begins with the proposal that there are other ways to encounter the world, that are politically compelling, ethically important, and personally enriching — and that the study of literature can help tease out these new paths.

Through the idea of World Literature, this course introduces students to the appreciation and critical analysis of literary texts, with the aim of navigating calls for universality or particularity (and perhaps both) in fiction and film. “World literature” here refers not merely to the usual definition of “books written in places other than the US and Europe,” but any form of cultural production that explores and pushes at the limits of a particular world, that steps between and beyond worlds, or that heralds the coming of new worlds still within us, waiting to be born. And though, as we read and discuss our texts, we will glide about in space and time from the inner landscape of a private mind to the reaches of the farthest galaxies, knowledge of languages other than English will not be required, and neither will any prior familiarity with the literary humanities.
In the company of drunken kings, botanical witches, ambisexual alien lifeforms, and storytellers who’ve lost their voice, we will reflect on, and collectively navigate, our encounters with the faraway and the familiar — and thus train to think through the challenges of concepts such as translation, narrative, and ideology. Texts include Kazuo Ishiguro, Ursula K. LeGuin, Salman Rushdie, Werner Herzog, Jamaica Kincaid, Russell Hoban, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Arundhathi Roy, and Abbas Kiarostami.