Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Fingering the Jagged Grain: American Autobiography at the End of the 20th Century

ENGL 770.401
M 1-4

In this course, we will investigate selected authorial and scholarly responses to the postmodernist (American) autobiographical paradox: how imaginatively to satisfy what Hurston calls "that oldest human longing -- self-revelation" when many of the constitutive features that had previously informed our understanding of selfhood (including nation, race, ethnicity, history, identity, gender, sexuality, and the self itself) were being called into question. One of the central questions we will pose is how successfully American autobiographical study during the last three decades of the twentieth century has reconciled categorical deconstruction, on the one hand, with the establishment of racial, gender, sexual, and other forms of difference as significant analytical categories. In addition to reading a sizable sampling of autobiographical criticism and theory, we will be studying a range of autobiographical texts (specific title will be forthcoming shortly). Course requirements: one or two brief reports; a 7-10 page annotated bibliography; and a final research paper.



The texts we will be reading may include: Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory; Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face, Albert French, Patches of the Fire: A Story of War and Redemption, William Styron, Darkness Visible, absha badele, The Prisoner’s Wife, Paul Monette, Becoming a Man, After Silence, Nancy Raine, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Colored People, Martha Manning, Undercurrents, the collection of autobiographical essays, Writing the Body, one of Jamacia Kincaid's works of non-fiction, the documentary film, The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, and two texts we choose collectively early in the semester.

Fulfills 3 & 6 requirements.

fulfills requirements