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Theorizing Space in African American Literature

ENGL 770.401
instructor(s):
F 9-12

This seminar is concerned with space as materiality and idea in texts by African American writers. Space, inseperable from social processes and social relations, provides another site for thinking about literature. For example, approaching space as a site of struggle over value and meaning involves examaning narrative and the structures underpinning and driving narration itself. However, space also embodies physical and material dimensions that turn on issues of power. Spatial constructions, spatial parameters, and boundries of experience permeate political, social, economic, and psychological dimensions but are often overlooked as manifestations of culture and environment. Increasingly integrated into the formulation of social theories, space attracts scholars whose theoretical concerns range from postmodernism and globilization to the body and prisons. Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, David Harvey, Doreen Massey, Edward Soja, Daphne Spain, Yi-Fu Tuan, Nancy Duncan, and John Berger, for example, form a partial list of those who have argued for a spatial hermeneutic.

How do we interrogate the relationships between race, racial conditions, and space (whether bodily, global, or textual)? How do African American writers confront and represent racialized spaces? How do regulatory boundries delimit not only access to social and economic space, but also to subject formation and agency? Are African American texts inscribed with an awareness of the social functions of spacial practices? Do African American texts represent space as central to the production of race-based identities and social relations?

Readings from social geography,literary and cultural theory, the Black Public Sphere Collective, and Harriet Jacobs, Frances Harper, Charles Chestnutt, W.E.B. Dubois, Nella Larson, James Baldwin, Etheridge Knight, Ntozake Shange, Mevin Dixon, Edwidge Danticat, Randall Kenan, Brenda Marie Osbey, and Shat Youngblood.