This course is for graduate students interested in studying the contemporary novel in English beyond the frontiers of a national literature, distinguishing contemporary literature from modernism as a field of specialization, and considering the stakes for our discipline of a turn to “global English.” It is an introductory survey class, and no previous advanced study or expertise in the field is expected.
We will read a selection of novels from the expanding canon of Anglophone world literature, and consider these in light of an admittedly disparate set of questions and debates that have arisen in recent critical work: 1) Is a comparative literary practice that restricts itself to Anglophone literature abetting a process of global monolingualization, even as it enlarges and complicates the scope of English studies as such? 2) Is the contemporary “cosmopolitan novel” in English detachable from western secular values, and is it reconcilable with organized religions, especially non-western religions, in their global form? 3) Do contemporary “world fictions” help us conceive a global sexual politics, or are queer and feminist writers better understood to be deploying visions of the local over and against the imperatives of a “global” social order? 4) How is the canon of Anglophone world literature being formed? What new relationship is emerging on the literary field between commercial and aesthetic value, between the economy of bookselling and of that of cultural prestige? 5) How does the “global city” differ from the modern city, and how does the relationship of literature to urban experience differ from that of an earlier, modernist period? 6) Finally, why have so many of the major English-language novels of globalization tended to merge literary fiction into the genres of speculative fiction: SciFi, Cyberpunk, the New Weird, etc? Does speculative fiction represent, as Fredric Jameson has argued, the best option for literature at a point when both modernism and realism have become exhausted and incapable of offering “reliable information about the contemporary world”?