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American Cosmopolitans

ENGL 016.303
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

From its inception in ancient Greece, the notion of the cosmopolitan with its language of universal communication and exchange has helped individuals to understand what it means to belong to a place and to leave it, to interact with individuals who come from different cultural backgrounds, to understand social and cultural parameters and their limitations, to justify imperial projects and the taking over of other nations, to cope with migration and displacement, and to develop connections between cultures and ideas. Throughout its history cosmopolitanism has generated a large number of literary tropes. This is particularly true of American literature, a literature begun in the realm of voluntary or forced migration, literary and cultural exchanges. In this seminar, we will examine the literary tropes of cosmopolitanism and explore how literary texts use the language of cosmopolitanism to connect with or to disconnect themselves from the cultures that produced them. We will retrace this history in reverse by looking first at contemporary and modern engagements with cosmopolitan tropes and then explore their antecedents in the American literary tradition. Readings may include recent essays by David Sidaris, Thomas Pynchon’s Cry of lot 49, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, Henry James’s The Europeans, Herman Melville The Confidence Man, Philip Freneau’s Tomocheeki, Phillis Wheatley’s poems, St. John’s de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, and selections from Thomas Jefferson’s and Benjamin Franklin’s writings. We will conclude our journey by looking at how the linguistic tropes we found throughout our readings began their history in some of the texts that opened up the history of America in the western world, Christopher Columbus’s Diaries and Richard Hakluyt’s Voyages.