American Literature as World Literature: Making/Mapping New Worlds, ACLA 2011 Seminar, Vancouver, March 31-April 3
How has American literature understood itself as "world literature"? This seminar is interested not only in the ways American literature "contains" the world (as a multi-national literature) but also in the ways American literature is in the world. We want to think of World Literature not only as a category that describes multi-national or global literatures, but also as a literary and political strategy: the making of new worlds.
If in the twentieth century the United States was often theorized as the site par excellence of the Culture Industry, what has been literature's relationship to the production and exportation of "America"? In what ways does literature complicate or resist this function? How have writers, both major and minor, both living within or at a distance from the territorial United States, constructed alternative worlds underneath, within, over, across or against the very grounds that contain them? We are especially interested in the ways genre (science fiction, or the western, for instance) has functioned within this process.
This seminar will explore the ways American writers have constructed terrains that run contrary to the historical project of producing a "national literature." Certain methods seem especially apt for theorizing the counter-cartographies we seek to explore: for example, Deleuze's and Guattari's "American rhizome," Said's "alternative geographies," or Jameson's "cognitive mapping." How can these strategies help us re-imagine the study of American literature within the field of comparative literature, and more broadly, its possibilities in the world?