ENGL 680-01: Testimonial Fiction & US Latinx Literature

Section Description:

English 680 traces the emergence on the US literary and cultural scene of a body of expressive work dedicated to the critical representation and analysis of the histories and legacies of mostly state-sponsored forms of political violence in the Latin American homelands of a collection of prominent US Latinx literary writers. The course understands this emergence as primarily a literary and cultural phenomenon operating within complex political, social and historical contexts. For this reason, much of the course’s focus will be on questions of a decidedly literary and discursive nature: how exactly should we understand the differing obligations to historical memory, and historical knowledge, of texts operating in the modes of fiction versus non-fiction? what kinds of differential “truth values” should we assign to texts across various genres, like the novel, the memoir, and what some Latin American studies scholars term testimonio? And, in addition to their engagements of the historical past, how can or should we understand these texts’ engagements of any possible futures to which they open or avail themselves? The course also insists on the US-specific situation of its primary objects of study; while most of the events remembered, represented or invented in the readings will have occurred in other national settings, most of the readings themselves appeared initially in the US, and in English. Thus, part of the course’s challenge will be to strike a balance between a critical excavation of the US presence in non-US “American” spaces, especially from the Cold War and into our contemporary era, and a strategic projection into the US’s own complex, multicultural future(s), thanks in part to the establishment in its domestic national space of the various diasporic and immigrant communities represented in and by our reading list. As a graduate-level seminar, English 680 will entail a considerable amount of reading, including (in addition to the primary texts) a broad selection of scholarly, critical and theoretical works, as well as a selection of cinematic pieces, both feature and documentary, that will augment and complicate the print material. Primary writers will include: Rigoberta Menchú, Reinaldo Arenas, Julia Alvarez, Edwidge Danticat, Junot Díaz, Héctor Tobar, Cristina García, William Archila, Carolyn Forché, and Daniel Alarcón.