English 233 - Fall, 2014

Problems in American Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Jerng, Mark
CRN: 63839
Time: W 12:10-3:00
Location: 248 Voorhies
Breadth: Later American
Focus: Theory


    Topic: Race in a “Post-Race” Era

    The end of structures of formal inequality such as Jim Crow and apartheid has left the significance and study of race in crisis. Various pronouncements have been made on the one hand “against” race: the world is beyond race; race no longer exists; race has been superseded by more significant questions of difference; we use race to avoid issues like poverty. Others argue for the continuing realities of race as it organizes life-chances. Linda Martín Alcoff characterizes this predicament as such: “So today race has no semantic respectability, biological basis or philosophical legitimacy. However…in the very midst of our contemporary skepticism toward race stands the compelling social reality that race, or racialised identities, have as much political, sociological and economic salience as they ever had.”

    This course takes this question of salience – how, when, and where we notice race as perspicuous and significant – as its point of departure for rethinking the landscapes of race as they have shaped our political, social, and legal horizons of sense-making. We will start with some classic questions in critical race theory that have been given renewed attention of late– the relationships among race, slavery, and capitalism; ontological and phenomenological frameworks – primarily via reading the work of W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon, and Hortense Spillers. The new dimensions opened up in and around these thinkers will help us pursue a set of thematics that rethink the landscape of racial phenomena at the level of a co-constitutive relationship between race and ‘world’: race as a “global idea”; race as economic form; race and its peculiar physics of space-time; race and the staging of a ‘world-picture.’ We will also draw on a range of poetic and prose texts to track these modes, from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, to A Mercy to China Men, among others.


    Conference Paper or Article-length paper (your choice)
    Review Essay
    Seminar Presentation


    A Mercy, Toni Morrison
    The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Olaudah Equiano
    China Men, Maxine Hong Kingston
    Return to Neveryon, Samuel Delany
    The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick