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Summer 2017 Undergraduate English Courses: Twentieth Century

358:438 Seminar: The Power of Now: How to Read Contemporary Literature

H6  7/10-8/16  TTH 6:00-10:00PM  CAC  04573 MCLEOD  SC-115

 The Power of Now: How to Read Contemporary Literature

Scholars of contemporary literature occupy a peculiar position in literary studies: they theorize texts written in the same time period in which they themselves live. This provides the contemporary theorist with a unique set of challenges: How do we define “the contemporary”? With more books being published now than ever, which do we choose to read? Without the benefit of scholarly tradition and historical hindsight, how do we determine which books are “important”? How do we contextualize texts when we ourselves are immersed in—and produced by—the same set of geopolitical phenomena that has produced those texts? If the author and critic are both living—and, in this era of increased connectivity, are capable of direct or indirect communication—how does this impact the production of both literary and scholarly work? How do we grapple with new and shifting genres, from cell phone novels to flash fiction to graphic novels? What theoretical tools can we borrow from other literary fields, and what new tools do we need to forge?

In this seminar, we will consider these questions and others as we seek to better understand what it means to read contemporary novels, short stories, and poetry. Texts include 21st-century literature by Mohsin Hamid, Jennifer Egan, Paul Beatty, Tracy K. Smith, Alice Munro, Sherman Alexie, Alison Bechdel, and Junot Diaz, as well as contemporary scholarship. Students will be required to complete two papers and give one presentation on secondary reading material. Regular class participation is also required.