Drawing upon various lines of discussion in transnational American Studies, the theoretical contributions of the ‘spatial turn’ to literary studies, and adopting a cultural geographical perspective to literary analysis, the seminar examines US literature in its attempt to
1. expand its frames of reference as a young nation/empire through placing American characters in non-American settings as sites of reflection on who they are while travelling/living abroad;
2. create worlds in which being American is associated with a sense of agency, youth, distance, or exceptionalism;
3. examine the boundaries of the nation through understanding the life of immigrants in the US and their narrating the ‘American dream’;
4. make sense of, avoid, open up to, or reject the world at large;
Throughout the course of the seminar, we will read and discuss a wide range of theoretical texts on American literature as part of/synonymous to/distinct from world literature. The course’s objective will be to apply these theoretical insights through group and class discussions and presentations on the following novel(la)s:
- Daisy Miller (Henry James 1879)
- Tom Sawyer Abroad (Mark Twain 1894)
- The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver 1998)
- Girl in Translation (Jean Kwok 2010)
While the focus of the seminar is on identifying and mapping the contours of American literature over the course of a century and a half, the works chosen for analysis have another element in common, i.e., they all feature child or adolescent characters/narrators, hence the title “Childhood is a foreign country”.
The title of the seminar is taken from Patricia Crain’s book Story of A (2000) where the comparatively short history of the US as a nation is narrated through a myriad of cultural forces that define being a child and an American in proximity with questions of national identity, coming of age, domination, exceptionalism, and colonialism. While the focus of the course is on American literature as a tool in the hands of Americans to make sense of and record their national coming of age and mark their position in the world at large, the works selected for analysis during the semester all feature child/young characters who contest the national solidity of American literary borders by treading the double-edged path of being young and growing up as citizens of a young nation.
In bringing these two lines of inquiry together, the seminar raises questions about the borders of US literature and its affinities to the ‘national’, the ‘transnational’ and the ‘global’ since the final quarter of the 19th century to the present with an eye on children as other, childhood as a passing stage on the path to adulthood, national coming of age, and parenting/governing as instances of domination and colonization.