Comparative Literature 237. Non-Western Languages and Literatures of What is Now the United States

Instructor: Marc Shell
Terms: Spring Term

Mondays, 4-6 pm | Location: TBA

Why has Comparative Literature, so far, made a home in the United States? This seminar looks to the linguistic and literary history of the place to help explain. Our work considers both ‘indigenous’ and ‘incoming’ languages and literatures. Topics include: writing systems and literatures of Native American tribes; the roles of Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Spanish Yiddish, and several other non-English literatures in the United States; and philosophical aspects of “first encounters” in the New World. Central concerns are the rise of English as the ‘officially unofficial’ language in the United States and the definition of anglo-American literature in polar opposition to other languages and literatures. Readings include: Minnesota-based Rolvaag’s prize-winning Norwegian-language novel Giants in the Earth; the Louisiana-based Mercier’s generally unknown bilingual slavery novel (French and Creole) Saint-Ybars Habitation, sometimes called the greatest work of American literature; Henry Roth’s Yiddish-inflected Call It Sleep; and several essays and longer poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who founded a traditionalist comparative literature at Harvard. The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature includes poetry, epic literature, and discursive essays – all with facing-page English translations. Seminar participants will themselves have opportunity to translate a short written work of their own choice and/or to write an essay historical, sociolinguistic, and/or literary essay.

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