Spring 2013

English 573            Regionalism, Race, and Nationalism in Late 19th- and 20th-Century American Literature

D. Campbell

Course syllabus and readings: http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/engl573/sched573s13.htm

This seminar explores American regional literature from the local color movement of the late nineteenth century to the neoregionalism of the late twentieth century. In the late nineteenth century, local color or regionalism served as a national forum for concerns over Gilded Age capitalism, urbanization, and the emergence of literary professionalism, and it became a means of engaging in national debates over immigration, imperialism, race, and nationalism. By the end of the twentieth century, regionalism in its newer forms, including critical regionalism, had become a means of exploring multicultural perspectives that underlie urban ethnic realism and the contact zones of contested ethnic spaces, such as the Southwestern U.S.-Mexico border.

In reading regionalism, we’ll consider its temporal, spatial, and affective dimensions: its construction of the past to codify particular kinds of race-based social control; its function as what Richard Brodhead has described as a “transitional object” to ease the anxieties of an “insecure modern age”; its use of nostalgia and occasionally sentimentality to enshrine an imagined past and idealize the primitive; and its contributions to a national narrative that enshrined and naturalized certain kinds of race- and class-based power. We’ll also explore the ways in which regionalism employs emerging technologies of viewing and representation, from photographs and anthropological representations of folkways, including medical and food cultures, to the souvenirs, curios, and other objects of material culture that Bill Brown contends are a close analogue of the genre. In addition, we will consider the ways in which regional literature contests its status as a “minor literature” in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense of the term.

Primary texts for this class will include work from the following authors: Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Bret Harte, Charles W. Chesnutt, Edith Wharton, Sui Sin Far, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Flannery O’ Connor, Leslie Marmon Silko, Jim Harrison, and Sherman Alexie. Critical and theoretical readings will include essays from June Howard, Krista Comer, Lucy Lippard, Douglas Powell, Benedict Anderson, José Límon, Hsuan Hsu, and Judith Fetterley and Marjorie Pryse. Assignments are all geared toward eventual presentation or publication: a 30-minute oral presentation; minor 5-minute presentations of critical material; and two papers, one of conference length and one longer paper that may be based on the same topic.

Among the issues we’ll consider:

  • Technologies: of reproduction, of seeing, of representation, of travel, of circulating goods and services; of  folkways, including medical and food cultures.
  • Place: definitions of place, boundaries, bridges; place as temporal rather than spatial; urbanization and vanishing spaces.
  • Geographies of region and nation: settlement, borderlands, empire, appropriation of territories; cosmopolitanism.
  • Temporal and affective dimensions of regionalism: the past; emotion and sentimentality; nostalgia.
  • Communities and individuals: individualism within cultures and communities; outsiders; spectators; reciprocity and gift-giving; sites and rituals of inclusion; customs and transgressions.
  • Race, heredity, ethnicity: anthropological, biological, or cultural definitions; hidden signifiers; passing; “foreign” and familiar characters.
  • Genre: regionalism as realism; as a “minor” literature; as a gender-defined genre; in dialogue with twentieth- and twenty-first century literatures.
  • Narrative themes and forms: techniques of the narrator; style; the observer; common tropes.
  • Required Books (additional will be online; check syllabus)

    Alexie, Sherman

    The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

    Grove Press




    Austin, Mary

    The Land of Little Rain

    Modern Library





    American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings





    Welch, James

    The Heartsong of Charging Elk





    Wharton, Edith

    Ethan Frome and Summer

    Modern Library




    Jewett, Sarah Orne Bell, Michael (ed.)

    Sarah Orne Jewett: Novels & Stories

    Library of America




    Cather, Willa

    Willa Cather: Later Novels

    Library of America




    Mena, Maria Cristina

    Collected Stories of Maria Cristina Mena

    Arte Publico Press




    Watanna, Onoto

    A Half Caste and Other Writings

    U of Illinois P




    Sui Sin Far

    Mrs. Spring Fragrance

    U of Illinois P