U.S. Latino Literature and the Problem of Realism
Offered w/ ENGL 537
As a mode facilitating the serious treatment of ordinary people and their lifeworlds, realism is associated with the humanist or left-wing
democratization of literature and culture. As such, realism has long been the dominant mode of Latino literature, notable for its strong
working-class and non-elite, popular orientation. This seminar asks: how have U.S. Latino writers “done” realism from the 19th-century to the
present? We will be reading four representative works: María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s The Squatter and the Don (18885), Américo Paredes, George Washington Gómez (1930s; 1990), Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima (1972), and Francisco Goldman, The Ordinary Seaman (1997) that examine Latino contributions to the genre, focusing on their unique resolutions of what Fredric Jameson calls the (shifting) “antinomies of realism” at various landmark moments of this literary mode: classical 19th-century realism (realism vs. romance); early 20th-century realism at its dissolution (realism vs. modernism); post-WW II magical realism (the American marvelous real vs. postmodernism); contemporary neo-realism. We will ask questions such as: How do Latino authors come down on the realism-vs-modernism/postmodernism debate over referential function of representation? To what extent can Latino realism be theorized as “peripheral realism” within a literary world-systems framework? What
contributions and innovations have Latino writers (a minoritized and racialized population rather than a nation) introduced to this narrative
mode originating in the Enlightenment quest for rational knowledge and the rise of the European nation-state?
Realism is both a literary style and a critical problematic. Developments in literary production and critical theory during the last decades have
demonstrated that realism has not been rendered obsolete by modernism and its sequel postmodernism; instead, realism has proven to be resilient. Contemporary neo-realist fiction after modernism and postmodernism has been a feature of the publishing landscape for some time. This development has recently been matched by a “new realist” turn in critical theory after poststructuralism, and a renaissance of “new realist” interests in ontology that exceed the problem of epistemology. As poststructuralism and postmodernism have in turn entered their own phases of dissolution, poststructuralist/postmodern dismissals of realism as “naïve” have been reconsidered, supporting critics such as Jameson arguing that realism is a much broader and more flexible category than has been assumed. From the wide panoply of new realisms, we will select theorists who embrace ecological realisms of complex wholes, ecologies, and actor-networks (Bruno Latour, Paula Moya and Paula Bennett) rather than realisms of isolated things or relapses into scientific reductivisms.
This course is loosely affiliated with my current research project on “What Comes After Poststructuralism? New Ecological Realisms in
Contemporary Theory and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.” I also welcome students interested in this topic.
Assignments: student presentations on critical readings and a research paper.
Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, The Squatter and the Don;
Américo Paredes, George Washington Gómez;
Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima; Francisco Goldman, The Ordinary Seaman;
Pam Morris, Realism (Routledge)
. . . and a course reader with essays by Paula Moya, Marcial González, Ramón Saldívar, Bruno Latour, Fredric Jameson, George Lukács, Franco
Moretti, Joe Cleary and Jed Esty, Rita Felski, Guenther Leypoldt, Robert Rebein, Alejo Carpentier, Doris Sommer, Christopher Warnes.